Lucy from Bean to Bar Chocolate is a chocolate tasting expert and give us some tips on how to taste fine chocolate before our next session on Monday!
Prepare in advance to get the most from a chocolate tasting. Firstly, prep your palate by avoiding strongly flavoured foods the evening before and in the hours leading up to your tasting. This includes no perfume or aftershave, which may interfere with picking up aromas. Have spring water available to drink between each piece of chocolate, some people also like to use sliced apple, bread or plain crackers to cleanse the palate with. In an ideal scenario you would know which order to taste in, so that you moved from the milder flavoured chocolate to the boldest. Unfortunately, cocoa content is not a reliable way to gauge this as some 80% cocoa mass bars have a similar character to those at 70%, whereas some 70% bars can have a depth and strength that you might only expect at higher percentages.
Aroma, taste, texture and snap provide the clues in judging a bar of chocolate. Many people think that chocolate with a high percentage is a sign of quality: this is simply not the case. When tasting, look for the merits of the bar – how it smells, how it feels in the mouth and the flavours that develop. Try including a couple of dark chocolates widely available in supermarkets/ newsagents, which are being sold as high quality bars. My experience is that these ‘quality’ bars are mostly bland, flat and bitter (burnt) in comparison to the chocolate being made by the best producers from the craft chocolate movement. This is because the vast majority of mass-produced bars are made from low-grade beans grown on the Ivory Coast, which are then excessively roasted to dullness.
Experiment in how you taste. For instance, I compare the flavours I find between slow tasting as well as normal speed tasting. Slow tasting allows the chocolate to melt in your mouth, providing a longer and more complex flavour experience. However, a quicker tasting allows me to understand what most people experience when they bite into a bar. Then I write tasting notes taking both of these into consideration. 5-8 chocolates is probably enough in one sitting, stop before the palate becomes muted. And, finally, remember not to dismiss milk chocolate: there are some wonderful, complex milk chocolates available.
The quality of the temper* is the first thing to look for. Chocolate needs to be properly tempered in order to have a glossy shine and a good snap. Poorly tempered chocolate will look cloudy, have a dull snap and give an unsatisfying graininess in the mouth.
*The result of a process of heating and cooling, which crystallises the cocoa butter in the chocolate.
Fine cocoa is known to contain hundreds of flavours, and the best way to begin detecting these is through smell. Before trying the chocolate smell it and see what aromas you notice, this will get your palate ready for tasting.
How does it feel in the mouth? Different chocolate makers have different styles, some prefer producing bars which feel drier in the mouth, whilst others opt for a silky smooth texture.
I find taste varies depending on the time of day, what has been eaten previously and what bars are being tried alongside. There is no right or wrong answer to flavour experience: anything that comes to mind is valid. However, what you may find is that you’ll be able to articulate flavours more easily with time.
- FLORAL: Lavender, rose, orange blossom, jasmine, honey
- EARTHY: Woods, leather, tobacco, moss, olives
- ROASTED: Molasses, smoke, toast, burnt
- FRUITY: Citrus fruits, red fruits, yellow fruits, berries, dried fruit, vine fruit
- NUTTY: Almonds, brazil nuts, macadamia nuts, peanuts
- HERBS/ SPICY: Nutmeg, cinnamon, pepper, allspice, cloves, basil, mint, liquorice
- BUTTERY: Caramel, butter, cream, toffee, malt
- Long/ short finish
Lucy will conduct a Single Origin Chocolate Tasting this Monday 21st March at the Clissold Arms, N2, Please join us!
Lucy is the owner of Bean to Bar Chocolate (an online fine chocolate supplier), and has a specialist knowledge of the craft chocolate movement. Her interests are in small batch, ethical producers who are making extraordinary chocolate from around the world.
Similar to a book or film club, Lucy also runs a monthly chocolate tasting club at the Arthouse in Crouch End where a group of chocolate fans discuss and learn about a variety of craft chocolate bars in an informal social setting.
For more information: www.beantobarchocolate.co.uk