The Labor of Tasting Chocolate

I don’t remember when it happened, but I do remember my reaction when I first tasted stoneground chocolate. It was after college, some time after I had decided I wanted to save the world with chocolate. I had always been a chocoholic, but until that point, had only tasted commercial, mass market chocolate.

Stone-ground chocolate is minimally processed chocolate, ground with traditional Mexican stone mills, or molinos. It results in a uniquely bold, gritty chocolate. My sister had been raving about it, urging me to try it. The first time I placed it in my mouth, I knew it was special and full of potential. It was the first time I truly tasted cacao through the chocolate. This was chocolate’s true flavor. I was in love with the coarse chocolate granules combined with cane sugar. I savored the fruity, full flavor and the complex mouth-feel.

In the years since I first tasted this stone-ground chocolate disc, I’ve attended pastry school, become a chocolatier, started a chocolate truffle business moved, married, moved again, had a baby, and opened a chocolate shop in Rochester. Among other things. I’ve also learned a lot about chocolate. I’ve eaten A LOT of it. And I still love it. Yet, the way that I consume and taste chocolate has evolved. I have always enjoyed tasting new kinds of chocolate, but today, I truly taste and savor what I put in my mouth.

Tasting chocolate is similar to tasting wine, or cheese. (In fact, at Laughing Gull Chocolates, we have a cheese and chocolate plate, and in the coming months, we will host chocolate and wine or chocolate and beer pairings – stay tuned!) The more I read about the way chocolate is grown, harvested and processed, and the more I taste varieties of chocolate, the more I value the depth and complexity in chocolate. (Practicing mindfulness helps too – check out our Chocolate and Mindfulness workshop early next month).

Most people will enjoy chocolate regardless of how mindfully they eat or drink it. Yet, there are ways to savor and luxuriate in the chocolate, using all of the senses. The first step is to place the chocolate close to your nose; smell, and appreciate the aroma. Admire the chocolate; look for the sheen, the shine, and look at the color. If the chocolate is a hard, tempered bar, break it and listen for a snap. Finally, place the chocolate in your mouth and let it sit on your tongue as it begins to melt in your mouth. Slowly chew; enjoy and repeat. Using all of these senses will enhance the chocolate eating experience.

There is so much more to chocolate than first meets the eye – or the tongue. Understanding the story of chocolate, and how it is sourced has made me respect each morsel infinitely more.

It is not a coincidence that we decided to do a chocolate tasting event the Friday before Labor Day. According to the Department of Labor, Labor Day “is a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers.” Chocolate is inextricably intertwined with labor struggles, specifically child slavery. Using our five senses to taste chocolate is crucial to the way it is enjoyed, but it can be brought up to another level. Diving deeper into the story of where my chocolate comes from has given me another piece to the jigsaw puzzle – in a similar way that snapping the chocolate bar does or allowing chocolate to melt slowly on my tongue. Each time I taste a piece of chocolate, I enjoy it just a bit more; each bite on my tongue contributes more to my understanding of the story of chocolate.

Since my first experience with stone-ground chocolate, I’ve tasted countless pieces of chocolate. A few of them have changed my life (I am a chocolatier, after all), and I’m excited to share all of chocolate’s layers and complexities at our first chocolate tasting tomorrow!

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