How to Taste Dark Chocolate

How do you eat dark chocolate? Well, put it in your mouth and chew, of course. It’s creamy, sweet, bitter, and probably very enjoyable. But what if you want to get more out of your dark chocolate experience? Learn to tell the differences between the growing number of varieties? Like tasting wine, you’ll have to apply a little more thought and awareness. You must learn to recognize things like snap, aroma, texture, and finish.

Chocolate is an incredibly complex product, but tasting can be broken down into a few components. Brad Kintzer, chief chocolate maker at TCHO, says that one of the most important things is taking your time. He brings a rather Jedi Master approach: “Pretend like you’ve never tasted chocolate before,” he says. “Monitor the experience from the time you break open the wrapper.”

In fact, you should monitor the experience even earlier. Start in the store: Buy different brands, different percentages, different origins. Buy organic and fair-trade chocolates. Taste widely and agnostically until you find brands and types that you like. There’s been a lot of emphasis placed on percentage, but Kintzer points out that one 80 percent bar can vary wildly in flavor and texture from another. Michael Recchiuti of Recchiuti Confections says that the exact same percentage can differ in every other aspect: sugar content, flavor, acidity, texture. Tasting is the only way you’ll discover the differences.

You’ve bought the bars; you’re ready to taste. Be prepared to write things down: “Don’t be afraid to geek out about it,” says Kintzer. “Taste is so subjective and personal,” says Recchiuti. “Tasting notes are always different.” You’ll want water as a palate cleanser and perhaps some crackers. Your chocolate should be at room temperature. Don’t taste right after you’ve brushed your teeth or drunk a few glasses of wine or coffee; your palate should be fresh.

Visual: Take your time; inspect the bar. A properly tempered bar is shiny and bright. What’s the color like? Color variations can be extreme, from light to dark. Is it dusty-looking with bloom? Bloom can change the texture of a bar, which affects flavor.

Aroma: Some people rub their fingers over chocolate to warm it up and release the oils that deliver aroma. Remember that as you taste, the aroma will develop. Some tasters will even melt chocolate and eat it with a spoon to get more of the aroma earlier.

Texture: Break a chunk off. A clean snap indicates that the chocolate’s been well tempered. Put it in your mouth. Close your eyes and think about what you’re experiencing. Chew a few times to break it up, and let it melt in your mouth. The rate at which it melts affects how quickly the flavors develop. Smack your tongue on the roof of your mouth to get a sense of the texture. Is it creamy, fatty, gritty? How well does it spread out across your palate?

Flavor: The basic flavors you might experience are bitter and sweet. But do you get any sour notes? Any roasted notes? Is there fruitiness from the acids? Sometimes you’ll get a zing of brightness and citrus. Some flavors come from flaws in the chocolate-making, like smokiness, mustiness, or earthiness; even hamminess, says Kintzer. How does the flavor linger? What is going on in your mouth even well after the chocolate is gone?

In the end, you’ll know what you like. And you’ll get a better understanding of the complexity of premium bars. But if you want to gobble down some Reese’s Pieces, Kintzer says he’ll understand. He does that too.

Davina Baum is the former managing editor of CHOW.