“Good chocolate contains flavors you are not used to associating with chocolate— for example, mushrooms, flowers, berries, licorice and even leather. It is like a symphony with many different notes— some come and go, others linger. Flavors may come in bursts, one after the other— and the aftertaste can be something completely different from the initial taste. Generally, as with wine, you should be able to distinguish a clear beginning, middle and end. The taste (aromas, not sweetness) can linger for many minutes if the chocolate is of exceptional quality.” —The Chocolate Connoisseur, by Chloé Doutre-Roussel
While trying to further develop my chocolate palate, I stumbled across a copy of Chloé Doutre-Roussel’s, The Chocolate Connoisseur, which helped me navigate through the subtleties of chocolate tasting. The author gives us a comprehensive and enlightening methodology of how to properly taste chocolate. The following is a select excerpt from her book.
If chocolate is your initiation into the world of tasting, you may be about to learn that you have a hidden talent for detecting the symphony of flavours waiting to be discovered - not only in chocolate but in other food products too.
Look at the piece of chocolate you are about to taste, evaluating its texture before you put it in your mouth. The surface should be smooth and shiny, indicating that the cocoa butter is properly crystallised (tempered). Do not be swayed by the colour. There are few rules about what colour is best, and the shade of chocolate colour is influenced by many factors such as bean type and roasting time as well as milk content.
Is it soft or hard? Sticky, grainy, sandy or velvety? Crisp or crunchy? Getting to know the feel of a chocolate will help you recognise it again in the future. It will also help you to identify quality. The smoother the texture, the more unctuous it will be in the mouth. The finer the chocolate's particles, the greater the aromas you will find in it.
Even your ability to hear affects taste. […] Tuning in to the sound that your chocolate makes when you break it [offers another sense of] the product, and [appreciation of] its quality. Did it break easily? Neatly? Drily? A chocolate that snaps without too much effort is a sign that the balance between cocoa and butter is right. Dark chocolate snaps more easily than milk because, unlike milk chocolate, it contains no milk powder.
Taste is ninety per cent smell. […] Good cocoa smells often remind us of natural products - fruit, flowers, woodlands or spice. A chocolate that smells smoky may have been carelessly dried. One that smells mouldy has been damaged in storage. You can build up your database of smells by using your nose whenever and wherever you can - not only when you are smelling chocolate.
When tasting a new chocolate, try just a small, fingernail- sized piece. Put it on your tongue and chew for a few seconds to break it into smaller chunks. Then stop and allow it to melt so that all flavours are released. Make sure the chocolate is spread all around your mouth - this way you'll taste the flavours most intensely.
When the taste of a wonderful chocolate reverberates long after we have consumed the chocolate, that indicates our olfactory system is going into overdrive. Our taste buds play a relatively minor role, picking up only crude definitions: sweet, acid, salty and bitter.
When you start tasting truly good chocolate, you will find that its flavour can linger for many minutes. This is the best incentive I can think of to invest in an expensive bar. It may cost three times as much as your usual bar, but the pleasure you'll get from it is intense and long.
The flavour of chocolate comes from the combination of several of the basic tastes listed opposite. Sugar, and slightly acidic beans, can both act in the same way - in small quantities, they'll enhance the flavour but in larger quantites they drown it out. (Try a 99% bar once when you're feeling brave. Without the sugar, chocolate is a very different beast!) Fine chocolate has harmonious tastes - you'll need to concentrate to sense their presence. Look out in particular for bitterness, acidity and astringency. The first two are welcome, but astringency is a bad sign, often found in poor-quality chocolate.
If you'd also like to make the perfect wine and chocolate pairing, the best advice to follow would be that of Jancis Robinson, author of How To Taste: A Guide To Enjoying Wine. "The sweet course is generally served after the cheese in wine-besotted households because cheese, like the main course, can partner dry wines, whereas anything sweet demands a change of gear to a wine that is even sweeter than the food. If that food is very sweet, and there are few desserts sweeter than chocolate-based ones, then the wine also has to be very sweet indeed and, because the flavor of good chocolate is strong, it will also have to be strong in alcohol. An uncomplicated, exuberant young fruity port would be great, as would be the even sweeter tawny-colored fortified Muscats of northeastern Victoria and Australia.”