This is a tricky one. Dark or milk? What are you in the mood for? Being an absolute addict, I tend not to discriminate between the two. I am a fan of both. I think as time progresses, I am leaning towards enjoying dark chocolate more. I never thought I would enjoy it but my palate has been educated thoroughly over the years. As far as tasting dark chocolate is concerned, I have learned to detect a wide variety of subtle flavours. Is it earthy, fruity or acidic? Is it sweet or sour? Is it floral or nutty? You would be quite surprised at what you can detect when you actually allow yourself to taste chocolate instead of swallowing it in one go (which I still do sometimes if I am enthusiastic enough or I have skipped a meal!)
Milk chocolate is something that I am learning not to crave so much, the simple reason being that when I start eating it, I cannot stop until the whole bar has been demolished. With a square if dark chocolate, I find that I actually enjoy and savour it so much more as for some reason, I can experience a variety of different flavour notes. This is not the case when it comes to tasting milk chocolate for me. I find the sweetness overrides the majority of the taste. Chocolate actually has well over 300 flavour notes which is even more than wine surprisingly! It is hard to believe but apparently, this is true. This would be attributed to many factors such as the kind of beans used to make the chocolate in question, how long fermentation and drying in the initial stages have affected the quality and taste of the bean, the conching time and even how it has been tempered influences the final product.
Badly tempered chocolate loses that brilliant sheen, it doesn’t have an audible ‘snap’ when you break it in two and it can bloom (which is when moisture causes the sugar in the chocolate to crystalise giving it a greyish, dusty pallor). The chocolate will still taste fine regardless. Throughout the different stages of making chocolate, whether it is from the starting point of roasting and drying the beans or in the final stages when it is being tempered, every step of the process will influence the taste. As far as taste is concerned, the natural flavours of the bean are susceptible to the entire chocolate making process and an experienced chocolatier will know how to bring the best out of the beans they have.
When you consider the cacao tree and how difficult it is cultivate, (it needs a very humid environment and only grows in the tropics with the right amount of moisture all year round), it is a wonder how we can sustain the world of cocoa production when you consider how intricate the process from bean to bar is – the threat of disease, volatile and unpredictable changes in climate and not forgetting economic and political factors, all of which can drive market prices soaring. When you eat a piece of chocolate, don’t just focus on the flavour but allow yourself to consider the journey that has transformed cocoa beans into the finished product – and what a journey it is!
© Christina McDonald 2014