Luxury chocolate – as opposed to mass-produced, store-bought chocolate – is a delight, and one that should be savoured from start to finish.
For centuries, chocolate was served solely as a drink. Although hot chocolate still remains a firm favourite today, it is now sold in many shapes and forms, including everything from slabs of pure chocolate, to artisan truffle and bars embellished with spices, dried fruits and nuts.
The magical appeal of chocolate partly stems from the extremely painstaking creation process, which results in a taste-tantalising slab of luxury chocolate – pure in form.
From the beginning…
In its raw form, chocolate comes from the cacao tree, in the shape a bean. The creation process begins by extracting the pale white beans from their fleshy pods; they are then ‘sweated’ to rid them of excess moisture, before being dried and fermented. When it comes to creating luxury chocolate, the ‘sweating’ stage is the most important step, as if the beans aren’t fully rid of all moisture particles, they maintain a harsh taste, similar to that of raw potatoes.
After roasting, de-shelling and grounding the cacao beans, a thick paste is created. This is the base for all luxury chocolates. Similar to how cream is separated from milk, this paste is split into cocoa solids and cocoa butter. It’s at this point when other flavours and spices can be added, including vanilla, cinnamon or even chilli.
The different variants of chocolate
Milk Chocolate: This particular style of chocolate is a cafe-au-lait colour. According to EU regulations, milk chocolate must contain at least 25 percent cocoa solids. These can be combined with cocoa liquor, sugar and milk (or in some cases, condensed milk). Although many believe dark chocolate to be more upmarket, certain luxury chocolate brands produce extremely fine milk chocolates, created using milk specific to certain regions – the end result is an exceptionally luxurious creaminess.
Dark chocolate: This style of chocolate is more austere and contains little to no milk, depending on the percentage of cocoa used. The bioflavonoids in dark chocolate have been proven to lift moods and lower blood pressure. In the case of dark chocolate, EU regulations state that this variant must contain at least 35 percent cocoa solids. However, many of today’s luxury chocolate boutiques stock bars containing 70 to 100 percent cocoa solids. The reason for dark chocolate’s appeal is its smooth texture and chic finesse. Connoisseurs will often compare it to wine, because of its fruity accents, which can include notes of raspberry, apricot and raisin. Luxury dark chocolates are often paired with wines and other foods as they are said to bring out the flavours of certain beverages and dishes.
Couverture: This is one of the purest chocolate forms, with a cocoa butter content of 50 percent and above. Due to its high cocoa butter content, couverture chocolate is often used as a glaze for premium desserts.
How luxury chocolate differs from traditional, everyday chocolate
Many of today’s store bought chocolates are created with quality vegetable oils, as opposed to cocoa butter. This can create a splinter-like texture, and a lacklustre sheen.
High quality chocolate should always showcase a radiant sheen. A dull surface is usually the result of poor additives, such as wax or oil.
Quality chocolate should never feel sticky. One way to determine whether chocolate is of a high quality is to hold it between your fingertips. Chocolate with a higher cocoa butter content will melt extremely fast. It should also snap cleanly without crumbling.
Another way to ensure a luxury chocolate is just that, is to smell it – notes of vanilla, caramel and berries are associated with higher-grade chocolates and the fragrance should be extremely pleasurable.
There are many chocolate variants available today. Sea salt paired with luxury milk chocolate is one such concoction guaranteed to invigorate your senses.
Dark chocolate paired with chilli is another popular option and one that is guaranteed to enlighten your tastebuds. More adventurous chocolate connoisseurs are now adding the likes of crystallised ginger, lavender and honey comb to bars of luxury chocolate.
When consuming luxury chocolate, adopting a degree of ritual will significantly enhance your tasting experience, especially when it comes to savouring this moreish delight. First things first, ensure the chocolate is served at room temperature.
Secondly, make sure your palette is clean. Drinking a glass of sparkling water will help to cleanse your palette.
Finally, place the chocolate on the tip of your tongue and allow it to melt. Analyse both the taste and texture and try to pinpoint the top, middle and base notes.