Tasting a variety of chocolates is a wonderful way to experience the roles of sweet and bitter. Start with a variety of chopped chocolates. This variety should include only couverture chocolates, chocolates with at least 33% cocoa butter. At the bare minimum include white, milk, dark, and unsweetened chocolate, or cocoa liquor. If possible get a range of dark chocolates with various percentages of cocoa liquor, i.e., dark chocolates ranging from 33 to 100%.
Taste each type of chocolate in the following manner. Place the chocolate in your mouth and chew vigorously three to four times. Once the chocolate begins to melt, push it to the top of your mouth with the flat of your tongue. Continue to push the chocolate to the roof of your mouth paying attention to the many nuances of flavor that will result.
Start with the white chocolate. You will immediately get a sensation of sweet, followed closely by the flavor of dried milk solids. The chocolate is a couverture and so it will melt quickly and evenly in your mouth, with no greasy or waxy residue. Pay attention to the way in which the flavor moves through your mouth, starting with a strong sweetness, then moving to a milky creaminess, and then simply stopping.
Next try the milk chocolate: it also starts with a strong sweetness. Although it has some milkiness, there is not as strong a presence as that found in the white chocolate. Following the milky creaminess, the milk chocolate introduces a chocolate essence. This essence is the flavor that is identifiably chocolate. That chocolate essence comes from cocoa powder. Unlike the white chocolate, there is a slight lingering of chocolate flavor in one’s mouth after the chocolate is swallowed. There is also the small beginning of something bitter. Physically your mouth feels clean but the bitter taste will linger or continue to hum. That humming is caused by the cocoa powder’s bitterness.
Move to the dark chocolates. Taste these chocolates moving from the lesser to greater percentages of cocoa liquor. As you taste the dark chocolates you will find that the taste takes longer to bloom in your mouth. Unlike the white or milk chocolate, you will have to chew the chocolate longer before any kind of taste is released. This is because dark chocolates have less sugar than milk or white chocolates. The less sugar there is in a product, the longer it takes for the taste to be perceived. Sugar gives the taster immediate impact, introducing the essence of the product’s flavor in a loud and clear voice. Thus, a bite into a white chocolate, with its high sugar content, results in an immediate perception of flavor. With dark chocolates, especially those with a high percentage of cocoa powder (which means, consequently, that the chocolate has less sugar), you will have to chew the chocolate longer before its true flavor is released. A chocolate of 50 or 73% takes longer to introduce itself to your palate than one with 42%.
This theory is borne out even more clearly with the 100% chocolate or cocoa liquor. This is chocolate in its purest form, consisting of only cocoa powder and cocoa butter. Once you start chewing the chocolate you will find that it takes quite a while before any flavor is released into your mouth. The complete absence of sugar prevents the flavor from being noticed. Once the chocolate is almost completely chewed, ready to be swallowed, only then does the true flavor of the chocolate come out. There is an overwhelming sense of bitterness. The rather enjoyable light humming experienced after swallowing the earlier dark chocolates has now become a large, uncomfortable banging of drums. The bitter flavor stays in the mouth long after the chocolate is swallowed. The bitterness of the cocoa liquor leaves a drying sensation at the roof of your mouth and/or at the top of your throat.
Be careful to not make any value judgments as to which chocolate is good and which is bad. Instead, concentrate on the movement of sweet to bitter in your mouth as each chocolate is tasted. Often the chocolate one enjoys in a chocolate tasting is not the one that works best as an ingredient in the kitchen. I once had the chance to taste some single-origin chocolates from many different countries around the world. I fell in love with a particular chocolate made by a small plantation in South America. The chocolate had some wonderful smoky tobacco notes, which I found intriguing. Excitedly I rushed back to the kitchen to start using this chocolate in products. Much to my dismay the same smoky notes that had so attracted me in the tasting were completely obliterated when the chocolate was mixed with other ingredients. So be careful. A chocolate tasting is a wonderful way to familiarize yourself with the role of sweet and bitter, but it is not always the best way in which to pick a chocolate for use in your kitchen. Try the chocolates, and then make mousse or ganache with them before committing yourself to a purchase from your purveyor. There is no good and bad here, they are what they are.