Editor’s note: This is a guest post from Todd Masonis of Dandelion Chocolate, one of Leo’s favorite chocolate shops in the world.
Leo: I attended a Chocolate 101 class with Eva at Dandelion Chocolate’s beautiful little chocolate factory/shop on Valencia Street in San Francisco about a month ago, and absolutely loved it. I asked Todd, co-founder of Dandelion, to share some tips on tasting chocolate … mindfully.
Without further ado, here’s Todd Masonis of Dandelion Chocolate, on the Art of Tasting Chocolate Mindfully:
We’re often asked if there’s a right way or a wrong way to taste chocolate. I don’t like to overthink it — if tastes good to you, then it’s right. However, there are a few tips on how to taste chocolate mindfully.
The first step is to slow down. Before you rip apart the packaging and dig in, take a moment to read about the bar. Chocolate makers think through countless decisions and this is our opportunity to share our perspective. Even the physicality of our packaging should draw you into the chocolate experience. In our case, the handmade cotton paper should feel soft. Like our bars, the slightly imperfect screenprinting should reinforce the touch-of-the-hand craftsmanship that goes into each of our bars. And our typeface is intentionally small so that you are encouraged to grasp the bar and experience it close-up. Many labels will tell you about the beans, the farmers, or terroir. Take a moment to note what you can about the bar, so you start learning the differences in the various origins and chocolate makers.
After that, gently unwrap the bar and take a look at it. Flip it over, look at the sides. Does it have a nice shine? What about its color? Is the back smooth or rumpled? Do you see any wavy patterns which might indicate that the bar didn’t release properly from the mold?
Next, break off a small piece and note the snap. Does it crumble or pop? Is the break clean or ragged? The snap indicates the temper — the alignment of the crystal structure in the cocoa butter –and a poor snap can often mean a mistake or improper storage, or even a different style choice.
Now place the small piece in your mouth. Take a tiny bite to break it into a few pieces. Let it start to gently melt on your tongue. Now move the chocolate around your mouth and coat your tongue, but avoid chewing. If you eat it quickly, you’ll miss the tasting experience that makes each bar origin unique.
Within a second or two, the chocolate will melt more and you will begin to taste flavor notes beyond just the bitter, cocoa rush you tasted at the first moment it hit your tongue. Look for various notes and see if you can identify them. Do they come in all at once, or do they evolve as the chocolate melts? Where do you taste the chocolate — near the front or back of your mouth? Are the notes like a single, clean instrument or more like a symphony? Or worse, like a cacophony of flavors that don’t mesh?
Once you’ve listened for these flavors, swallow and wait a few seconds. Notice what tastes linger — how does it finish? Is it pleasant or harsh? Does it leave you wanting more or wishing you had some water to wash away the aftertaste?
And that’s it — it’s best not to overthink it, just taste slowly and mindfully. Chocolate makes people happy and if it’s too cerebral, you may be missing the experience. And once you’ve tried some chocolate you like, try other origins, chocolate makers, and percentages. Many makers, especially the new, small American ones, have their own distinct styles, techniques and point of view. And if you don’t find interesting flavor notes, the first time, don’t fret and try a different maker. Most industrial chocolate has been made to have one plain, monotone cocoa note, so make sure you try a bunch of different companies and different types.