Not that long ago, I used to make fun of tasting notes printed on the back of a wrapper. The mere allusion of “graham crackers, fudge, and lime” would make me roll my eyes, wondering what the person coming up with those notes was trying to prove — the superiority of their palate? I promised myself I’d never be “one of those people.” I’d use this as an excuse to gobble down the dark squares, only asking myself one question: would I buy this again?
Fast forward to 2015, when I started the 37 Chocolates project. Once I decided to post my reviews on YouTube, I limited myself to 4 minutes (OK, 5 at the very most) to discuss each bar. That meant paying attention to every detail of the tasting before shooting a video. As I placed ever square of chocolate in my mouth, I focused on the way the chocolate melted and the flavors developed. To my surprise, I started noticing different flavor notes. The strong cherry finish in a bar by Cocoa Atlanta caught me by surprise, reminding me of the black forest cake I ate growing up. There were also the dark caramel notes of the Sierra Nevada bar by Castronovo Chocolate and the lavender ones of the Dos Rios by Amano.
Sure, I still swallowed the occasional square like of candy, but by letting a chocolate square melt slowly and paying attention, I was able to distinguish the nuances of a bar. More importantly, when I took my time to try to identify flavors, I remembered it better.
The point of the exercise, I learned, is not to show off your sophisticated palate but to give the chocolate the attention it deserves so you can truly appreciate it. A word of caution: training your palate takes time and many times in the process you’ll struggle with having the name of that note “on the tip of your tongue.” Thankfully, there are many tools out there that will help you get that tasting note off your tongue and onto your tasting notebook (yeah, I used to make fun of those people too.) Here are three of my favorite tasting tools to guide your next tasting
The Chocolate Tasting Kit by Eagranie Yuh
A book about chocolate, 100 tasting sheets, a stash of flashcards, and a keepsake of chocolate wrappers: The Chocolate Tasting Kit by chocolate educator Eagranie Yuh contains everything you need to kick start your chocolate appreciation journey. The kit is designed to educate readers about chocolate and help develop vocabulary to describe bars during your next tasting party. Sure, “yummy” and “delicious” get the point across but “nutty” and “spicy” are much more precise, especially when discussing the bars with friends.
Order the kit on the Bar & Cocoa’s shop.
Taste with Colour: Chocolate Tasting Flavour Map by Hazel Lee
A craft chocolate supporter and bean-to-bar instructor, Hazel Lee has developed this colorful flavor map (don’t call it tasting sheet!) after realizing she associated flavor notes with a color — you can hear her talk about it on this episode of the Well Tempered podcast. While the map is beautiful enough to be displayed on a wall, keep a copy handy for the mere pleasure of browsing your finger on the colorful, textured map. Hazel worked hard to come up with the flavor notes — there is a bubble gum note!
You can order The Chocolate Tasting Flavour Map on Hazel’s website.
Full disclosure: Hazel sent me a copy of this map this summer.
Chocolate Tasting Sheets by Projet Chocolat
Elevating the culture of chocolate: so is the mission of Projet Chocolat, a Nashville-based company started by Sophia Contreras Rea. As such, the website features a carefully curated selection of antiques, as well as several products developed in-house with local makers and designers. This set of 25 tasting sheets is perfect to guide tastings in intimate gatherings, think a wedding shower or birthday party with a few close friends. Each sheet, which can hold up to four chocolate samples, will guide you through a detailed sampling of each bar, from color and texture to tasting notes.
Order the Chocolate Tasting Papers on Projet Chocolat’s website.