Me: "It's kind of woody... sort of toasted... a little grassy... I can taste it, but what is it?"
Chloé: "It's tobacco. It's like smelling an unlit cigar."
We were, of course, talking about chocolate.
To eat is a relatively easy activity but to taste is hard work. By taste I mean stop talking, stop reading the newspaper, stop whatever it is you do while you eat, and pause to reflect on what's happening at the moment of consumption? What colours are on the plate? Do they glisten or are they matt and muted? What can you smell? How does the food sound when you bite into it and how does it feel on your tongue? And of course, what flavours and aromas can you detect? What order do they move through your mouth and in what combinations?
This is the art of tasting. Few people would spend so much time considering their morning toast (unless they are a professional bread / butter / jam / vegemite taster) but certain foods are so packed with taste information, and so varied depending on the origin and cultivation of their raw materials, their treatment post-harvest and their production into a food product, that they beg to be properly tasted and not simply eaten.
The much sought after cocoa bean can, in the right circumstances, deliver a surprisingly diverse array of colours, textures, flavours and aromas. Which is one of the main reasons I'm here in Paris doing a stage with Chloé Doutre-Roussel, chocolate expert, chocolate blender, chocolate consultant, chocolate events speaker, chocolate tour guide, professional chocolate taster, the owner of the Chloe Chocolat boutique, teacher in the art of tasting chocolate and above all, passionate chocolate consumer.
With a bit of practice, almost anyone with a functioning tongue and olfactory bulb can detect different flavours and aromas in chocolate (or wine, or coffee, or whatever your obsession might be). However identifying them is truly an art. Whilst I might notice the flavours in a particular chocolate are a little flat, Chloé would describe them as like drinking skim milk, when you're accustomed to whole milk. Another chocolate bothered me with the addition of milk to some very acidic beans which Chloé aptly described as like drinking spoiled milk.
Learning to taste chocolate requires, well, tasting a lot of different chocolate, and for this, je t'aime Paris! Valrhona, Michel Cluizel, Pralus, Bonnat and Bernachon are all available here, chocolate brands that are impossible to find in Colombia. To continue my education in the art of chocolate tasting, I really need access to a wide variety of high-quality artisanally produced chocolate! If only there was a store in Bogotá where I could find them.