How to become the ultimate chocolate connoisseur

10 Dec 2020

Chocolate Knowledge

Take your chocolate appreciation to the next level

If you love chocolate you’ll already know what you like. But what if you could become a real chocolate connoisseur with a chocolate tasting adventure that involved exploring our chocolate collections?

Chocolate. Just roll the word around on your tongue in your best Nigella impression and we’ll bet your mouth is watering already.

Of course it’s easy to pick up a bar and gobble it down without really tasting it just to satisfy those sugar cravings. But connoisseurship is all about appreciating the complexity and surprising history of the really good stuff.

What is a chocolate connoisseur?

The word connoisseur comes from the French verb connaitre ‘to know’. It implies expertise in a particular subject, from art to wine to food – and in this case chocolate.

Salvador Dali once said “The connoisseur does not drink wine but tastes its secrets”, and the same applies to the rich and complex fruity, nutty, bitter and floral notes of a fine bar of chocolate.

To really get to know cocoa you need to know how to really taste each style of chocolate. And that means knowing your beans and how to engage all your senses to appreciate the finished product.

cocoa beans drying in the sun

Know your chocolate

Like fine wine, high quality chocolate appeals to all five senses. Both involve a kind of alchemy that turns a simple ingredient into something exceptional. A lot is based on the idea of terroir: that the topography, soil, climate and growing conditions all affect the taste of the bean and then the bar.

Other factors that can impact on the taste include fermentation and roasting which change the cellular structure of the bean and develop its aroma profile. You can find out more about every aspect of the process in our complete guide to cocoa beans and the cocoa tree.

Get tasting ready

The next step in becoming a chocolate connoisseur is to get tasting ready. Make sure your chocolate is stored properly and then be prepared to take your time when tasting. You don’t need to be a pro to get the most out of the chocolate tasting experience, but just like a master of wine it makes sense to prepare your palate.

“Avoid strong flavours, such as coffee or tobacco shortly before tasting, as they’ll impair your ability to detect subtle flavour notes,” advises our in-house chocolatier Kiri Kalenko.

Kalenko also advises new tasters to steer clear of spicy foods and mint and says mid-morning is the ideal time to enjoy the tasting experience.

Look at the chocolate

We eat with our eyes and a perfect piece of chocolate should have a flawless and glossy sheen. A chocolate connoisseur will take the time to look at the chocolate before eating it. Avoid chocolate that looks cracked or smudged or has a white bloom from being poorly tempered or improperly stored.

Colour is also a good indication of whether your chocolate contains a high percentage of cacao and if it’s been roasted correctly.

Air bubbles are another telltale sign that the chocolate isn’t as good as it could be. Those bubbles should be tapped away during the chocolate making process – if they’re still visible you’re not tasting the best chocolate.

Why smell is important

The real reason sweet tastes sweet might not be down to your tastebuds at all. It seems that a large component of what we think of as flavour is actually aroma and you can test it out for yourself by holding your nose and trying a piece of onion and a piece of apple or different flavoured jelly beans. Without the smell receptors in your nose, they’ll simply taste the same. We hate to say it, but you won’t be able to reach your chocolate connoisseur potential if you have a cold that day!

The heady aroma of an inviting slab of chocolate is what makes your mouth begin to water. Those aroma compounds then enter the brain when we inhale the smell and then exhale as we taste. So when you’re eating chocolate don’t forget to keep breathing to experience the full range of flavours and aromas.

The best way to smell chocolate is to first release the aromas by gently rubbing the bar with your fingers a few times so the chocolate just begins to melt.

Then hold it up to your nose in cupped hands, just as if you were sniffing a balloon full of fine brandy. Now take a few deep breaths in and out to enjoy the full sensation and prepare yourself for the tasting to come.

Listen to the snap

Before you finally savour that first piece, listen for the snap. The tempering process is essential to create a stable crystalline structure in the cocoa butter and produce a much better quality chocolate.

