Building my sensory skills for chocolate tasting

The other day I was fortunate enough to be able to join a group of agricultural students to develop my sensory skills for the tasting of cacao liquor as well as the ability to identify how well the beans have undergone their fermentation and drying process.

The majority of the students were sons and daughters of local cacao producers from a town called Saposoa in the region of San Martin in the Northern part of Peru.

It was interesting to hear their perspective on cacao production and their experiences as children of local cacao producers. It is reassuring to see this younger generation keen to learn all about the best agricultural practices for the production of quality cacao. Many have the desire to take forward their parents’ cacao plantations, however it was also interesting to hear their thoughts on how cacao farmers today receive very little rewards for producing quality cacao. I hope that in the years to come this new generation will be able to successfully manage their own post harvesting methods, and obtain competitive market prices for quality beans.

As I learn about the importance and influence of harvesting and post harvesting methods on the taste and aroma of the beans, it is interesting to hear that 50% of the beans’ flavours depends on the beans’ post harvest techniques. The other 45% relies on the cacao variety type and the remaining 5% on the region of origin, otherwise known as the “terroir”.

Sophisticated connoisseurs of chocolate can identify country of origin, cacao tree type and processing methods; and can detect whether a chocolate comprises beans from a single estate (“terroir”) or blends.

As we start learning the skills required for tasting liquor, the first thing that we are taught is how to recognise and memorise the taste of different ingredients that are often associated to chocolate.

We taste all sorts of ingredients; pecan nuts, coconut, dried raisins, and almonds.

The next sense that we need to develop is smell. We are given 20 different boxes which contain different ingredients. The challenge is to define the ingredient of each container through its smell.

Quite a challenge! however I was very impressed how most of the students immediately picked up on the smell of each ingredient, and were able to match it correctly to the ingredient’s name.

Definitely a gift for those who come from a country like Peru where there is a vast produce of primary ingredients, and where children are brought up in families where food and home cooking is very important and a way of life.

The ingredients that were used in the smelling test were; grapes, coffee, cinnamon, wood, coriander, oregano, vanilla, vinegar, pepper, yoghurt, hot dog, cheese, butter, pineapple, soil, chocolate, clove, cumin and local fruits from the Amazon.

Now that our sensory skills are trained, it is time for us to taste the cacao liquor, and see whether we can distinguish the different flavour profiles often found in chocolate.

It is interesting to see how the grading works in the tasting of chocolate. Quite different to that of coffee tasting, where at the end you add up the total points given against each flavour characteristic. In the world of chocolate tasting, you just give an overall grade of appreciation.

The average grade for a good cocoa liquor tends to be 6.5 points. If the grade given to the chocolate is less than 6.5 points, then it is classed as a liquor that has acidity and astringency, usually due to its fermentation and drying process. If it is given more than 6.5 points then it is classed as a good chocolate. One of the chocolates that we taste is fruity with a slight edge of nuts. The taste of this particular batch is mainly influenced by its “terroir”, and most likely because there is also a higher mix of criollo beans.

It is then in the comments area of the assessment sheet that you point out the positive and negative aspects of the chocolate’s flavor characteristics.

I notice that some of the chocolate that we taste has a high level of astringency and acidity. This is most likely due to the fementation process that hasn’t been carried out so well. Though the variety of the bean is also an influencing factor for the astringency and bitterness tasted in the chocolate.

The CCN 51 naturally tends be more astringent and acidic than a criollo which tends to be more aromatic and floral. This is why a well carried out fermentation process is ever so important.

Categories: Cocoa, Cooperatives, Peru, Sensory

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

9 replies

  1. Fascinating! I’d love to participate in something like that, so thanks for sharing!

  2. living the life he? 🙂 thanks for all these fascinating accounts of your trip 🙂

  3. What an opportunity it must have been to experience it at the source. Very nice post.

  4. I visited a few cocoa plantations in Papua, Indonesia. I dried a handful of Theobroma cocoa beans in my kitchen but I’m not an expert, the only thing I can remember is that they tasted very bitter!

  5. I am currently in the Cafiesa plant in San Francisco de Macoris in the Dominican Republic showing the group here the flavor lab/station set up in Peru. Tcho is coming here to set up the same thing in a very short time. They were very interested to learn about this blog.

    • Hi Thomas,

      I met a couple of people, Brad and John who both work at TCHO while at the Peruvian Salon de Cacao y Chocolate. How interesting that they are also doing it at CONACADO. It’s a great initiative.

      Great that you showed them my blog, thank you!

      Hope all is well with you. I am now in Piura at Cepicafe, where they have a special white cacao.

      All the best


  6. It’s awesome to go to see this web page and reading the views of all friends regarding this article, while I am also eager of getting know-how.


  1. When the cocoa trail becomes the chocolate trail | onthecocoatrail

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