Geoseph

Chocolatier · Chocolate Sommelier · Educator

 

Tasting

The Process

History

 

5 Simplified Steps to

Chocolate Tasting

1

Compose

Relax & Focus
Eschew noise
Eschew odours
Cleanse palate


2

Listen & Look

Snap bar & listen
Observe colour
Observe temper



3

Smell

Hold near nose
Rub to warm
Inhale aroma
Record aromas

4

Melt

Place on tongue
Rub around
Allow to melt
Record mouthfeel

5

Exhale

Exhale repeatedly
Move jaw & tongue
Record flavours
 

The Setup

The setup is fairly simple.  All you really need is your chocolate, a pen and paper, and a glass of water.  


Remember, keep the setup minimal and comfortable.  

Tasting Sheet

Click here to download a chocolate tasting note sheet.*


*Note the flavour list at the top of the sheet.  Don't rely too much on the list or a flavour wheel you may be using.  These are guides only.  Building any vocabulary requires you to connect new thoughts to the pre-existing ones already in your mind.  

The Chocolate

The chocolate you choose is up to you.


As a general rule, it's beneficial to begin your tasting with the chocolate containing the lowest percentage of cacao.


This allows your palate to slowly adjust to the intensity, especially if you are not used to eating dark chocolate. 

 

A Deeper Look Into Chocolate Tasting

1

Compose

Compose yourself.  The environment you enjoy your chocolate greatly affects your experience, including the taste.  Ideally, you want to set yourself up somewhere relatively quiet, preferably without music.  Imposing odours can mask or distort the flavours you perceive in your chocolate.  This can include kitchen odours, perfumes, and smoke.  

Refrain from eating or smoking at least an hour before, and avoid foods with lots of garlic and heavy, long-lasting flavours.  Room temperature is ideal, as the heat or cold will affect olfaction and the taste of the chocolate.  The aim is for a neutral environment that won't obstruct the senses from experiencing the chocolate.  

Cleanse your palate before you begin, and before each new chocolate.  Room temperature water is usually prefered, although carbonated water, white bread, or polenta can also be used.  Just be sure that you don't cleanse with something cold.  If you do, rub your tongue around your  mouth to warm it back up before tasting the chocolate.  

Consider looking over a flavour wheel or a list of aroma vocabulary associated with chocolate (or wine or coffee) in order to prepare your mind for what it is you're about to taste.  

2

Listen & Look

*Snap!*  What's that sound?  That's the sound of well tempered chocolate.   Chocolate will taste best in it's tempered form, and the appearance and snap will indicate well tempered chocolate. That means the cocoa butter crystallized into the ideal form (for our purposes), creating a smooth, dark, glossy chocolate bar without any white or mottled colouration on it.  When broken, it should not be brittle, but be firm and have a nice snap to it (unless it is milk chocolate, the 'snap' will be less pronounced).   What shade of brown is it?  Is it mahogany brown, almost black, or just plain brown?  Admire the appearance, for it will soon be the last you ever see of it!

Note: You could also do a tasting with melted chocolates.  In this case, you can still note its colour, but also the viscosity and how it moves.  This may be helpful if the chocolate you want to taste is out of temper.  Out of temper chocolate won't taste or feel as nice, but melting it will bring it to a state where it can still be enjoyed.  

3

Smell

Most of what you taste comes from the volatile molecules contained in your food that are inhaled either through your nose via the nostrils (when smelling), or through the nasopharynx (when eating).  Before tasting the chocolate, it's a good idea to smell it first in order to prepare your mind.  As well, you may detect aromas that may not appear, or be different, from the aromas you detect when tasting.  

Rub the chocolate between your fingers to warm it up and get those volatiles moving.  Hold it close to your nostrils and begin to inhale and exhale repeatedly, thinking about what it is you are smelling.  Close your eyes if you have to.  Record what aromas you pick up.  Refer to a flavour wheel or flavour vocabulary list to aid yourself in articulating what it is you smell.  

