Yes, chocolate can be delicious if you merely munch it; hungrily gnawing on a piece to boost mood and blood sugar, momentarily relishing each bite before taking the next. But it’s so much nicer when you pay attention to every element, discovering the chocolate’s full complexity and finding flavours that unravel over multiple minutes, rather than come and go in seconds.
And getting more from your mouthful doesn’t require a degree in sensory science – just a degree of knowledge about the simple steps that can endlessly enhance your eating experience. Learn and apply the five ‘S’s each time you eat, and prepare for chocolate to get even more exciting…
Take a long hard look at what you’re about to eat. Is it shiny and smooth? Lucky you – that indicates your chocolate has an even temper. Conversely, are there imperfections apparent – air bubbles, or the pale streaks and patterns that indicate bloom? Fantasise a little – how will it feel in your mouth? Will the pattern from the mould be discernible; and do you reckon this will enhance or detract from the overall experience? In life, it certainly doesn’t matter if you’re black or white; but where cocoa is concerned, the shade says a lot about the choc. Is it ruddy like rich earth, a cooler shade of brown, or almost black? Darkness doesn’t always indicate depth – it can simply suggest over-roasting has occurred.
Don’t turn your nose up at the notion of taking a deep whiff of your chosen chocolate. The few moments it takes to discern its scent is time well-spent; preparing your palate for the (hopefully) fine flavours to come and giving you a good indication of what to expect in the eating. Without a sense of smell and your olfactory bulb compromised, you can discern no more than the five basic tastes: sweet, sour, salty, bitter and umami – only your nose knows further nuances. Get your nostrils all a-twitch like Samantha in Bewitched and note what you notice; if it’s what you expected; and, equally importantly, if its aroma appeals.
For chocolate makers, the command ‘make it snappy’ refers not to speed but to structure. Where chocolate is concerned, a crisp, clean break line is a beautiful thing; denoting a bar that’s been correctly-tempered. Many chefs, including Heston, have found that sound can heighten sensory appreciation of many foodstuffs; so listen up. As a good rule of thumb, the sharper the snap when a bar is broken, the higher its cocoa percentage – the dairy fats present in milk and white chocolate generally render those two types more crumbly than crisp.
Right – the agony’s been prolonged for long enough. You’ll be ecstatic to know it’s time to tuck in… or, rather, take a small piece of room-temperature chocolate in your mouth and wait for the magic. The flavours shouldn’t stay static – enjoy each in turn and attempt to accurately describe it to yourself or anyone else who cares to listen; using familiar foods and fragrances as reference points. Chocolates from certain origins are often typified by common flavour profiles – compare side-by-side as illustrated above, and you should slowly start to find you can pinpoint the cocoa’s country from a mere taste test.
Instant gratification isn’t all you can expect from your eating experience. Like a fine fragrance, chocolate’s character is multi-layered and takes its sweet time to fully flourish. First the teasing top notes will dart across your tongue, followed by deeper heart notes integral to the eating, then, finally, you’ll note the base notes that form the foundation of the whole shebang.
Sensory perception and personal preferences vary from individual to individual; so you need never feel ignorant if you and a fellow taster don’t share the same thoughts on a certain specimen. With over four hundred aromatic compounds identified in chocolate, occurring in infinite combinations, subjectivity is to be expected.
When you’re looking to describe your own experience, flavour wheels and tasting notes can help you refine and better define your own impressions in both your own mind and to others, allowing you to see where a chocolate sits on the spectrum and access technical terms and commonly-used classifications.
THE BOTTOM LINE
However much you invest in mastering the tasting process, always consider one critical question: did you enjoy eating your chosen chocolate? Because, technicalities aside, there are few better measures than your own pleasure.
- Keen to get tasting? Check out the following fine chocolate…