How To Taste Dark Chocolate – A Walk Through The Realm Of Chocolate Taste Testing Protocols

Dark chocolate is starting to get a well deserved reputation for its many health benefits. Once taken for granted, people are becoming more aware about just how powerful this chocolate really is. Is it a super food? Not exactly, but it contains more antioxidants than the previously most potent source on earth- blueberries and Acai berries.

Get ready to learn a bit about chocolate you may not have known. The following steps should be taken for best results in learning how to taste dark chocolate for the best kind of and most potent health benefits.

STEP 1:  Remove Distractions
Flavor detection is a serious skill set. Having the ability to concentrate is paramount to being able to successfully sniff out the high quality chocolate (with your taste buds). To do this, you must relieve yourself of any distractions so that you can concentrate intently.

Anything from smells in the room, to music playing, or a baby crying will distract you.

STEP 2: Clear Your Palatte
Besides sensory distractions, the taste buds can be distracted by previous meals and tastes in your mouth. Make sure you’ve brushed your teeth and used mouthwash and rinse to make sure your palette is blank. There are a lot of subtle tastes you’ll need to pay attention to as these are markers you’ll use to grade the chocolate’s complex flavor.

STEP 3: The Flavor Profile –  Be Smart In Your Selection
Selecting your piece of chocolate is important because, if you grab a piece that isn’t of sufficient size to accommodate the full evolution of the flavor profile, then you won’t have a holistic experience necessary to properly gauge the chocolate’s many nuances. If the piece is too small, you won’t get the full grid of subtle nuances that give you the clues you need to quantify its flavor, process, and potency.

The flavor profile unfolds over several layers and explosions of taste as you intensely focus on the sensations your tongue broadcasts to your brain. It’s not a quick-one-go kind of thing; it’s a slow and savored experience. Its goal is to heighten your senses and sharpen your focus skills, while simultaneously enjoying one of life’s natural fine wines of chocolate bliss.

Start with 10g, no less, and graduate up until you figure out where your perfect size is. You will likely want to practice this skill set and perfect it. Meditation helps a great deal with the distractions of your 5 senses.

Make sure that the piece of chocolate is large enough to accommodate full evolution of the flavor profile. A piece too small may not allow you to detect every subtle nuance as the chocolate slowly melts. The important thing to remember is that flavor notes gradually evolve and unfold on the tongue rather than open up in one large package. So remember, don’t think small here. 10g should be a minimum starting point.

STEP 4:  Setting The Stage – Flushing Out The Flavors
Before you start tasting anything, it should be of optimal temperature and consistency for maximum success in detecting flavors distinctly. After selecting your chocolate piece(s), set them out to cool down or warm up to room temperature. If it’s too cold, the flavors won’t burst and you won’t be able to sense them or detect that they’re even there.

At room temperature, it’s in the perfect state for the flavors to burst forth, exciting your taste buds. Some people advise an optional procedure of rubbing the chocolate between your fingers to warm a few layers (even if colder than room temperature).

STEP 5:  Visual Inspection
The visual inspection will give you clues about the chocolate before you taste it. If, while tasting it, you detect something unusual or unexpected, you can use visual cues to unravel the mystery. For example if you notice that your piece of chocolate is lacking a radiant sheen, this tells you about the process used to temper it.

If you taste a high-end chocolate, you should know about the process typically used to make it. Learning about the process from Cacao tree to chocolate seed “pod”, to seed to nibs to drying, roasting, caching, tempering, Dutching, formulating, and everything up to packaging. This way you learn the subtle nuances in the chocolate that give away its quality, process, professionalism, and more.

Visually inspect the chocolate while holding it in your hands. The outer surface should be clear and blemish free. There shouldn’t be any white “bloom” (marks). The color and molding give you clues into the manufacture’s workmanship in molding and tempering. You can tell if it was hastily crafted or if the professional took ample time through the stages (fermentation and caching).

Patience makes for a much richer, more powerful flavor and nutritional potency. Ask yourself the whole time, “what do I see in there? Pinks? Purples? Orange swirls? Chocolate has numerous tints, colors, and swirls. The key to identifying good chocolate potency and process used to make it is in identifying visual clues that give away the whole thing.

