Chocolate Tasting

The problem around here is that I buy chocolate in 5 kilo, about 11#, boxes and every afternoon, and sometimes (ok…make that ‘often’…) first thing in the morning, I dig my hand deep in the box and pull out a few pistols every time I walk by. People have the impression that I eat chocolate all the time, every day. And although I usually deny it, I would have to admit it’s definitely true.

Except last night when I was flossing, part of one of my teeth flew out and plinked onto the floor. So today it’s like eating and talking with a thumb tack in my mouth, and I’m having a rare, chocolate-free day.

Who knew it was possible to floss to hard? Does that make me a ‘power-flosser’?

(When I called my dentist, I was stumped trying to figure out the verb ‘to floss’ in French. Ça existe?)

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Anyhow, in addition to the little palets of dark chocolate I’m always dipping into, I also have tons of unusual chocolate bars around here I’ve been amassing over the past few months.

Many I pick up when traveling, and some I get sent by companies wanting me to try them out. I happily sample them all and love to find something new or especially unusual. Often I taste them systematically by sitting down, snapping off a corner and savoring the flavors. As I roll and chew the chocolate around in my mouth, I ponder the different characteristics, noting origin and the various flavors: Sweet, fruity, acidic, roasty, bitter, citrusy, woodsy—all the various tastes we find in chocolate.

And other times, I’m not so good and I rip off the covering and start gnawing away at the chocolate until it’s nothing but an empty wrapper with a few crumbs of chocolate left. I never did well in science since I’m lacking in patience.

So during the next few weeks, it’s your turn to be patient.


I’m going to present some of the more unusual chocolates I’ve come across lately, and most likely some you’ve never heard of. There’s tiny tablets infused with candied herbs, one bar made with grains from Tuscany, another with breadcrumbs in it, and a unique artisan chocolate made high up in the mountains of Salt Lake City.

But have you ever had a chocolate tasting at home with your friends? You don’t need fancy chocolate. Just go to a local market, or online, and buy a five or so bars of chocolate that you’ve never tasted, or perhaps a few that you have. Then break them into little bits and offer them anonymously, by number. (Don’t forget to write down somewhere which is which!)

Personally, I like to mix in some single-origin chocolates as well as some blends, and since I like to trip people up (I’m like that, you know), I’ve been know to sneak in something cheap or awful. Which is a good way to reduce the snob-aspect that’s common to many tastings. Remember: It’s not about what everyone else likes, or what I like. It’s what you like.

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Tips For Having a Chocolate Tasting

  • Stay away from ‘flavored’ chocolates, like those with spices or citrus, which tend to detract from the taste of the chocolate itself.

  • It’s best to serve bottled water, I like sparkling, with chocolate tastings. Slices of neutral-tasting baguettes many be welcome to neutralize the palate, but avoid trying to taste too many chocolates during one session. After tasting six or seven, it’s hard to differentiate between them all and I did a tasting for a well-known, ad-free food magazine a few years ago. It was blazing-hot that day and we’d all had way too much chocolate and the results were skewed. Nevertheless, after it was published, it became somewhat of the ‘gold-standard’ chocolate tasting for about a decade afterwards.

  • Be sure to cut up reasonably-sized chunks of chocolate. It might appear dainty to pick up a piece the size of a grain of rice, but you really can’t taste anything that way and dainty’s overrated. Encourage folks to sample a piece at least the size of green pea—people need to take a good sized chunk to taste anything.

  • I think it’s best to go from the lightest to the darkest, since if you taste something too strong, you’re going to deaden your palate for anything lighter afterward.

  • Have fun! Like wine, it’s not about coming up with the most obscure words or trying to impress others with your chocolate knowledge. There’s no right or wrong answers and taste is all personal opinion.

    Tasting Results

    Here’s the results of a tasting I held in Paris recently, along with some remarks. You’ll notice it was a good mix of chocolates which made it pretty interesting to hear peoples reactions.

    1. Monoprix

    I told the group, “We’re going to try a very special chocolate. It’s a new product.”

