Before you scoff all the chocolate in your Cocoa Runners box, take a moment to learn how to get the best from your tasting experience.
When you know how to properly taste chocolate, you’ll find amazing flavours and textures that you’ve never experienced. Did you know that chocolate has over 400 distinct flavour compounds? That’s even more than a fine wine!
Every stage of the chocolate making process has an impact on the final flavour. Natural factors such as the cocoa variety, soil conditions and climate are just the beginning.
How the cocoa farmer treats the beans during the fermentation and drying process can have a marked impact on the flavour of your chocolate. And when the chocolate maker roasts the beans, small variations in temperature, time, and the size of the individual bean can have an even bigger impact.
These little inconsistencies are one of the great things about small batch bean to bar chocolate. Every batch will have subtle differences, so even if you’ve had a particular chocolate before, it’s worth taking the time to taste it carefully to see if you can discover something new.
Before you start, find somewhere quiet and free from strong smells to enjoy your chocolate. If you’re tasting more than a couple of chocolates, you should have a glass of water or some fresh bread handy as a palate cleanser between tastings.
You’ll be amazed at just how different chocolate can taste at different times of day too. There’s no right or wrong time, but it’s always interesting to see the difference between how a chocolate tastes in the morning and the evening. Try it!
Start by carefully open the wrapper of your chocolate bar, and while it’s still in the back, breathe in the aroma. A good proportion of the flavour you experience comes from the aroma, so it’s good to take in that aroma first.
Remove the chocolate from the wrapper and have a good look at it. In most cases, a good chocolate bar will have a glossy appearance, thanks to the tempering process, which produces just the right kind of crystal structure to give you the perfect experience.
Break a piece of chocolate off. It should break with a clear “snap” sound. That’s another sign of a well tempered chocolate and a skilled chocolate maker. Breaking the chocolate will release more aroma, so bring it to your nose and inhale to take it all in.
Now it’s time to actually taste! Place a small piece of chocolate on your tongue, and most importantly of all, don’t chew! You can bite it to help it melt a little, but the key to getting the most from your chocolate is to let it melt slowly on your tongue. Chocolate melts at just above body temperature, so if it’s been made well it should start to melt in the mouth quite quickly.
As it melts, it will start to release flavours. Some chocolates have just a couple of identifiable flavour notes, but a well made chocolate with great quality cocoa beans can take you on a real journey. It might be fruity, floral, earthy or spicy, but the chances are the flavours you pick up will evolve as the chocolate melts. The more chocolate you taste, the more you’ll find you’re able to pick out much more distinct flavours; cherries, jasmine, green bananas, balsamic vinegar, liquorice. They’re all there in chocolate.
Another thing to look out for is the texture of the chocolate. Is it smooth or grainy? If a chocolate is conched for longer, it will often have a smaller particle size and a smoother texture. If it feels glossy or fatty on the tongue, that can be a sign that a lot of cocoa butter has been added to the chocolate.
A good chocolate will also leave a lasting flavour in your mouth. This “finish” can stay with you for several minutes after the chocolate has melted, and is part of the reason why you only need a small piece of chocolate to get the best possible experience.
However you enjoy your chocolate, they key is to take it slowly. You’ll appreciate the quality of the chocolate and the skill of the chocolate maker much more. But most of all, you’ll have a better understanding of the kinds of chocolate you like best.