The Tasting

The Wine Analogy

As with wine, the flavor characteristics of cacao vary according to the soil and climate in which it was grown. If you produce chocolate from mass quantities of cacao from many different origins, these nuances are all mashed together and the character is lost.

The finest of wines, be they from Bordeaux or Napa or Tokaj, allow us the privilege of tasting the valley in which the grape was grown. We wanted to offer this same privilege
to connoisseurs of chocolate.


Consider the following analogy in the realm of wine. Imagine that it’s harvest time in France. Pinot Noir growers from Burgundy, Sauvignon Blanc growers from Bordeaux, and Gamay growers from Beaujolais all bring their grapes to a massive collection depot somewhere in, say, Normandy. There, all the different grapes from all the different appellations


The Tasting

Tasting Guide

Dark chocolate tasting is, above all, a sensory experience. All five senses are used to perceive a series of nuances, which together tell a narrative of the origins of a chocolate and its entire journey from earth to tree to bean to bar. The tasting guide we present here does not represent the final authority on chocolate tasting; it is meant as a point of reference.

Sensory analysis of anything—be it wine or whiskey or chocolate or cheese—is ultimately a personal experience, albeit one that is best enjoyed in the company of others.


To begin the tasting, the first step is to set the stage. It is helpful to cleanse the palate with a slice of fresh green apple or a piece of white bread or an unflavored salted cracker, along with a glass of water.

tasting-beginning-img1 lightandsound

The color and sheen on the surface of the chocolate bar provides the first clues about a chocolate’s strength, origin, and temperature handling. To avoid corrupting the chocolate through contact with your skin, use the bar’s wrapping to cover the edges of your fingers as you break off a bite-sized piece. Chocolate that breaks with a loud, resounding “crack” is one indication that the bar


These visual and auditory impressions are best used as initial cues, akin to observing the color of aged wine in the bottle and inspecting the dampness of the cork.


One of the things that can complicate your perception of a chocolate’s aroma is the skin of your fingers, which can store any number of other aromas as you hold the piece of chocolate in front of your nose. For this reason, we designed a tasting utensil that can help circumvent this problem. The tasting utensil is found beneath the bar of To’ak 


After first exploring the aroma of the chocolate, place a bite-sized piece in your mouth but refrain from chewing it. Rather, use your back teeth to break it into a few smaller pieces. Let the chocolate melt on your tongue, slowly moving it around inside your mouth. As the temperature of the chocolate gradually rises in line with your body temperature, a series of different flavors will be released in turn.


The first broad impressions of a chocolate’s flavor are usually made on the basis of its relative levels of sweetness, acidity, astringency, and bitterness. Once the broader flavor characteristics of a chocolate are perceived, the next step is an exploration of its finer nuances. Aromas traveling through the retronasal passage will provide a second chance at perceiving flavor characteristics, which again can 


A one-dimensional chocolate lacks secondary flavors and fails to offer much intrigue. This can be caused by blending origins, using low-grade beans, heavily roasting the beans, or the presence of additives such as extra butter, vanilla or excessive sugar. A chocolate is considered complex if it takes you on a ride of flavors and impressions over time, like a movie with several evolving plotlines. 


Even in a fine dark chocolate there will be a lingering bitterness, but this should be a pleasant bitterness relegated to the background, accompanied by the play of its more subtle nuances as each of the aromas gradually taper off,
one by one.

The Tasting

2014 Harvest

The 574 bars of dark chocolate in this edition were produced from cacao harvested during the 2014 rainy season. The fruit began its life as flowers that were pollinated during the last months of the 2013 dry season, under typically overcast skies with relatively cool temperatures and minimal precipitation. With the onset of the rains and attendant heat, the fruit grew to the size of a pea pod by the end of

At what should have been the peak of the rainy season, March was subject to short bursts of rain followed by long stretches of unseasonably dry and sunny weather, in what became the defining month of this harvest.


The brief drought-like conditions during the ripening period promoted an increase in the concentration of sugars and phenolic compounds in the fruit and simultaneously helped to stave off fungal attacks that tend to occur at this critical point in the rainy season. Light but consistent rains started to return in April, at which point the fruit was harvested and fermented.


The Tasting

To'ak Tasting Notes

Every single phase of the To’ak production process has been aimed at eliminating barriers to the true aroma and flavor profile of Ecuadorian Nacional cacao from the Arriba growing region—in particular the valley of Piedra de Plata. What we believe we have achieved is a faithful and refined expression of a Ecuadorian national treasure.


