CWG BEAN TO BAR COMPASS
This logbook is a fantastic way to exercise and enhance your fine chocolate tasting skills. The two-sided worksheet offers you a frame from which to form your interpretation of the chocolate, but feel free to think beyond what is presented.
Use in conjunction with the fold out tools (flavour tree, HASME, breathing techniques) in the back of the Compass. Keep these pages for your record, and refer back to them to reflect on your progress.
How To Use The Scales
There will be some information on specific scales below. There is no universal standard for tasting/flavour/aroma scales. These scales will also change according to local food culture and subjective ideas of what is too sweet, too bitter, etc.
As well, your reference points will change and shift over time according to what you are exposed to and your own abilities to detect the differences. I do my best below to help you with gauging the low and high aspects of the scales.
Flavour Analysis Page
I have placed the “Flavour Analysis” page first in order to have you pay attention to the flavour of your chocolate before over analyzing the specifications. Flavour should begin your judgement of whether you like the chocolate or not.
The best judges of chocolate conduct blind tastings. Knowing who the maker is, the origin, or interpreting some of the marketing jargon will persuade your judgement of the flavour.
Although it may not always be possible to conduct a blind tasting, unless someone else always opens the bars for you, it’s best to analyze the flavour first, and then from there to come to a more informed decisions of how much you value the chocolate.
+ Hear (Sound)
Refer to your HASME guide.
+ Admire (Appearance)
Rate on the scale how shiny your chocolate appears. There's no ultimate reference guide. The lowest end of the scale would be chocolate that is banged up, mattle, and scratched in appearance. On the other end of the scale, the bar is so shiny you can see your reflection.
Brown! Well yes, but it's important to pay attention to the shade of brown. Again, there really isn't a reference, but refer to many shades of brown found in the oil paint isle of your local art supply store.
Examples may include dark brown, light brown, umber, burnt umber, sienna, burnt sienna, reddish brown, mahogany, coffee, mocha, and caramel to name a few.
You may use regular chocolate chips in your pantry for some sort of reference point, or just compare a few fine chocolate bars together to notice the differences in shade.
Your reference points and vocabulary for chocolate colour will change and grow as you exposre yourself to more chocolate.
This space is for you to fill in anything that may come to mind. For instance, sometimes some bars may appear to have texture to them, either throughout the bar, or only noticible when you break it and look at the broken edge.
+ Smell (Aroma)
Refer to your HASME guide. Remember that your vocabulary for aroma, and your ability to detect specific aromas will take time. Refer to the flavour tree for suggestions.
Don't expec to pick out many aromas. It can be more difficult to articulate the aromas than the flavour when you're eating the chocolate. Just choose one aroma, such as toasty, cocoa, smokey. If it just smells like chocolate at first, that's okay!
It's very important to smell two chocolates back and forth and side by side to really notice the variations. This is especially helpful if you are new at tasting fine chocolate. Again, you can use just generic chocolate chips as your reference if you only have one chocolate to taste.
+ Melt (Taste & Mouthfeel)
On the low end of the scale, think 100% bar. Keep in mind that bitterness doesn't mean the chocolate is automatically not sweet. You can have a bitter and sweet element together in the same bar. You may use fruit with little sweetness as a reference, such as Asian Pear (Pyrus pyrifolia), an unripe fig, or the portion of a melon near the rind.
On the high end of the sweetness scale, think fudge, your store bought candy bar, or white chocolate. Hopefully your fine dark chocolate is not this sweet, as too much sugar will mask flavours. Just enough sugar highlights flavours that otherwise would not be discoverable.
On the low end of the scale would be no bitterness detected at all. Many high percentage fine dark chocolate bars will be not bitter at all.
Midrange may be slight bitterness, such as a sweet grapefruit or mature arugula.
On the high range of the scale, think 100% bulk chocolate, bulk cacao, or tonic water.
Bitterness is difficult to create standards for, because our ability to detect bitterness is also genetic. We have different types of bitter receptors, and some of us will perceive some foods as exteremmely bitter while others may perceive the same food as little or not bitter at all.
Biterness is also learned. We can learn to enjoy bitter foods such as beer or some greens, and so the threshold for those individuals is much higher.
On the low end of the scale, there should be not sour or tartness. On the high end of the scale, think of very tart mandarines, or currants.
Cacao becomes sour after fermentation, when acidic volatiles build up from bacteria which produce acidic volatiles. It's the job of the growers during drying, and makers during roasting/melanging to reduce the acidity.
High acidity is often a sign of poor quality cacao. Either not dried properly or under roasted. However, there are some makers out there who under roast their cacao on purpose, and don't mind the acidity left behind. It's not for one to say which level is acceptiable for you. You need to determine that for yourself.
Also keep in mind that acidity doesn't autmatically make the flavour of the chocolate fruity. Fruity isn't synonymsou with a tart flavour, although our minds may assume that.
