Raise the Bar

Tips for chocolate tasting from Tim Gearhart.

Clockwise from top: Merckens Milk and Dark Chocolate Breakup, Guittard Organic Bittersweet Chocolate Baking Wafers, Ghiradelli 100% Cacao Unsweetened Chocolate, and Scharffen Berger 70% Cacao Bittersweet Dark Chocolate.

Photo by Tyler Darden

Even “plain,” or baking, chocolate has nuanced flavor undertones. Just like wine, flavors are created through the magic of the plant’s growth conditions, location, and processing. When choosing chocolate for a recipe, Tim Gearhart of Gearhart’s Fine Chocolates in Charlottesville recommends tasting a few good-quality brands, like Valrhona, Ghirardelli, or Callebaut, to find one that complements the other ingredients. 

During the holidays, Gearhart’s shop makes about 12,000 pieces daily of hand-dipped or rolled flavored chocolate truffles. He worked with chocolate manufacturer Valrhona to create a base chocolate for his flavor specifications. “I wanted a big chocolate punch in our base chocolate, because we use strong flavors here,” Gearhart says. 

Here are Gearhart’s tasting guidelines:

 Cold inhibits flavors, so chocolate should be room temperature or slightly warmer. (Try holding the piece in your hands briefly before tasting.)

2. If you are tasting several types of chocolate, taste them in order from the mildest to strongest. Usually this means tasting lower cocoa levels first, then moving to higher.

3. As you hold the chocolate, look for a smooth, shiny, even surface, which indicates the chocolate has been properly tempered and molded.

4. Break the chocolate—well-tempered chocolate will make a good “snap” sound and a have a clean, sharp broken edge.

5. Smell the chocolate before tasting to see if you can pick up light flavor notes.

6. Place a piece of chocolate midway on your tongue and let it melt slowly. This allows the cocoa butter to coat the palate and evenly convey the flavors. Like wines, chocolates have delicate early flavors, then a main flavor, and end with finishing notes after the chocolate has fully dissolved. Letting the chocolate melt slowly lets you taste the full flavor evolution.

7. Sip water or eat a cracker between tastes to cleanse your palate.


This article originally appeared in our February 2019 issue. Craving more chocolate? Click here for recipes from the Salamander Resort & Spa in Middleburg.

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