How to Taste Chocolate Like a Pro

We’ve already discussed the similar nuiances between tasting wines and coffees—and the utmost importance of tasting notes. After a recent discussion with Nicolas Cloiseau, chef of La Maison du Chocolat’s headquarters in Paris, it seems that there is a proper way to taste chocolate.

“There are a number of steps and criteria to take into account when tasting chocolate for the first time,” says Cloiseau. Just like tasting anything else, be it wine, coffees, or even soups and stews, all five senses are used when tasting chocolate. And not just any store-bought chocolate—good quality, premium chocolate, rich and complex in flavors.

According to Cloiseau, a chocolate of good quality is indicated by these five factors:

  1. The shell should be mahogany brown in color, and slightly reflective.
  2. The coloring should neither be too black or too dull. 
  3. The texture should not be crunchy, it should melt in your mouth. 
  4. The taste should never be too acidic, bitter or astringent, and should leave a lasting taste on the palate.
  5. The flavors that follow should compliment one another. 
Like grapes, cacao beans are grown all over the world and can take on a multitude of flavors imparted by terroir, genetics and harvesting practices. And words like berries, leather and hay can be used to describe a chocolate’s flavor profile.

When tasting chocolate, first note the texture and smell, then it’s time to taste. A product of high-quality should offer a seamless progression of flavor profiles when consumed: “First one should taste the chocolate itself, followed by the flavor of fruit, spices or infusion, and finish with a lingering note of chocolate,” states Cloiseau.

A master chocolatier, Cloiseau has been with La Maison du Chocolat for over two decades, continually developing new and exciting flavors while staying true to the brand. (He was awarded with the prestigious Meilleur Ouvrier de France Chocolatier in 2007.) In celebration of La Maison’s 40th anniversary this fall, Cloiseau is reintroducing favorites like Pomme d’Amour, featuring apple compote, and Salvador, “an ode to pure fruit and chocolate.” This year’s holiday collection is inspired by the night sky—new flavors include ‘Reindeer’ bark, with pure Brazilian dark chocolate, candied lemon, roasted almonds and pistachios, as well as a kumquat/kalamansi duo. Cloiseau is a busy man.

“To create a new chocolate, I make sure to respect the ingredients, the subtlety of the balance between flavors and the richness of their taste to create a specific palate,” says Cloiseau. “Our distinction is to create a succession of flavors without ever masking the chocolate.”

For budding chocolatiers, Cloiseau suggests starting with fruits when it comes to recipe development. “Fruits are the easiest flavors to marry with chocolate,” he says, “while spices require a specific measurement so to not overwhelm the chocolate. Most importantly, the taste is determined by not the cacao percentage you use, but by the quality of the chocolate.” 

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*Hero image courtesy of La Maison du Chocolat.

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