William Leigh, contributor, MSN Food
Updated: 07/06/2012 12:20 | By William Leigh, contributor, MSN Food

What it's like to be a chocolate taster

Yes, it’s true. There are people who are actually paid to eat chocolate. Professional chocolate taster for Green & Blacks, William Leigh, tells us more about what the job actually involves…


William Leigh, taste assistant at Green & Blacks (© Green & Blacks)

As I write this, I'm sat in a laboratory at the Reading Food Science Labs where I've come to learn about some of the hundreds of flavours that together make up chocolate. Yesterday I was out of the country visiting a factory to discuss the best methods of ensuring that the consumer gets the perfect amount of almonds, hazelnuts or currants in a bar of Green & Black's. That's what I love most about my job - the variety. Well, perhaps that's a lie - I love the chocolate most of all!

Someone's got to do it

As the taste assistant at Green & Black's, I have one of those jobs that people don't think is actually real. Tasting chocolate? But it's a critical part of ensuring the consumer gets the most delicious product we can make - it's a hard job, but someone's gotta do it! Every week I receive samples from our chocolate manufacturing site and I have to taste these to ensure they meet our quality standards in taste, texture, appearance and aroma. Another large part of my job is tasting our 'RMs' (as they're known in the business) or our Raw Materials - nuts, dried fruit, butterscotch pieces - to ensure what we're putting into our chocolate is the very best we can find.

The question I do get asked most is "Do you ever get bored of chocolate?" The answer is no - I've worked with chocolate for several years and I've never felt like I didn't want to eat any more. In fact, I'll often go home and have a nibble in the evening...

Chocolate-tasting tips

Tasting, despite what anybody tells you, is a very personal thing. We all taste differently, perceive things in different ways and have different likes and dislikes. Here are my chocolate-tasting tips:

Dark chocolate (© Foodcollection, Getty Images)

Never store your chocolate in the fridge as this can cause the chocolate to get ‘wet’ and absorb other flavours.

  • Make sure your palate is clear - don't drink coffee, eat any chillies - practise your common sense here. Nothing strong.
  • Make sure you taste your chocolate at room temperature. Never store it in the fridge - this can cause the chocolate to get 'wet' and absorb other flavours.
  • Understand the difference between taste and flavour - your tongue does the tasting, your nose the flavour perception. Test this out by eating a piece of chocolate while holding your nose closed. Release your nose and breathe in halfway through.
  • Allow a piece of chocolate to melt gently on your tongue. Write the flavours down as you perceive them - using reference points if you need ("tastes like... dark fruit"). These answers will probably make sense when you discuss them with someone else after tasting.
  • Taste, if possible, under a red light. This will stop you making assumptions based on the colour of the chocolate.
  • Think. Think about what you're tasting every time you put a piece of food in your mouth, whether it's a penny sweet or a piece of sushi. Exercising the muscle that is your palate is important. And discuss - encourage your fellow diners to do the same.
  • On Bing: Chocolate recipes
  • On Ciao: Chocolate-making workshop

Sweating the detail

The highlight of my job is working with a product that I love; I was always a chocolate fan and had always been someone who bought Green & Black's (or found it in my stocking at Christmas). I enjoy my work hugely because I love the taste of the products we make. People probably think we're mad - we'll spend days tasting hazelnuts, working on roast levels and on piece sizes to find the most perfect pairings of chocolate we can.

In the middle of my office I have my own kitchen in which I am given free-rein to create to my heart's content (and keep the office happy with various baking and cooking endeavours, of course). My office is packed with all kinds of goodies and various gadgets to play with. It's an amazing privilege to have a little food haven I can sneak off to during the day when I feel like it. I actually find it so inspiring, I frequently take my laptop in there to do the more technical aspects of my job.

William Leigh, taste assistant at Green & Blacks (© Green & Blacks)

Chocolate facts

  • Chocolate as we know it has only been around since the industrial revolution when the first bar was made by Fry & Sons
  • You should always read the back of the pack to ensure you're getting a chocolate made only with cocoa butter and not with any other added cheaper fats
  • Smoothness in chocolate is no indication of quality - this just shows how finely ground the cocoa liquor is
  • There are three different varieties of cocoa beans. Forastero or 'bulk' beans, used in the production of most chocolate; Trinitario or 'flavour' beans, a rarer variety used to make Green & Black's and Criollo, the rarest variety used infrequently
  • In 1657, the first Chocolate House was opened in Britain by a Frenchmen, where men and women could enjoy a cup of hot chocolate
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