Dark chocolate is one of those foods that some people get, and others just don’t. The dark chocolate connoisseur will likely tell you that those who like milk chocolate and don’t like dark actually just like sweets and don’t really like chocolate. It’s true that when your palette is accustomed to bitter chocolate, the milk stuff does taste rather simplistic, sickly, and just not as intoxicating. The dark chocolate enthusiast will seek out the highest percentage of cocoa solids they can find; 70% will do, but 80% or 90% is even better.
Like any acquired taste, there can be a certain amount of pride in acquiring the taste for very dark chocolate. So when a dark chocolate lover finds a bar of 99% cocoa, they are presented with both an irresistible challenge and the promise of bliss.
The promise of bliss comes from the fact that 70% cocoa is a greater pleasure than 60%, and 90% more wonderful still. On this basis, 99% should be pure, unadulterated chocolate indulgence. The challenge, however, is made clear from the fact that most bars of 99% cocoa come with strongly-worded consumption advice. This is stuff you have to build up a tolerance for, and would probably kill a dog in an instant.
Then, with the first bite, you realise why dairy and sugar is such a popular addition to cocoa. The flavour is not so much adverse as initially non-existent. It just feels like you have put something in your mouth that shouldn’t be there. It starts to melt, and it seems as though you have thick tar setting on your tongue. The flavour then starts to impact upon you, slowly seeping through your taste buds like a gas. There is something recognisable there, but overpowered by a faintly salty, bitterness.
After drinking enough water to dissolve it down your throat, you have two options. Firstly, you could be weak and reach for the nearest Milky Bar. Alternatively, you could be strong and persevere. And you’d be right to take the latter course.
Like any food at this level, certain techniques and strategies are required to acquire the taste.
Firstly, don’t eat too much in one sitting, and keep some water on hand. Otherwise, you will end up with stomach cramps.
With that in mind, take it a little piece at a time: not even a whole square at once. Then be careful what you do with that little piece; try to let it float in the warmth of your mouth rather than just sit on your tongue. Let the flavours seep in slowly, and you’ll start to notice those once barely-tangible notes of cocoa.
An excellent companion to this approach is a strong coffee. Not a latte or a cappuccino, but a black espresso or something similar. The heat from the coffee will let the texture smooth out towards your tongue, and the taste of the strong coffee will bring out more goodness than if you just had the chocolate by itself.
Even then, there will be those who acquire the taste, and those who still aren’t quite convinced. To restore the cocoa flavour to something more recognisable, then try consuming it using the techniques above with the addition of small pieces of crystallized ginger. The chocolate will dampen the taste of the ginger, while the sweetness of the crystallized ginger will let the cocoa flourish to new heights and you should start to feel those happy neurons firing in your brain.
If, after trying the above in addition to some perseverance, the experience still reminds you of the first time you tasted beer and pretended to like it, then this stuff probably isn’t for you. At least, not as something to eat. But you could still make an amazing cake out of it.
And who doesn’t like cake?