4

Melt

Now for that moment.  That special moment the chocolate reaches your tongue and begins to liquify; volatiles released; the moment you hope never ends.  Slowly place the chocolate into your mouth and on your tongue.  Chew once or twice to break up the chocolate if you wish, but no more than that.  Let the chocolate slowly melt on your mouth.    

Tasting, or gustation, includes the elements of sweet, sour, bitter, salty, and umami.  However, you can also feel the texture of the chocolate.  How creamy is it? Is it gritty at all?  How easily does it melt in your  mouth?  Remember, the temperature of your palate cleanser or the chocolate itself, if too cold, can greatly affect all this.  The dryness, such as in Wine, will also be something you can taste in dark chocolate.  A darker chocolate tends to be more dry.  This 'dryness' comes from the alkaloids within the cacao, which are the molecules that also make the chocolate so dark.  

5

Breath

This final step is more important than you may think.  While you are allowing the chocolate to melt in your mouth, it's important to inhale and exhale.  It is during the exhale that the volatiles (odour molecules) get thrown around in our nasal cavity and picked up by receptors.  The tongue and pick up 5 tastes, but our nose can pick up countless numbers of aromas.  A simple equation to remember is 'Flavour = Taste + Aroma'.  While the chocolate is melting in your mouth, move your tongue around, get the volatiles moving around, and continue to breath in and out, repeatedly.  

The more you breath during tasting, the more aromas you will pick up, and the more flavours you will taste.  Sometimes we get so focused on figuring out the flavours we forget to continue to breath.  Don't stop, even after all the chocolate has melted and been swallowed. 

Quality chocolate will have beginning, middle, and end notes.  The more we breath while we taste, the more chances we have of picking up the different stages within the chocolate.  Sometimes it helps to break our chocolate sample in two, and repeated the whole process twice.  This will allow you more time to pinpoint the flavours you taste and articulate and record them.  
 

My Thoughts on Chocolate Tasting

Chocolate tasting is multifaceted and incorporates all your senses, even including listening and touch.  Well made chocolate is like music, with a range of flavour notes that come together to spark feelings and emotions.  

As you savour the chocolate in your mouth, you may first pick up the flavour of dried fruits, then detect notes of well roasted hazelnut, and finally finish off with the flavour of a crusty bread.  Some flavours may surprise you, such as tobacco or, crazy enough, even prosciutto.  

Whether these flavours bring about a positive or negative experience depends on you.  Although many people agree on certain flavours within a given chocolate, there are no wrong answers.  This is your experience, and how you receive the chocolate will often be different in some way from someone else.  The more chocolates you try, and the more you try to explain the flavours, and the better you will become at building up a chocolate vocabulary.  

The purpose of a chocolate tasting is to enjoy the flavours contained within the chocolate bar itself.  For this reason, plain, dark chocolate is normally used, without inclusions such as nuts or fruits.  The percentage usually ranges from 60-80% cacao.  Chocolate below 60%, and the sweetness begins to mask the flavours.  Anything above 80% and the alkaloids within the cacao overpower the flavours. 

A tasting can also be done with milk chocolate, although it's recommended to compare it with other milk chocolates.  Changing between the sweeter milk chocolate and the more intense dark chocolate in one tasting can greatly alter your perception of the flavours.  White chocolate is not usually part of a tasting, since it doesn't contain any cacao solids, the element of cacao that gives chocolate its flavour.  

Keep in mind that these are recommendations, and which chocolate you choose to enjoy is up to you.  One may even have a chocolate truffle tasting, or compare chocolate bars with the same inclusions.  The idea is to limit the variables and narrow down the focus of your tasting, in order to more fairly compare the chocolates and to not become overwhelmed.  

A well conducted chocolate tasting incorporates the idea of using all your senses.  As well, taking the time to acknowledge all your senses during the process.  In doing so, you can achieve the greatest satisfaction from your chocolate.  You may be surprised.  Conduct your tastings with friends or on your own.  Appreciate what you eat, and discover what you may have been missing out on.  


Still want to experience more?  Join one of the Chocolate Sensory Workshops.