    But I lied.
    This is supermarket chocolate that cost about 20 centimes for a (120 gr) 4 oz bar. To me it smelled horrible, like coconut fat, and tasted harsh and acidic with no complexity. But many in the group liked it.

    2. Nestlé Corsé 64%

    This is another supermarket brand, one commonly used in France for home cooking and is available in a baking-sized tablet (200 gr, about 8 oz). I added this one since for many Americans, the word ‘Nestlé’ on a bar of chocolate conjures up images of sweet candy bars so I wanted folks to taste it without prejudice.

    I use this for everyday baking and like it a lot. Sure enough folks really liked this one as well, many noting it had a much longer, richer finish than the Monoprix bar.

    3. Valrhona Cao Grande Noir 70%

    I’d heard some chit-chat online that organic chocolate wasn’t as good as conventional chocolate. So to prove a point, I included an organic high-quality chocolate, from Valrhona.

    Many felt it was rather sweet, with sour-fruit, citrus notes. I think the sweetness comes from the fact they use unrefined cane sugar, which tends to be more pronounced than refined sugar. Guests liked this, but not enough to buy it for snacking.

    4. Valrhona Albinao 85%

    I couldn’t any information on this chocolate from Valrhona except the packaging said the beans were from Africa. Everyone disliked this bar immensely. It was bitter and acrid, which perhaps was due to the high percentage of cacao (85%) and the lack of sugar in the bar, I think. But also the African beans, which are generally forestero, and are generally bolder and harsher than beans from South America, Madagascar, and Trinidad.

    5. Michel Cluizel Mangaro 65%

    People tasted notes of spice bread in this one, which I included as one of two chocolates from the same ‘origin’, Madagascar. I wanted people to taste it just before the next chocolate, from the same region, to show how region is not the only factor that determines the taste of the finished chocolate. And how they can vary quite radically.

    6. Bonnat Madagascar 75%

    I’ve been a fairly big fan of Bonnat chocolates, since they’re nice folks and make their chocolate in small batches. But we were none too impressed with this one, which was faintly-flavored and without finish. Far different from the previous one, which was rich and bold.

    7. Bonnat Chuao 75%

    This Venezuelan chocolate, which they note is the “Romanée-Conti” of cocoa beans (referring to the Grand Cru wine of that name), chuao has a rather controversial history. It’s believed that there is only one chuao plantation in the world and only Amedei uses those beans (When I asked Signore Tessieri of Amedei about Bonnat’s bar, he said…well, I won’t repeat what he said…)

    Chocolate-politics aside, I wanted people to taste something labeled ‘chuao’ so they could decide for themselves. Most guests noted the chocolate was one-dimensional with no finish, which I find true in some less-notable single-origin chocolates.

    So keep an eye on the blog over the next several weeks when I’ll be introducing you to some new and exciting chocolate finds.

    More Information & Links About Chocolate Tastings

  • The Art of Tasting Chocolate holds tasting classes and you can read their tasting tips.

  • Chocosphere’s Chocolate Of The Month Club delivers a premium chocolate to you every month.

  • London’s Chocolate Society has tasting tips and offers memberships.

  • Browse the Chocophile.com Community Boards.

  • The exclusive Les Croquers de Chocolat is an invitation-only club in Paris, but publishes their results online.

  • The Seventy Percent forums offer lots of tasting results.

  • Chloé Doutre-Roussel has one of the best chocolate palates of anyone I know, explains how to taste chocolate in her book, The Chocolate Connoisseur.

  • Fog City News in San Francisco has a great selection of chocolates and sometimes offers chocolate classes and tours.

  • 19 comments

    • David,
      Thanks so much for the mention.
      best,
      K

    • I thought of you last night during school when we were tasting Fleur de Sel. I mentioned that “some people” sprinkle it on chocolate.

      My chef instructor rolled his eyes, and I said, “But I suppose you like chocolate covered pretzels, right?”

      He agreed that your practice was probably better.

    • I have just one question for you:

      Can I come over to play when you’re having a chocolate tasting? I promise not to stay longer than 2 years and I can be tidy if necessary.

