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The best chocolate

It's all a matter of taste

It's all a matter of taste

February 19, 2008|By FEDORA COPLEY / Pulse Correspondent

When a group of teens get together to sample chocolate, one of life's great lessons becomes apparent - everyone's taste buds are different.

Several weeks ago, Pulse writers congregated in The Herald-Mail's lunch room for a chocolate tasting. The air buzzed with excitement as Chris Copley, the team's leader and the editor of Lifestyle (and the writer's father), opened bags of Lindt, Hershey and Lindor chocolate. He talked a bit while he set up. Chocolate, he said, comes from cacao beans grown in equatorial regions around the world. Like coffee and wine, chocolate tastes different from region to region. Also, depending on the cacao percentage, the taste can be bitter or light or in between.

Pulse writers were given high-tech graphs (aka paper towels) on which they wrote about three separate categories: appearance/aroma, texture and taste. The most obvious visual and taste difference was whether the sample was milk or dark chocolate. Quality milk chocolate has a cacao percentage of around 40, according to "The Cook's Guide to Chocolate" by Christine McFadden and Christine France. Most leading brands have about 20 percent.

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Milk chocolate's production includes adding powered milk or evaporated milk, and generally has a high sugar content of up to 50 percent. Dark chocolate must contain at least 34 percent cacao solids, while around 60 or above is preferable. Quality dark has a correspondingly small proportion of sugar.

Rather than just use ordinary adjectives like "smooth" or "good" or "strong," writers were encouraged to expand their taste buds and vocabulary. There are more flavors in chocolate than sugar and cacao.

Milk chocolate

The first round was three unidentified samples of different milk chocolates. The first sample was described as "sugary-smelling," "not very shiny", and "grainy" by different members of the team.

One person said the taste was "Bo-ring. The kind of chocolate everyone knows the taste of."

The second milk chocolate had a "sharper flavor;" another writer said it was "very bitter" but was "less grainy."

The third had "hardly any flavor" to one person, while another felt it was "very smooth, very milky" with a "strong taste." Another said it was nutty and sweet.

The first milk chocolate turned out to be the classic Hershey Bar, with just 10 percent cacao; the second was Hershey's Whole Bean milk chocolate; the third was Cacao Reserve, also by Hershey. The Whole Bean milk chocolate was the most popular. As one writer commented, it "has the most cacao flavor in ratio to sweetness."

Dark chocolate

The dark chocolate round was much less appreciated by most team members. Some people enjoyed at least some samples. Comments like "nasty," "don't eat!" and "tastes like paint thinner" appeared frequently in writers' notes. The high cacao content seemed to surprise some writers who were accustomed to milk chocolate.

The Endangered Species 88 percent Cacao brought some interesting responses. It tasted "fruity, bitter" to one writer, and "savory, green tea-like, muted" to another. "Yuck" was another writer's laconic comment.

The third was "soft at first, then packs a punch of bitter cacao" in one writer's words. Another said the aroma was weak, texture was almost glassy and taste was "VERY bitter, almost sour."

This was Lindt's 85 percent "Extra Dark." The next dark chocolate was "buttery and sweet," "woody, spicy" and had "weakest dark chocolate flavor" of the samples. This was Hershey's Special Dark.

Stuff in chocolate

The third round of chocolate combined five chocolate bars with fruit or nuts. A popular sample from this selection was Lindt Intense Orange. The citrus flavor complimented the dark chocolate and was a nice balance of sweet and bitter.

One of the least popular was nonpareils - discs of bland milk chocolate coated in white, crunchy, candy dots.The nonpareils tasted "musty" and "like plastic," said one writer. Another writer said "it tastes like the chocolates in your great aunt's house that have been sitting there for years."

The first round seemed to be the most popular.

Pumped full of chocolate, writers felt satiated and, in some cases, surprised. For some people, dark chocolate may be a little overpowering (one writer wrote "never again"), but perhaps the tasty evening showed that trying new things is exciting.

After all, life is like a box of chocolates.

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