Chocolatier Fabrice Gillott, Meilleur Ouvrier de France, makes single origin bars from South American, Southeast Asian, and West African beans. His products are not available in the United States, but can be ordered within France
. If you are in Dijon, stop by his boutique.
PETER ROT is THE NIBBLE’s chocolate expert. He has confounded the staff (and many in the industry) who cannot comprehend that one so young and slender has amassed so much chocolate knowledge. Peter welcomes your comments. Click here to e-mail him.
Tasting 101-Part 1: Bar None
Grab These Stacks of Bars and Start Cultivating Your Palate
So you want to taste some of the world’s best chocolate, but you don’t know where to start? Or perhaps you need guidance in understanding which taste preferences your palate leans toward? We’re here to help you in your personal search for chocolate nirvana.
Tasting 101 recommends that you study a group of chocolate bars from different manufacturers to familiarize yourself with the different interpretations each one imposes upon the cacao. We’ve included some of the finest chocolate bars in the world, with varying styles so you can decide which producers’ styles you like best—just as with wine or Scotch.
We’ve divided the chocolate into groups, variously arranged to show you the cacao from different perspectives. by:
||IV. Flavor Profiles
- The Beginning
- The Cost-Conscious
- Semisweet - Easy &
- Semisweet - Intense
- Bittersweet - Basic
- Bittersweet - Advanced
- Bittersweet - Intense
- Interesting Flavors
- Fruity &
- Dark & Bold
- Tart & Tangy
- Sweet & Spicy
- Nutty &
- Complex Yet
- Sophisticated & Demanding
- Ideally, you should explore each of these groups. Although not every palate will prefer the more intense bittersweet ranges, or the fruity and sharp, e.g., you should understand them and have them as a frame of reference.
- Invite friends to taste with you. Discussing the components of chocolate is an enjoyable shared experience. If you aren’t sure whom to invite: people who enjoy fine wines generally will enjoy fine chocolate.
- Use our reference charts on the flavors and aromas of chocolate as a guide.
- Keep in mind that these are merely recommendations. Feel free to do your own exploring if there are producers or bars not mentioned here.
And if you think we’ve left something out that should be considered for the next edition, click here to let us know.
1. The Beginning Connoisseur
Are you new to the world of fine chocolate and want to ease yourself into exploration? Start with these bars to slowly acclimate your palate to higher cocoa contents, and to broaden your taste buds to the varying flavors of cacao. If your previous experience has been with milk chocolate, you’re not going to find it here. There are excellent milk chocolate bars to be had (look for cacao contents of less than 50%). But while a connoisseur can enjoy a milk chocolate or a white chocolate bar, he or she needs to judge the cacao undiluted by milk. Even if you are accustomed to “dark” chocolate, these semisweet* bars, made by the finest chocolate houses in the world, may challenge you with their layers of flavor and complexity.
- Michal Cluizel Amer Brut 72%. A very neutral yet powerful chocolate with a bold flavor of pure cacao. It’s very agreeable and is perhaps among the best representations of a blended 70%-class bar.
- Valrhona Manjari 64%. This jewel made from Madagascar beans is extremely accessible with a refreshing sharpness that will introduce you to this country’s characteristic flavors.
- Valrhona Le Noir Amer 71%. Very light on the palate, with red fruits and floral tones persisting throughout the length. It’s not an intimidating chocolate for its class, so this is another perfect introduction.
- Amedei 66%. Characterized by a flavor of spicy dates, this blended chocolate has no bitterness and displays a palatable strength that most newcomers can handle. Buy the 70% bar for comparison and graduate to it when you’re ready.
- Scharffen Berger 62%. This one always seems to be a crowd-pleaser because of its light sweetness and accessible strength. Meander your way to the 70%, which is a tad sharper.
- Guittard l’Harmonie 64%. This chocolate has an excellent hazelnut tone with a touch of mint and floral nuances (these are characteristics of the cacao bean—nothing has been added). Conveniently packaged in 10g napolitans (small tasting squares rather than larger bars).
- Domori Puertomar 75%. If you think all 70%-class chocolate is strong, the delicate Puertomar will make you re-assess your opinions.
*Semisweet chocolate is defined as 50%-70% cacao content. Bittersweet chocolate has a cacao content of 80%-100%.
2. The Cost-Conscious
This selection caters to those who want to find high quality chocolate at an affordable price. We know quite a few people who want to enjoy a couple of bars a day...but not at $8+ per bar. The bars in this group will satisfy your cravings, won’t damage your wallet, and are comparatively easy to find.
- Lindt Excellence 70%. Not only does this chocolate possess an exceptionally satisfying strength, but the very affordable price and wide availability cinch first place in this category. It’s sure to come in handy for those emergency chocolate cravings.
