how to taste chocolate

Happy New Year to all my subscribers and those who enjoy reading my blog. Let’s collectively hope and pray that 2021 will bring better health and reintroduce social freedoms for all.

Chocolatour

I truly miss having the opportunity to gather with chocolate lovers in the classes I’ve been hosting at various venues and events around the world since launching the Chocolatour series of books and events and am truly hopeful that will resume before too long. In the interim, I’ll be here to offer online classes and host customized events for those wanting to up their chocolate game and learn how to taste and appreciate chocolate with curiosity, grace and enthusiasm.

how to taste chocolate mindfully

I’ve been writing this blog since 2009 and have been hosting in-person chocolate tastings since 2013. It is only now that I realize I’ve not previously written a post on how to mindfully taste chocolate so that you can savour and discover the incredible array of flavour notes and aromas artisanal handcrafted chocolate has to offer. No matter how good the chocolate is, if you don’t take the time to eat it slowly and mindfully, you may as well be a eating a $2 bar of chocolate versus spending the $10 that a bar of small batch artisanal chocolate usually costs.

This is a Trinitario cacao pod growing in Trinidad, where this hybrid cacao blend of Criollo and Forastero cacao was first developed. Trinidad grows some of the finest cacao and Trinitario is the favoured beans of many chocolate makers around the world due to its moderate price point and exceptional flavour and quality.

So for the benefit of those who have not attended a chocolate tasting with me or another chocolate professional, I’m happy to share some of the steps that will help you fully engage your senses and appreciate the artistry that goes into bringing the full flavour profiles out of the finest cocoa beans in the world.

chocolate tasting tips

  1. Observe the packaging. By far, women eat and purchase more chocolate than men. And generally, women prefer pretty things. So chocolate packaged attractively creates a heightened sense of anticipation. Chocolate wrapped in plain brown paper–can be of exceptional quality, as is the case in this Blanxart bar of chocolate from Barcelona (made from Nicaraguan cacao.) But being wrapped in plain brown paper doesn’t offer the same sense of anticipation as the creative and visually appealing wrapping of the Manoa (Hawaiian chocolate) below. As well, as being visually appealing, the packaging should reveal important information such as the origin of the cacao, where the chocolate was made, what percentage of cocoa, and what other ingredients have been used to make the chocolate.
Manoa-chocolate

2. Carefully observe the appearance of the chocolate itself. Its colour will prepare you for the intensity of the flavour. Milk chocolate is lighter in colour than dark chocolate, and as it contains more sugar and added dairy, the intensity of the flavour is less that you will find in a darker chocolate bar containing a higher percentage of cocoa. As well, observing the texture of the chocolate will prepare your mouth for the feeling it will get from the chocolate. Eating a silky shiny smooth chocolate produces an entirely different mouth feel than a chocolate that is coarser and offers a more granular texture.

3. Smell the chocolate. Mindfully inhaling the fragrance of the chocolate significantly increases your ability to fully taste the various flavour notes you will discover once you taste it. You can elevate this experience by brushing a piece of the chocolate against your lips. Concentrate on the aroma. Does it suggest any particular flavour notes you can anticipate once you actually taste the chocolate? More aromatic chocolate generally indicates higher quality.

4. We finally get to taste the chocolate! Break off a small piece of chocolate and let it rest in your mouth. As it melts, it will rise to the roof of your mouth and the flavours will reveal themselves. Please don’t chew the chocolate or swallow it until it has fully melted in your mouth. Quality chocolate that has been properly processed should not be bitter. The higher the cocoa percentage, the higher the astringency is likely to be (meaning it may produce a drier feeling in your mouth as it contains less if any cocoa butter.) But it shouldn’t taste bitter. Cocoa of different origins may have a slightly higher level of acidity (such as Peru) based on its natural flavour notes. Others may taste intensely fruity (such as the Dominican Republic.) Some have a smokey flavour (such as Indonesia.) Each will have a greater appeal to different people. That’s where the fun comes in! Try sampling various chocolate from different makers and different origins, and you will soon be able to identify their unique attributes, just as you can with wines originating in different countries. It’s all in the terroir (meaning the unique growing conditions of that particular region) and the specific processing steps involved.

