Because for a long time I felt like my taste buds did fail me. Here is why.
In November 2014 I decided to make chocolate the love of my life, and I wanted to write chocolate reviews. You know those super detailed and professional reviews online that make you feel like you are tasting the chocolate yourself? Those types.
I wanted to show that I could use very technical words to describe the flavors I was tasting, and give my readers the exact idea of what to expect from that specific chocolate bar. So, have you found any reviews of chocolate bars on my website yet? Exactly, it never happened. I swear I tried, but miserably failed.
The 9 chocolate bars I posted a review on back in 2014 (I still remember 3 from Mariebelle, 3 from Kee’s Chocolates, and 3 from Vosges Haut-Chocolat) came out more like humorous stories than technical analysis. I would talk about the Hibiscus getting lost in the darkness of the chocolate bar and never being found again. Or how Coffee and dark chocolate were so balanced together to look like two rivals of equal strength that decided to stop the duel and make peace. They were hilarious stories, but not very appropriate for technical reviews.
Why did they come up that way?
Everything had to do with two big misconceptions I was carrying around with me the entire time:
- Chocolate reviews are objective.
- I didn’t have the skills to be objective.
I was convinced that the tasting notes of a chocolate bar were specific, invariable and indisputable. And my lack of confidence told me that I surely didn’t have the right abilities to find THE ABSOLUTE TRUTH.
What if what I was tasting was wrong? What if I didn’t have the palate of the experts? What if I was just not good at tasting? What if I gave away the wrong info? My insecurity on the subject has been preventing me from expressing my opinion any further than “It tastes so good!”. This until last weekend, when participating in my first chocolate tasting gave me the confidence I was so desperately looking for.
If you follow my FB page, you know that last week I attended an incredible chocolate and wine tasting event at the chocolate and coffee store 2Beans in NYC hosted by Clay Gordon, creator of The Chocolate Life, acclaimed online platform that welcomes a huge community of chocolate professionals. After the guests took their seats, Clay Gordon stated: “I am here to give you some techniques to develop confidence in your tasting skills”. Just what I needed!
Here I want to share with you what I learned at the event, and what you need to hear if like me you believe that your chocolate lover’s tasted buds are failing you.
There are two main things that I understood:
1. There is no right or wrong review.
Take me for a fool, but it took me one full year in the chocolate industry to finally find out that EVERYBODY TASTES DIFFERENT THINGS. Clay Gordon did a great job in explaining that what we taste in a chocolate bar immensely depends on our family traditions, our native environment, our traditional cuisines, our childhood flavors.
Now that I think about this, no wonder a Cayenne Pepper Dark Chocolate Bar can result extremely spicy for an Italian like me that grew up with pretty bland food and light condiments, while it can taste almost mild for somebody grown up in a super flavorful Indian kitchen. And while a creamy and buttery texture in a chocolate bar can resemble a pleasant memory of childhood for an American, somebody born in Europe might find it too rich and filling. It makes so much sense! Why didn’t I think about it before? But wait, there is more!
It’s not only our roots that affect different responses from our palate and nose. Clay revealed that also perfume, toothpaste, shampoo, distance from a meal have a big impact on what we taste in a chocolate bar. Any fragrance held by our body has the potential to affect the results of our tasting, just as much as any flavor left in our mouth from a previous meal or snack. Of course there are many precautions we can use to diminish the impact of external factors on the results of a chocolate tasting. Someone could avoid perfume for that day, make sure to have a clean palate, brush teeth with a very mild toothpaste and so on. No matter how hard you try though, reaching the absolute truth about the flavor of a chocolate bar will still remain a chimera. So practically no review can be blamed or criticized.
The other thing I learned is that:
2. Nobody was born a professional chocolate taster.
Two are the cardinal requirements to master any skill: Training and Memory.
Chocolate tasting is no exception. The more chocolate you taste, the more you get to know different flavors and train your taste buds to recognize those same flavors next time. In the simplicity of his words, Clay Gordon enlightened me: “You can’t recognize a flavor that you had never tasted before.” If I have never tasted cardamom, why would I blame my taste buds for not recognizing a flavor that they had never tried before, and therefore have no memory of? It doesn’t mean that I am not good at recognizing the flavors in a bar; it simply means that I haven’t had a chance in my life to get familiar with that particular taste yet.
To gain confidence in our tasting skills we need to try out different flavors, different origins, different brands. Subject our taste buds to new experiences is crucial. There are no pre-established skills that we can rely on. But we can enlarge the table of flavors that we are able to recognize thanks to consistent training and memory.
After reaching these conclusions, I want to sincerely encourage every chocolate lover to put aside any worry of ‘being wrong’ and start sharing opinions, thoughts and reviews WITH good intentions but WITHOUT asking for permission. The fun to be in a chocolate community lies in the fact that we are all going to taste different things, and accepting and comparing everybody’s opinion sounds a lot more fun than searching for an impossible truth.
THANK YOU Clay Gordon and 2Beans for such an exciting and revealing night!
Do YOU agree that there is no absolute truth when it comes to chocolate tasting?
I did NOT get paid and did NOT receive any kind of favor for writing this article. These are my honest opinions at your service.