On the low end of the scale, the chocolate would be barely or not creamy at all. Perhaps it has a more watery feel after it melts.
On the high end of the scale, it will be smooth like whipping cream, pudding, or butter. It will be decadant and what you always imagine chocolate to melt like.
You may notice that most often, chocolate bars with extra cocoa butter added will often have a more creamy aspect to them.
This is also known as astringency. It's that dry, puckering feeling you get in your mouth similar to when you drink a very dry red wine or oversteeped tea due to high levels of tannins.
Astringency is what chocolate makers try to reduce, but this is often dictated by the genetics of the cacao and how it was fermented. It's not always possible to completely eliminate it.
Overall, how much did you enjoy the way the chocolate melted in your mouth? This is more subjective, but an important aspect to be aware of.
Keep in mind factors such as if it melted quickly or slowly (often depends on the thickness of the bar), and a melt that warmed the mouth or cooled the mouth.
On the low end of the scale, the chocolate will be gritty, with little bits of sugar crystals or cacao solids that are over 30 microns. The high end of the scale would be very smooth with no grittiness or textures detected.
Keep in mind that some makers out there include texture on purpose. Some just have limited equipment that may not get the chocolate as smooth as they wish. And some makers have to choose between leaving texture to obtain a certain flavour, or smooth out the chocolate at the risk of eliminating some desriable flavours.
This is also known as the viscosity. On the low end of the scale, think watery, where the chocolate just dissolves and is easy to move around.
On the high end of the scale, think of peanut butter. Here the chocolate gets stuck onto the roof of your mouth and takes effort to move around in your mouth with your tongue.
Here you may fill in any other textures you want to point out and remember. Perhaps it is a texture not listed, and something you feel is important enough to remember use to judge your chocolate.
+ Exhale (Flavour)
Like music, fine chocolat contains an array of flavours. You will notice that some flavours are only found at the beginng, middle, or end. If you can, try and write down the flavours in the order you experience them. A chocolate may begin very fruity and tart, and end smokey.
Flavours that appear as soon as you bite begin to exhale. They may last a while, or quickly dissapear depending on the proceeding middle and end notes.
These are sometimes the most difficult to articulare, as they may pass by very quickly. We often remember the first and the last flavours, so it may take a few tastes to figure these out.
Also known as the aftertaste. This may last long after the chocolate has been consumed, and can sometimes make or break how much you enjoy the chocolate. A great tasting chocolate with a bad aftertaste can ruin an otherwise pleasant flavour ride.
This refers to how many flavours you can detect. Now, your goal is not to articulate as many flavours as posisble. And sometimes our creativity can get the best of us. Flavour researchers often suggest that we are not able to articulate more than 4 or 5 flavours max, with 2 or 3 being the norm.
More isn't always better, but it's good to analyze how many flavours we detect in a single dark chocolate bar. The main difference between bulk and fine chocolate is the many different flavours within fine chocolate. Bulk dark chocolate often tastes like one thing, cocoa.
How clear are the different flavour notes? Do they blend into one another, or are they quite distinct and seprate? Again, there is not standard or right answer, and your ability to discern this will come with time.
This has to do more with the categories of flavours. There is no standard or universal set of flavour categories. Scientists have been unable to come up with one, although there have been many attempts.
In regards to range, consider how many contrasting categories exist. Do all the flavours fall within a narrow range of mostly baked, or maybe a couple categories such as baked and nutty, or perhaps have a wide range of fruity, baked, and nutty.
How well do you feel all these flavours within the chocolate work together? Are they complementing one another, or does the flavour profile not work well? Do they flavours compete or just not go well together? This is very subjective.
Overall, give your flavour experience a rating! Maybe you had some weird observations, but you enjoyed it nonethless.
Use this to perhaps determine if you wish to purchase this chocolate again.
Although flavour is the most important component of chocolate, it’s arguably equally important to be informed about the cacao, the farmers, and the makers who produced this chocolate bar.
The chocolate specification page may contain more entries than you have information for, and that’s okay. These suggestions could help you realize what to consider if you haven’t already, and perhaps visit the makers website or even contact them to learn more and answer anymore questions you may have.
Don’t feel the need to fill out every entry, but just focus on the information you have or are willing to get from the maker.
The first space is for the name of the chocolate maker or brand. Keep in mind that some brands may not be the manufacturer. Some bean to bar makers outsource the making of the chocolate to another bean to bar manufacturer, who then returns the chocolate to be casted and packaged by the brand. However, this information is often not available on the wrapper or website.
What city and/or country is the maker located? This is often located on the back of the bar, most often at the bottom of the wrapper.
You may notice that makers from certain regions or countries tend to create chocolate with simliar traits, usually a reflection of local tastes and expectations of what chocolate should be.
This information is not always available. Sometimes on a wrapper, the maker will list the name of the co-op, the farm name, or in rare cases the farmer's name of where the cacao comes from.
