Doesn’t tasting chocolate involve just popping some choccy chunks in your mouth and chomping? Well, no. There’s a bit more involved if you want to fully appreciate a good quality bar of chocolate.
(One small caveat before you read on: the below does not apply if you’re eating Cadbury’s or Hershey’s chocolate, or anything that has funny numbers instead of real food listed in the ingredients. They will pretty much always taste the same – and taste mostly of sugar in my opinion.)
Genuinely tasting chocolate involves all your senses. It also means giving your entire focus to the chocolate sitting in front on you, eagerly waiting to be eaten. Do yourself and the chocolate a favour, and set aside a little time to enjoy it.
Part of enjoying chocolate includes storing it properly so that it’s in the best condition when you eat it. It’s best to store chocolate in a cool, dark place between 15 to 18°C (not the fridge!). A cupboard is ideal if you live somewhere that’s not too hot, like the UK. If you can, try and have your chocolate at room temperature for tasting.
I have a special rainbow-striped box that I keep my chocolate in. It has a well-fitted lid to protect the chocolate from any sneaky cupboard smells. I like to have different types of chocolate on hand so there’s always one to suit my current mood or a particular dish I’m making. It’s amazing how much chocolate varies depending on the brand and where the cocoa beans come from – and how I’m feeling on that day. If I can see the bottom of the box, I know it’s time to buy some more chocolate.
You don’t need to eat a lot of good chocolate to feel satisfied. A few squares, slowly savoured, should be enough to fulfil your chocolate craving. Good high cocoa content chocolate packs a high-antioxidant punch, so it not only tastes good, but has lots of health benefits too.
Tasting chocolate in 5 steps
Step 1: Look
The first thing to do is take a look at your chocolate. Good chocolate will be a rich brown colour; even if it’s 100% cocoa dark chocolate it shouldn’t be black. It should also have a nice gloss or sheen to it.
If you see a white coating, or chocolate bloom, it normally means the chocolate has been incorrectly stored or incorrectly tempered (the final process of chocolate making which aligns all the chocolate crystals). The bloom is either fat bloom, where the cocoa butter separates from the chocolate, or sugar bloom, caused by moisture getting at the chocolate.
If you do see a bloom, your chocolate is still okay to eat, but it won’t be at its prime and the texture may not be quite as smooth. It might be best to use in baking, rather than eating on its own.
Step 2: Touch
Good quality chocolate will start to melt at body temperature. If you hold it in your hand, or hold your finger against it, it will start to melt slightly. This also means the chocolate should melt easily in your mouth. If it doesn’t, it’s a sign there might be some other additives in the chocolate.
The chocolate surface should also feel smooth – unless of course it has nuts or nibs in it, or some funky surface design.
Step 3: Listen
Let your chocolate talk to you… Hold a piece up to your ear and break it in two. It should have a clear snap. This crisp sound is the sign that it has a good amount of cocoa and has been well tempered (see Step 1).
Step 4: Smell
Much of your taste and appreciation of flavour is linked to smell. Although you may be desperate to put that bit of chocolate in your mouth, just wait a minute and take some time to give it a good long sniff.
What can you smell? It might be something floral or maybe fruity, perhaps a little peaty or even coffee-like. Chocolate has over 400 flavour compounds, so it’s worth taking the time to appreciate them. When you first start out, it will most likely just smell of chocolate, but with a little practise you’ll soon be able to detect some different aromas.
Step 5: Taste (finally!)
At last, you can put a small piece of chocolate in your mouth. But wait! Don’t chomp down on it straight away. Let it sit on your tongue so that it melts. Allow time for the flavours to release and develop. The lingering flavour after you’ve eaten the chocolate may even be a little different to the first flavour that you pick up.
Observe how it feels in your mouth – is it creamy, grainy or even a little chalky? Chocolate that is well made will normally be smooth and melt easily. And how does your mouth feels after you’ve eaten the chocolate? It might feel creamy or even dry (greasy on the other hand is not a sign of good chocolate); different chocolate will have a different feel, so take a note and compare.
Now you know how to taste chocolate properly, pick your favourite bar, sit back, break off a piece and enjoy. Happy chocolate eating!