One does not need to be an expert to fully enjoy fine chocolates, or know how to distinguish single-plantation from single-origin chocolates. Chocolate-tasting is a far more informal affair, guided by one’s own personal preference and palate. Some may prefer the strong bitter taste of pure dark chocolate while others might lean towards creamier, lower-percentage chocolate confections.
Good chocolate, when savored properly, allows you to appreciate subtleties of flavor and tones that you would not want to miss out on. The key thing to remember is to engage all your senses to make it truly an ultimate sensorial experience. Here are a few guidelines.
1. Assess its looks.
The appearance of chocolate—its silky sheen, the appetizing depth of color, its shape and form—is what first attracts and tantalizes. Notice the smooth, glossy surface of the chocolate. Observe the color and how uniform it is, while keeping in mind that it is not the measure of the chocolate’s quality or richness. Chocolate comes in different shades—it may range from creamy ivory, a russet brown hue, to something as dark as charcoal. That all depends on the type of chocolate, the percentage of cacao it contains, the presence and quantity of milk or cream, and the source of the beans from which the chocolate was made.
2. Listen for the snap.
That snap or “craquant” is the feel and sound of a piece of chocolate when you first break it or bite into it. High-quality chocolate produces a sharp, crisp sound and a clean edge. It indicates the amount and quality of the cocoa butter in the chocolate, how finely ground the chocolate particles are, and how well the chocolate was tempered.
3. Smell the chocolate.
Your nose helps your taste buds discern the subtleties of chocolate. At first, it may seem that all you smell is simply, well, chocolate. Rub the chocolate with your thumb to warm it and release its full aroma. As you breathe in the aroma and perhaps even compare one piece with another, you may detect the differences in intensity and flavor. Some chocolates may smell fruity, nutty, or even floral. Some may remind you of roasted coffee or rich red wine. Most artisans create a signature aroma for their chocolate brand, depending on the beans used, as well as on the roasting and conching methods.
4. Feel and appreciate the texture.
Pop a chocolate into your mouth but don’t eat it right away. Just hold it there against the roof of your mouth, and let your tongue pass over it. Luxuriate in its texture. Does it feel smooth and silky? Velvety? Or gritty and dry? Does it have the desirable melt-in-your-mouth quality? Be it a bar or a truffle, chocolate should feel rich and luscious in your mouth.
5. Savor the flavor.
Stay in the moment as the chocolate starts to melt on your tongue and fills your mouth. Let it melt instead of chewing it and you will notice how the flavors change in character as the chocolate dissolves. Does the flavor linger in your mouth or quickly dissipate? This is what is called the finish. Good chocolate should have a complex, interesting finish.
Ultimately, the best way to discover the finest chocolate and hone your judgment is to taste as much of this not-so-guilty pleasure as you can, whether alone or with fellow chocolate lovers. With every sensorial experience, you deepen your appreciation of chocolate and all its glorious complexities. As photographer and author Karl Petzke wrote: “Chocolate symbolizes, as does no other food, luxury, comfort, sensuality, gratification, and love.”
Originally appeared in Vault Magazine