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May 23, 2016

Tasting Everyday


To all my future acquaintances, bus seat neighbors, Tinder matches, and curious onlookers, the answer is “Yes.” No, seriously. It’s true. As a chocolate maker, it’s my job to eat a lot of chocolate every day. I have to. I understand how this looks; from a distance, my job probably seems like an alternate universe where dreams come true, everything is glamorous, and nothing is sad. And sometimes, it really seems that way to me when I talk about it. That said, I want to tell you about the harsh reality of this life.

As I’m writing this, one of my colleagues approaches me with a freshly-tempered bar—broken into individual pieces—expecting that I take and eat one. This is a twice-daily ritual: before the beginning of every tempering round, each member of the production team tastes a square of chocolate from the batch about to be tempered. The idea is to taste the chocolate, and provide a score on a scale from 1 to 10.  The number corresponds to our subjective preference for the chocolate, but we also consider its fidelity to the objective flavor—determined  by the roast profile we’ve chosen—of whichever origin it is. If the chocolate is Madagascar, for example, we’re looking for its characteristic tangy citrus and berry flavor, and a sharp acidity balanced by a pleasant creaminess. If I think my square matches these sensations, and otherwise tastes good, I’ll probably give it a 7.5 or 8. If it’s exceptional I’ll give it a 9. If there’s something slightly off about it, I’ll say it’s a 6 or 7. If there’s a score of 5 or below, something about the chocolate has caused enough concern that we need to stop what we’re doing and investigate. Or cry.

Elman gives this one an 8.

Elman gives this one an 8.

When I first started working on the production floor, I would relish the requirement to eat these squares not only because I enjoyed them, but also because I was introducing my uninitiated palate to the nuances of our chocolate that change from day to day, and shift to shift. I felt particularly special, a part of a greater process of judgement and consensus, a member of a group that understood sensory subtlety. I felt like I moved in some fancy echelon of connoisseurs who can discern the difference between a 6, a 7, and an 8. That was a particularly juicy feeling considering I was not, nor am I now, a connoisseur, rather just a person who really likes, and now really knows, good chocolate.

This is how we score chocolate, every day.

This is how we score chocolate, every day.

And now, as Obed insists that I eat this square of a Madagascar bar so he can record my score, I take it, break it in half, and swallow my reluctance. I just had lunch and I have no desire for Madagascar’s tart jab and mouth-coating tendencies. And I had a whole square this morning, plus I had a few spoonfuls of it yesterday, and right now one more square feels like an overdose. I can easily imagine what it tastes like, I’ve tasted it a million times before, so I could half-heartedly chew and swallow and score it, followed by a quick chase of coffee if I wanted. But, like I said, dear reader, my job does require that I eat a lot of chocolate every day. It’s days like this one that challenge me the most, that oblige me to steel myself against the ennui of another bite of chocolate. And so, in consideration of just about every other job I could be holding in this world, and any other thing I could be eating, I eat the half square. I let it melt and express its full range across my tongue, and remember exactly what it is that makes my friends jealous when I tell them what I do for a living.



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