Discovering all the different characteristics of cocoas from around the world is an exciting journey through intense cocoa and smoky roasts, from floral aromas to candied fruits, citrus and many others. You don’t have to be a connoisseur to find a chocolate that speaks to your personal taste. Start with a dark couverture chocolate like São Tomé (one with no added oils or butterfat), made with cocoa from a single country or plantation, not an unidentified blend. There are many misconceptions about percentages of cocoa solids and a poor quality 60% cocoa can be more bitter than higher quality 70% made with sweeter beans.
Chefs know that your palate is fresher before meals or coffees and at its most sensitive first thing in the morning. While best stored cool, chocolate should be tasted at room temperature. Bite off a little, crush it in your mouth and let in warm up on your tongue. Be sure to breathe in with an open mouth to appreciate the flavour you taste first from the flavours that come later. With practice, you can begin to differentiate primary bitter or roasted cocoa notes, sweet fruity or floral notes, right through to subtle characteristics that only appear after you have swallowed.
Food and drink pairing is big news now. Try eating the food first, hold it in your mouth and take a sip of drink. Then try it the other way round. You might find each journey is quite different.
Taking time to taste is a fascinating experience and is a skill well worth developing.