How to Taste Chocolate

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February 23, 2011

Homemade chocolates

Back in the days of Russell Stover and Whitman Samplers, chocolate lovers could pretty much be sorted into those who liked to take a chance and those who wanted to know what they were getting into. But the new millennium calls for both more risk taking behavior and better preparation when it comes to eating chocolate. The pleasures of chocolate are increasingly reserved for those who have perfectly trained their palates to discern a nuance from a note and a nose from a finish with the skill of a master French perfumer. And for those who can’t or won’t keep up, I fear, there is only one conclusion to be drawn. “Let them eat Hershey's.”
Not that there’s anything wrong with that. But you can have more, so much more, once you surrender yourself to the science and secrecy of the cocoa bean and its' Gods, our masterful chocolatiers.

Tasting and eating are not the same thing
The first thing you need to keep in mind is that tasting chocolate is not the same as eating chocolate. By the time the chocolate reaches your teeth and melts down your throat, it has played on your palate for as long – or as little – as you deem the chocolate worth it. Make it worth it by investing in a few high end artisanal chocolates – whether molded and filled or French-styled rolled truffles. Or better yet, take the purist’s route of springing for some high quality bars of chocolate.

Chocolates found in the supermarket just don't cut it
Even the priciest and darkest don’t compare in taste to the single-origin bean to bar chocolates you will find in upscale markets, gift shops and on-line. And despite the trend toward dark chocolate, consider a selection of high quality milk chocolate, so that you can know for yourself if it is really dark chocolate you most favor, or just plain good chocolate.

Invite a friend
After selecting your chocolates, inviting a friend (or indulging all by your devilishly deserving self), and creating a lovely ambience with soft music, fresh water and perhaps great wine or tea, let the tasting begin.

Examine your chocolate
What is its color? Does it shine? Are there any marks, discoloring, air bubbles or signs of sugar bloom (a faint veil of grayish-white that some find ethereal and lovely, but chocolatiers recognize as a sign of poor tempering). Break it in half (if it is a bar) – does it have an audible snap? If it is a molded chocolate, examine the filling – is it firm and dense, soft and sensual, or dry and crumbly? Smell it – cup your hand around it as you bring it to your nose and take a few short, deep whiffs. Place it in your mouth – allow it to soften on your tongue and melt just a touch. As you savor it, how many flavors can you discern? Do they change over time? Do you taste it on the tip of your tongue where our palates register sweetness? Does the sweetness overpower the cocoa? Or do you taste it best in the back of your tongue, where our tongues taste bitterness? Do the sides of your tongue curl a bit as if recoiling? If so, the chocolate may be too acidic. If the sides of your tongue taste salty, does the saltiness detract from the taste, or enhance it? Finally, eat your chocolate, and then wait a moment to savor the lingering aftertaste.

Mastering chocolate is a blessing and a curse
As you embrace the art and science of tasting fine chocolates, you will find yourself blessed and cursed. Blessed with the ability to taste the complex world of great chocolate – and cursed that a Hershey Bar will never again satisfy and your food budget will take some tinkering to make way for the six dollar bar or the two dollar bite-sized confections. But while we may not be able to buy a good friend in this life, we can always buy a good piece of chocolate. And a good life includes both. Savor them.

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Frances Trejo-Lay's picture

Would love to host a Chocolate Tasting Party. Where would recommend getting chocolates to sample? San Diego, CA is the closest metropolitan center to me, or Palm Springs, CA. We also have access to a Rocky Moutain Chocolate Factory in town.

Any ideas?

Liam's picture

I love this idea and Janice's work above so much I had to shout it out on our Facebook and Twitter pages. My personal one too. This idea sounds like the next Tupperware or wine tasting trend. Good luck in San Diego area... I need the same advice for me (in Santa Monica, CA). Janice!!!!???

liam's picture

Back again... Here's the first of a trend, Chocolate Tasting Events. See for yourself. It's called “Chocolate Pooding," http://youtu.be/6AsSHt7_gHE

Thought you'd all get a smile out of it!

Janice Harper's picture

I'll post something on tasting parties soon, but in the meantime check out your local high-end food store (Whole Foods, or whatever boutique grocers is near you) and see what chocolates they offer. You can even find artisan chocolate bars through Amazon, believe it or not. In the meantime, stay tuned for a posting on hosting your own tasting party!

Janice Harper's picture

What a fun video! And I do agree, chocolate tasting events are getting to be quite popular. Thanks for sharing the video clip!

Sarah's picture

OMG I love Janice's work! She is so awesome! I love her writing style! I am a baker at a local business in my small small town so I mostly made pastries. The other day I made some chocolates! (Janice inspired me) and they were such a hit even though I think I botched up the recipe!

Keep these posts coming my colleges love them

ChocolateCentral's picture

I spend a fortune on good chocolate now. I have become so spoiled, because I would never eat the "other stuff". I wouldn't even dream of baking with anything less than a Valrhona or Callebaut. I live in Mexico and my favorite drinking and baking chocolate is Mayordomo. It is a fascinating world, much like the world of fine wine or cheese or art. It opens up your senses to great pleasure. Go and by an artisanal fine chocolate today and find out for yourself!

Blake R.'s picture

Does Janice have a cookbook out? I would buy one. I checked Amazon...

I bought a box of chocolates for my girlfriend for Valentines day. It was an artisan box (and very expensive) anyway we bit into them and they were just not that good. Very disapointed! It really made me realize price does not buy taste! Are there any specific brands or companies you recommend? I really want to make it up to her!!!!

Blake in Seattle

F Johnston's picture

@Blake R. If you are in Seattle you might want to try Fiori's (not sure if I spelled it right! :)) They are kinda pricey but they have interesting flavors. I have never tried them but I kinda want to! Also Theo's is good! But still pricey! Good Luck!

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