How to taste dark chocolate
For Maximum Flavour Experience
All you really need is:
A tasting sheet (download one here)
Glass of room temperature water
Be mindful of strong odours (perfumes, scents, kitchen odours) or distractions and loud noises. Sometimes you can't help these, but be aware they will affect your flavour experience.
Also, try to avoid strong flavoured foods (garlic, coffee, onions, beer) or smoking at least a couple hours before a tasting. These will also influence the flavours you experience from your chocolate.
Look & Listen
Break the bar and listen for a snap. A nice loud snap is a sign of quality chocolate.
Look at the colour. It should have a shiny surface, and be a solid one-toned brown colour.
+ Be Mindful Of
Visual and auditory distractions. Allow yourself to be focused on what you're about to eat.
Snap: loud snap, soft snap, no snap.
Look: Shiny, matt, smooth, rough, mottled, whitish, dark, brown (dark, light, mahogany, burnt sienna, umber)
Hold the chocolate right up to your nose, and sniff repeatedly. Rub the chocolate between your fingers to warm it up and enhance aroma release.
+ Be Mindful Of
Be aware of surrounding aromas on your hand and in the room (scents, something cooking). It's unrealistic to eat chocolate in a vacuum, but just be aware the scents around you will influence what you smell.
Detecting and articulating aromas during smelling chocolate is very difficult. Don't be too hard on yourself, and don't expect to be able to articulate more than one descriptor. You're also getting your mind ready for what it is you're about to eat.
You can be as general or as specific as you like. Don't expect to smell more than one or two aromas. Examples can be: it smells dark, light, nutty, earthy, cocoa, chocolate, tart, or sweet. Tart and sweet are not aromas, but we have learned to associate taste with aroma, and they are perfectly fine descriptors to use. If you can't think of a specific aroma, write down what it reminds you of.
Place the chocolate in your mouth and on your tongue. Chew it once or twice, and then let it melt in your mouth. The key here is mouth movements. Letting it melt on your tongue isn't good enough. With your mouth closed, rub your tongue around, move your jaw around. This will allow for more aroma molecules to reach your nasal cavity.
+ Be mindful Of
Think about the texture, mouthfeel, and melting properties.
Smooth, gritty, pasty, chalky, slow melt, fast melt, cool melt, warm melt, thick, watery.
These are guidelines, not an exhaustive list.
This is to be done in conjunction with step 3, while the chocolate is melting.
With your mouth closed, exhale repeatedly. Take a big breath in, and slowly exhale through your nose. Do this continuously as you eat, and even after you have swallowed all the chocolate. It's through exhaling that we experience flavour. This is called retronasal olfaction, and is key to maximizing taste from any food you eat. Feel free to look at a flavour wheel, aroma list, or close your eyes and think about what you're tasting.
+ Be Mindful Of
As with the previous step, be aware of ambient odours. Also be aware of foods you ate previously such as garlic, onions, and anything that leaves a strong flavour in your mouth. This will greatly affect what your chocolate tastes like.
The possibilities are endless. There is no agreed upon list of chocolate aromas or ways to organize them.
Begin with general flavours. Is it fruity, nutty, earthy, toasted, herbaceous? Then from there, what kind of fruit, or nut. Is it a tart fruit? citrus or berry?
If you're new to mindfully tasting chocolate or food in general, take your time and be patient to yourself. You're describing a world of flavours that you've never had to describe before. It takes time to find the right words.
Our sense of flavour is highly connected to our emotions and memory. Think about what the flavours remind you of if you can't articulate the aromas you taste; a place, a time, an event.
Cleanse your palate!
In between each tasting, drink some water and swish it around in your mouth. Make sure to rub your tongue onto the roof of your mouth to warm it back up. Eating chocolate immediately after rinsing your palate will not allow it to melt properly, especially if the water is cool. Other suggestions for cleansing your palate are carbonated water, lemon water, a slice of apple, bread, or plain cooked polenta.
Compare and contrast!
A key point to any tasting is comparing as you eat. It's not as effective to compare while relying on memory. After eating your second sample and going through all the steps, go back and taste the first one again, then the second sample again after that. Go back and adjust what you wrote down if necessary. Then try chocolate #3 with #1 and #2. Compare ones that may have been a bit similar, and you will notice tasting them one after another showcases their differences much more clearly. As you compare and contrast, the differences will become more apparent.
What's your goal?
Many artisan chocolate bar makers will include suggested flavour notes that the consumer may experience. The keyword here is "suggested." Current research is revealing that flavour is a very unique experience. Is your goal to experience the flavours suggested by the maker? Or just to enjoy the chocolate overall? It's impossible for everyone to experience the exact same flavours suggested, so don’t fret if what you taste is different than the suggested flavour notes.
Our sense of flavour is individual. Factors of memory, emotion, genetics, and even the physical olfactory receptor nerves differ between all of us, and all are necessary for forming our own perception of flavour! We have about 400 different types of aroma receptors in our nasal cavity. Half of them work for everyone, and the other half work for some, but not for others. Even of the receptors that work, genetic differences between us allow them to respond to the environment differently as well.
Flavour is highly connected to the regions in our brain dealing with memory and emotion. Individuals who suffer from dementia will eventually suffer from a loss of flavour, not taste. Even with working taste and olfactory receptors, one can have their sense of flavour diminish due to deterioration of the brain in these regions. Therefore, when we eat chocolate and experience the flavours, we immediately associate it with hedonic and emotional aspects, which will affect how we interpret it. If we have a strong averse feeling toward a flavour, it will highlight that flavour in the chocolate, and likely ruin the entire experience.
Our goals for eating chocolate may differ. We may just want to enjoy the overall taste, and ignore the specific flavour notes. Some get satisfaction from being able to articulate the many flavours, and distinguish the differences. Whatever your goal, learn these steps and be mindful. Enjoy chocolate according to your own informed judgements, not according to what you are told or “supposed” to taste!