Before even saying anything about chocolate or giving you a tasting review of some chocolates, let me show you a list of things that can make it difficult for you to get the most out of your chocolate tasting experience. You might be completely new to craft chocolates or someone who has already started to explore them, either way, you want to make sure that you get what you pay for. But neglecting some (or all) of these points can literally leave you with a bad mouthfeel.
I listed the main factors that can influence either the flavour of the chocolate itself or your ability to unlock and discover these flavours through your senses. After each point, you will find some tips that can help you prevent these and fully enjoy the chocolate you are tasting.
- Strong odours: If you wonder why your favourite chocolate smells and tastes like garlic, curry, smoke or like an old cupboard, then probably you have left it in a wrong place. Bad storage solutions can cause your chocolate to take on other smells and flavours due to its cocoa butter content that carries the original flavours of chocolate but can also act as a magnet to other surrounding odours.
Solution: Reseal the packaging as much as possible, as it acts as a barrier, or repackage the chocolate in foil and keep it in an airtight box or zip-locked bag.
- Too cold: Chocolate sitting in the fridge can lose the strength of its original flavours and runs the risk of taking on other flavours (see above). In addition, cocoa butter will melt very slowly, so it can take a while to unlock the flavour of the chocolate as you taste it.
Solution: A plain chocolate bar has a long shelf-life and doesn’t have to be refrigerated. Find a dark, dry and cool place (16-18°C) to store your chocolates. Use plastic boxes or resealable bags to ensure your bars are well protected. Let the chocolates come to room temperature before tasting.
- Too warm: If your chocolate has white spots on its surface, it was probably somewhere too warm (above 25°C). Chocolate melts at a relatively low temperature that causes cocoa butter to rise to the surface (hence the white spots) when it becomes solid again after cooling. This doesn’t alter the flavour, but the texture may become grainy, gritty leaving you with an unpleasant mouthfeel. It is not mould though, so don’t throw it out. If you can’t bear to look at it, just use it up to make a delicious hot chocolate or brownie.
Solution: If you live in a hot climate, a wine cooler is a good option to store chocolates, as it is not so cold as a fridge and there is less condensation. Otherwise stick to solution #2. .
- Blocked nose: When having a cold or suffering from hay fever, our nose has trouble picking up smells. This leads to a difficulty in tasting flavours as smell is closely linked to taste.
Solution: Free up your airways to ensure a good cooperation between your smell and taste receptors in your nose and mouth. Also, you can give your nose a break by smelling something different like ground coffee, and then get back to smelling chocolate.
- Numb taste buds: If you are struggling to taste different flavours, maybe your taste buds are numb from what you previously ate or drank. Coffee, tea, spicy dishes, smoking, drinking alcohol can all have a strong and long aftertaste and not letting you taste your chocolate in all its glory.
Solution: Avoid drinking coffee, tea, alcohol, eating very spicy dishes or smoking before a chocolate tasting to ensure you have a clean palate and maximise your taste buds’ ability to pick up different flavours. Eating tart apple slices, bread cubes or plain polenta, drinking (sparkling) water (at room temperature) all act as a great palate cleansers both before and during chocolate tasting.
- Too much distraction: if the TV or radio is on, or you are doing something else at the same time, it will be harder for you to concentrate on your sensory experience, so you might not be able to detect all the flavour nuances in the chocolate.
Solution: Cut out any audio-visual or other distraction and concentrate on the chocolate you are tasting using your senses.
- Lack of confidence in your tasting skills: this feeling can stop you from thoroughly enjoy your experience, especially if you are desperately trying to find flavour notes listed on the packaging or mentioned by another taster at the table.
Solution: Don’t be afraid to express any feelings, thoughts, associations that come up as you taste your chocolate, even if it’s hard to find the words. Tasting chocolate is very subjective and can be influenced by so many factors, that there is no right or wrong opinion. The more chocolate you taste, the easier it will be for you to compare different flavours and to describe them.
Have you ever experienced any of the above issues when tasting chocolate? Do you have any personal tips to add to this list? Let me know in the comments below.