- Valrhona Le Noir Amer 71%. Probably the widest available bar of the Valrhona line, this one is lighter on the palate than the Lindt, and the price is definitely bargain for a 100g bar.
- Dolfin 70%. The extremely affordable price for 80g of chocolate, the satisfying intensity, and the handy, pouch-like wrapper make this bar a nice value.
- Scharffen Berger 70%. Although the price is usually around $5 per 80g bar, the availability, intensity, and overall satisfaction it delivers qualifies it as a worthy contender. It’s quite sharp on the palate with an extreme red fruitiness typical of Scharffen Berger.
- Dagoba New Moon 74%. Although the bar is only 56g, it is availability in most natural food stores (including Whole Foods and Wild Oats), in addition to many grocery stores, gourmet foods stores, wineries, and even coffee shops. Organically produced, this one will also ease the conscience.
II. Semisweet Chocolate
1. Semisweet - Easy & Accessible
The chocolate listed here will not challenge the palate too much, yet they offer highly characterized flavors that should appeal to all.
- Cluizel Amer Brut 72%. With little flavor complexities to stand in the way of the chocolatiness, this bar is very approachable and agreeable to the palate. It’s very neutral with a tone of pure cocoa and a touch of sweet spice.
- Domori Porcelana 70%. Mild and noncomplex, this chocolate has an amazingly gentle flavor of bread, butter, and jam. And with a texture that melts like cream, you’ll fall in love.
- Domori Puertomar 75%. Despite its 75% cocoa content, Puertomar is amazingly mild with a cream-like quality that is sure to cause addiction.
- Domori Esmeraldas 70%. Another neutral and fairly noncomplex chocolate, this one is gracious on the palate and easy to handle. Straightforward and easily enjoyable.
- Castelain Macaibo 70%. This chocolate is mild and soothing with a character that eases and mellows. It melts like powdered sugar on the tongue and has a lovely texture. Eat this before bedtime.
2. Semisweet - Intense
Although these chocolate bars’ cocoa contents lie in the 70% range, their strength is exceptionally intense. Just imagine one of these at 90% or above.
- Amedei Chuao 70%. For a 70% chocolate, Amedei’s Chuao is assertive, intense, and very satisfying. The flavors are simply remarkable. Enjoy this one slowly because it packs a punch.
- Valrhona Guanaja 70%. Sharp, fruity, and intense, Guanaja is a benchmark chocolate in all respects. It’s still a favorite among many palates, even after 17 years of existence.
- Marcolini Sur del Lago 72%. An extreme dark tone without the sharpness or fruitiness of the others, this chocolate still quells that dark chocolate craving in no time.
- El Rey Gran Saman 70%. Another satisfying 70% chocolate that possesses a slightly different texture than the rest. Berries and plums highlight this Venezuelan classic. Old world flavor meets new world innovations.
- Pralus Colombia 75%. Remarkably palatable intensity with no bitterness. Lovely cranberry flavor hiding in the background with other red fruits.
- Lindt Excellence 70%. The intensity is remarkable for a “commercial” chocolate and will satisfy most palates in small doses. While not as complex as the others, its satiety level is at the same level.
III. Bittersweet Chocolate
1. Bittersweet - Basic
If you want to slowly acclimate your palate to 80%-class chocolate by not overwhelming your senses with cacao overload, these bars are probably the best ways to do so. Spend some time with these first, and then move on to others.
- Marcolini Fleur de Cacao 85%. This is by far the most palatable 80%-class chocolate. It bears a milk chocolate-like flavor, but it still delivers that dark chocolate satisfaction. This should even delight milk chocolate lovers.
- Galler 85%. All around, this chocolate is very approachable due to its sweet-toned character and pleasant flavors of cocoa and sweet spice. Like our 1st placeholder, it’s almost hard to tell that it’s cocoa content reaches 85%.
- Dolfin 88%. Again, this one is not too intense and bears an agreeable tone of sweet spice. Another good introduction to this range.
2. Bittersweet - Advanced
Once you feel you’re ready to handle other 80%-class chocolates, give these a try. After conquering these bars, you will be ready to tackle the next list.
- Castelain 85%. Bold and assertive, the intensity is uninterrupted by its noncomplexity. It’s very satisfying in small doses.
- Scharffen Berger 82%. This chocolate possesses complex flavors of cherry, almond, peach, rum-raisin, and even tobacco, all of which are underscored by a pronounced tartness. With so much going on, you’ll forget it’s an 82% chocolate.
- Lindt Excellence 85%. This one is quite similar to the Castelain 85%, but it’s slightly tarter with a mild bitterness. It’s still an excellent and intense 80-class chocolate.
- Cluizel Grand Amer 85%. Assertive, yet palatable, this one is a great representation of an excellent 80%-class chocolate.
3. Bittersweet - Intense
These chocolates, at 90%-100% pure cacao, are among the most intense and assertive around. Their power and strength will most likely satisfy in small quantities.
- Cluizel Noir Infini 99% - Noir Infini is basically the essence of cacao itself. The flavor is intense and just a small amount satisfies most people.
- Slitti Tropicale 90% - A powerful, robust flavor and a lingering intensity that lasts forever characterize this chocolate. Prepare for a powerful chocolate wallop.
- Domori 100% - Not to be confused with Puro, this bar is part of the 75 Line. It’s quite bold with an agreeable nuttiness and tropical feel.
- Domori Puro 100% - Puro is actually a bit sharp, but its strength and remarkable finesse cinch 4th place. This can easily be enjoyed in larger quantities.
IV. Flavor Profiles
1. Interesting Flavors Of Chocolate
These bars possess interesting flavors that are not typically found in other chocolate. Some might startle, others might bewilder, but in the end they simply awe. Either way, these bars are excellent.
- Cluizel Los Ancones 67%. With olives, rum, berries, and apricots as the main stars of this chocolate, it’s no wonder it lands in first place. The flavor combination is excellent, and is simply an experience that cannot be missed.
- Pralus Java 75%. A tone of smoke, leather, and mushrooms highlights this chocolate. It will probably take some taste buds by surprise, and some people regard it as an acquired taste.
- Santander 70%. A malted cherry cordial milkshake topped off with marshmallows is the general impression. It’s a remarkable flavor, actually.
- Domori Carenero Superior 70%. With a hint of bleu cheese to match the berries, this chocolate definitely sparks interest from the palate.
- Domori Madagascar 70%. Tangy, vibrant, and extremely tart, the vodka and citrus flavors will widen many eyes and might cause the mouth to pucker. It’s quite addictive.
2. Dark and Bold Chocolate
These chocolates offer bold and dark tones that will surely satisfy that cravng for non-fruity chocolate. Expand beyond this list to include other Nacional chocolate and even more of the Pralus bars.
- Domori Esmeraldas 70%. Nacional cacao is perhaps the best candidate for non-fruity chocolate, so it is no wonder it won first place in this group. Domori’s version just happens to deliver the most agreeable palatability and least amount of fruitiness.
- Marcolini Equateur 72%. Another Nacional whose flavor is very similar to the place holder. Pure cacao flavor with a lovely dark tone that does not overwhelm the senses. Look for a surprise peach nuance here.
- Pralus Java. Smoke, leather, and mushrooms combine to create a uniquely dark-toned chocolate.
- Marcolini Venezuela 72%. Utterly dark tone of pure cacao with red fruits and floral tones appearing later in the length. This is truly a dark delight.
- Slitti Tropicale 90%. Lusciously dark with a remarkable palatability, this one is darkness defined. Enjoy it by itself or with a double espresso.
- Domori Sur del Lago 70%. Deep and bold, this chocolate offers a noncomplex sensation of dark-toned chocolatiness.
- Pralus Ghana 75%. Although 75%, this chocolate is somewhat mild and gentle, without the bitterness generally associated with Forastero. The flavor profile is noncomplex and bold with a pure tone of cacao.
3. Fruity and Sharp Chocolate
The chocolate listed here has prevailing red fruit tones, and most of them tend to be rather sharp. However, there are exceptions.
- Scharffen Berger 70%. Highly characterized by a red fruit sharpness and a long length on the palate. This is sure to please those who seek the ultimate in fruity chocolate.
- Domori Carenero Superior 70%. Truly a gem with outstanding variations of tropical fruits and berries. Slightly tangy, too.
- Valrhona Guanaja 70%. This chocolate showcases an extreme red fruit tone with heavy notes of vanilla and brown sugar. The natural intensity enhances the red fruitiness.
- Domori Rio Caribe 70%. Somewhat tart throughout; but the berry, citrus, and almond flavors lend a unique sharpness to this chocolate.
- Amedei Porcelana 70%. While not sharp, the strawberry and cream tone is a delight beyond description.
- Bonnat Chuao 75%. While not as assertive or tart as Amedei’s version, this one is still quite sharp and an excellent rendition of Chuao.
4. Nutty and Woody Chooclate
Listed below are chocolates that have nutty or woody flavors, but the tones may vary from slightly light to slightly dark.
- Domori Carupano 70%. Almonds, walnuts, and butter accompanied by a peppery kick highlight this chocolate’s profile. And the aroma will send you to heaven.
- Pralus Jamaica 75%. The cedar/juniper woodiness is highly accented by a spicy tone. Although this chocolate is rather tart, the spicy and woody nature of the flavor matches this category more appropriately.
- Domori Blend No. 1 78%. The hazelnut flavor is sheer pleasure and will surely have you coming back for more.
- Domori Puertofino 70%. Amazingly calm with a hay, butter, and woody tone and a cream-like texture.
- Valrhona Caraibe 66%. Sweet almond and coffee merge to form a more robust, yet slightly light, profile then the usual Valrhona style.
5. Tart and Tangy Chocolate
The chocolate here is tart and tangy with sharp and crisp characters. For those craving even more tartness, try Madagascar chocolate from various brands.
- Domori Madagascar 70%. The tartness and citrus tones of this chocolate will send the taste buds into tangy nirvana. Orange, pineapple, and vodka are the dominating flavors with this beauty.
- Scharffen Berger Cuyagua 75%. This one is a cherry and dairy delight with an extreme tartness accented by dark woods and a slight spiciness.
- Cluizel Maralumi 64%. With just the right touch of citrus tartness, this one is quite refreshing. Fresh tobacco leaf and bananas round off the profile.
- Valrhona Manjari 64%. Slightly sweeter than the rest, but the tartness is still quite assertive.
- Domori Sambirano 70%. Incredible tartness with cranberries and prunes dominating the flavor profile. A little more robust than the others, but tart nonetheless.
6. Sweet and Spicy Chocolate
Spicy chocolate can be sweet and light or dark and heavy on the palate. These are a mix of the two to encompass varying interpretations.
- Amedei 66%. Interesting complexity with a distinct spicy date tone.
- Chocovic Ocumare 71%. Sweet cinnamon explodes on the palate and persists strongly throughout the length. And the aroma is fantastic.
- Guittard Chucuri 65%. Amazing complexity with dried fruits and spice as the main stars. Look for floral nuances and a strong woody finish.
- Marcolini Madagascar 72%. Unusual departure for typical Madagascan chocolate, this one is characterized by a slightly dark and spicy woodiness.
- Cluizel Amer Brut 72%. The cinnamon tone is very mild, but it’s so soothing and complementary to the pure cocoa tone, it cannot be neglected.
1. Complex Yet Accessible Chocolate
Although complexity abounds in these bars, the flavor combinations and easy evolution are agreeable and gentle on the palate.
- Domori Blend No. 1 78%. Hazelnuts, rum, and tropical fruits merge to form a great combination of flavors. The chocolate is not as assertive as the 78% cocoa content suggests, but rather it’s relatively mellow.
- Domori Puertomar 75%. Wonderful flavors of cherry, almonds, caramel, buttermilk, and cream all present a unique taste sensation. Also, this chocolate is very subtle and delicate which adds to the addiction that consuming it produces.
- Valrhona Gran Couva 64%. Flavors of spice, hazelnuts, butter, and even pine characterize this Trinidadian gem.
- Chocovic Guyave 71%. This is a journey through tropical fruits paradise, chocolate flavored. It has a wonderful fresh green flavor to match.
- Pralus Indonesia 75%. Very light on the palate with wonderful flavors of hay, sweet spice, and a fleeting soft fruitiness.
In the world of fine flavored cacao, there are no rules as to which flavors and tones get paired together. A chocolate can bear sweet spice notes with a dried fruit tartness, or it can be sharp with a strong woodiness. And then the tones can be light or dark, aggressive or gentle. Regardless of the chocolate, however, the general rule of thumb is to allow the chocolate to melt in your mouth slowly and then see for yourself which are the prevailing characteristics. Immerse yourself in the chocolate to discern which flavors are present, how they evolve, and the overall tone of the chocolate itself. The chocolate listed below encompasses differing types of roasts, flavor profiles, and of course, brands. Again, the intent is to provide a wide variety from which to choose and to allow you to experience the varying flavors of cacao.
2. Sophisticated and Demanding Chocolate
These bars all have complex flavor profiles that really require one to sit down to contemplate them. They’re not necessarily intimidating, but they’re somewhat more challenging.
- Marcolini Java 72%. This is perhaps the yin and yang of chocolate. Its sweet spice and lemon tones provide an interesting, light contrast to the darker smoke, leather, and mushrooms that lurk in the background.
- Cluizel Los Ancones 67%. The olive-like flavor might take some slight acclimation and will certainly raise the eyebrows. It’s a pleasant surprise, though, and is not intimidating.
- Amedei Chuao 70%. The flavor profile is outstanding, displaying blueberries, blackberries, plums, vanilla, and molasses, but the sheer assertiveness might startle the taste buds upon first bite. For a good alternative, try Bonnat’s Chuao.
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