When given a sweet chocolate, we almost instinctively devour it quickly. Some untamed part of our psyche seems to surface, the body on hearing that there is sugar in the vicinity seems to lose itself in a thirst for satisfaction. If we do this with an expensive chocolate, we will have devoured it before it has even had a chance to show us what it is capable of.
When we place chocolate in our mouth, as the cacao butter melts away (one of chocolate’s best features is that it melts at body temperature), the flavours in the cacao mass come out to play. By moving the chocolate around the palate as it melts we will begin to pick up the real flavours. A good chocolate’s flavour should still be around 5 to 10 minutes after eating, even an hour later we might get a tingle.
Smell the chocolate, it should have pleasing aromatic qualities, study it, rub it between your fingers a little to awaken the flavours, feel the texture of it and snap it to find out if it is well tempered. All of our senses are connected, and to fully appreciate any food we require more than taste alone. Take two small pieces, pop the first one in your mouth. Break it up a little with your teeth and then let it melt, moving it around your palate. When ready pop the second piece in, this time letting it melt completely. While it melts listen to your senses, acknowledge the flavours. Good, bad, floral, fruity, smokey, spicey, leathery, pleasant, astringent, bitter, sweet… there are no strict rules to the vocabulary, and indeed there is no requirement to find lengthy explanations of the flavours. At the end of the day the most important question is do you like it?
If you do feel like extrapolating the sensual experience then it can help to do visualisations. Say for instance the chocolate tastes fruity, in your mind start flipping through pictures of various fruits, or saying the fruits out loud in your head: “Blackberry, raspberry, lemon, pineapple” and so on.. at some point a certain fruit may seem to stand out, shouting “over here! you found me!” To increase our sensual vocabulary, it can help to start becoming more aware of our external surroundings. Take a walk in the woods for instance, and really begin to take note of a particular environments various smells. Once these aromas are entered into our vocabulary, it will be possible to call on them when we recognise them in the chocolate. Cacao has a known quality of absorbing smells very well during the drying and storage processes. For instance if the cacao is dried on concrete, it is likely that it will pick up some concrete like aroma, for this reason hygienic processing is of particular importance! Cacao processing facilities will often favour a hard, unscented wood so as not to interfere with flavour.
I would love to see cacao given the opportunity to age purposefully alongside various aromas, in the same way whisky or beer can be aged in different casks such as sherry or oak. We could begin to give cacao some most favourable qualities if it was purposefully aged this way. Far from having a “best before” dark chocolate can actually improve with age… “Best after” could be more appropriate! I have heard of a chocolate maker with a 40 year old batch, which when re-tempered apparently has excellent flavour!