To fully appreciate the craftsmanship and flavour of your fine chocolate, you first need to know how to taste it. Tasting chocolate takes you on a sensorial journey. When assessing a new bar, I would suggest initially doing a conscious tasting by focusing on the five senses in succession and savouring the pleasures delivered by each. Then you can just sit back and enjoy the experience of all the senses being played in harmony together.
SIGHT: AESTHETICS & MENTAL PREPARATION
Colour is the first indicator of a chocolate’s character. Your expectations of colour will serve as a benchmark: is it what you were expecting for milk or dark chocolate or the given variety?
One of the delights of craft chocolate is the exquisite design of some of the moulds. There is nothing like opening the packaging of a new bar and discovering that glossy sheen of beautifully moulded chocolate: an aesthetic, as well as sensory, pleasure.
Also, look for any problems: are there any air bubbles, white spots or streaks of bloom – cocoa butter crystals on the surface?
Looking at your chocolate prepares you for what you are going to taste. We are judgmental creatures, and our memories, experiences and expectations will already be influencing our taste experience.
SOUND: SNAP & TEMPER
You can now break your chocolate and listen to the snap. Chocolate should have a clean, audible snap: not too soft and not too brittle. A clean snap means the chocolate is well-tempered and the cocoa butter can fully release the flavours locked inside. Remember, you don’t want bad-tempered chocolate!
SMELL: AROMA & APPEAL
Now you can look like a professional! Hold the chocolate close to your nose and keep taking in the aroma. If you are struggling, warm the chocolate between your fingers, or try snapping and ‘wafting’ it below your nose. Most people begin by just smelling chocolate, but, as you become more experienced and begin to recognise the different notes in the taste, you will become better at identifying aroma notes too.
Ask yourself if it is strong or subtle, appealing or off-putting. Do you recognise any specific flavours? Does is make you want to taste it? In some chocolates, the aromas are so intense and pleasurable that just opening the packet and inhaling is satisfying in itself!
TOUCH: MELT & MOUTHFEEL
The mouthfeel and melt of fine chocolate are something you will soon learn to appreciate. We have a mantra to help you remember: MELT NOT MUNCH.
As the cocoa butter melts in your mouth, the flavours are released. The melt can be quick, slow, even, or reluctant, with the flavour delivery following suit. The mouthfeel will depend on the refinement and particle size: it can be pleasantly grainy, beautifully creamy, or silky smooth, or it can be more unwelcomely sticky, thin, or slick. You may also detect hints of astringency (slightly drying or mouth puckering); if present, this often reveals itself at the finish or in the aftertaste.
Whatever your preference for texture, finding that luxuriant feel unlocks one of the unique pleasures of a good chocolate.
TASTE: FLAVOUR NOTES & TASTING JOURNEY
Finally, we get to the taste. Here we are looking for length and complexity.
The taste will evolve as soon as the cocoa butter starts to melt, allowing the chocolate to release its flavour notes and the real personality of the bar. You may instantly recognise flavours as fruity, spicy, floral, earthy, or nutty, or even pick out individual notes like liquorice, cardamom, coffee, or strawberry jam; you might start by detecting high notes of acidity, sweeter or more bitter notes; or you might taste with colours: sensing deep reds, fresh yellows or sweet browns. Don’t worry too much about flavour identification at this point; just see how many different notes you can detect and how they play out. Are they fleeting? Do they repeat or dance? Is it fast or slow, short or long? Is it monochrome or full of colour?
In a good chocolate, flavour delivery will continue after the chocolate has been eaten. This is all part of the tasting journey and quality assessment. Concentrate on how the flavours change, linger, or recede.
Remember, our taste buds are genetically unique, as are our memories and cultural references. All these things shape our sense of taste. So, don’t be put off if you don’t taste the flavour notes indicated on the packaging. They can be a useful guide but may also bear no resemblance to what you taste.
Sensorial tasting will soon become second nature, but you can use tasting notes sheets to remind you to take notice of each of the different experiences as you go along and there are lots of different flavour maps and charts to help you articulate your tasting experience – Hazel Lee’s Taste with Colour, shown in the main image, is a great example. The IICCT flavour profile map, pictured above, is based on the latest research into how the brain tastes chocolate. It has been modelled using a neural network designed by Dr. Alex Rast of Oxford Brookes University. Although used by professional tasters, it is logical and intuitive enough for beginners too use too. Give them a try and see how they work for you. You will be tasting and sounding like a professional in no time!
More online guides to tasting craft chocolate
See the RESOURCES page for further information.
Wait! Slow down! https://cocoarunners.com/explore/taste/
Dame Cacao’s beginners guide to tasting https://damecacao.com/how-to-taste-chocolate/
Check out Little Beetle Chocolates tasting tips: http://littlebeetle.co.uk/2017/03/7-tasting-tips/