We believe chocolate and wine have a lot in common. As with the finest wines, in order to really get the best out of our craft bars you need to know how to taste chocolate properly. It’s not just about satisfying your sweet tooth, but uncovering the complex flavours of the cocoa beans that have been lovingly coaxed out by the artisan chocolate maker.
Just as the altitude, climate and soil will affect the grapes in a fine wine, the same factors can affect the flavour of the cocoa beans in your chocolate bar. Combined, these different environmental factors are known as the ‘terroir’. The finest wines are created when the finest grapes are in the hands of a talented vitner (or wine maker). And the same is true for chocolate. When the best cocoa beans are given to a skilled maker who takes the time to hand craft every stage from bean to bar, you find yourself with a chocolate that deserves to be savoured. And in order to truly savour these fine bars you first should learn how to taste chocolate!
There’s just one problem for the chocolate aficionado in training. While whole books have been written about how best to enjoy a fine wine, very little has been written about how to enjoy a bar of chocolate. Most of us reach for a chocolate bar for a mid-afternoon pick me up and end up eating it without much thought. But when a maker has taken the time to directly source their beans, and painstakingly draw out their flavours, we think the same care should be taken when eating it.
Here at Cocoa Runners, we spend our lives running around the world, trying to find the very best chocolate bars. We have tasted a ever-growing number of chocolate bars. Of the thousands we’ve tasted we only choose the very best to put on our site. So after years of practice we wanted to share our top tips on how to taste chocolate.
Before you read on remember, eating chocolate should always be a pleasure and never a chore. We want to help you get the most out of your fine craft chocolate, but don’t overthink it!
- Look at the bar. Carefully take the bar out of its packaging and take a long hard look. Is it shiny and glossy, or does it have a dusty white powder on the surface? The white powder is the fat in the bar, that has risen to its surface. This normally happens when a bar has melted and reset, and is a sign that it hasn’t been properly stored. This is particularly true of dark chocolate. While a little bloom on the surface shouldn’t affect the flavour, you might need to let it melt in your mouth for a little longer.
- Break off a piece. What sound does the bar make and how does it feel when you break it? Does it break with a nice clean snap, or does it crumble? As well as a wonderfully glossy finish, a well tempered bar should break with ease. A snap that is either too brittle or too soft again suggests that bar either wasn’t stored at the correct temperature or the bar wasn’t properly tempered. Tempering is the process by which chocolate is melted and then set into a chocolate bar at just the right temperature.
- Hold the bar for a second. Does it start to melt? Artisan chocolate bars contain cocoa butter, and this melts quickly at body temperature. Most mainstream bars start to crumble and flake into a sticky mess instead of melting smoothly. This is because of a trick used by many mainstream chocolate makers. They separate the cocoa powder from the cocoa butter and sell it off to the cosmetics industry for use in moisturisers, lipsticks, etc, then replace it with cheaper fats that don’t have the same wonderfully smooth melt.
- Smell the bar. Can you smell citrus, berries, nuts or something else? As we’ve said, tasting chocolate is like tasting a fine wine. When tasting wine, its standard practice to swirl you drink round in your glass before inhaling deeply. A good proportion of the flavours in any food or drink comes from their aroma. A wealth of aromas are released the moment you unwrap a craft chocolate bar. In the same way that swirling your wine helps to release the aroma, holding the piece in your hand (see above) will begin to heat the chocolate slightly, releasing it smell.
- Put a piece on your tongue and let it melt, taking care not to chew. As it melts, different layers of flavour will reveal themselves.A rich Dominican bar might start with a roasted, chocolate ganache note that develops to leave an earthy finish. Or the initial berry notes of a Madagascan chocolate transform into a citrus note.
- Enjoy. Eating chocolate should always be a pleasure. These tips on how to taste chocolate should help you get the most out of your artisan chocolate. If you can’t taste the flavours other people have described then don’t worry, as taste is subjective. And remember, the more chocolate you taste, the more your palate will develop.
All told, there are over 400 distinct flavour compounds in chocolate, more than enough to keep even the keenest cocoa bean interested. Not only is taste extremely subjective, it’s influenced by everything you’ve eaten and drunk throughout the day. The same chocolate eaten by itself will taste very different when it is matched with a suitable fine wine.
Now you know how to taste chocolate, take a look at how artisan chocolate is made. See our page about it here.