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Clay,

I read with great interest on your blog about attempts to find new ways to describe the taste of chocolate that isn't dependent on other food terms. I'm especially curious about what you mean by using music terminology.

To make it easier for others here's what Clay said, "4. Develop new ways to talk about flavors in chocolate (that aren't dependent on other foods). Right now, most of the vocabulary of chocolate (and certainly virtually all of the taste vocabulary of chocolate) comes from wine. While this is not bad, I think there has to be some way to talk about flavors in chocolate in more general terms so that more people "get it" without thinking we chocophiles are being snobby. The new chocolate company Tcho, which is currently in "beta" on its first chocolate, has developed a "taste wheel" that lists what they think are the dominant flavor characteristics of one of their chocolates. I think that this is a step in a good direction. My own explorations in this area include trying to adapt terms from music to chocolate and I plan to continue this work for myself and on behalf of my consulting clients in 2008. What do you think? Good idea? Bad idea? Share your thoughts in a comment."

Would you elaborate on this concept a little more? Also can you give more details about what Tcho is doing in this area? I couldn't find anything about it on their website.

Tags: descriptors, music, vocabulary

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When I was in the Bay Area in late February to speak at Copia during their chocolate festival, I spent some time with TCHO (the name is properly spelled in all caps) founder Timothy Childs discussing a number of different issues. One of them was their approach to describing flavors in chocolate.

According to Timothy, TCHO plans to not market their chocolates using percentages (or maybe even origins) because they feel that the percentage conveys no meaningful information about either the taste or the quality of the chocolate (I totally agree with them on this point). They are also looking to simplify how flavors are conveyed by concentrating on a relatively small number of tastes and focusing on the dominant note. Their first bar, made from Ghanain beans is labeled simply "chocolatey." In part, this recognizes that the vast majority of chocolate lovers are not super-tasters, so lengthy lists of flavors nuances are neither useful nor helpful.

What I find frustrating about most flavor descriptions is that they tend to ignore the temporal dimension - how the chocolate changes in taste in the mouth over time - and other taste attributes such as intensity. In thinking about this, it occurred to me to look at art forms that have temporal aspects - dance, film, music - to see if there was anything in their vocabulary that might make sense.

I found one in music, or more accurately, synthesizers and the concept of Attack, Decay, Sustain, Release (ADSR). This was a pretty cool analogy, I thought. How does the flavor "attack" in the mouth? Does it start off strong and weaken or does it start off quietly and pop with a bang when it warms up? Once the flavor reaches its peak, does it drop off quickly or slowly? How long does the flavor last and how does it change (the short aftertaste)? Finally, how does the flavor clear out of the mouth (the release, or long aftertaste).

I am still looking for a way to visually represent the concept of ADSR as well as another idea that reflects where the chocolate "sits" in the mouth - is it low and earthy and in the bottom of the mouth or light and airy and aromatic and in the nose?

Make sense?

I am really unhappy with the spider graphs that many chocolate manufacturers use because the shapes are meaningless. Any visual system has to be able to provide information that can be comprehended at a glance. It should be possible to tell the differences between two chocolates instantly and you just can't do that with a spider graph. In part this is because there is no standard and every manufacturer orients the axes in a different order and have different layouts for milk and dark chocolates.

Ultimately that's what it's all about - providing an instantly comprehensible visual representation of the flavor profile of a chocolate that also makes it possible to make meaningful comparisons at a glance.
That's fascinating and well worth pondering. I can't say that I follow all the nuances of every point, but the idea of intensity over time should be taken seriously. I wish I knew something about the technical aspects of the composition of symphonies, but i know very little about music. In my limited experience, the Amedei Chuao and Porcelana bars are much like a symphony. They have 3 or 4 movements and a variety of tastes that come in at different times with different intensities. When one fades another builds. Using this symphony metaphor, perhaps one could say that lower quality chocolate is like a symphony with fewer instruments thus there are fewer notes.
Hmmm... bars are cheap, fast, and easy. So with this "sexy" metaphor what does that make truffles?
QUOTE: "I am really unhappy with the spider graphs that many chocolate manufacturers use"
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Clay,