      (My boyfriend is getting tired of hearing me gush over your entries, and I suspect he won’t be pleased about hearing about this one, either.)

    • I just checked with my husband, and he confirmed my suspicion: there is no verb ‘to floss’ in French. Instead, “on passe le fil dentaire.” Just to help you out with future discussions with dentists…

      Gosh, though, I hope that my chocolate indulgences won’t lead to the same disastrous outcome. Yikes!!!

    • Thanks Vicky, except someone told me today that fil dentaire is also slang for thong underwear…and I don’t know how my dentist would react if I told him I cracked a tooth with a thong.

      Although if you saw my dentist, you probably be tempted to do something dangerous with a thong. Il est mag-ni-fique!

      Michelle: You’re welcome to come, except I don’t have room for the boyfriend. Unless he’s good at washing dishes. (And fishing meringue out of the toilet.)

      If so, then let’s talk.

      Mags: Did he try it?
      It’s one of my favorite combinations. Just don’t tell him dark chocolate’s also good with a little bit of fruity Spanish olive oil, along with the salt…that might take him over the edge.

      Karletta: Je vous en prie! (You’re welcome…)

    • I have to tell you – 3 months ago part of my tooth fell out while flossing! I really freaked out because I have normally very healthy teeth. My husband was quick to claim that that was the exact reason he never flosses!!

      Anyway, the dentist assistant had the same thing happen to her so apparently it isn’t as strange as it seems!

    • I usually have 10kg boxes of choc drops and 3kg bags of Vahlrona Guanaja in my house and have had to shift them to the top shelf of my cupboard to prevent my grabbing fistfuls at a time. It’s harder to think of a reason to pass by a box thats 8 feet from the floor.
      Looking forward to you explorations in chocolate.

    • Hmm, I liked the Abinao. I prefer my chocolate a little sweeter, but I thought the flavors were good.

    • Ah David, I did not know of your fabulousness last year when you were here visiting Portland!

      However, I did once convince Chocosphere my friend and I needed to come in person and pick up my order of batons and nibs… let me tell you, this super secret warehouse is gaurded heavier than Fort Knox! We were greeted at the door, handed our boxes and shooed away quickly.

      Perhaps would have had better luck had you been with us :)

    • Why are the French so long winded? What’s wrong with ‘je flosse mes dents’?

      I know, don’t tell me, they don’t want to utilise English words.

    • i’d love to give this chocolate tasting a try but belgians are so blase about the whole chocolate thing you’d think they are not in the country OF chocolate! we’ll see. i might give the supermarket chocolates a try and stay clear of the many (too many!!!)chocolateries :)

    • David, this was great, and it reminded me that I have some chocolate tasting posts hoarded up that I need to get out there! I look forward to your finds!

    • How funny! I was flossing just last Sunday and one of my fillings fell out. It’s a little disconcerting to have something fall out of your mouth, especially when it leaves a gaping hole.

    • I’m from the high mountains of Salt Lake City. What is this fabulous chocolate called and where can I score some?

    • That would be, I’m only guessing, Amano chocolate in Orem, Utah, about 40 miles SOUTH of Salt Lake City, David… :)

      If you’re in the States, you should try the shop on their site, otherwise, well, you’re pretty much, like me, on your own… :)

    • David, you should try In’t Veld Schokoladen in Berlin if you’re ever up there. They make their own chocolate using Domori blends and also sell Austrian, Italian, and French treats.

    • Karen and Dana: Who knew flossing was so dangerous?!

      But believe it or not, my dentist fixed my tooth…for free!

    • I emailed you this morning but the email got bounced back. Here’s a little something in the news about tasting chocolate that I thought would amuse you if you didn’t see it already.

      http://tinyurl.com/35wnru

      Amazing what chocolate and charm can achieve.

    • David,
      You have got to try some of this Chocolate. It looks like rocks or gravel. It has a candy coating and was all everyone talked about at a party I had last month.
      I found them here: http://www.nationwidecandy.com/CANDY/ItemRelations.asp?&GROUP=18&CHOICE=48