Properly tempered chocolate will break cleanly with the satisfying snap that shows you’re eating a really well made bar. Break it between your teeth to get the full effect.

Enjoy slowly

There’s something deeply sensual about the ritual of tasting chocolate so don’t rush it. Take a single piece and let it melt slowly on your tongue as the flavour begins to spread around your mouth. Remember to keep your mouth closed and inhale and exhale through the nose to release all the aroma and flavour compounds.

Only then can you chew gently to keep unlocking those complex aroma molecules that are trapped in the chocolate. This creates greater complexity as layers of flavour and aroma change the way the chocolate feels and tastes.

Allow the sensations to fill your mouth – we only use 100% cocoa butter for a truly luxurious mouthfeel as it melts at body temperature for a truly decadent result.

From roots to wrapper, a bar can take months to create. Resist the urge to scoff the lot and make sure you savour all the complexity of each bite. 

woman in a yellow beanie and white t shirt tasting chocolate

Texture, flavour, finish

As the chocolate begins to melt on your tongue, you can start to explore the sensations of texture, flavour and finish.

Does the chocolate melt smoothly and luxuriously on your tongue? Is the texture like velvet or unpleasantly grainy? Give the cocoa butter time to melt to really appreciate the complex interplay of fruity and nutty notes.

The tasting profile of a luxury chocolate bar is designed to change as the flavours are revealed, exploding with woody and smoky notes before caramel, vanilla or berries fill your mouth. Look out for flavour notes as diverse as liquorice and butterscotch, rose, black pepper and citrus.

Finally, does your chocolate leave a long and lingering aftertaste or do the flavours melt deliciously leaving a clean finish? Savouring chocolate allows you to enjoy all the nuances and really develop your appreciation of our luxury Batons and Slabs.

Reset your palate

Eat something neutral, like bread or water, to reset your palate between sittings, says Kiri Kalenko. “In our Inventing Room, our chocolatiers use hazelnuts.”

From highest to lowest cocoa percentage

Chocolate flavour isn’t only created when our chocolates are made. That process begins back on the cocoa farm. We directly grow some of our own beans on our Rabot estate in Saint Lucia – where we harvest, ferment, dry and roast them ourselves. Being cocoa farmers gives us an in-depth knowledge of the process. This allows us to use higher cocoa percentages to create chocolate that is less sweet but no less luscious with incredible aromatics and flavours.

Understanding cocoa percentages is essential to choosing the bar that’s right for you. But don’t assume that a higher or lower cocoa content will automatically create a bar you’ll enjoy. That’s why you need to taste like a pro.

The rule of thumb is to taste from bitter to sweet, so start with a deep dark adventure like our 100% Cocoa Chocolate Drops. Be prepared for a punch of flavour with an almost savoury flavour. Then move onto our 85% and 70% dark chocolate before trying our high cocoa content Supermilk Chocolate Bar Selector. Then, move slowly down the cocoa percentage ladder to finally reach our irresistible 36% cocoa butter White Chocolate Collection Selector.

You should save chocolates with strong additional flavours like mint, alcohol or coffee until last. If not, the added flavours might overpower your tastebuds for the next chocolate.

Consider the impact

Thinking about the ethical and environmental impact of your chocolate may not have anything to do with taste, texture and finish. However, we believe chocolate always tastes sweeter when an ethical business makes it. We strive hard to be a force for good, treating our cocoa farmers with respect and treading lightly on the planet. 

We’re committed to creating our luxury chocolate using only natural ingredients and a high cocoa content with a roots to wrapper approach. Read more about our ethical approach to chocolate-making and we believe you’ll find our chocolate tastes all the better for it.

Chocolate tasting experience

If you want to gain delicious insider knowledge of your favourite foodstuff, why not try our chocolate tasting adventure? Or, if you want something more hands-on, you can learn how to make your own chocolate with a bean to bar experience. Ultimately, what makes really good chocolate is subjective and every bar offers a completely unique experience. What really matters is that you like it, which makes us all a chocolate connoisseur.