When taking the time to taste fine chocolates, allow yourself to maximize the experience and try them in an entirely new way. Start be examining four major attributes of the chocolate bar - color, snap, aroma and flavors.
First, though, study the package. You will see certain characteristics about the bar on the packaging, including such things as a percentage, a country of origin and/or specific ingredients in the bar.
The percentage is important, telling us how much cacao, cocoa butter fat and sugar is in the bar. In the case of a 70% dark chocolate bar, for example, we learn that 70% of that bar is made up of the cocoa nibs ground down into a chocolate liquor (the industry term for molten chocolate without sugar) and that the amount of cocoa butter incorporated in that bar. There may be additional cocoa butter fat added in for an extra luxurious mouth feel. In this example, the remaining 30% of the bar is made up of sugar.
Country of origin on the packaging indicates the location from which the cocoa beans used to make this particular chocolate were grown. Cacao grows in tropical areas 20 degrees above and below the equator, limiting the number of countries able to have the necessary tropical conditions to grow cacao.
Inclusions tend to be a fun way for a chocolate maker to think “outside the box” and include additional flavors that enhance the origin’s flavor profile. Inclusions can be sea salt, nuts, dried fruits or spices to name a few.
There are several types of chocolate - dark, dark milk, milk and white - each of which vary in percentages and in color based on the cacao’s genetics. Dark, Dark Milk and Milk vary in shades of brown. Dark Milk and Milk chocolate include various amounts of milk powder. Dark Milk tends to have a higher percentage of cacao versus a milk chocolate, which would have less chocolate liquor and more milk powder. White chocolate tends to have a shade of white but can have hints of brown as well as some chocolate makers go through the process of pressing the cocoa butter fat out of the chocolate they make. White chocolate is made up of cocoa butter and milk powder without chocolate liquor.
When tasting, admire the color of the chocolate and compare the shading to other chocolates you have tasted.
Next, take your chocolate and snap it in half. The snap is indicative of how well the chocolate is tempered. Tempering is one of the final parts in the chocolate making process where the cocoa butter fat crystals are melted down and then realigned at a certain temperature range in order to create a solid structure.
If a bar tends to not have a loud snap, it indicates that either the original temper was not good or - if the bar has travelled and was susceptible to a warm atmosphere - that it may have lost its temper. It does not mean that the chocolate is not good and it may still taste great. But the snap does help confirm the quality of that chocolate.
Now smell the broken side of your chocolate, allowing yourself to fully experience all the aromas. At times, you may smell only cocoa notes, or you may smell various other flavor aromas that showcase the flavors from that origin. If you do not immediately get an aroma, try holding it between your fingers to heat it up a little and allow the aromas to be released.
The most exciting part of the tasting process is flavor, and it should be experienced slowly, with patience and without distractions. Place a piece of chocolate on your tongue, break it once or twice with your teeth and let it melt slowly, moving it around with your tongue. Do not munch on it. Let the temperature of your mouth melt the chocolate naturally.
A well-made chocolate bar may have various flavors that come and go, so pay attention to what you are tasting and compare flavor notes with others. The flavors you taste are perfect! There are no right or wrong answers in tasting chocolate. Some people may taste certain flavors while others may not. Others can be quickly reminded of a certain flavor because they may have tasted that particular fruit, nut, spice, etc. in the past while others may have had limited - or no experiences at all - with that certain flavor.
Now you can decide: Did you enjoyed it? How was this particular tasting experience for you? Did it evoke any memories? Experiencing chocolate in this way will allow you to go outside of your comfort zone and explore chocolate in new ways. Now you can share these chocolate experiences with others and experience how chocolate from different regions of the world, with the same percentage of cacao, can taste drastically different.