CWG BEAN TO BAR COMPASS
Tips To Articulating
Articulating the flavour of your dark chocolate doesn’t have to be impossible. A few things to keep in mind will allow you start tasting for yourself what you believed you were unable to taste. All of us are capable of discerning fine chocolate, we just require the know-how!
Aromas and flavours can be grouped with other relatively similar ones. There is no universal aroma or flavour categorization or hierarchy which exists, although many have attempted this challenging project. Therefore, I have gathered the most frequently articulated flavours for fine chocolate and arranged them in a tree. Remember that these are helpful suggestions, and not an all inclusive list of what you may find.
When you begin thinking about the flavours, it is helpful to group the flavours into very general groups, such as fruity, nut, and spice. This often makes it easier for us to articulate flavours if we can at least determine what “family” of flavours they belong to.
Sometimes this general flavour group is all we are able to articulate, and that’s okay. If you can begin to distinguish separate families of flavour, you’re already on the right track.
So collect in your mind the general groups of flavours. Maybe you can only point out one or two. That’s okay. Even experts can’t taste more than 4, and it’s very rare to find 5 or more. If you can find at least two (if they exist) then you’re doing well.
Narrow It down
So you’ve taken your first bite of chocolate, and you’ve decided your dark chocolate contains fruity, nut, and spice notes (it already sounds delicious!). That’s a great start, but now it’s time to narrow it down. Take a second bite, but this time, choose only one of those flavour notes to focus on, such as “fruity.” Begin to narrow down what type of fruit it is. Is it berry? If so, can you even take it a step further.
Then take a third bite, and focus on the nut flavour. Ignore the other ones, and just think about the nut flavour the entire time. Take a third bite, and focus on the spice flavour note, and not paying too much attention to the other notes.
Sometimes you really just know the family or group the flavour belongs to, and that’s okay! There are flavours sometimes that you really can’t articulate. Most of it comes with practise, your state of mind, or maybe you just haven’t experienced a flavour like that before! Don’t fret. Enjoy the chocolate. Maybe the specific flavour will come to you in the future.
Process Of Elimination
So you’ve done your best to articulate the specific fruity flavour, but you were just not able to! This next step may seem obvious, but sometimes we forget to do this. And thinking out loud could help as well.
“It’s fruity, but not citrus. Nothing tropical, like pineapple. Definitely not banana like.”
So now through some elimination, you’re left with berry, plum, and cherry. I can see how these somewhat tart red fruit flavours can be easily confused. This is where it gets fun, or frustrating!
Try to imagine the flavour of these fruits for a moment before you take another bite. If you happen to have some plums, cherries, or berries around, taste them before taking your next bite of chocolate. Or perhaps come back to this chocolate again later on after you have a few of these fruits to taste. Sometimes the memory of what a fruit tastes like exactly gets muddled, no matter how many times we have eaten it, so it’s very helpful to have it there as a reference point.
Sometimes we really can’t articulate the flavour, or even the flavour group. That’s okay. Don’t beat yourself up. If that is the case, then think of what it reminds you of. Perhaps it reminds you of a dessert you once had, or a meal that has nothing to do with chocolate. It could even be a place that contained a memorable odour, such as a relatives home or a place you visited once while on vacation.
Forget about trying to figure out the food flavour, and just focus on anything it reminds you of. A place, a time, a food, an odour. Relax and allow your mind to take you there.
I remember trying a dark 70% Bolivian bean to bar chocolate, and right away after exhaling, a very unusual memory came to mind. It took me back to the taste of a fresh focaccia bread I used to make at a bakery I once worked at. Not only was I able to articulate what the chocolate tasted like, but also sparked that wonderful memory I had. Allow your brain to explore, and try not to overthink it.
Think Beyond Food
I once tried a chocolate from a bean to bar maker who was experimenting with different roasts and conching times. One of the samples contained an aroma which immediately took my mind to a lumberyard. Once that flavour locked with that memory, I couldn’t NOT taste it. I refer to it as the chocolate with notes of lumber, and I loved it. Unfortunately, they decided not to go with that profile.
So, depending on how creative you are or like to be, try and think of odours and aromas that have nothing to do with chocolate or even food. This is especially helpful if you are having a hard time discerning the flavour from the flavour tree or your favourite flavour wheel. Brainstorm some abstract ideas such as colours, shapes, or even what type of personality this chocolate be if it were a person!
And yes, if you are trying to become a master taster, you want to be able to articulate the aromas which are actually there, but sometimes thinking outside the box will allow you to get there, from a less traditional train of thought. And if you really can’t articulate the flavours, have fun with it! Enjoy it for what it is and how it makes you feel. It’s chocolate after all.
Eat With Friends
Eating has always been a very social activity for all humans. It’s only been more recent history, especially in North America, where many of us eat most of our meals alone more often than not.
Tasting chocolate with one or a few others is a great way to feed off of each other’s experiences. Perhaps someone is able to articulate the flavour you are trying to find, or they may offer you more insight into the chocolate or even better tips for tasting and articulating.
Tasting with others has really opened my mind to ways of expressing flavour that I hadn’t yet thought of. Try it! Get a group of people together and host your own chocolate tastings! CLICK HERE to read more.
Eat Chocolate When Hungry
If you are trying to get the most out of your fine chocolate bar, enjoy it on an empty stomach. If we are hungry, our olfactory system is much more sensitive, and more likely to respond to all the aromas in our chocolate. If we are sated (full), our body reacts differently at the physiological level. Our brain doesn’t get as excited about the food we ingest, and doesn’t respond as much as it would if we were hungry.
The solution, is enjoy your chocolate before a meal, or at a time when you haven’t eaten for an extended period of time. If you are trying to seriously judge and analyze your chocolate, do it first thing in the morning, after a very light meal or no meal at all. You will likely find picking out the flavours in your chocolate becomes a lot easier.
Last, but certainly not least. In fact, I should have put this at the top of the list. Comparing and contrasting chocolate side by side, one after the other, is crucial to developing your tasting abilities. Think of when you’re learning a new language, and you need to contrast the sounds of letters such as “O” in english and “Ö” in Swedish. Sometimes the flavours are so subtle, you require a flavour reference point.
This is what I call reference chocolate. This can be another fine chocolate bar, or even just some chocolate chips you have laying around. For instance, you may notice a chocolate has nutty notes, but until you compare it with another chocolate with different notes, those nutty notes become more clear and apparent. In fact, it may enhance your ability to then further articulate what type of nutty note it is.
Keep in mind you don’t need to cleanse your palate when juxtaposing chocolate. People assume that everytime you analyze chocolate, you do so like a panel of judges at a competition, where you don’t want flavours from different chocolates interfering with your analysis. This is not the case here. In fact, using palate cleansers may increase the time between chocolates, and make it harder to contrast. Yes, the flavours will interact, but you’ll be surprised how the flavours also amplify in their own right. If you do use a palate cleanser, don’t use cool water or foods such as apples. The coolness will reduce the ability for the chocolate to melt, and impede your flavour experience.
Juxtapose not just the flavour, but also the snap, the appearance, the smell, and the taste/textures as well. If you’re trying to develop your tasting skills, always taste chocolate in two or threes. It will really help improve your discerning capabilities.