Finding good chocolate can be a challenge if you don’t live in places like NYC or San Francisco. Regular grocery stores rarely, if ever, carry anything worth eating. Organic and specialty stores carry a lot of decent chocolate, which is like going from boxed wine to $7 table wine. Better, but still not great. And it’s hard to distinguish the good from the bad with so many new or local brands on the market.
The brands and craft makers we carry have been vetted, taste tested, and are in a class of their own. Sure, prices double from $4 to $8-10 a bar, but when considered in comparison to other “best” tastes in the world, it is an incredible deal. The best wine or whiskey in the world may cost you hundreds, or even thousands of dollars. The best cut of steak can go from $8 to $60 quickly. As of right now chocolate has a much smaller cap, the best bars can be had for $10-$20.
What ingredients does this chocolate maker use? Two ingredients (cacao, sugar) is pure and ideal for some chocolate aficionados but certainly not mandatory. What is the maker’s story? What percentage are you eating? Where did the beans come from? Chocolate is made from cacao, and a single origin.
white bloom on chocolate
Costa Rican bar will taste very different from a Madagascar blend. Trying bars from different origins and blends, will give you a range of flavors and help you determine your preferences just as you would with wine. Malbec or Pinot Noir? Fruit forward Madagascar or nutty Ecuador?
Once you’ve unwrapped the bar, take a moment to look at it. Is it a bright red brown, or a darker inky brown? The color can tell you about the roast and milk content, and is also influenced by the type of beans used. Is the bar shiny, does it have any white spots or funny streaks? That can indicate blooming, where the chocolate basically melted and reformed to create fat/sugar separation. The bar isn’t spoiled but it will affect the taste.
If you are tasting lots of different chocolates, some sparkling water or plain bread is a good way to cleanse your palate. Not all wines pair with all chocolates, so don’t let that cloud your taste buds either.
If you’ve stored chocolate in the fridge, let that chocolate come to room temperature before tasting. Cold chocolate makes it harder to detect flavor nuances. Ideally, you shouldn’t store your chocolate in the fridge, but in a cool, dry place around 65F.
Get a decent piece of the bar and break it off. Did it have a nice crisp sound? Good dark chocolate has a clean snapping sound, while milk chocolate will be slightly softer due to the milk content. A lack of a good snap could indicate bad tempering or that the chocolate is too warm.
Give the chocolate a quick whiff to inhale its aroma. Does it smell fruity or sweet? Can you detect any vanilla, spice or smokiness? Smelling chocolate (or any food) before you put it in your mouth primes your taste buds. Incoming! Pay attention if there is a lack of aroma, as it can indicate staleness and can completely affect taste.
Put the piece of chocolate in your mouth. But don’t chew it and gulp it down! Let the chocolate melt on your tongue. Your mouth is the perfect temperature for chocolate to melt slowly. Let the flavors unfold, and chew a few times to release more flavors if necessary.
Here are things to consider when tasting: texture, flavor, and the finish.
Texture is the first thing you’ll notice when the chocolate comes in contact with your mouth. Chew it slowly. Is it dry and chalky, or smooth and creamy? Does it coat your entire mouth? Waxy or a granular grainy texture is bad, the chocolate should be smooth (unless it is Mexican style chocolate).
Chocolate flavor can vary dramatically depending on the origin, the cacao content and what the maker chose to do with the beans. You may notice bright fruit and acidity, or jammy berries. Some chocolates have a strong nutty, earthy, or smoky tobacco flavor. And as you taste perhaps you will identify notes of caramel, vanilla and various spices. As the flavors unfold, notice what notes come into your mouth and how they change. Bitterness will be the last component.
The finish is all about how the chocolate lingers in your mouth. Does it have a long finish, or do the flavors disappear quickly? Savoring chocolate in this way will help you gain a deeper appreciation for chocolate but remember that what is good chocolate is ultimately subjective and up to you to decide!