Category: Way of Living
Date: March 9, 2021
Peter Moustakerski, an absolute chocolate guru, joined us for a wide-ranging discussion about chocolate, including its long history, production details, health benefits, ethical considerations, as well as where to find high-quality chocolate on our own. He also led us through a delicious chocolate tasting, offering best practices for fully immersing ourselves in the experience, so we can truly taste the complex flavors of the cacao bean itself.
Peter embodies the essential idea of Startover – he left behind his consulting career to pursue his chocolate passion full time, travelling to chocolate manufacturers and growers all over the globe, and eventually founding a business, his own chocolate shop, which enveloped people in the confection-making process.
Chocolate Tasting Recommendations
Peter assured us that tasting is more of an art than science, but he offered several recommendations to maximize the experience.
Chocolate should be eaten in order from least to most dark (lowest percentage of cacao to highest), so that you can truly taste the flavor profile of the cacao bean rather than what has been added to it.
During a tasting, first put the chocolate on your tongue and let it start to melt. If you can, avoid chewing the chocolate. To prolong the experience, rub the chocolate on your palette and around your mouth to engage nerve endings and let it slowly dissolve. As it melts, think about what your brain is registering. You should (try to) eat the chocolate as slowly as possible, giving your brain the time to register its nuances and complex flavors.
A chocolate tasting should include all five of your senses.
1. Smell – Professionals recommend that you smell the chocolate first, before tasting it, in order to saturate your senses.
2. Sight – Well-made chocolate is shiny.
3. Touch – If chocolate is tempered properly, the cacao butter will be smooth. It should not bend or be grainy.
4. Hearing – the bar should snap, not bend. The harder it snaps the more cacao butter you have.
5. Taste – Do we even need to explain!?
Ultimately, from smelling to the first bite to mid- and aftertaste, a chocolate tasting should be a sensory journey as more and more flavors unfold and reveal themselves.
Nibs of Info
- Chocolate has been a part of human culture for 3,000 to 4,000 years, starting in the Olmec civilization.
- The cacao tree is native to the Amazon. Cacao was carried with human and animal migrations throughout Mesoamerica (Panama, Nicaragua, Mexico, etc.)
- Within Mayan and Aztec civilizations, cacao became a harvested, grown and cultivated crop. They used it as a means of currency to trade goods. Mayan and Aztec armies were paid in cacao beans.
- Belgians turned cacao into confections and bonbons, made for royal families. In subsequent years, access to these treats grew increasingly democratized.
- Cocoa powder is defatted cocoa.
- The active tonic ingredient in chocolate is theobromine, which also has energy-boosting properties without the jitteriness or withdrawal that can occur with caffeine.
- All of chocolate’s flavor and nutrition comes from the cocoa solids (approx 40% of the bean). Cocoa solids are husky, brown and solid. To get these cocoa solids, you squeeze the beans to remove the cocoa butter, so only the solids remain.
- 80% of chocolate’s DNA comes from the beans. The subsequent artistry, the chocolate’s unique profile, comes from how manufacturers and craftspeople choose to dry, roast, grind, mix with other beans, and temper their beans.
- Cocoa butter melts just at your body temperature, between 80-90 degrees, which is why it melts immediately in your mouth.
- Milk chocolate is smoother and less acidic than dark. The ingredients for a chocolate bar are just cacao beans and sugar. For milk chocolate, milk powder is added.
- There is a debate about whether or not white chocolate is even chocolate, as it is only made with cocoa butter and sugar, rather than the cocoa solids. For a period of time, the USDA did not even allow it to be labelled as chocolate because it was not made from the entire bean.
- The more cacao present in the bar, the healthier it is, as cacao is naturally rich in flavonoids and antioxidants.
Recommendations for Buying, Storing, and Exploring Chocolate
- Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, and boutiques are great options where a lot of artistry is aggregated and you can explore.
- Store chocolate at room temperature in a dark place. Sixty five to seventy degrees is the ideal temperature for storage.
- Buy from brands that source their cacao beans responsibly. The more responsibly-made chocolate comes from South and Central America while industrially produced cacao comes from Africa.
- To truly taste the cacao bean, buy dark chocolate. There are even palatable 100% cacao bars on the market.
Throughout our conversation, it was obvious that Peter found chocolate a rapturous subject; ruminating that chocolate has a little door, and when you crack open its door, there are thousands of years and a whole world of stories behind it. He encouraged us to crack these doors open by travelling to places where chocolate has a rich history or presence, meet artists or craftspeople who work with chocolate, or learn more about it by taking a course or attending a tasting. His expertise, guidance, and enthusiasm made it less intimidating to gently tap on that door and explore what lays beyond it.