Guided Theo Chocolate Tasting
Basics for a Guided Theo Chocolate Tasting
Chocolate is an amazing food, rich with a wide range of flavors. Although it’s tempting and delightful to munch through your favorite bar without blinking, we think it can be surprisingly pleasurable to savor. Here’s how!
Before You Begin
It’s helpful to understand that different chocolates have different personalities.
The flavors in a finished chocolate are influenced by all of the following variables:
- The region where the beans were grown.
- The fermentation and drying techniques of the growers.
- The roasting and conching processes. (For more in depth information about bean-to-bar chocolate production click here)
- The percentage of cacao in the finished chocolate.
Getting Ready to Taste
- Have your chocolate ready.
- Have a pitcher of warm water and some plain water crackers available.
- Have some way to jot down notes.
- Don’t start your tasting on an empty stomach, or you may end up putting too much chocolate in your mouth at once and eating it quickly, which will impair your ability to fully appreciate it.
- Also, don’t consume pungent foods such as coffee or garlic in close proximity to tasting, as their flavors may linger in your mouth and alter your ability to perceive the more subtle flavors.
- Chocolate, while best stored at a cool 55-65°F, is best tasted at a comfortable room temperature, 70-75°F. If your chocolate has been stored at a cooler temperature, be sure to let it rest at room temperature for at least several hours prior to your tasting, so you can get the full melty mouthful experience.
Now, with that chocolate bar in hand…
Wait, don’t eat yet!
Chocolate appreciation is about nuance, and discovering nuances requires that you slow down and pay attention. Slowing yourself will help your body to relax and notice complexities that a hurried or distracted mind cannot. You will also have way more fun if you’re not rushed.
Take a few deep breaths and close your eyes for a moment. Now open your eyes and observe: Look at that beautiful chocolate bar! It should appear shiny and even. If it is covered in a hazy or white-ish film, it has likely been subjected to improper storage or a temperature fluctuation that has caused separation of the cocoa butter from the cocoa solid. In this case, your chocolate will not be as enjoyable. Hold out for a shiny specimen.
Break the chocolate into 2 pieces and notice the snap. A good chocolate will have a pleasant snapping sound, which indicates a good temper.
Let’s talk about temper for a moment. Not to get too ‘science-y’ (we know you really just want to get to the eating part) but this is worth a pause so you understand what you’re looking at. “Temper” refers to the crystalline structure the cocoa butter molecules form in the chocolate when cooling from a melted state (during production) to a solid form. The cocoa butter takes on a different structure based on the temperature at which it’s cooled, resulting in a chocolate that is soft, greasy and spotted (at the wrong cooling temp) or hard with a nice shiny, even surface (at the right cooling temp). To make things even more complicated, a chocolate bar can fall out of temper once it leaves our factory and lands on a store shelf, a kitchen counter, or in your pocket (you get the idea). So, if the chocolate does not have a nice snap, it may be in a poor temper or it may be too warm in the room.
Use your nose:
Hold the chocolate under your nostrils and breathe in its aroma. If you have trouble detecting any scent, rubbing the piece of chocolate with your fingers can help. Notice any aromas you can detect.
Finally! Use your mouth:
Break off a piece of chocolate large enough to coat your entire mouth—about an inch square or slightly smaller should be sufficient. Place the chocolate on your tongue, close your mouth, and allow the chocolate to melt. Notice how quickly or slowly it melts. Resist the temptation to chew, which will kick in almost immediately.
Notice its texture—is it smooth or is it grainy at all? Does it have a waxy quality? Is it chalky? Is it creamy?
Notice the first flavors you taste; sometimes you will get a very strong first impression, sometimes not. If you do, make a mental note or jot it down! Breathe in and out through your nose to help the volatile flavor compounds reach your olfactory senses. Now chew the chocolate into small pieces if you want to, but try to do it slowly. As the chocolate continues to melt in your mouth, try to notice the various flavor facets: sweet, bitter, salty, and sour. Is any one of these aspects stronger than the others? Are they in balance? What order do you experience them in and in what part of your mouth? Noticing which basic flavors of the chocolate are prominent can help you vocalize other flavors.
For example: “This chocolate has a strong bitter note. It’s a little like coffee.” “This chocolate is quite sweet. I taste vanilla and caramel.” Don’t be afraid to get creative here – if you taste cinnamon or raisin or dirt or tennis shoe(!), don’t doubt yourself. It’s incredible how different palates are, which is why we all prefer different foods. Honor your experience, whatever it is. Share your impressions if you are tasting with friends. This process of discovery keeps the experience fun and interesting.
As you swallow, notice the final flavors lingering in your mouth. This is called the “finish.” Fine chocolate will leave pleasant flavors in your mouth, though often quite subtle. Take a moment to sit quietly as you reflect on the experience and enjoy the sensation of the chocolate sliding down your throat. After tasting, jot down some notes about your experience, and anything that surprised or delighted you. If you are tasting with friends, share your experiences. This part of the program can often help you identify flavors you may have been unable to identify for yourself and can be a lot of fun. Remember, people experience flavor differently, so your experience will not necessarily be the same as someone else’s.
Cleanse your palate:
Between chocolate samples, sip room temperature or slightly warm water. Warm water helps dissolve any cocoa butter coating your tongue, so it’s refreshed for your next chocolate sample. If you like, you can also use those plain water crackers we suggested you have at the ready to clear your palate. It ‘s a good idea to taste no more than 3-5 different chocolates in one sitting, so you avoid palate fatigue.
Consider yourself a true Theo Chocolate taster!Step:
Tempering Chocolate At Home
We know you love to eat Theo Chocolate straight, but it’s also fantastic for indulging your ultimate chocolate-covered fantasies. Here are two methods for tempering, straight from Theo chocolatiers, so you can properly repurpose melted Theo Chocolate.
