Thinking about a gift to give your valentine? There’s always chocolate. But you might not know about techniques you can use to uncover different chocolates’ unique traits. Here & Now resident chef Kathy Gunst shares tasting tips, and a few of her favorite chocolates, with hosts Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson.
I’ve been tasting chocolate — lots of chocolate. And let me begin by saying, as jobs go, this is a good one. Let’s start this lesson by taking a minute to learn some very basic information about this sweet, nuanced treat.
This is not the milk chocolate you grew up eating, which is loaded with sugar. This is sophisticated, craft chocolate — what’s often called “bean to bar.”
These chocolate bars are about the unique flavors that emerge when cacao beans — found on cacao trees, which can be grown up to 20 degrees above or below the equator — are transformed into chocolate. The cacao pods have 20 to 40 seeds inside that are fermented, dried and then roasted into what we know as chocolate. Chocolate makers then add sugar (or not), spices, nuts, fruits and/or herbs.
If you want to further hone your chocolate know-how, Eagranie Yuh, a former chemist and pastry chef-turned-chocolate educator, wrote “The Chocolate Tasting Kit” (Chronicle Books.) It’s a fun, informative book, with tasting notes meant to teach you not just all about chocolate, but also the best way to taste it.
Tips For Tasting Chocolate Like A Pro
You’re probably asking, “There’s a best way to taste chocolate?” Yes — like wine, like cheese, there is a correct way to do it.
- Look at color and texture: These are all dark chocolate bars, but there’s dark — and then there’s real dark. The percentage you see on the label tells you how much cacao mass is in a bar. If a bar is labeled 70 percent, that means the chocolate bar contains 70 percent cacao mass (or cacao liquor) and 30 percent other ingredients. Also, is the bar shiny? Smooth?
- Aroma: What do you smell? No need for pretension here. Earthy? Winey? Floral? Herbal?
- Taste: Chocolate can be incredibly complex. Bite it in half and let it slowly melt on your tongue. Observe the flavors: wine, berries, citrus, floral?
- Sip room-temperature water between each tasting.
A Few Of My Favorite Chocolates
- Enna Chocolate, La Mosquitia, Honduras 75%: This 75 percent dark chocolate made in Epping, New Hampshire, is handcrafted from bean to bar in microbatches, from ethically sourced cacao, sugar and organic ingredients. Tasting notes: sweet almond, sugar biscuit, dried fruits, porcini, milk, bright, delicate, earthy, floral.
- Dick Taylor Craft Chocolate, Black Fig: Made in Humboldt County in Northern California, this chocolate is made from cacao and cane sugar. This bar is 72 percent dark with black California mission figs and cacao from Madagascar. Tasting notes: The figs add a chewiness to the chocolate and give it a very earthy flavor.
- The Good Chocolate, Himalayan Salt 65%: Made in San Francisco, The Good Chocolate people say this is the first bean-to-bar chocolate made without sugar. It’s 65 percent dark chocolate, 100 percent organic and made with Himalayan salt, which adds a great flavor. The mint-flavored bar is also excellent. Tasting notes: When you taste a chocolate without sugar, do you miss the sweetness? Not really. It’s made with Stevia — a sweetener and sugar substitute extracted from the leaves of the plant species Stevia rebaudiana, native to Brazil and Paraguay — instead of sugar.
- Azuca CBD, Chocolate Coin: This small, coin-shaped chocolate wrapped in gold foil is 61 percent cacao with 25 milligrams of hemp extract. The chocolate doesn’t have a cannabis smell, but contains CBD. Tasting notes: I found that the chocolate ever so slightly relaxed my body (one coin is a tiny dose) but did not get me high or make me feel “weird.” The reaction time is about 2 to 5 minutes — and it tasted great.
- Waialua Estate Chocolate, 55% Cacao Hawaiian Cocoa Nib Bar: Made from American-grown cacao, this chocolate is rich, offers a great texture with crunchy cacao nibs on top, grown in Hawaii’s nutrient-rich volcanic soil. Tasting notes: dark, fruity, semi-sweet.
- Haute Chocolate Brooklyn, Salted Rosemary 80% Cocoa: These Brooklyn, New York, chocolates have great designs, are 80 percent cacao, and according to the label, “100% sexy!” Truly interesting flavors made by women for women, all from organic ingredients.
- Fine & Raw Chocolate: Another chocolate from Brooklyn, these are made with organic beans from, according to the label, “sustainability-focused purveyors,” and is produced “without dairy and uses unrefined coconut sugar to extract caramel notes.”
Need Chocolate-Themed Recipes?
Here are three recipes you can turn to if you have a chocolate fix that just won’t quit: Alice Medrich’s best cocoa brownies, a dessert-like bread made with cocoa powder and semisweet chocolate and a dark-chocolate tart with sea salt.