Do I need chromatography? Or is my palate enough?

Today I just wanted to mention some great chocolate I like. But then I thought, wait! Isn’t that super trivial, or maybe worse: boring?
And what about all this chocolate testing anyway?

Chocolate is clearly something that has entered the elitist circle of (often male-dominated!) snob life-style where it is now an approved topic next to the classics of wine, whiskey, or cigars1.
Let’s start with wine, because that’s a widely covered topic with all types of positive and negative extremes. Amongst the positive aspects are certainly, that wine is more widely appreciated and that decent wine is accessible at many places and occasions. Unfortunately, the number of pseudo-facts, of empty phrases and annoying smartasses increased proportionally with the spread of wine as the ultimately drink for tasting-meditations. Apparently every first semester student has to learn pseudo-wine-talk to fill every party with phrases like “Cabernet Sauvignon is really so blahblahblah” or “Burgundy is far and away the best”.
That hasn’t happened to chocolate so far, but it begins to happen. In forums and chocolate shops you can already hear people speaking of Sao Tome Forastero or Chuao Criollo (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing) in completely nonsense ways (which definitely is a bad thing!). Much worse than people that try to judge entirely by on-package facts like country or variety (instead of –how weird is that!- their own palate), are people that judge entirely by exclusivity and price. I really hate it if I hear someone saying things like “This chocolate/coffee/wine/… is definitely the best that you can get!”. It translates more into “I bought the most expensive one, can’t taste any difference, but I’m sure it’s there and I am bigheaded enough to claim it publicly”2.
The shy version of this is the unquestioning belief in a tasting-guru’s opinion, the more pseudo-objective the better. I’m a physicist, so I should love numbers, right? Quite wrong. In and outside science I see so many examples of people desperately looking for numbers no matter how much or how little sense they make. Don’t get me wrong, I still like numbers. Not only in a nerdy way. But very often they suggest a level of objectivity they can’t live up to. So one should either give better measures or interpret them more loosely, or both.
Let’s look again at wine. A 90-or-more-Parker-points wine is most certainly not a horrible one and might even be a very good one3. But come on, that people start believing that a 95 point wine is better than a 93 point wine, that’s crap. There are many things you can measure to that precision. But unfortunately for those without own opinion, the pH, the density, the viscosity, not even liquid chromatography can be translated in a goodness-number of – say- 93.6/100.
Same with chocolate. You can find a lot of more or less sophisticated chocolate reviews on the net. And they are really not all bad at all! If you want to get some ideas about what chocolate you might try next, or if you just want to check if others also found that last chocolate you had as horrible as you, then there are quite nice websites with a lot of chocolate reviews, such as 20n20s or (for the German speakers) Chclt4.
So, please, if you check them out, don’t try to get only the highest-rated chocolate and then tell everybody that this chocolate “is definitely the best that you can get”5.

Footnotes
  1. And of course all the other social class defining classics like golf and boats or cars and sports or politics and economy or music and literature… []
  2. One way to test if you’ve come to a good wine shop is actually the following. Walk around have look and when asked for help say something free of wine vocabulary. Like “I am looking for a nice, tasty, red wine” and also say or signal that you want to have it for 5-10€. If the salesperson gives you a snarky or wondering look, you can just leave the shop. That was a snobby, wannabe upper-class idiot. Another reason to leave the shop is if the salesperson repeatedly mentions good review results to underline the quality of his wine. A good wine seller should know his wines and have his own opinion. If he has to cite the boring authorities (like “Parker” and others) , I would doubt that his recommendations are probably worthless. []
  3. Still, whether YOU like it or not is not at all said by that. Here you need a wine of 90-YOUR-points, judged yourself. []
  4. Chclt really tested a lot of chocolates and most reviews I saw were quite reasonable. I also liked that they were not overly snobby! What I found irritating, however, is their rating system with a scale from 50 to 100 points, so that the worst case still means a grade of 50?!? That’s a bit strange I found, because especially all the normal big industry chocolates typically get something like 70-80, which at first still looks (too) good in my opinion. If you would rescale it to a 0 to 100 scale, that would be 40-60, which I find a much better description. []
  5. On the other hand, Chchlt mentiones that Rotstern is probably the worst dark chocolate produced in Germany, which I can totally confirm. So better don’t even touch it, unless you have an archeological or historical  interest in tasting a chocolate that probably tastes much like something one could have made out of the few random low-quality ingredients you could get in –say- 1947 Germany. But then eaten 20 years later. []

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  1. Chclt.net schokolade | commented on 24. October 2013 , 22:04

    Great post, and thanks for the mention – you captured very well what this is about: within around +/- 2 points this is very much a matter of preferences, but we feel confident that most tasters will agree that eg a 92-93 point chocolate will taste significantly more interesting and accomplished than an 89-90 points bar, when compared directly. Chclt.net’s 50-100 points rating follows the academic rating system, an approach Parker follows as well, and it is well introduced as orientation to wine tasters (see our legend). Also, we don’t want people who got to like their Ritter Sport be turned off the first second – rather give suggestions about what other chcocolates might be interesting, and build interest over time.

    Thanks again for the balanced discussion of the benefits and inherent issues in chocolate reviewing!

    (And, indeed, don’t start buying the highest rated chocolates as your first fine chocolates, particularly expensive Venezuelan Criollos, their virtues aren’t immediately obvious without spending some time with chocolate … as with all the best things in life!)

    Peter, Chclt.net

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