What do you mean by "spider graphs"? Are these the tasting wheels or something else? I'm not sure what you're referring to.
This is the "spider graph" for Felchlin Maracaibo Clasificado 65%:

This is the spider graph for the Felchlin Criolait 38%:

Notice that even though the two graphs are superficially alike, the axes are different so the two graphs are not directly comparable. Also, when you squint to separate the shape from the lines the shape itself does not tell you anything meaningful.
Thanks. Now I see what you mean. Yes, those aren't very useful and they're useless for comparing two graphs.
I agree that the spider graphs are too obtuse and inacessable, but I like your idea about drawing on the language of music.
I picture a bar of music with the different notes representing the development of flavors, the higher the note, the more intense, the longer the note the longer the flavor lasts.
Music is something that is easily recognizable by almost everyone (even if they can't actually read music, which I can't) but still I would be able to hear the chocolate singing.
couldn't the spider graphs be standardized somewhat easily? maybe a few more simple characteristics added on. even milk and dark chocolate could have the same words, potentially. i.e. caramel a 9 for milk, a 4 for a dark, etc...

i like the visual idea of the spider graph. alcohol, bitter, fruity, nutty, coffee, 'chocolatey', caramel, intensity...maybe that's enough? maybe a partnered x/y graph of the when the intensity exists..

or what about where the flavor hits on the tongue? a sweet picture of a tongue with different colors might work..or be weird. i know i like the flavor to hit everywhere. some like it better on the tip of the tongue. but maybe the same bar hits different tongues in different places for everyone..

i'm not so sure about the music qualifications--i don't think they work well with me, at least. maybe if it were like "john phillips sousa"--bam! and then soften and go on and on...or "trent reznor"--quiet quiet louder louder LOUDEST EVER quiet quiet....

just brainstorming.
Sabrina:

I suppose the graphs could be standardized but that would require agreement among manufacturers, who won't do it unless they see a real value.

I think the underlying answer is one you hint at ... which is that no one representation works best for everyone. People have very different ways of processing information and find some formats naturally easier to interpret than others.

What I want to do is avoid the need for multiple graphs - which may be impossible. There are a number of ways to express the information and the spider graphs use only one (a 2D plane). I don't think that going to 3D is the right way to do this, but the width of a bar or line could mean something as could a change in color and the position (for example) of the horizontal axis on the vertical one.

The tongue-view is interesting but, you're right, it's too personal. A supertaster would draw a very different map from someone with very few taste buds. I don't know that the Sousa vs NIN comparison is the right one but I do think it's in the right direction. A chocolate could be "symphonic" meaning that it had a lot of complexity in taste, texture, attack, and release. We could use that term without saying what kind of symphony it was. (e.g., a romantic composer like Rachmaninoff has a different overall feel from a modern composer like Stravinsky). We could compare that with a chamber orchestra or a duet or a solo - or rock with folk. That might work.

Whatever it ends up being, I don't think it will be "it." It will be more than one.
I thought the "taste wheel" came from Chole Doutre-Roussel's web site and/or recent publication. I'd have to hunt a bit for it; but I'd suggest visiting her sight and/or downloading an excerpt of her new book. As I recall, that is how we came accross this helpful wheel w/ terminology.
AO
Much as I respect Chloe's ability to taste, I don't think it's possible to credit her with the invention of the various taste wheels used in chocolate. At a minimum, they are borrowed from wine. Chloe must have taken the concept and created her own version of it for her book.

Curious - who is "we?" And, can you please post links to the site and to the download link so that other members can do the same?

Thanks,
:: Clay
On Chloe Chocolat there is her tasting guide, which is a pdf excerpt from her book. You can save this as a pdf file for yourself, so that's the download part.

If you scroll down you'll find her version of a tasting wheel. I find it most useful how these wheels are grouped by "Aroma families" and then the specific aromas within that.

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