You may think the answer to what is good chocolate is simple enough: Any chocolate that tastes delicious to you. Yes....but no.
Of course, the term delicious in itself is subjective; for some that may translate to a creamy and sweet flavour, where else for others, it could mean a deep and bitter dark chocolate.
A better question might be, what makes chocolate ‘good’ in the eye of a professional judge or taster? Here are a few tips on how to ascertain whether your chocolate does in fact have all the makings of a good and fine chocolate.
Good chocolate will always list cocoa (or ‘cacao’) as the first ingredient. It may be listed as cacao beans, cacao mass or cacao liquor. This means that the bulk of your chocolate is made up of cocoa itself, and not any other not-so-great ingredients for you, such as sugar. If a chocolate lists sugar first – run. Literally and metaphorically, because that means it is a chocolate dependant on loads of empty calories to deliver an addictive experience, instead of the true theobromine experience you were looking (and paid) for.
Creamy, sometimes almost melty textures provide some of the best flavour delivery out there. There are exceptions, e.g unrefined or rustic styles of chocolate (think Mexican drinking chocolate, or ‘rough’ ground bars which are intentionally full of crunchy bite). A nice mouthfeel is smooth, melts evenly and does not feel sticky or 'pasty' in your mouth. You know how sometimes you buy a family sized bar of chocolate and it feels like it is sticking everywhere in your mouth, from your teeth to the roof of your mouth? Often, there is even an unpleasant coating on the tongue. This is due to all the added ingredients, like vegetable oils or even shea butter. Not good. Good chocolate should leave behind excellent flavours, and not a need for you to rinse your mouth or wash it down with beverage of your choice.
It may be hard to imagine, but good chocolate doesn’t have a flavour. Instead, it has flavours (plural). When you have more than one flavour, this is called ‘complexity’ and is the result of using specialty cacao beans married with fine (and laborious) craftsmanship. Think of it the way you would wine – in order to have an excellent bottle, you can expect not only the best grapes to have been used, but also the skillset of a winemaker who knows what she/he is doing to coax out the necessary aromas and flavour from those fine grapes. Good chocolate can taste anything from chocolatey (an actual note on the professional tasters’ map) to different sorts of fruit, nuts, herbs, soil, wood and so forth. It is as though the chocolate is ‘alive’.
An average chocolate will have a basic monotone taste of sugar and likely, vanillin (that’s synthetic vanilla for you). If other flavourings have been added, such as mint, orange, coffee – you will get those too. But the probabilities of those added flavourings not being all natural (re:artificial) is close to guaranteed.
An outright bad chocolate will have 'off notes'. This will be addresed in an upcoming blog post.
Coming back to wine again - just as a memorable glass of fine wine will have an excellent aftertaste that stays on your palate for quite a bit, the flavours of good chocolate should linger on your palate anywhere between a few to 10 minutes. I recall a particularly fine chocolate which I tasted last year, lingered on my palate for a solid 30 minutes.
Average chocolate will leave sugary flavour (and unfortunately, breath) on your palate. No fine flavours here. This is why it is difficult to stop at just a square or two – our brain craves the sugary kick.
With good chocolate, cocoa takes on the bulk of responsibility, leaving you with a supremely rich (and hence, satisfactory) experience which doesn’t require you scoffing the entire bar.
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