The term tempering refers to the process of cooling a liquid substance—such as steel or chocolate—in a controlled way in order to create a particular crystalline structure within the substance. In the case of chocolate, you are trying to achieve the proper formation of cocoa butter molecules. Cocoa butter is a polymorphic fat, meaning that it can crystallize in a number of different structures. When tempering, you want to achieve what is known as the “beta-five” (β-V) structure, because this is the most desirable in terms of appearance and texture. Properly tempered chocolate will look shinier, have a better snap, and melt more easily in your mouth. When chocolate is not properly tempered, it will appear hazy, greasy, spotted and too soft. A purchased chocolate bar is already tempered; this is why it is so beautiful to behold and to enjoy! However, if you would like to use the chocolate for dipping, drizzling, or coating another food item, such as dried fruit or pretzels (jalapeno peppers anyone?), or if you simply want to reform the bar into a different shape, you will need to melt it; and at this point it will need to be re-tempered so that when it dries, it will have a smooth appearance and good texture. When attempting this at home, if you don’t achieve proper temper, your chocolate will not ‘set-up’ or ‘harden’ properly. If you follow the steps below carefully, you should achieve success! Try not to get discouraged if it takes you more than one try. Even Theo chocolatiers have to start over on occasion. There are 2 basic methods you can use to temper chocolate in your own kitchen.
You’ll need the following:
- At least one pound of chocolate, or approximately five 3 oz. Theo bars
- A heatproof bowl, some parchment paper and a spatula.
- Chop four of the bars, reserving the fifth.
- In a microwave or over a water bath, melt the chocolate in a heatproof bowl until it reaches 110-120°F, stirring frequently to prevent burning, especially if using a microwave.
- Remove from the heat and add the reserved solid chocolate bar, breaking it into 2 pieces if necessary to fit it into the bowl.
- Using a spatula, stir to agitate the chocolate aggressively around the solid chunk. This will “seed” the melted chocolate with the desired crystalline structure.
- Test the temper of the chocolate by dipping a small piece of parchment paper in the chocolate, placing on a cool counter, and allowing it to set for a couple of minutes. If the chocolate is dry to the touch and shiny, you have achieved a good temper! Congratulate yourself! This is an accomplishment!
- If it remains wet or it looks streaky, continue to stir.
- Once the chocolate is in temper, remove the remainder of the solid chocolate and set aside for another use. Note: You can also test temper by using an instant-read thermometer to check the temperature, which should be between 85 and 91°F, depending on the type of chocolate. Dark chocolate is in temper at a higher degree than milk or white. You can keep your tempered chocolate fluid by holding it over a warm water bath or keeping it on an electric blanket, as long as it does not go above 94°F (for dark chocolate).
This is the preferred method for professional chocolatiers, so if you are feeling especially ambitious or lucky and have granite countertops, this can work for you at home.
You will need the following:
- An offset metal spatula
- A flat metal spatula (like a spackling tool)
- Some parchment paper
- At least one pound of chocolate, but preferably more, (the more chocolate you have to work with, the better it will hold its temper).
- Begin by fully melting the chocolate to 110-120°F, using a microwave or water bath, as described in the previous method.
- Pour two-thirds of the chocolate out onto a cool stone slab and use the metal spatulas to continuously move the chocolate so that it does not set up on the table as it cools.
- Use the offset spatula to spread the chocolate across the table and the wider spackling tool to scrape and draw the chocolate back together. Repeat until it reaches a thick consistency but does not have too many clumps of hardened chocolate in it. It should be about 80°F.
- Working quickly, scrape the cooled chocolate back into the warm melted chocolate remaining in the original container and stir the two together to reach a final temperature of approximately 86-90°F. The chocolate should appear homogeneous and lump-free. If lumps remain, check the temperature. If it’s below 88°F for dark or 86°F for milk, you can gently warm it over a water bath to reach the desired temperature and melt away the lumps. Test the temper by allowing a sample to cool on parchment paper. Within two minutes, it should be dry, even and have some shine. Now you are ready to dip, pour or mold your tempered chocolate. Take a glance at some of our flavor profiles to gather inspiration!
Chocolate University Classes
We offer fantastic classes certain to expand your chocolate horizons. Check our events page for Chocolate University class dates. Call 206-632-5100 to reserve your spot!
HAND-ROLLED GANACHE TRUFFLES, $50/person
Hand-rolled ganache truffles make delicious gifts! Learn the professional methods of ganache making, rolling, and dipping with a Theo chocolatier. Observe chocolate table tempering and learn how to do it easily at home. After practicing dipping and decorating truffles, you’ll leave with ideas for home and a bag of Theo Chocolate truffles.
SALTED BUTTER TOFFEE, $50/person
Create crunchy, buttery toffee, add a hint of salt and drench it in Theo Chocolate! Expand your dessert repertoire with this sweet and savory treat. Observe a toffee-making demonstration by a Theo chocolatier while learning about the Maillard reaction and the importance of high-quality ingredients. You'll see chocolate table tempering, discuss an easy at-home application of the technique, and practice dipping hunks of toffee in Theo Chocolate. Plus, take home a bag of your creations!
PRIVATE CLASSESLooking for a memorable night for your friends, family or coworkers? Choose from any of our regular class offerings (like truffle making, caramels or toffees) for your exclusive private event. You and your group will discover the joys of chocolate making with our expert Theo Chocolatiers. What better way to bring the people you care about together than over the rich, decadent experience of hand-crafted chocolate?Private Chocolate University classes are $50 per person. We charge a minimum of $400 (8 people), and our maximum capacity is 20 people ($1000). Please contact us for availability and scheduling.Step: