Wednesday, June 13, 2012

A Fine Bar of Chocolate

I've been studying chocolate this last year. That's not (merely) a euphemism for gobbling it down, I assure you; I've also been studying the history, process, economics, and sustainability. I've been doing a lot of critical tasting and last year I even judged the dessert contest at the NW Chocolate Festival (see my review here and other reviews here).

Lately I've been consulting to an exciting soon-to-launch business that will offer locally some of the best artisan chocolate in the country. (I can't tell you more than that yet, but stay tuned and I assure you I'll spill the beans the moment I can.) That'll be a blast when it hits the ground but in the meantime good or even great chocolate is only a click away. if you can get something in Seattle, you can get it in New York or LA or Union City.

People have started to ask me, as though I'm an expert or something,  "what's the best chocolate?" In some ways my answer hasn't changed over the last year, and it's "it depends".

It depends on what I'm in the mood for. Do I want subtle? A chocolate that challenges me? Something uncomplicated and sustaining?  High cocoa content? Milk chocolate?  (And yes, a "serious" milk chocolate is worth it.)

And how much do I want to spend? Fact is, top-notch chocolate costs more, but something costing more doesn't make it top-notch.

Where do I get it? How patient am I feeling? Am i willing to wait to have it shipped or take a trip to a specialty shop, or do I want it quick from my local market?

So it all depends.  I have my special chocolates and I have my "day" chocolate.  I consume a range of chocolates that includes bars you can find at the market and bars you can't find at all.

In the last year I've learned to say things about fine (and not so fine) chocolate, such as "creamy mouth-feel" or "complex taste" or "nice finish." Last week a chocolate bar hit my tongue that rode right over all my other considerations and all I could manage was "oh, wow."

This particular chocolate maker currently stocks only four bars, one of which is a limited edition and one of which isn't even in stock. They're all good, but I have two favorites of the four and I'm going to tell you what they are and how to get them.

As with all chocolate, your mileage may vary. Taste is individual and depends on all kinds of things, including your mood and what else you've been eating. Add in that the chocolate itself changes as beans and manufacturing practices change. It's a snapshot, and a very personal one at that.

But caveats aside, this chocolate is complicated but intriguing, deep and smooth. The texture and mouth-feel are lovely. It's taste does not compromise a whit when it goes adventuring across my tongue. It challenges me but it's the sort of challenge that makes me want more.

And so I recommend to you my current favorite bars, from Rogue Chocolates: the Hispaniola and Rio Caribe at 70%. Check your local chocolate specialty shop, too, in case they have some.  And if you get some, be sure to let me know what you think.


  1. Sonia

    OK - I studied chocolate for two years and can provide the best chocolate to date, to wit, Green and Black's 85% (if you are not going dark, why go at all...).

    Close seconds were Alter Eco 85% and Sharfen Berger (but I found some quality issues in the latter - not so consistent).

    Unfortunately it appears that chocolate and my ligamenture do not get along as I ultimately suffered significant joint/ligament problems which appear to stem from a steady, daily diet for the last two years and have significantly abated now that I have established a chocolate prohibition.

    Of course, the scientific dynamic is more or less unabated - and I have moved onto high quality scotch (well, medium high quality - there is budget here...). Note entirely sure what physical fatigue will result but will ride as long as possible...

    Patrick (nom de plum)

  2. Green & Black is fine, for Kraft-owned big-business fine chocolate; it has good texture and reasonable taste. For $4+ a bar, not bad, and in a league with Theo and other similarly priced bars.

    But if you want kick-ass top-of-the-line chocolate from barsmiths who are also artisans, you'll have to pay more. My recommendation here is for that very top-of-the-line bar, the one you don't gobble down, the one you bring out after a special dinner for special guests, and give them a special smile as you say "I think you're going to really like this -- it's special."

  3. Ok, my dear, you are tough as nail - as usual and push me to all sorts of limits (probably a little beyond... :-) ).

    So how about a couple of specific references????

    BTW - with all due respect, I don't think especially highly of Theo's - it seems rather bland without especially good texture. My sense is that it is popular around here just because it is "around here". I am open to further review but I have gone back more than once and find it somewhat tasteless in comparison.

    Now, how about a few examples of the some particularly fine artisan, organic, fair trade chocolate that will blow that Kraft crap off the wall of admiration.

    Your dance buddy,
    Patrick (assumed name to preserve some shred of dignity that I probably don't have).

  4. BTW - I was surprised to hear that G&B was affiliated with Kraft but my review of Wiki indicates the process by which they recently became affiliated with Kraft in 2010. May I suggest that the affiliation should not cause one to look unkindly on them based on my observation - they can still be run as a very separate, quality operation - and seem to be. In fact, there are benefits to economies of scale(as you know) that a small producer such as Theo simply cannot obtain.

  5. It's taken me this long to be able to carefully recommend excellent barsmiths to you, but here you are, starting with my review of last month's chocolate festival:

    And with special emphasis on the award winners, here:

    I will shortly post to my blog some more barsmith links. Thanks for asking!