How to taste dark chocolate

For Maximum Flavour Experience

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Compose yourself

All you really need is:

  1. A tasting sheet (download one here)
  2. Writing utensil
  3. Glass of room temperature water
  4. Your chocolate!

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. 

Get Tasting

Look & Listen

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+ Action

Break 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 sold one-toned brown colour.

+ Be Mindful Of

Visual and auditory distractions. Allow yourself to be focused on what you're about to eat.

+ Descriptors

Snap: loud snap, soft snap, no snap.

Look: Shiny, matt, smooth, rough, mottled, whitish, dark, brown (dark, light, mahogany, burnt sienna, umber)

Smell

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+ Action

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, 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.

Smelling chocolate is much more difficult than eating it when thinking of flavours and aromas. Don't be too hard on yourself. You're getting your mind ready for what it is you're about to eat.

+ Descriptors

You can be as general or as specific as you call. 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. If you can't think of a specific aroma, write down what it reminds you of.

Melt 

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+ Action

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.

+ Descriptors

Smooth, gritty, pasty, chalky, slow melt, fast melt, cool melt, warm melt, thick, watery. These are guidelines and it's not an exhaustive list.

Breath

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+ Action

This is to be done in conjunction with step 3, while the chocolate is melting! With your mouth closed, exhale. Take a big breath in, and slowly exhale through your nose. Do this repeatedly as you eat, even after you 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 ambinant odours. Also be aware of foods you ate earlier such as garlic, onions, and anything that leaves a strong flavour in your mouth. This will greatly affect what your chocolate tastes like.

+ Descriptors

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 kind to yourself.

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 in your mouth.  Make sure to rub your tongue around in 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 is 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 go, back and forth, not just one after another.  After eating your second sample and going through all the steps, go back and taste the first the first one again, then the second one.  Go back and try #1 with #4, and #2 with #4, and go back and adjust what you wrote down.  The differences will become more apparent as we compare in the moment.  


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.

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 foothers.  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 dealing with memory and emotion in our brain.  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 with hedonic and emotional aspects, which will affect how we interpret it.  We have a strong averse feeling toward a flavour, it will highlight that flavour in the chocolate, and likely ruin the entire experience.  

Our goal for eating chocolate may differ.  We may just want to enjoy the overall taste, and ignore the specific aromas.  Some get satisfaction from being able to articulate the many aromas, and distinguish the differences.  Whatever your goal, learn these steps and be mindful, and enjoy chocolate on your own informed judgements.  

Read more about flavour and quality under "Learn" in the navigation bar.