Karen, our Flavor Manager, will openly and unapologetically tell you that she regularly eats chocolate for breakfast. She’s been a part of our team since 2013; first as a chocolate maker, then managing chocolate making, and now, managing flavor. In her current role, she gets to taste her way through the day as she helps build the systems and processes that encourage the development and preservation of our flavor.
This blog post is part one of a four-part series on flavor in chocolate. Karen will answer some of the most-asked questions around what we taste, how flavor happens, and how we as chocolate makers approach flavor in our process and in our bars.
We believe that chocolate is absolute magic. Becoming a great taster, however, is not.
As Flavor Manager since 2017, one of my absolute favorite things to do is to run our internal tasting training that we call Flavorientation. (And if you’re interested, we also offer a class in Tasting for the public.) Here I get the opportunity to meet each and every new taster in our growing team and use this unique moment to impart to them this one simple fact:
If you want to be a great taster, all you’ve got to do is practice.
In class, I keep the group size small, inviting no more than six people at a time to the table. This is purposefully done to create a safe space so that our new tasters can exercise this sometimes new and awkward-feeling muscle: the palate. I take them through a series of tasting exercises where I highlight the nuanced impact that both large and small changes in our raw product, production processes, and makers can have on the final flavor of a chocolate bar. I work hard to crack open the exciting world of flavor to our new team members.
As with any table full of new tasters, there is often at least one individual around the tasting table that says something like, “I’m terrible at tasting! I don’t taste a single thing that everyone else seems to be getting!”
If there is one piece of advice that I can give to anyone wanting to be a great taster, it would be to stop comparing yourself to those around you. I know, I know! That can be like asking some of you to stop writing with your dominant hand; awkward and unnatural. However, remember that comparison stifles your own experience and hinders your ability to practice pulling up your own unique aromatic memories buried deep within your consciousness.
Aromatic memories are, in large part, the things that breath life and brightness into your memories of that magical tropical vacation or the warm fuzzy feelings you have toward your favorite holiday. Aromatic memories can transport us miles in an instant with one whiff of the nostalgic.
This is what makes chocolate magical. Chocolate is known as one of the most aromatically complex things out there. The possible combinations of the chemical compounds within chocolate are essentially endless. Couple this with the fact that, unlike other craft industries like coffee or beer, chocolate, consumable by any age group, has typically woven itself into our earliest childhood memories. More often than not, understanding our connection to chocolate is so entangled within the story of our lives that it is near impossible to find its source.
This is one of the main reasons I absolutely love what I get to do here. I get to hear people’s life stories framed by their unique and deeply personal tasting notes. I get to literally hear them unpack some of their most potent experiences as they practice naming and identifying the aromas that have framed their lives.
So next time you sit down to a meal, walk through your local farmers market, or step into your favorite relative’s kitchen, take a second and breathe deeply. These are the things your chocolate memories are made of!