“Customary Nacional tags — coffee / blackberry / nut —  are clearly embedded within, & bitterness virtually absent though residual tannins stand in nicely. The latter contributed largely by elm. Yes, beyond the tongs to lift this on the tongue, elm imparts significant impact to the profile in a carryover from the fermentation cases themselves. (…) Unlike a few early-stage peers who hang a chocolate shingle & wing it, To’ak carefully plots its course & this bar shows, literally, the fruits of their labor.”

Mark Christian, Director of the HCP Fund & publisher of the C-spot™ (New York, USA)

“I had the chance to taste the To’ak chocolate bar and came away impressed by the two young men behind it, fascinated by their story — and by their fabulous, deep-flavored chocolate, like nothing I’ve experienced before. “Experience” is the operative word…To’ak chocolate is firmer than other bars I’ve tasted, very intense, with notes of cherries, earth, flowers. As it melts, you find sandalwood, caramel, hazelnuts, orange blossom — and more.”

Irene Virbila, Restaurant Critic and Wine Columnist for the Los Angeles Times, and winner of a James Beard Foundation Award and American Food Journalist Award (Los Angeles, USA)

“To’ak Chocolate is the finest chocolate we’ve ever used. Jerry and Carl’s focus on terroir and locality very much resonates with us here at The Restaurant at Meadowood. We look forward to continuing to explore great usage for this incredible chocolate.”

Jessica Shelton, Culinary Liaison at The Restaurant at Meadowood, a three Michelin Star restaurant in Napa Valley (St Helena, USA)

“The result: a rich, deep, pleasantly bitter flavor with surprisingly fruity undertones—though there’s no fruit added, the Arriba bean unleashes a natural sweetness I’ve never tasted in another chocolate.”

Marissa Conrad, Forbes Magazine (New York, USA)

“This chocolate is a journey of the floral aromatics that exemplify Ecuadorian Arriba cacao, with orange blossoms and roses intermingling with notes of plum, raspberry and raisin. There is an undertone of  walnut, coffee, and a hint of freshly-cut pasture grass. The acidity, invoking notes of grapefruit and lime, is fresh and seductive.”

Idaly Farfán, Chocolatier, Xocolatl (Quito, Ecuador)

“Clean and pleasant on the nose, with a warm tone of cacao decorated with fresh notes of citrus and red fruits. The texture is soft and silky. The initial attack is smooth, highlighted by notes of cherry, raisin, and fig that give way to earthy tones of wood and tobacco. The finish is long and elegant with a mild bitterness imbued with walnut, all of which is given structure by a balanced acidity that calls forth citrus and hints of orange blossom. This is a subtle and complex chocolate; in the world of wine we would say that it has noble character.”

Pablo Conselmo, Enologist, Sociedad Ecuatoriana de Catadores Profesionales (Quito, Ecuador)


The Tasting


We highly recommend that you pair To’ak with aged spirits, with an emphasis on cognac, certain whiskies, and rum. The way we like to do it is to first place a piece of chocolate in your mouth and allow it to melt for about five to ten seconds, and then take a small sip of the spirit, bathing the chocolate for another five seconds or so. Then, swallow the

All spirits should be served neat, in some cases with a very small addition of water—be forewarned that ice will mute the flavor of the chocolate and compromise the experience.

pairing-quotesCognac Frapin Cognac VIP XO
Frapin VSOP
Kelt XO
Jean-Luc Pasquet Coeur de Grande Champagne Cognac
Paul Beau Hors d’Age Grande Champagne Cognac
Paul Beau VSOP Cognac Grande Champagne Cognac
Armagnac and other brandy Armagnac de Montal VSOP
Germain-Robin “Select Barrel XO” Alambic Brandy
Scotch Whiskey Balvenie 21 year Single Malt Port Wood
Aberlour A’bunadh Single Malt Scotch Whiskey
Aberlour 18 year Single Malt Scotch Whisky
Irish Whiskey Bushmills 10-year
Tyrconnell 10 Year Old Sherry Cask Single Malt Irish Whiskey
Tyrconnell 10 Year Old Madeira Cask Single Malt Irish Whiskey
Tyrconnell 10 Year Old Port Cask Single Malt Irish Whiskey
Japanese Whiskey Suntory Yamazaki 18 year Single Malt Whiskey
American Whiskey Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve 23yr
Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve 20yr
Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve 15yr
Blanton’s Single Barrel Bourbon
Angel’s Envy Bourbon Whiskey
Orphan Barrel Rhetoric 20-year
Rum El Dorado 21 year Old Special Reserve
Navazos Palazzi Oloroso Cask Strength Rum
Ron Zacapa Gran Reserva
Mezcal El Jolgorio ‘Barril’ Mezcal
Tequila Porfidio Single Barrel Anejo
Crotalo Reposado
Pisco Estirpe Peruano Pisco
Port Wine Romariz Vintage Port 2011*
*Wine Spectator’s pairing recommendation, January 2015


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