STEP 6: The Break
Breaking the chocolate is a part of the process. Why? Because, like everything else, how it breaks and what it sounds like, if it crumbles or *snaps* that beautiful resounding “SNAP!” tells you about its quality and tempering process. If the tempering process is not done correctly, your chocolate won’t snap, it will crumble. A good piece of quality dark chocolate also has a beautiful gradient across the edges where it separated.

STEP 7:  Olfactory Test
Ah, the aroma of chocolate after you snap it in half! Once breakage completes, get your nose in there and take a slow and sublime whiff. Flavor is a two part symbiotic relationship with your body. You usually first smell food and then taste it. The smell directly affects how the food tastes. What that means is you can tell how the chocolate will fare before you taste it by smelling it.

When you crack a piece in half, you unlock flavor crystals that break microscopically at the breaking point, you get a gust of pure chocolate perfume at that point. Your job here is to learn all the subtle nuances of chocolate and how different kinds smell different, and what these subtleties mean to the big picture.

You’ve used your sense of smell, you’ve learned how all the nuances of the chocolate aromas work and how to identify them quickly, and you’ve learned how to (from experience) detect anything in chocolate with a basic visual and physical (breaking it open, touching it, seeing it’s shine, molding hallmarks, etc.) test.

STEP 8:  The Taste Test – At Last
If you’ve prepared the chocolate environment to allow the chocolate to cool down to or warm up to room temperature, then you’re ready for the taste test. Place the chocolate, a small piece that won’t overwhelm you, on the tongue and let your body heat bake the piece until it melts and softens its consistency, releasing the aroma and taste sensation.

Let it melt and enjoy the sensation. As it melts, your mouth is filled with the aromas of the chocolate’s flavinoids. Resist the urge to chew or swallow it. This is a taste test. Eating the piece will affect further tasting so don’t do it. Chew it only if you need to break it into smaller pieces that won’t melt on their own.

In the middle of this process, the warmth of your mouth will cause the chocolate to sweat out the cocoa butter, a pure delicious tasting filling that bursts in your mouth with chocolate deliciousness. This process also allows the cocoa butter to evenly distribute in your mouth, which mutes the bitterness or astringencies typical in pure raw chocolate.

STEP 9:  Texture
By observing the texture of the chocolate, you can begin to separate the different flavors broadcasting on your taste buds. Experience its full potential sensation. Close your eyes and really get your imagination involved in the process to activate the other four senses. We have the ability to experience a vivid sensory explosion simply by focusing and meditating to the chocolate taste, smell visual, sensation (feel).

The deeper your visualization, the more you can quantify what your tasting into categories and separated by characteristics. Texture can be the most obvious clue of low quality chocolate. If the chocolate is low quality, it will tend to have a hard and grainy texture that isn’t very pleasant.

STEP 10: Evolution, Survey, Moment of Choco-Truth
This step is where you culminate the entire series of steps into a report by asking yourself some questions. At a taste test, you would be given a questionnaire to answer with a paragraph or a few lines about what you tasted, what you saw, how the flavor evolved, the level of bitterness, if it was heavy or light, smooth or rough, grainy, visually off, texturally how did it feel, and things of that nature.

Note any unpleasant or “metallic” sensations of flavors at the end. Everything is a clue into the quality of the chocolate. Being able to pick out a perfect piece of chocolate is a golden skill set to have, not just for taste testing, but for health. Being able to quickly determine if a piece of chocolate is quality simply by smelling it can give you a real leg up when you want to use it moderately to enhance your health (antioxidants and more!)

This step should actually be the first one you prepare as it is the execution step where you gauge the piece of chocolate you tested to elicit it’s pedigree, it’s quality check, and to judge it’s overall quality, taste, and appearance based on premeditated questions and expectations for sensation and labeling them.

STEP 11:  Rinse and repeat – Conclusion
You will do this with ONE type and piece of chocolate at a time for optimal and clarity based taste testing. Once you gauge and grade one piece, give yourself some time to relax and clear your palette. Don’t drink or eat anything but water. You can eat a piece of apple to clear out any chocolate remnants left behind from your last taste test piece.

Start anew on a new piece and repeat this over and over again. In time and with much anticipation and enjoyment, you can become a master chocolate taste and sensory expert on the chocolate profile.

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