A beginner's guide to dark chocolate tasting

I've recently taken up a new hobby: dark chocolate. I was eating too much milk chocolate, so instead of trying to kick the habit completely, I've switched to something more refined.

I've learned a few things which have made this hobby more enjoyable, so I'm sharing them here. I realise that this is a post about chocolate tasting on a design blog. Hopefully you can forgive the sudden detour. Here, then, are my top tips for anyone who wants to try getting into dark chocolate.

Get a chocolate subscription

Companies like Cocoa Runners will send you bars of high quality dark chocolate each month. This avoids the paralysing decision of what to buy.

Single origin chocolate is important

Mass market chocolate is made using whatever cocoa beans the producer can get their hands on. If you want to find out how much character different cocoa beans can have, you need to buy chocolate that only uses beans from one place. These are called "Single origin".

Look for "bean to bar"

Companies that buy beans whole and make chocolate bars from them, without getting any other companies involved, are described as making the chocolate "bean to bar". This gives you the best chance of high quality chocolate with character. It also means that you're supporting independent businesses, most of the time.

The fewer ingredients, the better

You only need three ingredients to make dark chocolate: Cocoa mass, sugar, and cocoa butter. Other ingredients might be added for flavour - I recently had chocolate with peppercorns in it, for example. Other ingredients are a bad sign. Soy lecithin, for example, is added to keep chocolate running through large industrial pipes cleanly. It's not needed, and it shows a lack of care.

Focus on central and South America

There are, of course, good chocolate beans coming out of countries other than those in central and Southern America, but if you want reliably good chocolate, central and South America are your best bet. They have the right climate to grow great cocoa beans.

Taste, don't eat

The best way to taste chocolate is not to eat it like you would milk chocolate. Don't munch it until it's liquid and then swallow it. Instead, take at most two squares of chocolate, smell it, put it in your mouth, and break it up with your teeth into a few small pieces. Let those pieces melt on your tongue. You'll notice so many different flavours as it melts. The flavours you notice at the start will be different from those you notice at the end.

Taste the difference

There is absolutely a difference in taste between cocoa beans from different sources. Eat a piece of chocolate from one source, and then afterwards eat another. You'll notice the difference immediately. If you want to take it further, lots of chocolate producers, and subscription services, will provide you with tasting notes. Read what they've said about the chocolate, and try to find those flavours. It's not easy, and I'll be the first to admit that some of it is probably psychological, but the taste differences are definitely there.