Moksha Chocolate has been doing in-person tasting events in Boulder, Colorado since 2019, and we have put together some recommendations for our clients and guests. Premium cacao products rise to the level of wine and coffee in attention to flavor profiles, terroir, and pairing with beverages and even foods. Chocolate has evolved quite a bit as a single-source artisanal treat!
Environment: Make sure your chocolate is at room temperature. If it has been chilled in storage or even subject to weather in transport, give it a half hour unwrapped to reach 65-78 degrees and “breathe” a bit. Note: If it has melted and hardened in the past, the fats will separate and make a chalky and oily bar, so please protect it properly beforehand to avoid this. The appearance of the chocolate should be uniform in color if it has been stored well. Inclusions or swirled-in ingredients of course will affect the appearance. But for beginners, we recommend chocolate without the inclusions to narrow the perceptions to chocolate itself.
Preparing your palate: Ideally, have a completely neutral taste in your mouth; some even recommend first thing in the morning. We find that later in the day, chocolate can be simply more enjoyable as the body is naturally seeking energy to get through an afternoon lull, or in the evening when you would typically have the time to relax and enjoy chocolate. One factor that is for sure is the importance of a non-chilled palate. Drinking warm water to prime your mouth a bit in advance of the tasting experience is highly recommended. If you have just had a cold beverage, even just water, the chocolate flavors will take longer to unfold and you may end up needing to hold the chocolate in the mouth longer than feels natural. Definitely avoid mint or other sweet or strong flavors for at least an hour before tasting chocolate. On that note, crackers may seem an obvious choice to cleanse the palate but the starch will actually begin to convert to sugar and can even go sour in your mouth, so please avoid bread-like products too soon before tasting for a more objective experience.
The snap and hardness of the bar will inform you a great deal of its cacao content and the quality of the tempering step in the process. Higher percentage bars will be more stiff, and you can expect that it will take a bit longer for the all of the flavors to appear. A bar with more fats will be a more gentle snap and will have a quicker melt, and any dairy-like additions will smooth out the initial impressions and lend a pleasant creaminess to the flavor. A good brisk snap assures you that the chocolate was tempered well and the molecules are aligned correctly for your enjoyment.
First bite: Think of the chocolate tasting at this point as a wave formation. Your first impression — after noting the texture (crumbly? smooth? gritty? buttery?) — will be immediately recognizable as chocolate, and will slowly build in intensity. A very dark chocolate may seem sharp and even sour but the sweet will surge in to balance that. A less dark or milk chocolate will be more sweet-forward as the fats in the bar melt and spread. At this midpoint the flavors will compete to present themselves, so pay attention! Close your eyes, perhaps. Cut the music. Move the chocolate around the tongue and see how the flavors shift. This is where the main categories of taste are detectable: sour, sweet, salty, bitter, savory, and the sometimes-controversial umami. What fruits can you sense, what darker flavors like earth, tobacco, tannins? Is there a bit of espresso flavor from the roasting? How about caramel, toast, coconut, spice? If there was salt in the recipe, it should be at its strongest here. Then the aftertaste. It may seem sour, maybe smoky, and note the texture at this point. Any sharpness should recede and the profile changes yet again. Time for another bite to double check!
Make some notes of what you sense.
Forth and back. Are you tasting more than one chocolate at a time, such as in our Game of Four tasting tour? Here's a great trick. Go back to your first chocolate after you've gotten your initial impressions of the selections. Your palate could be primed to pick up new flavors. This can be very revealing and where many tasters really find their description words. Revisit your notes?
After exploring a few chocolates, your palate might need a reboot. Experiment with drinking warm water, nibbling cheese, or just trying it another day to see if your experience varies with what you “pick up” in your palate. A few other experiments we recommend are pairing it with wine, coffee, or tea to see how the flavors meld and change the chocolate. Try it with a friend and compare notes, like we do in our private and corporate chocolate tastings. Have them close their eyes and guess, see if they found what you did. We love seeing chocolate tasters converse over their shared impressions. (It’s even more fun when they disagree).
Contact Moksha for a private tasting designed for your friends or clients. We can also pair with coffee, whiskey, or wine!
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