Is it bitter or is it astringent?

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Often times, I notice people struggling to describe the tastes found both in cocoa beans and chocolate. This is understandable: after all, cocoa beans taste nothing like chocolate and fine chocolate exposes you to many more flavor notes than grocery store chocolate. As such, it can be tricky to come up with the right terms to describe the novel experience.

When I pass Peruvian Tumbes beans roasted by Acalli Chocolate, people will refer to them as bitter. However, I find  astringent to be more accurate. But when I mention the term, most tasters admit they don’t know what it means.  I hope the following explanation can shed some light.

Like sweet and sour, bitter is considered a taste. You may experience bitterness while drinking a cup of dark roast coffee, chewing the leaves of bolted lettuce, or biting in the edges of burned toast. In a lot of cultures, bitter isn’t associated with deliciousness.

Astringency, on the other hand, isn’t a taste, but a sensation. For instance, the flesh of an unripe fruit is astringent (if you ever bit into a raw quince, you definitely know what astringent is like.) If you’ve steeped a bag of black tea in hot water for a few minutes long or sipped a very tannic red wine, you’ve also experienced astringency.

The beans I pass at my tastings aren’t really bitter, and neither is the chocolate I share (yes, even the 100% ones.) Are they astringent? Yes, sometimes. They may not taste pleasant but they don’t leave a bad taste in the mouth. So, next time you bite into a cocoa bean or a fine chocolate bar, ask yourself: is it bitter or is it astringent? When I share a cocoa bean with you, the odds are you’ll find it astringent.

{ As for the photo, I took it last spring at Rrraw cacao, I was curious to know how the beans were packaged and stored as to avoid moths, so a kind employee brought the bag for me to see. Rrraw cacao makes chocolate from unroasted beans in the heart of Paris. Their vegan drinking chocolate is quite delicious.}

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