I’ve been teaching a chocolate appreciation class here in Boston in order to raise awareness on the virtues of fine chocolate and have some fun tasting the good stuff. The most recent class was held last week for an enthusiastic bunch. After starting with a warm-up tasting, I asked the class to do something somewhat unfair – taste, compare and rate a number of premium dark chocolate bars. Unfair because this was, by definition, not a group of experienced connoisseurs since they had come to learn.
So for mostly entertainment purposes, I’d like to share the results with you. For the first round, the class went on a chocolate tour of the world as we tasted five single-origin chocolate bars – each made with cacao grown in a different country. This was a great opportunity to see if the terroir of the beans is actually expressed in the flavor and aroma of the final chocolate bars. Here’s the line up:
- Madagascar – Madecasse 70% Dark Chocolate. Grown and made entirely in Madagascar. Uses organically grown cacao.
- Venezuela – Amedei Venezuela – uses trinitario beans having a genetic heritage that is more than 85% criollo.
- Indonesia – Amano Jembrana – 70% cacao from Bali.
- Ecuador – Pacari Manabi 65% Dark Chocolate – uses Nacional beans having Arriba quality. Certified Organic.
- Grenada: Grenada Chocolate Company’s 71% dark chocolate. Grown and made in Grenada in a solar-powered factory. Certified Organic.
To rate each one, we used a 1 to 100 scale composed of individual scores for Aroma, Initial Impressions, Middle Taste and Finish, with most weight on the middle taste. Surprisingly all scores fell in a tight range of 35 – 39 and technically, there was no statistical difference between them . What does it mean? When it comes to chocolate, people have widely differing tastes, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that there was no consensus. But it also means that they were still navigating their way through how to rate chocolate and this was surely most difficult for the 2 or 3 milk chocolate lovers in the room. Still some were able to clearly pick out the citrus – floral character of typical of Arriba in the Pacari Manabi and the earthy, nutty character of the Amano Jembrana. Plums and raisins came to mind for the Amedei Venezula.
I know you want to believe there must be winner, so I will tell you that Pacari had the highest score of this first round at 39, but the Amano won both the highest single score from any individual (76) and the lowest (18) telling me that people just couldn’t agree on this chocolate. Some thought it was too earthy and others really loved the nutty, buttery smoothness.
So, I gave them a second chance with four more bars that couldn’t be different from each other. These were chosen to represent greatly diverse styles of chocolate making:
- Smooth and refined – Valrhona Gran Couva single-estate chocolate from Trinidad (limited edition).
- Rustic, Stone Ground – Taza 70% Stone Ground Organic Chocolate.
- Raw, minimally processed – Pacari Raw 70%.
- Belgian Chocolate with inclusions – Chocolove Crystallized Ginger in Dark Chocolate.
This time, the opinions were more pronounced with Valrhona Gran Couva taking the highest score, but statically speaking it tied with Taza and, yes..sorry, Chocolove Ginger. I think after having eight pure dark chocolates, the lively ginger blended in with the unobtrusive Belgian dark chocolate was a welcome change of pace . Taza was the most hotly disputed of the bunch . I find that people who like Taza LOVE Taza and those that don’t just don’t go there. Tasting Taza as a group is a great way to gain insight in to the chocolate making process — how minimal processing and lack of conching results in vibrant fruit-forward flavors. Finally, you can’t argue with the verdict on Valrhona – smooth and luscious with herbal, date and citrus notes. An exquisitely well made bar.
In the end, it was not really about which chocolate was inherently better; it was about experiencing the differences. So another group left with increased enthusiasm and newfound appreciation for fine dark chocolate.
 The standard deviations ranged from 13 (Grenada) to 22 (Amano).
 Yes, a purist wouldn’t put Chocolove and Valrhona together in the same tasting and try to compare them, but the purpose was to demonstrate the basics of what can be done with a humble chocolate bar. I find the people really like this ginger bar even if it isn’t bean-to-bar or in the ultra-premium category.
 Taza had the highest standard deviation of 25 – more than 50% of the average of the data.
 The cost of the bars was included in a materials fee for the class.