Tasting Chocolate: Step-by-Step
- Freshly break off a piece of chocolate, and hold it in your hand to warm it up a bit. Bring it close to your nose and inhale and exhale a few times, allowing around thirty seconds for the aromas to develop. Note what you smell, and how it changes as the chocolate heats up against your skin.
- Hold your nose closed as you place a piece of chocolate on your tongue. Try to let the chocolate melt with your body temperature instead of immediately chewing and swallowing. Fine chocolate has a much wider array of flavors to offer if we allow its cocoa butter to melt fully as we taste.
- Inhale and exhale to bring fresh waves of aromatic particles to your olfactory receptors. You may want to close your eyes at this point to focus on flavor alone. These rejuvenating inhales, along with the further melting of the cocoa butter, should contribute to an evolving flavor journey that ends with far different tasting notes than those with which it began. It can be helpful to take note of what you are tasting (diagram below).
- When the chocolate has fully melted and dissolved in your mouth, swallow and note what you experience as the aftertaste lingers with you.
- Reflect on the vast changes in the experience from start to finish. The diagram below may be helpful.
- If you are tasting multiple chocolates, it is best to cleanse your palate in between types by drinking water or eating something plain like a soft polenta.
The flavor projection map we like to use for chocolate comes from Seventy%, and organizes flavors horizontally on a scale of more tannic (left) to more acidic (right), and vertically from less roasty (top) to more roasty (bottom). Its four primary categories or quadrants represent spicy, fruity, earthy, and molasses-like flavors.
Try out your skills with our 24-Piece Tasting Kit here!
Continue Reading to Learn about Aroma, Terroir, and More!
Exploring Taste and Aroma
We’ve all heard it before: sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and umami. These are the 5 basic flavor qualities that our taste buds can detect, and that’s pretty much it. Plug your nose before placing a piece of chocolate in your mouth and you’ll get a sense of just how one-dimensional our sense of taste alone is.
When I hold my nose and let a piece of our 77% Pure chocolate melt on my tongue, my brain scrambles for flavor it can’t find. I register a faint sweetness and sourness with a wine-like tannic dryness, but the flavor is muffled.
Try it, and see what happens when you release your nose and inhale.
When I let go and allow myself to inhale, bringing particles from the melted chocolate to my olfactory receptors, an array of flavor notes begin to come to me via aroma. Chocolate and apple, caramel and grape. I take another breath, feel the fatty cocoa butter melt as I press it against the roof of my mouth: blueberry and mango, almond and date, cherry and walnut. When the chocolate has dissolved completely and I’ve swallowed it, I can still continue to taste cocoa, roasted almond and toasted bread, coffee and toffee. Evolving flavor notes extend onward. A chocolate's "length" can leave its taste in the mouth even up to 30 minutes after it has been eaten.
Why Taste Chocolate?
The human senses of smell and taste are deeply linked to the formation and recall of memories, meaning that all of who you are goes into tasting and relating to chocolate when you focus deeply.
Tasting chocolate is an incredibly individual experience, so don’t worry about doing it “wrong” or not being able to perfectly describe it. What you taste can vary widely based not only on your particular senses of taste and smell along with the unique experiences you’ve had, but also on the particular growing conditions of the cocoa beans you’re eating.
Terroir is as important in chocolate as it is in wine. When we say “you are what you eat,” the same is true for plants like the Theobroma cacao trees that grow our cocoa beans. The amount and quality of water and nutrients that the cocoa pods are able to “eat” can vary from farm to farm and season to season. Different molecules are absorbed and incorporated into individual cocoa beans as they grow within their own unique environments. Because the flavors and aromas we sense when we eat fine chocolate come from the hundreds of different compounds formed in these beans, the basic ingredients that the plants have to work with make a huge difference in the final product.
Due to differences in lineage, origin, and weather (in addition to roast levels and recipes in finished bars), different regional chocolates have different typical flavor profiles. Nicaraguan cacao can be described as buttery, Madagascan as intensely citrusy, and our own Ecuadorian Nacional cacao as its own special floral blackberry and dark brown sugar experience.
This grand, evolving story of life on Earth and its resultant flavors — the slight nuances due to differences in the flow of matter and energy that create all that we find beautiful — are just part of why it’s so worthwhile to experience chocolate fully.
Questions to Ask while Tasting
What did you taste?
What did you notice about the order in which the notes came, or the way they changed and evolved over time?
Did you taste anything completely unexpected or surprising?
Did any of these flavors or aromas stir up memories? (Perhaps: childhood brownies, an orchard trip, Grandma’s blueberry pie, etc.)
How did it feel to focus solely on tasting for a moment?
How did this experience compare to your expectations?
How did this experience compare to tasting a fine wine?
What flavor notes would you love to explore in the world of fine chocolate?
No matter what experience you crave (from stronger spicy or floral flavor notes like cardamom, apricot, citrus, or vanilla), there are plenty of options in the microcosm of small-batch craft bean-to-bar chocolate-makers, and it’s worth exploring! You can find almost any unexpected flavor in the depths of dark chocolate’s complexity if you take the time to search among the wide array of recipes and bean origins (or even if you search hard enough in some of your favorite bars!).
But each fine chocolate bar also carries with it unique surprises that mean you'll always get far more than you expect. For instance, our 67% Pure chocolate’s recipe brings out more of the nutty and caramel tones in our cacao, providing a fascinating and unique experience that contrasts that of our fruitier 77% beautifully.
There’s an enriching experience waiting for you in nearly every bar of fine craft chocolate, if you’re willing to take the time to explore each bite — and all that it stirs up inside — to find it.
Try out your skills with our 24-Piece Tasting Kits here!