There’s a lot more to it than biting and chewing. Credit…Johnny Miller for The New York Times.
If you’re going to spend upward of $8 for a fancy craft-chocolate bar, you really shouldn’t mindlessly gobble it while rushing to catch the B train (not that I’ve ever done that). Megan Giller, the author of “Bean to Bar Chocolate” and a judge for the International Chocolate Awards, gives guided chocolate tastings to help the sweet-toothed fully appreciate their bars. Here are some of her tips:
Taste a few bars at a time.
It’s easier to understand the nuances when you can compare different chocolates to one another. Four to six is a good number, but even playing two off each other helps.
Keep it cool.
Never store chocolate in the refrigerator, or next to a radiator or the stove. Keep it dry and cool, between 63 and 68 degrees in a dark place like the basement, the back of your pantry, or perched in a box on a windowsill.
You can seal the chocolate in an airtight container to protect it. Before tasting, let the chocolate come to room temperature, around 72 degrees. With chocolate, even a few degrees makes a difference.
Give it a good look.
Unwrap the bar. If you see any white patches or a dusty coating that you fear might be mold, rest assured, it’s not. It’s a sign that the chocolate has bloomed — that the emulsification from tempering has broken, and the fat or sugars, or both, have risen to the surface. You can still eat the chocolate, but it might be gritty or greasy. (You may want to save it for baking, or melt it into hot chocolate). Well-tempered chocolate will look shiny, and you’ll hear a snap when you break off a piece.
Note the color.
Chocolate varies in hue depending on the variety and origin of the cacao beans. Chocolate from Ghana and Tanzania may be darker than that from Madagascar, which has a reddish cast. And if you’re lucky enough to get chocolate made from Porcelana or Peruvian Nacional beans, it might have the amber shade of maple syrup.
Take a whiff.
Before biting in, break a piece off and give it a sniff. The strongest aroma will come from the edge that’s just been cut. Does it smell bright, like raspberries, pineapple or mango? Is it redolent of rubber and smoke, or blue cheese? The aromas are linked to the chocolate’s flavors, helping you identify them once you start tasting.
Now taste it.
Pop that piece in your mouth. Let it melt on your tongue for a few seconds to warm it up, then chew it a few times before letting it melt some more. As it dissolves, different and possibly mind-blowing flavors will emerge. Are there sweet and fruity notes, like blackberries, prunes or coconut? Is it spicy, like cinnamon or black pepper? Is there a savory element, like prosciutto or olives? Tasting chocolate is completely subjective; there’s no right or wrong. But once you start cataloging the flavors you perceive, you’ll start to recognize what kinds of tastes you typically get, and which ones you like. If you’re tasting several chocolates in one sitting, it can be helpful to use palate cleaners (lemon water or plain crackers) between bars.
Don’t confuse taste with texture.
Creaminess on the palate can be a lovely thing, and it can inform the flavor. But it’s good to separate mouthfeel and flavor in your mind. Even slightly gritty bars can have intense, complex flavors if you’re open to them.
Start a list.
Decide which bars you like best, then write down the names or take a photo. The next time you’re at a fancy market confronted with a shelf of pricey options, you’ll know which chocolate to reach for. You may not see the exact same bars (especially if you’ve fallen for a small-batch line), but if you remember the chocolate maker, or the origin, it can help you choose something similar.