Appearance: First take a look at your chocolate. Is it glossy and smooth? Is it discolored? Does it have pit marks? A good quality chocolate will have a glossy shine. It will have a consistent color and a smooth surface, both of which are signs of the quality of the chocolate-making process.
Snap: How the bar breaks is often an indicator of the quality of a bar. A well-made, high cacao content bar should produce a loud, clean snap when broken in two.
Aroma: Before eating your chocolate make sure you smell it. The aroma of chocolate often gives hints of what flavors you will experience once you bite into the chocolate. Is it pleasant? Do you smell the chocolate liquor? Do you smell something sweet or floral; or is it musty or smoky? Chocolate is a complex food that can have many aromas and flavors.
Flavor: Now it's time to eat! Take a bite of the chocolate, chew it several times and move the pieces around your tongue and mouth. Let the pieces sit and slowly melt on your tongue. What flavors appear? Can you taste any of the four basic tastes (sweet, sour, salt and bitter)? Do you taste any aromatics - the flavors beyond the four basic tastes - such as fruits or nuts? Is it earthy, or do you get a roast flavor? A good chocolate will have different flavors that appear throughout the bite. It is important that the flavors are both pleasing and well balanced so that one flavor doesn't overpower the others.
Aftertaste: What flavors are left on your tongue a minute after you finish your bite? A good quality chocolate will leave a delicious taste on your tongue and make you want to come back for more.
Pictured is Dary Goodrich, the Equal Exchange Chocolate Products Manager.