Where is this is co-op or farm located? What country or region within a country is the cacao grown (Example: Tingo Maria, Peru).
+ Trade Relationship
Select the relationship that is best described on your bar. Your bar may not include any information on this. As well, there will be cases where these trade relationships are certified, vs trade relatinships that are not certified.
For instance, it's in the best interest of many makers and growers to work on a fair traded basis without the certification. Often, the certification is costly, which comes out of the pockets of those involved, instead of putting that money towards quality ingredients or updating equipment. Sometimes this information is available on the wraper, and sometimes on the maker's website.
This can be a grey area, because we don't know how "fair" these relationships really are, and who is being completly honest. It's up to you to ask the maker the right questions and come to your own conclusions.
+ Seed Info
This is the information about the cacao bean (which is actually a seed, not a bean). The information here usually includes the type of cacao, such as variety (criollo, nacional, amelonado), hybrids or clones (trintario, chuao) or an heirloom name.
This area is for any other information on the chocolate, cacao, or manufacturer you feel is important enough to keep track of. This can include the weight of the bar or unique values reflected by the manufacturer.
How much did you pay for your bar, and where did you purchase it (city or shop name)? Remember to include the currency as well. For instance, if you live in the UK, but you purchased your bar in Canada, make a note that the price is in Canadian Dollars.
This information is important if you want to compare the value of bars. Be sure to also make a note of the weight, as some bars of the same price can vary greatly in regards to weight (you can place this in the "notes" section).
One of the most important specifications, if not the most important.
The percentage is a reflection how how much cacao the chocolate contains in relation to sugar or all other ingredients. Often, the cacao and extra cocoa butter is reflected in this percentage, since the cocoa butter is a component of the cacao.
An inclusion are ingredients added to the chocolate after it has been manufactured. These are ingredients not added to the melanger, but added to the melted chocolate during tempering.
For instance, this may included nuts or dried fruits sprinkled on the back of the bar, or spices mixed into the chocolate before molding.
+ Batch Number
Many makers, especially smaller scale makers, will add a batch number to the bar, or a manufactured by date. This helps them keep track of the their batches, but is also interesting information for the consumer. You may find that the flavour of the same bar may change from batch to batch. This is often a reflection in the small variances of the cacao or maybe even slight adjustments during chocolate making.
Best Before Date
Most bars have a best before date. Plain dark chocolate can last for years without spoiling. This is because the high fat content of chocolate and the polyphenols are not hospitible to the growth of moulds and bacteria.
Although a plain dark chocolate bar (containing only cacao, sugar, and cocoa butter) may be eaten after the best before date, its important to note that the flavour of chocolate will change or weaken in intensity over time. This is expecially true for bars that have been wrapped and not been heat sealed.
To get the most flavour out of your bar, its important to consume it closer to the manufacturing date, or not too long after the best before date. But try it and make your own judgements of how long you can wait before the flavour of a bar deteriorates.
Make a note of the date you analyzed the bar. Use this date and the best before/manufacturing date to observe any trends. Do you generally enjoy chocolates more when they are consumed closser to the consumption date, or is there no difference?
+ Overall Bar Rating
This is completely subjective. Give your bar an overall rating. Use this to determine if you should purchase this chocolate again or not.
It's also interesting to compare your findings of the same bar consumed months or years apart.
Don’t overuse your logbook!
I understand you may want to be a chocolate connoisseur. You truly want to hone in on your skills to be able to discern which chocolate is fine, which is not, and what flavours are contained with it. This is all wonderful, but this isn’t how you should eat your chocolate every time. In fact, I don’t recommend using your logbook everytime you receive a new chocolate. Taste it a few times before using the logbook, just enjoy it in the moment, and think about whatever first comes to mind.
I guarantee overusing your logbook, over analyzing your chocolate will seem fun at first, but eventually you will grow tired, and maybe even resent dark chocolate. It happens to many people who feel they need to analyze every chocolate to death the first time they encounter it. The logbook is a tool to help you better judge your chocolate. It’s not a tool to be used every time you eat chocolate.
Why does flavour matter so much?
Flavour is an indicator of quality. It’s not the only indicator, but it should be your first judgement when eating a chocolate bar. If you so happen to enjoy it, then you can read more into it and see if it is a chocolate or company that you wish to support and encourage.
Not all delicious chocolate is high quality. You may agree a chocolate was tasty, but after analyzing the ingredients, you might determine fine quality cacao wasn’t used, or vanilla was added to mask mediocre cacao. Even though you enjoyed it, perhaps you don’t feel as though it was worth $10 or $15.
You may also want your chocolate bar to be fair trade, direct trade, organic, or know more about the people who were involved. Even if a chocolate bar tasted delicious, if there is no indication that the cacao was fairly traded, maybe you don’t want to purchase it again next time.