“We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things, because we’re curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.”
- Walt Disney
While I continue to love chocolate and eat it almost every day, I have learned over many years of extreme over-indulgence how to enjoy this small luxury properly. For me the trick is to buy extremely high-end chocolate, limit myself to one piece a day, and eat it in a mindful manner that savors what each chocolate jewel has to offer. There are a number of different ways one can eat chocolate in a mindful way.
In my case I take a rather academic approach. Each time I indulge, I treat it as a new experience, as each piece of chocolate is. I apply the ABCs common to any degustation. It involves acquiring a little bit of background knowledge before acquiring the resource. Then applying a systematic process using all five senses.
Like fine wine, scotch or cheese – there is an art to getting the most out of a morsel of chocolate.
Chocolate Degustation (Tasting)
Background Preparation to the Degustation
- Obtain the food of the Gods that you intend to sample (suggestion: stay away from flavored chocolates, which distracts from the chocolate).
- Be in good health (e.g., as chocolate involves all your senses, if you are congested, then the experience will not be optimal. And I recommend being in good health anyway, just on principle.)
- Be in the right state of mind to be able to enjoy titillating all your senses (however if you are sad, the phenylethylamine, theobromine, anandamide and tryptophan might be just what the sisterhood ordered).
- Ideally your tasting should take place in the morning, when your senses are most alert. But really, for a true chocoholic, any time is chocolate time.
- Find a quiet place free of any auditory or olfactory distractions.
- An empty or near-empty stomach is optimal. That way you can eat more.
- You should not smoke, drink coffee or eat spicy food before a degustation.
- Cleanse your pallet (apple slices, white bread, sparkling water in-between each sample).
- The chocolate should have a temperature of 20°C. Never taste cold chocolate, which will hinder your ability to detect the flavour.
- Each sample should be at least 10g to be able to have an adequately thorough taste. Too small a piece and you may not be able to distinguish the subtle nuances as the chocolate unhurriedly dissolves. Flavour notes progressively develop as the chocolate melts.
- Experience each step leisurely.
- Buy the best you can afford (because then you die).
- Sample from lightest to darkest, never the other way around.
A chocolate degustation involves all five senses.
STEP 1: Visual Examination
a) Look at the packaging to: enjoy the craftsmanship in the art, labelling and materials used, or learn about the beans used and the terroir from where it came (for example, companies such as Valrhona and Michel Cluizel provide a range of single-sourced products from bean to bar), and the producer’s story. If they have done their job of packaging well, you will have begun salivating, which is essential to fully savouring anything. See: Delicious Design: 20 Delectable Chocolate Packaging Designs for inspiration.
b) Gently unwrap the bar. Anticipation….
c) Look at the Chocolate
Assess for colour
- Ivory. Interpretation: White chocolate composed of sugar, milk, cocoa butter. No cocoa solids. Not really chocolate, though it can still be pleasant.
- Light Brown with a rainbow of tints. Interpretation: Milk Chocolate composed of solid chocolate with the addition of milk (powder/liquid/condensed).
- Dark Brown with a rainbow of tints. Interpretation: Dark Chocolate composed of >30% cocoa solids. No milk added.
Assess for potential faults
Wavy pattern: caused by poor release from mold.
Grains of sugar on surface: result of blooming caused by dampness and condensation
Whitish/grey color on surface: caused by excessive heat or cold resulting in fat bloom
Air bubbles/swirling/uneven surface: caused by poor settling after molding
Matte rather than a shiny surface: caused by poor molding
STEP 2: Feel the Chocolate
Pinch a very small piece of the chocolate and rub it between the thumb and index finger. How does it feel as it melts? Is it sticky, dry, smooth or granular?
STEP 3: Smell the Chocolate
Smelling the chocolate and noticing its notes will increase the flavor in advance. As the chocolate melts between your thumb and index figure it releases aromas.
Use the guide at the bottom of this entry below to try and ascertain the smell notes (there are many hundreds of potential options, I have just listed some of the standard ones). Once you have identified the strongest note, your first note, you can go on to the second, third and so on.
For those interested in serious chocolate and wine degustations you may want to consider investing in a Le Nez Du Vin 54 Aroma Master Kit. I picked one up in Paris at a Nicolas wine store about five years ago and it is still as strong as ever.
STEP 4: Break the Chocolate and Listen
Break the piece of chocolate in half. It should make a snapping sound. The sound indicates temper and crystal alignment in the cocoa butter. If the sound is more like a thud, the chocolate may be to warm, perhaps improperly tempered or perhaps a stylistic choice on the part of the chocolate maker. The more distinct the snap the higher the cacao content, firmness and structure. Dark chocolate has the hardest snap.
The crack line should be crisp with no crumbs for a dark chocolate and a softer crack line for milk chocolate.
STEP 5: Taste the Chocolate
Place the piece of chocolate in your mouth. Chew it a couple of times to break it into a few pieces. Let it start to melt on your tongue. Move the chocolate around your mouth and coat your tongue, but avoid chewing. First you will taste bitter at the back of your tounge. The acidity will make you salivate. Then you will experience the three flavour notes: 1) head Aroma (the first taste, e.g. rose); 2) the body aroma (the second taste, e.g. hazelnut); and, 3) the heavy aroma (when you swallow, e.g. roasted coffee).
Focus on what is going on in your mouth. Can you identify the flavors? How have the flavours evolved? Do they come all at once or reveal themselves one at a time? Where in your mouth are you experiencing the flavour/sensation? Do you like the flavours or not? Was the texture smooth, creamy, dry or granular? Are there changes in taste and texture?
Next swallow and wait a few seconds. Do the tastes linger or quickly vanish? Is it pleasant or harsh? Is it balanced?
If you are trying more than one chocolate, clean your pallet with water and wait a few minutes before trying the next chocolate. After the last piece, it is permissible, even encouraged (at least by me) to indulge in a small (or not so small) glass of port.
“In order to be elegant a woman must begin by knowing how to make a selection from among the multitude…
- Genevieve Antoine Dariaux…”
Chocolate Degustation Aroma List
|Fresh Cut Wood|
|Ripened/Fermented Dairy||Bleu Cheese|
|Dried Milk Powder|
|Dulce de Leche|
|Lactic Sour Milk|
|Fruity||Dried Fruit||Dried Banana|