How to Taste Craft Bean to Bar Chocolate like a Pro
Despite the strong urge to devour all the chocolate in my sight, it turns out that’s not the best way to eat it. In the same way that it’s fun and rewarding (until the next morning) to drink a bottle of wine that you love, there are more interesting ways to get a full, sensual experience out of it. What I’ve learned is just as there is wine tasting, you can also partake in chocolate tasting.
Amongst high quality chocolates, there is a huge variety of rich and complex flavors. Different chocolate makers use different beans, grown in various locations and terrains. They also have their own unique way of processing them to create their bean-to-bar creations. One of Cococlectic’s aims is to discover the unique flavors that craft chocolate makers aim to create and a chocolate tasting is the perfect way to learn to recognize and appreciate their efforts.
So why not save your Cococlectic box this month, (if you can’t make it last past the first day check out the Chocolate Collection for replacements), invite some friends over and follow these simple steps for a fun, delicious evening!
First a few rules for setting up:
- Do not serve cold chocolate. Set it out to rest before your guests arrive so that it reaches room temperature. A cold temperature will hinder your ability to taste all the nuances your bar has to offer.
- Make sure you have more than enough for tasting and for the inevitable “Oooh I really like this one, I’m just going to try a little bit more”. A good idea is to ask guests to all bring their favorite bean-to-bar chocolates in order to spread the love.
- Provide palate cleansers. You don’t want the burrito you ate earlier to affect what you taste. Apple slices, bread and crackers can all wipe out pre-existing flavors without imparting their own. Followed by sparkling water, you can ensure that every chocolate you taste that evening has a clean palate to work its magic upon!
- Try to arrange your chocolates so that you begin the tasting with lower percentages of cocoa and slowly work your way up to higher percentages. This ensures you don’t overpower your taste-buds at the beginning of the night and allows you to appreciate the different senses that different percentages can invoke.
- Print out this tasting wheel to help identify the flavors in your chocolates. Don’t worry if you’re not sure, it’s part of the fun to guess and compare with your friends. As you keep tasting, the differences in flavors will become more obvious. Use this Cococlectic Chocolate Tasting Rating Notecard to record your findings and to make sure you know which bar to grab at the end of the evening!
Now for the recommended 6 steps to tasting your chocolate. One important thing to remember is that you’re tasting, not eating!
Look at the color and texture of the chocolate. It should be free of white blemishes or “blooms” which mean that fats or sugars have migrated to the surface, normally due to a change in humidity or temperature. Your chocolate should have a smooth, high sheen look if properly tempered. If it has a matte look to it this is normally a sign of poor molding, however that will not affect the flavor. Take note of the color as chocolate can come in a variety of browns with tints of red, purple or even orange.
Break the chocolate in half. You should hear a good, clean “snap” showing it’s been properly tempered. If you hear a “thud” instead, that means the chocolate could be too warm or wasn’t properly tempered. Pass a chocolate bar around the group and let everyone break their tasting piece off in order to share this experience.
Smell the broken piece. Inhaling the aroma is an important component of tasting and will prime your taste-buds. Try to identify the fragrances and note them down to compare to what you taste later. If it smells sweet, you’re probably identifying vanilla, darker chocolate tends to smell heavily of cocoa and you can sometimes even identify how the beans were prepared. Unfermented beans have a slight scent of burnt rubber, beans stored in humid areas can have a scent of grass or burlap and beans dried over a wood fire will have a smoky fragrance.
Put the piece of chocolate in your mouth, let it rest on your tongue and begin to melt. Does it melt quickly or slowly? How does it feel in your mouth? It is smooth or chalky?
Don’t chew immediately! Let it continue to melt. There are four different stages to the flavor of chocolate: beginning, middle, end and finish (also known as the aftertaste). What different notes do you detect? Fruity, buttery, earthy, spicy? Some tasting guides dictate that you shouldn’t chew more than three times, I suggest you let it melt to release the cocoa butter and if you can’t help but chew, do it slowly enough to appreciate the flavors released.
What did you like or dislike about the chocolate you just tasted?
It might sound like a lot to do in order to eat one piece of chocolate, but following these steps should only about a minute. Besides, your appreciation of the craft of bean-to-bar chocolate makers should increase tenfold, when you realize the complexity hidden within your chocolate.
Try a range of good quality chocolates and then when you’re done tasting, crack out the wine and make sure you get hold of your favorite chocolates before your guests do!