Your first box of chocolates has arrived, and now you’re ready to tear off those wrappers and get to the good stuff. But wait, instead of just eating chocolate, have you ever thought about learning to really taste it? A good bar of chocolate can be a lot like a fine bottle of wine; in fact, you might hear some of the same terms being used to describe both. Just like how grapes grown in California won’t taste the same as those grown in France, the flavor of chocolate can change depending upon where the beans were grown. Even beans grown in the same country can taste very different from each other, which is why you might see the name of a specific region or farm on the label.
If you’re ready to begin tasting chocolate with all of your senses, here are some tips to get you started:
Unwrap a bar and look at the surface of the chocolate. If it’s smooth and shiny without a lot of air bubbles, then you have a well-tempered bar of chocolate. White or gray streaks on the surface mean that either the chocolate wasn’t tempered correctly, or that it was stored improperly. Just like wine, chocolate should be stored in a cool, dry area. However, unlike wine, chocolate does not get better with age, so don’t leave it sitting around for too long.
Yes, I’m serious here. Smell your chocolate and see if you can identify any particular aromas. Does it smell earthy? Fruity? Do you get floral or spicy notes? Does it simply smell like chocolate? If the latter is the case, that’s okay—the more you begin to compare chocolate bars, the more likely you are to notice the subtle differences in aromas. Now if your bar smells like the head of garlic you stored it next to, that’s not okay. Chocolate absorbs odors easily, so if you want to keep those bars smelling sweet, store it away from anything with a strong scent.
Listen to the noise the chocolate makes when you break off a square; does it have a loud, clean snap? Good. Or does it just crumble without a sound? Not so good, but it probably still tastes okay. Besides making chocolate look pretty, tempering also gives it its solid structure and that satisfying sound. Crunch!
In addition to looking smooth, the chocolate should also feel that way—the two exceptions being if it is stone-ground (which gives chocolate a less-refined, rustic texture), or if it has inclusions such as fruit or nuts in it.
This is the moment you’ve been waiting for. Put the square of chocolate in your mouth, chew it a couple of times, and then let it melt on your tongue. Does it melt easily? Is the texture smooth? Try to put words to what you taste—is it pungent? Acidic? Sweet? Is it fruity? If so, what kind of fruit are you envisioning—cherries, blueberries? Does it seem earthy at the start and then change to notes of citrus at the finish? Most importantly, do you like the way it tastes?
Remember, there are no right or wrong answers here; your opinion of a chocolate bar might differ from someone else’s, and that’s okay. If everyone liked the same type of chocolate, we wouldn’t have all of the variety that we do today! The more chocolate you try, the better you’ll get at describing flavors, so don’t despair if you can’t come up with the words right away.
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