How to taste Craft Chocolate: A Primer

Because not only is it more fun if you know how to taste – but then you’ll be able to eat more chocolate.

That’s not clickbait, it’s science. You will absolutely get to eat and enjoy more chocolate at a sitting if you follow what I’m recommending here.

So why learn to taste craft chocolate? I mean, you’ve been eating your whole life, it’s not rocket science. Here’s the thing: craft chocolate is meant to be savored. And once you know the steps, it’s like unlocking this whole world of chocolate. And the best part is that it’s really easy to do, and gets easier with practice. (This post is long because I’m going into super fine details. With practice you’ll do this all like clockwork.)

So first, if you’d like a video on how to taste, here you go! If you’d like this info in even more detail, read on!

First: Set The Stage

To quote Barbie Van Horn of Finding Fine Chocolate, the awesome expert chocolate taster in the video with me, you can’t taste chocolate in a vacuum. But the fewer distractions you have, the better you can actually taste the chocolate. Here’s some stuff to consider:

  • How loud is the space you’re in? Is it quiet, or are you at a loud party?
  • What smells are in the air? Doing stuff at home will be easier to smell chocolate than at, say, a Starbucks.
  • Are there any scents on you, like strong-smelling soap or perfume? (You will smell them – and therefore taste them – in your chocolate.) Rinse your hands if it’s super strong smelling soap or lotion.
  • Are you feeling reasonably healthy for you? You don’t need to be fit as a fiddle, but being on day three of a fever is going to leave you unable to smell and taste super great. (Doesn’t mean you can’t eat chocolate, just for tasting practice the flavors will be muted.)
  • Have you eaten anything spicy or full of onions or other strong flavors in the last hour? If yes, drink some milk and give your body at least an hour before going on to chocolate, or the taste will be muted.

As you get better at this you don’t need to be as focused on perfection here, but even at the Chocolate Festival I try to find a quiet(er) corner to taste in whenever possible.

At your side should be two things (besides the chocolate): warm water, which will help you cleanse your palate between tastings, and something to take notes with. The note taking isn’t required, but when you’re starting out it can help focus your thoughts. Even just writing what you liked and didn’t like about a bar will help you when you go to buy your next bar.

Tasting with all your senses

Chocolate is more than just ‘pop in mouth and chew.’ It’s like tasting wine, and you should take the time to go through these steps. So here we go:

Sight and touch: Break off a piece of chocolate the size of your thumbnail or a bit larger. How does the chocolate look and feel? Is it shiny, smooth, and glossy? Or is it matte or rough? (Shiny/glossy chocolate is in temper, or the chocolate crystallization has stabilized. This generally produces better tasting chocolate, but there are exceptions.) Do you see fat or sugar bloom, where the color is grey or you might see rings of white? (And if you do, please don’t eat them – make them into hot chocolate.) How do the inclusions, or stuff mixed into the chocolate, look if there are any? Are they clean, or melted, or dry?

Sound: Break the piece of chocolate between your fingers; a chocolate bar in temper will have a satisfying snap. 

Not all bars need to have this snap – brown butter bars, for example, rarely do. But it can tell you if the bar will be smooth and creamy or rustic and soft.

Smell: Now that you’ve broken the chocolate, smell it. Use small breaths, you don’t need to inhale forever, but just smell it. If you aren’t getting much scent, rub the chocolate between your fingers. Does it smell musty, earthy, fruity? Is the scent strong or weak? Does it remind you of anything?

Taste: Now we taste!

Take that piece of chocolate and place it on your tongue. Your goal is to let it melt, and also to move it around in your mouth to cover as much of your palate as you can. Take your time, you don’t need to furiously scrub your mouth here.

Here’s what to think about as you taste:

  • How does it taste at the beginning, middle, and end? Is there any aftertaste?
  • How does it taste? Fruity, earthy, mushroomy?  (If you’re stumped here, now’s the time to check on a chocolate flavor wheel or Eagranie Yuh’s flash cards.)
  • Is it drying, kind of like how red wine or sour candies can dry out your mouth? That’s astringency. Is it too much for you?
  • Are the flavors bold, mild, overlapping? Does one flavor dominate?

Take notes on as much (or as little) as you like.

What now?

If you’re tasting multiple chocolates, now’s the time to drink that warm water. (Or to eat more of the same chocolate, nothing wrong with a second taste.)

Some things to consider:

  • You should generally go from higher percentages (like 80%) to lower (like 50%) as you eat chocolate. The sugar content will increase as you go, and going the other way can mute/confuse flavors. (Doesn’t mean you can’t do it, just be ready to have a very, very different experience, and one that will likely be more bitter.)
  • If you’re eating bars with stuff in them, or inclusions, I’d eat them after plain chocolate bars. The inclusions can really impact what you’re tasting, especially spicy ones.
  • Try to stick to 4-5 bars in a tasting, especially when you’re starting. It’s going to be more chocolate than you might think.
  • If you’re out or low on water, a trick you can do is to quickly eat a piece of the next bar, coating your palate as fast as you can. It will partially mask the flavor of the previous bar when you go to taste the next one. It’s not perfect, but it’s also better than nothing.

Still feeling like you could use some help? Here are some options:

  • Take a chocolate tasting class! Chocolopolis offers them in Seattle every Saturday, and Lauren and her team are super awesome. If you have a good chocolate shop near you, they’ll be able to answer all your questions and more! (And likely will give you samples to try out!)

Here’s more info on Chocolopolis and what you can get out of a good chocolate shop – along with a fast walk through on how to taste chocolate!

  • Get the Chocolate Tasting Kit! I’m a huge fan of Eagranie Yuh’s step by step guide, and I still use her flash cards when I get stuck on a flavor. They’re super cheerful and super clear to use. Since it doesn’t come with chocolate, getting any bar you like will work just fine, or you could try something like the Chocolopolis Baseline bar bundle. (Not sponsored, more it’s something I know exists for this kind of thing.)
  • Get the Chocolate Bar’s chocolate tasting series! I found it great for a cheap source of multiple chocolate bars to try at once, and it comes with info on how to taste chocolate, though short and sweet so you get tasting already. Here are my comments on the first set in the series:

Have any questions? Throw me a comment!

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