Much like wine, chocolate can tell a lot about where it comes from, and how it was grown and transformed, just by taking a little time to get to know it.
Of course there’s nothing wrong with just popping a piece of your favourite chocolate in your mouth without thinking about it. But ‘real’ chocolate (the kind that’s been made with care as opposed to cheap confectionery) is complex and, like wine and coffee, its flavours are affected by choices made at every stage of production.
Chocolates from different areas of the world tend to have different flavour profiles, there are different types of beans, and tiny differences in things like roasting time or the amount of sugar added will impact the final flavour. With practice, you will start to distinguish these differences.
Ideally, you should keep your chocolate at cool room temperature – not in the fridge, but not over 22C. Store it in a cool, dry place as humidity and sunlight will affect it.
Your bar should be smooth and shiny, and when you break it you should hear a snap (the sign of properly tempered chocolate).
Snap a piece off and smell it. Some bars smell strongly of cocoa while others are spicy or have smells reminiscent of fruits, florals, coffee, nuts, and even biscuits. What can you identify?
Now for the good bit. Chocolate melts at body temperature, so enjoy letting it melt on your tongue. What is the texture like? Does it melt cleanly with a smooth texture or does it coat your tongue? Does it taste the way you expected it to from the scent? What flavour notes can you make out? Is it Earthy? Mellow? Acidic? Dark and a little bitter?
The textures and flavours will change over time so a chocolate may start fruity and sweet but have lingering earthy flavours, and the notes should be well-balanced. A good chocolate will often have a long aftertaste to enjoy – what is the aftertaste like for this chocolate?
You can do your own chocolate tasting at home with friends by picking a few bars to try. Make a simple chart to take notes on appearance, smell, texture and taste and start with dark chocolate, moving on to sweeter and milk chocolates.