One of the core tenants of our chocolate appreciation events is learning how to taste the nuanced flavour of chocolate; and it is the complex tastes within our chocolate that distinguishes exceptional chocolate from ordinary chocolate.
If you take Cadbury for example, it’s like the McDonalds of chocolate – it will taste the same day in, day out - year in, year out – just like a Big Mac will. There’s a lot of consistency, there’s no surprises - but not a lot of quality.
When you eat the chocolate we deal in - made from the top 2% of beans in the world, known as flavour beans - you experience flavor profiles in the same way you do with good wine, coffee or whisky; to the point a single plantation chocolate will taste different every year because whilst the beans remain the same, the growing conditions (known as ‘terroir’) differ slightly, influencing the flavour.
Which is all fine and good, however the reality is most of us aren’t that great at distinguishing the subtleties of taste. If you’re a female under the age of 30, you’re best placed to have a good sense of taste; but don’t worry, if you don’t fall into this demographic there is hope for your palate - the ability to identify taste. Developing a palate is simply a matter of practice, with a little help from a flavour wheel.
THE FLAVOUR WHEEL
Which is why we use a flavour wheel in all our appreciation events, it provides the prompts and structure to help you work your way through the process and with time, you’ll be tasting like a pro. Here’s how you use it.
Beginner – you start with the inside circle which has broad, general flavours that are great prompts for what you may be tasting. We’re talking simple tastes, so you may find yourself saying your chocolate tastes fruity, nutty or spicy.
Intermediate – as your palate progresses, you’ll pick up more nuance, and also the progression of taste. Flavour is like a story and it has a beginning, middle and end that will become more evident the more you practice (and eat exceptional chocolate).
Here you’ll start to dial in flavour. Rather than say it tastes fruity you may identify characteristics of citrus or berries. Or instead of saying spicy, you may identify brown spice.
For this you use the middle circle in the wheel.
Advanced – when you’ve really developed your palate you progress to the outside circle and get very specific about flavor. For example, rather than just citrus, you may taste lime or grapefruit. Instead of brown spice you may be more specific and taste cinnamon or anise.
Although, do be warned; when you get to this point other valid flavours include skunky, petroleum and rubber.
Practice - once you’ve got your head around how the flavour wheel works, it’s a case of practice and taking the time to be mindful when you eat your chocolate and to look for flavours. Like most things in life, the more you do it, the more you’ll improve.
No right or wrong - The good news is, there is no right or wrong. What you taste will be based upon your own individual palate along with your food and smell experience (remember the majority of your taste comes from smell). In short, you can’t be wrong.
Don't over think it - sure learning to taste is a process, however it's also intuitive, not an intellectual exercise, so don’t over think it. Go with what first pops into your head. The mind is a marvel of memories and experiences and it is retrieving these quickly to identify flavour – trust it.
Sit back, relax and enjoy the process of discovering the true taste of chocolate - and coffee, and wine, and whisky…
To view the flavor wheel we use, developed for coffee but just as applicable to chocolate, click here.