An Expert’s Guide to Enjoying Chocolate

Cacao and Cardamom Chocolate

Whether we’re in need of a mid-afternoon pick-me-up or craving a post-dinner indulgence, our treat of choice is indisputably chocolate—ideally the elevated, exotic variety. To help us make the most of our sophisticated sugar fix, we asked Annie Rupani, owner and chocolatier at Cacao & Cardamom Chocolatier in Houston, Texas, for guidance on how best to store, savor, and pair bespoke chocolates. Here are her recommendations.

Take time to taste. Similar to how you taste wine, which is a multi-sensory experience, there are steps that will elevate the simple act of eating chocolate. Here’s how to savor your favorite sweets, according to Rupani: 

  • Look and listen. “The first step is to aesthetically see if the bar is shiny, which would mean that it was tempered correctly,” Rupani says. “Then you should hear a nice snap when you break a piece off.” This is an indication that the cocoa butter in the chocolate is aligned properly for the best melt and texture. 
  • Touch. The next step, especially for a single-origin chocolate bar, is to rub the chocolate to start melting it and release the aromas. “I like to cup my hands together with the chocolate in the center to see what flavor notes the heat of my fingers are able to bring out,” Rupani says. “Fine flavor cacao beans, which are higher quality beans that inherently have distinctive flavors from the terroir, would be the best type of chocolate to use during a real tasting.” 
  • Taste. Of course, the most important step is to actually taste the chocolate, which involves allowing it to melt on your tongue. “That’s the beauty of chocolate,” Rupani explains. “It melts below our body temperature, which is what makes the experience of consuming chocolates so addictive.”
  • Observe. Enjoy each piece slowly, and take note as your first impression gives way to a more complex flavor profile. “Close your eyes, inhale deeply, coat your whole mouth as it melts, and exhale through your nose to fully release the aromatics,” Rupani says. “Some flavors unfold in layers, so take your time and enjoy!”

Experiment with pairings. Of course, chocolate can certainly be enjoyed on its own, but the flavors will be even more pronounced when paired with coffee, wine, or spirits. If you’d like to enhance your chocolate-eating experience, Rupani suggests trying one of the below combinations:

  • For dark chocolate: Pair with a heavier, fruity red wine, like a Malbec or Cabernet.
  • When enjoying white and milk chocolate: Stick to lighter, sweeter wines, like a Pinot Grigio or Barbera d’Asti.
  • For bon-bons with some heat: Pour a glass of sherry to balance out the pepper.
  • For spicy flavors: Rupani recommends pairing a light and pleasantly tangy chevre with flavors like cardamom.
  • When considering a fruitier chocolate: Try a Riesling.
  • When in doubt: Any chocolate will play well a coffee or espresso.

Consider the shelf life. It’s important to remember that different types of chocolates will have different expiration dates. According to Rupani, bon-bons will have the shortest shelf life due to the use of heavy cream, and should be consumed within 7-10 days. Chocolate bars will last longer due to the lack of water activity. White chocolate and milk chocolate can last up to a year once it’s been created, and dark chocolate can last up to two years.

Be strategic about storage. “Chocolate is extremely susceptible to absorbing flavors and scents from surrounding foods,” Rupani warns, making the refrigerator a less-than-ideal storage option. Plus, humidity can cause “sugar bloom”—this is when condensation on the surface of the chocolate dissolves some of the sugar and then recrystallizes as a white, grainy coating. Instead, store your chocolate in a dark, cool, and dry environment, and be sure to wrap the chocolate tightly in an air-tight container. When you want to enjoy a piece at a later date, allow the chocolate to come back to room temperature before opening the container (if the box was in the freezer, Rupani advises that it will need to thaw in the fridge first, before coming out into room temperature). Let the chocolate return to room temperature before eating, as the cold will mute the flavors of the chocolate.

 Photography by Shannon O’Hara. TSG Tip 334 from Annie Rupani of Cacao & Cardamom Chocolatier in Houston, Texas. Cacao & Cardamom Chocolatier is featured in The Scout Guide Houston.