5. Have fun with it! Chocolate pairs well with many different wines and beverages. I’ve touched on pairing chocolate with whiskey in this post. And I offer tips on pairing wine with chocolate in this post. I hope these chocolate tasting tips will help you fully engage your senses. Increasing your ability to appreciate the magical and mystical wonders of chocolate will better enable you to understand why it has been referred to as the “Food of the Gods” for many centuries.

wine-chocolate-pairing

Doreen Pendgracs

Known throughout the Web as the "Wizard of Words", I've been a freelance writer since 1993. I'm currently researching and writing volume II of "Chocolatour: A Quest for the World's Best Chocolate". Volume I was published in September, 2013.

32 Responses

  1. Margot says:

    Nice information about how to taste chocolate. It’s totally changed my mind. Next time I eat chocolate, I’ll try your tips.

  2. Eleanore says:

    Happy New Year, Doreen! Thank you for the great article and reminder to slooooow down and truly savour the chocolate experience. You have showed us how to truly enjoy chocolate as we would fine wine and we appreciate you sharing your chocolate wisdom.

    • Thx so much for stopping by, Eleanor, and Happy New Year to you and Randy, too! We’ve sure had some fun sharing chocolate and wine tasting events at Aaron’s over the past couple of years. I hope we’ll be able to do it again soon.

  3. My husband definitely is one to pair chocolate with wine. Me … not so much. Thanks for the tips. Do you recommend anything to cleanse the palate between chocolates?

    • Hi Cathy & thx for your comment. If you’re tasting several chocolates in succession, water between each is recommended. And if they are very different, a bite of a water cracker would be helpful in cleansing the palate. Enjoy, with or without the wine.

  4. Just an idea to level up our Zoom meetings with the family. How much will it cost if we package a Chocolate Tasting Zoom Meeting with my family a couple in Calgary, another in San Francisco, another in Denver, another in Boise, and the last in Melbourne for my husband’s birthday on March 10? Hopefully, we can send them samples of the chocolates (the wine pairings we will just ask them to get. So ten of us for about an hour (optionally, 30 minutes). Thanks, Doreen. Just getting an idea.

  5. Not only is it best for the chocolate to melt in your mouth – its such a wonderful opportunity to experience a blissful moment of mindfulness being fully present in the here and now!! 😉
    Linda Fairbairn recently posted…Next Stop – Covid-19… All ChangeMy Profile

  6. Doreen, we never fail to learn from your articles. While we certainly gobbled down our fair share of chocolate as children, these days we have learned to take our time and truly enjoy the flavors. learning how to taste chocolate is something every adult needs to do.

    • Thx so much for your comment, Jeff & Crystal & HNY to you! I’m glad you continue to learn from my posts. There is so much to learn & share about the world of chocolate & cacao.

  7. noel Morata says:

    This was awesome and I’ve done it all except to let it melt and just flavor the entire mouth, I’ll have to try that approach next time, just have to fill up the fridge with chocolate cacao again.

    • Happy New Year, Noel, & thx so much for your comment. Just remember to let the chocolate get to room temperature before you eat it! I know you live in Hawaii & chocolate may melt easily. But you never want to eat it cold as that dulls the flavour notes.

  8. Frances Petrowski says:

    Hi Doreen
    Thanks for this post – it reminds me I need to do some online shopping for more chocolate!
    I first learned how to really taste chocolate at your informative talk at the Lakeview hotel a few years ago. It was an amazing evening where every course of the meal had chocolate in it and in between we had wine or whiskey pairings with chocolate. I learned so much that evening including the fewer ingredients in the chocolate the better!
    Can’t wait for the second volume and more in person chocolate events!
    Take Care

    • Thx so much for your lovely comment, Frances. Yes, that chocolate dinner gala at the Lakeview was an amazing event. I hope we get to do something like that again soon. For the meantime, online chocolate orders are definitely the way to go. I hope they’re still offering free shipping. Check the Hummingbird link in my previous post.

