Each of us tastes differently. Our perception is guided by past experiences, which makes your palette as unique as your personality. So what makes a good chocolate? If you enjoy it, that means it’s good!
The cool thing I discovered about chocolate is that every batch is remarkably different because of the beans, how they are harvested and prepared. I had heard this, but it didn’t really stick until I started tasting chocolate side by side for comparison.
It started at Ecole de Chocolat (Chocolate School) where we tasted structured flights. We would do controlled flights to discern quality, sweetness, origin, and more.
After my first flight I was hooked and it’s actually the inspiration for me packaging my bars for sale in groups of three. So you can taste different bars together. I now consider it a shame to eat just one bar! Though I never finish a bar if I can help it. I actually have over 150 half eaten bars in my growing collection..but I digress. I am not write about my catalog of chocolate bars.
At the beginning, it really helped me to follow some general tasting principles to assess chocolate. It is not unlike wine. Without further ado, here is what is taught at chocolate school.
The following parameters will help you to develop a methodology for taste comparisons between chocolates. The steps don’t have to be strictly followed – use them as a guideline towards developing your own tasting habits.
How to taste chocolate
First use your eyes
The visual qualities that distinguish a fine-origin, well-tempered chocolate include a shine/gleam finish for molded products and a satin/gleam finish for enrobed products. Dull, marked, scuffed, or bloomed chocolate is aesthetically off putting and may be cause from a broken temper, however, will not adversely affect the flavour.
Chocolate can range in colour from a deep dark brown to a reddish brown. Colour depends on the origin of the cocoa beans, and how they were roasted. Depth of colour is NOT an indication of quality.
Then your fingers
If possible, break a piece of the chocolate – you should hear a distinctive “snap”. This is the sound of stable crystallization breaking cleanly. The opposite of clean snap is crumbly texture.
Hold the piece of the chocolate between your fingers and notice how quickly it melts. Rub your fingers together with the chocolate to test its smoothness. Cocoa butter melts more quickly than sugar so the higher the proportion of cocoa butter, the more quickly it will melt.
Lift your hand to your nose and smell the aroma
Lift your fingers with the melted chocolate to your nose cupping your other hand around your fingers in front of your nose. This will help to capture the aromas. It should smell like chocolate with no off odors.
Fine chocolate can have floral, fruity or sugary (caramel) aromas.
Taste the chocolate
Place a small piece of chocolate on your tongue and let it slowly melt. Once the chocolate is melted, run your tongue around your mouth to get the full “mouth feel” of the texture of the chocolate – it should be full and velvety. As a result of the conching process, fine chocolate will be very smooth compared to cheap chocolate which will be gritty.
There should be a good balance between bitter and sweet. If vanilla is present, it should be a subtle note and not mask the other flavours in the chocolate. If additional cocoa powder has been included in the manufacturing process to boost the flavour, there may be a slight metallic aftertaste.
Notice the “finish”
There shouldn’t be a waxy or greasy film left in your mouth after you swallow. Cocoa butter dissipates, leaving only the flavour behind. If that flavour lingers for a while in your mouth, the chocolate is said to have a long “finish”.
A good aftertaste is the mark of a quality chocolate!
Cleansing your palate between tastings
Most experts recommend room-temperature water as the best palate cleanser between tastings – this can be either still or bubbly. Mild, lukewarm tea is also recommended. If your “nose” is getting a little befuddled and you’re finding it hard to differentiate aromas, you might want to try smelling a cup of brewed coffee or coffee beans to clear your smell receptors between tastings.