This is Part 2 of a 4 part blog post.
Tasting chocolate for pleasure is a journey of discovery, a most enjoyable way to explore your own palate and preferences. No two people taste flavors or even experience textures in the same way; you will be amazed at the different responses you will find among a group of tasters.
We eat with our eyes. Appearance is part of the initial pleasure and attraction of chocolate, but not itself a measure of quality. The color of chocolate varies. It may be ivory, golden, shades of copper brown, deep reddish, or charcoal brown depending on the type of chocolate, the percentage of cacao in the chocolate, the presence and quantity of milk or cream, and the source of the beans from which the chocolate was made.
An attractive gloss on the surface of chocolate with a tight, fine grain and even-colored showing at cut or broken edges indicates that the chocolate was well-tempered, and properly cooled and stored. Scuffed or scraped samples are not necessarily of poor quality, but they are less pleasing to the eye.
As with wine, some of the first clues to flavor are in the nose. Before even tasting, rub the piece of chocolate with your thumb to warm and release its aroma. Hold the chocolate to your nose in cupped hands, like a brandy snifter, to capture and hold the aroma close. Sniff or draw slow breaths. At first chocolate may simply smell “chocolaty.” But as you compare one piece with another you will notice general differences in richness, intensity, sweetness and earthiness. You’ll pick up on lower notes and higher notes. The aroma of some chocolates is faint, while that of others is intense. You may then detect even more specific differences.
Milk chocolates often give off aromas of milk or cream, or caramel or malt. Dark chocolate aromas may be characterized by toasted nuts, roasted coffee, dried fruit or wine. Some chocolates have floral or fruity qualities; others smell more roasted or nutty. As with flavor, each chocolate brand has a signature aroma. This comes from the blend or selection of beans and their quality, as well as the manufacturer’s roasting and conching methods. There is no end to the specific notes that you can pick up with practice and no limit to the words that you may use to describe them.
Seriously accomplished tasters are adept at drawing from their own experience and memory, choosing words accordingly to describe what they smell and taste. Practice!
Similarly, learn to detect any unpleasant aromas as well. These might be described as harsh, paper, burnt, waxy, moldy or musty, etc.