Choosing Your Chocolate: A Guide to Pairings, Tastings and Identifying Flavor Notes

Chocolate Guide

By Erica Jordan

As Valentine’s Day approaches, many people will be rushing into stores in search for the perfect chocolate for their special someone. However, it’s more common to see people reaching for nicely packaged chocolate confections, than it is to see someone who is truly making a selection based on the chocolate itself.  With chocolate flavor options being available for so many sweets, it’s often forgotten that in the hands of an artisanal chocolatier, chocolate made from high quality beans can be complex and full of flavor on its own. This guide is full of tips on how to pick out and best enjoy your chocolates.

Chocolate Notes

Photo by: Porto Bay Hotels & Resorts Events

Chocolate Flavor Notes

Like wines, chocolate has a variety of flavor notes, which include, but are certainly not limited to “red ripe fruity,” “citrus,” “nutty,” and “earthy.” These notes are a reflection of the soil composition of the area where the beans were grown. Single origin chocolate, as suggested by the name, is chocolate made from beans that come from one region. Thus, a single origin chocolate tends to have a lesser number of, but more pronounced flavor notes. The other more common option is blended chocolate. These tend to have flavor notes of similar strength due to mixing chocolate beans that originate from varying regions, which helps to create an overall balanced flavor.

Chocolate Tasting

Photo by Chocolate Reviews

Chocolate Tasting

It’s important to make sure that your palate is cleansed to best pick up the subtle flavor notes, especially when tasting a chocolate for the first time. A great way to do this is to eat chocolate first thing in the morning before consuming foods or beverages other than water. Reviewing a list of different flavor notes found in chocolate before or during the chocolate tasting can also help to remind you what to look for. High quality chocolate should naturally melt as you chew, coating your mouth with a smooth layer of chocolate. Puffing some air into your mouth throughout the chocolate tasting process and immediately after can really help identify the different notes.

Chocolate Flavor Notes

Photo by Williamnyk

Chocolate Pairings

Even in bar form, it’s common to find chocolate paired with other ingredients. For an unadulterated chocolate experience, opt for a pure chocolate bar, or one with nibs, which are pieces of roasted cacao beans. Although most have an acidic tendency, they are less likely to mask any of the other flavor notes. Other ingredients such as raspberry, caramel or nuts can be used to bring out certain flavor notes while masking others. It’s also important to note that the added ingredients will not necessarily directly translate into the flavors. For example, many chocolates with tea in them do not taste strongly of tea, but instead have an added floral note. Likewise, milk chocolate made with high quality beans naturally has a caramel note, without the addition of any caramel.

A common beverage-chocolate pairing is red wine. However, red wines can make taste buds less sensitive to the subtle notes of chocolate. Therefore, if you’re looking to try many chocolates, a better option may be to replace the bottle of red wine with a smooth, organic port.

Making Chocolate

Photo by: Porto Bay Hotels & Resorts Events

Choosing a Chocolate Maker

Many chocolate makers are dedicated to creating a positive impact through their products. Companies such as Theo, Divine Chocolate , Madcasse, Tcho and Green & Blacks use organic ingredients and employ many fair trade principles. Choosing a chocolate made with the best and most ethical ingredients will surely make it a guilt-free indulgence.

The only thing better than being gifted high quality and ethical chocolate, is to share the chocolate experience with someone you love. Looking for chocolate notes, and experimenting with chocolate pairings together can help make the experience much more sensual.


Erica Jordan BioAbout the Writer

Erica Jordan obtained a degree in biology and worked in the pharmaceutical industry before getting addicted to travel. She has since traveled extensively while teaching English in Japan, written a grammar textbook and sailed around the world as an interpreter and translator. Some of her interests include sustainability, modern art and hunting down cozy cafes. You can read about her adventures on Kizzling Around or connect with her on twitter @Kizzling Around.


Featured photo by: Porto Bay Hotels & Resorts Events



  1. I absolutely love Madecasse, which is not waxy but smooth and not bitter even in their highly dark variety. Also, Pacari in Ecuador is really upping the ante when it comes to chocolate. Our hands down favorite!

    1. It’s really incredible how brilliant they are in their chocolate making. You can really tell that the beans are good quality, too! Last time I saw some on sale at Whole Foods, I bought a huge stack. You can never have enough, right? Thanks for the recommendation! I’ve written the name down and am definitely going to try to look for some. Sounds like we have similar taste in chocolate so I can’t wait!

  2. Coming from Belgium, I could not avoid reading this interesting post.
    If ever you have the chance to come in Belgium, I would recommend you to try chocolate from Pierre Marcolini (you may find his product in US I think ..), but also Galler Chocolate. Those two chocolate makers pay a hgh importance in the choice of their products and that’s perhaps what makes the difference.

    1. My list of chocolates to try is getting pretty long (I’m not complaining, though!). I’ve never heard of either so I’m really glad you told me about them! It really is all about choosing high quality chocolates- it makes a difference not only in taste, but how you view chocolate, too! From a simple flavor, into an art form. 🙂

    2. I agree with John. Belgium has some amazing chocolate makers and Marcolini and Galler are just two of them. I like the way you have compared chocolate tasting to wine tasting. I completely agree. It’s a very similar process, and is all about developing the palate for appreciating flavour nuances.

  3. I just love the comparison of chocolate tasting to wine tasting. I never thought to do something like that. It would be so fun to have a bunch of chocolates and really focus on the taste and flavors as they melted in your mouth. I’ve never tried chocolate with wine either. It always seemed a bit odd to me. I personally love my chocolate with caramel. Mmmmmm….

    1. IT IS. You must try it!! It will change your life… or at least the way that you enjoy chocolate. If we ever meet in real life, we are going to do this together.
      I was gifted a dark chocolate stout caramel chocolate bar from Vosges for Valentine’s Day, which I’m really enjoying. The stout tones down the sweetness of the caramel just a little bit and adds a bit of depth. mmm… excuse me while I go snack on some more chocolate..

    1. Thanks for the recommendation! I don’t think I’ve ever seen it during my chocolate haul journeys. Do you know if it can be purchased in New York City?

  4. I love Tcho chocolates. Highly recommended, although my hips might not agree so much.

    1. Every time one of my friends goes to SF, the first thing I say is “You HAVE to go to Tcho!”
      I think that my hips agree a little too much 😉 Oh well, absolutely worth it!

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