Whether you’re new to craft chocolate or a seasoned pro, I find it helpful to keep a few things in mind:
- Awards are helpful, but not gospel.
- Single origin isn’t inherently better than a blend, nor are milk (or white!) chocolate or flavored bars heresy.
- Tasting notes are just a recommendation.
- Make up your own mind about what you like, and what you don’t.
In other words, there is no “best” chocolate; there is only what you like.
In this collection, I’ve included bars from some of my favorite makers. Each bar is delicious in its own right, but I recommend trying all of them in one sitting. (I also recommend tasting them in the order they’re listed below, at least at first, but that’s really up to you. To learn more about why this order works, check out my blog post.) By tasting a flight of chocolate, you can get a better understanding of how each individual bar fits into a broader context. Think of it this way: If you taste one chocolate in isolation, it’s hard to get beyond descriptors like “yummy” or “delicious.” Tasting two is helpful—now you can say one is fruitier than the other, or nuttier, for example. And once you taste three or more, you can start to pinpoint some of the nuances that make chocolate so weird and wonderful. The point, by the way, is not to come up with the most obscure descriptor or to sound like the most advanced taster, but to build up your library of chocolate taste memories so you can further your chocolate education.
Finally, I encourage you to share these bars with friends at a chocolate tasting party, because as much fun as chocolate is, it’s almost always more fun with friends. (Shameless plug: armed with this box of chocolate and The Chocolate Tasting Kit, you’ll have everything you need for a kickass chocolate tasting party.)
I’d love to hear what you think of this collection. Drop me a note or email.
This bar won first place in the Best Origin Bar category at the 2015 Northwest Chocolate Festival and you can see (or more precisely, taste) for yourself what the hubbub is about. Made with beans sourced from the Dominican Republic, it has everything you’d expect: spritely fruit and a touch of spice. The silky smooth texture is partly due to added cocoa butter, and chocolate maker Bryan Graham’s light touch with vanilla shows that when used properly, it can accentuate other flavors without overpowering them.
This is one of the few bars that uses cacao beans from the Philippines, sourced directly from the farmers by founder Shawn Askinosie. Despite its high-octane percentage, this bar is mild and sweet—I taste notes of brown sugar and caramel—and is great evidence that high-percentage chocolate isn’t necessarily aggressive or bitter.
Being Canadian, I had to include a bar from a Canadian maker, and who better than Soma? Toronto-based David Castellan and Cynthia Leung are some of the nicest people I’ve ever met, and they make great chocolate to boot. In addition to their awesome (and award-winning) single origins, they also play with chocolate blends. Little Big Man is a fine balance of two cacao origins: the fruity zing of Madagascan cacao and the earthy fudginess of Ecuador. The result is far greater than the sum of its parts.
Here’s a high-percentage bar that packs a punch, with a good kick of spice—think nutmeg, cinnamon, and a touch of clove. After the initial kick, it mellows to pleasant sweetness and a long finish. Ben Tre is a small province in Vietnam, and an example of the terrific cacao that’s coming out of Vietnam right now—helped, in large part, by Marou’s talent in turning that cacao into chocolate. I usually urge people to look past packaging and base their opinions on taste alone, but let’s face it, Marou’s packaging is stunning.
Take a trip to Central America with this 70% bar, which features Guatemalan cacao and Guatemalan sea salt. Think cooked stone fruit with roasty, toasty notes, amped up with a hit of salt. Before they made chocolate, co-owners Adam Dick and Dustin Taylor (get it? Dick Taylor?) used to build boats, which inspired the illustration on their gorgeous packaging. And that gorgeous custom mold? Designed by Dustin’s cousin, an animator at Pixar.
Milk chocolate gets a bad rap, but this bar from Pralus could easily change your mind. I taste caramel, sweetened condensed milk, and a wisp of smoke. Made in a characteristically French style (read: lots of added cocoa butter, silky-smooth mouthfeel and luxurious melt), this high-percentage milk chocolate is accessible and likeable. Consider it the Miss Congeniality of the group.