  9. Great post Doreen! You are an educator and advocate for chocolate lovers and wanna-bes who don’t know what they’ve been missing. The analogy to wine tasting is right on. Who wants to chug a premium glass of wine when you can sip, smell and savour!
    I recall an article that Alison Gilmour of the Winnipeg Free Press did where you really summed up the chocolate experience. Still a delightful read. for those who want to learn more, here’s the link: https://www.winnipegfreepress.com/arts-and-life/food/raising-the-bar-391834981.html

    • Hi Margaret! Thx so much for the kind words. And thx so much for posting the link to the article written by Alison Gilmour of the Winnipeg Free Press. That was a very well-written article!

  10. I think you’re handing us all a perfect pandemic activity! I agree with you about the packaging, but not without a slightly troubled conscience. My go-to bar these days is Chocosol with the plain brown packaging, but it always feels like a real treat to pick up a brightly coloured Sirene or Marou.

    • Hi Virginia & thx so much for your thoughtful comment. I understand what you’re saying about plain brown paper packaging being environmentally friendly. But many chocolate makers such as Original Beans & Hummingbird offer attractive packaging that is environmentally friendly & fully biodegradable. I’m just not a plain brown paper type of gal.

  11. Mmmmmmmmm. I am not a choco-holic, which is why when I buy good chocolate as in indulgence, I truly take the time to savor it. I also mm the entire time! You have taught me so much about chocolate–from your book through your blog! This helps me appreciate the little things more.

    In Trader Joe’s, I love to stare at the chocolate packages–they love color, not brown paper!

    • Thx so much for your comment, RoseMary, and Happy New Year to you! I definitely envision you as someone who would savour fine flavours. I can’t wait to some day enjoy some great chocolate & wine with you.

  12. Phoenix says:

    Nice article, filled with great information about mindfully savoring the chocolate experience.

  13. Bev Phillips says:

    Being in lockdown for several months is the perfect opportunity to learn a new skill, and I daresay chocolate consumption has increased of late. Your detailed instructions on how to taste chocolate are exactly what the world needs right now, Doreen! Well done as always.

    • Thanks so much, Bev. I truly appreciate your words of encouragement. I felt I had to write the article as I recently witnessed someone wolf down a bar of very fine chocolate in just about one bite. I felt it was such a waste, as there’s no way she actually tasted the chocolate. Happy New Year to you and Howard, and may the upcoming days include some fine chocolate to savour.

  14. Thanks for the chocolate tasting tips Doreen! Eating chocolate is an indulgence for me but I think I’ve been doing it right! Except for the pairing with wine part that is. I tend to drink water if I’m eating chocolate. Maybe it’s a habit I should break!
    Sherryl Perry recently posted…Can we Trust Dr. Anthony Fauci to Tell Us the Truth About Covid-19?My Profile

    • Happy New Year, Sherryl, and thanks so much for your comment. Water is actually a terrific thing to drink with chocolate as it doesn’t interfere with your appreciation of the flavour notes of the chocolate.

  15. When we test, we use only water to rinse out our mouth between samples. What do you prefer to use to cleanse your palate?
    TammyJo Eckhart recently posted…Best Chocolate of 2020My Profile

    • Hi TammyJo and Happy New Year to you! When I’m officially tasting, I do taste with water as an accompaniment. If I’m tasting several samples, I will have water crackers to serve as a palate cleanser between tasting the different samples. But I write this blog primarily for fellow chocolate lovers who enjoy travel, joy and libations, so pairing tips are always sought and welcome.

  16. Linda Paul says:

    Thanks for this informative post! I am eager to sit down with a fine bar of chocolate and following your tips, really pay attention. I know a chocolate palate is developed, just as is a wine palate. Great post. Happy New Year to you, Doreen. Hopefully we’ll all soon be able to travel. (Soon being a matter of perspective….)

    • Thx so much for your kind comment, Linda. Sometimes I take the basics for granted and don’t even realize they’re of value to someone who may not have heard me say them in person. I’ve got to get working on the second volume of Chocolatour! I can see I have lots of content to share. Happy New Year, and may 2021 bring you unlimited pleasure.

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