How To Taste Chocolate
A chocolate tasting is an experience to savor. It isn't absentmindedly popping candy at the movie theater; chocolate is more complex and deserves undivided attention. This is a meditative practice in slowing down and observing one's senses.
Preparation. Create a relaxing atmosphere free from distractions such as extraneous noise (i.e. turn your cell phone off) or aromas (i.e. ditch the candles, air fresheners, and perfume). You want to be able to focus on your sensory input without anything impeding or conflicting. Make sure the chocolate is room temp for optimal tasting. Have water and unflavored crackers on hand to cleanse your palate in between samples of chocolate.
Look. What do you notice about the appearance? Do you find variations in the shades of brown? Much like humans, the color of chocolate is also related to its origin. Some cacao beans are naturally more red-brown whereas some are more gray-brown, and all hues in between. How dark or light the chocolate is also indicates percentage of cocoa solids and/or the inclusion of other ingredients, such as dairy for milk chocolate. Chocolate should be shiny and glossy. If the chocolate is dull or is speckled, it means it is on the older side or has bloomed. Bloom refers to the fat crystals that rise to the surface when the chocolate undergoes a temperature change or if it wasn't properly tempered in the first place. It is still perfectly safe to eat, it just might not be as pleasant in texture.
Listen & Feel. Break the piece of chocolate and listen for the snap. Dark chocolate is naturally harder and will have more of a pronounced break whereas milk chocolate is softer due to its higher fat content. Chocolate that snaps well is properly tempered and will be smoother compared one that crumbles, which will be more gritty. Run your hands over the chocolate lightly. Is it smooth or dry? Does it melt easily in your fingers?
Smell. Take a piece of chocolate and warm it up between your fingers to release the aroma. Cup it in your your hands and hold it close to your nose. Inhale. What do you smell? Like wine, chocolate has tasting notes ranging from earthy to fruity to smokey and everything in between. Smells can conjure up memories and will affect how you perceive the chocolate, so there are no wrong or right answers. The aroma of chocolate is based on a number of factors, some being: the origin and terroir of the cacao, how the cacao is fermented and dried, the roasting and conching of the beans per the maker's recipe.
Taste. Bite into the chocolate, but don't chew. Hold it with your tongue against the roof of your mouth and let it melt. Move the chocolate around with your tongue and notice the mouthfeel. Is it smooth and creamy or perhaps gritty and drying? What flavors do you detect? Are they similar or different to the aromas you noticed earlier? Chew the chocolate a bit and see if and how the flavors evolve. Once you swallow, did the flavor linger or did it end quickly?
Savor. Rinse. Repeat. Enjoy the experience and savor thoroughly. How does the chocolate make you feel? Cleanse your palate with water or crackers and move on to a different piece of chocolate. Don't taste more than 4 or 5 in a sitting, as your tastebuds will get overwhelmed.