Sunday, July 31, 2011

Overall chocolate rating rescaling complete

This evening I finished updating all of our prior reviews with the new 1.0 to 10.0 overall chocolate ratings. If you notice any without the updated overall rating, please let me know. I haven't yet updated our Best Chocolate Values page with the new ratings, but will do so soon.

Note that we also have a backlog of about half a dozen individual chocolate bar reviews to post, as well as another ranking (this one of chocolates made from 100% cacao), so expect more soon.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Ranking: best Madagascar single origin chocolate

In a head to head tasting, Lindy and I ranked eleven single origin chocolate bars made from Madagascar cacao. Our rankings were nearly identical (differing only in 3rd and 4th place), so we decided that 3rd would be a tie and merged the rankings together into a single list. As for the difference, I ranked Pralus Madagascar above Fresco 214 and Lindy had them in the opposite order.

Note that we liked all of these chocolates (all rated 7.0 or higher; *** or higher with our previous star rating system). We ranked them for two purposes: to determine our favorite Madagascar chocolate and to test our previous individual ratings for consistency.

The results were as follows:
  1. Rogue Sambirano
  2. Patric Madagascar 75%
  3. TIE! Pralus Madagascar and Fresco 214
  4. Michel Cluizel Mangaro 65%
  5. Valrhona Ampamakia
  6. Theo Organic 74% Madagascar
  7. Mast Brothers Madagascar
  8. Bonnat Madagascar
  9. Coppeneur Menavava
  10. Mad├ęcasse 80%
Notes
Clicking on a name above will take you to the detailed review of that chocolate bar.
To see updated information and other rankings, go to our Chocolate Rankings page.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Rescaling Star Ratings

After over nine months and nearly 100 chocolate bar reviews, we realize that the star ratings for our chocolate reviews haven't scaled well.

As you've probably noticed, we tried to better distinguish between multiple chocolates that have the same overall star rating by adding "low" and "high" adjectives in the text of a review. However, that information is neither present in the summary table nor on our best chocolate values page.

We solicited feedback from several other independent chocolate reviewers for their thoughts about how best to rate chocolates (Our thanks to those who replied and shared their perspective!) The goal was to define a rating system that has enough distinct values to distinguish chocolates of differing overall quality, but not so many that it artificially separates chocolates of relatively equivalent quality.

We concluded that approximately 10 distinct values for high quality artisan chocolate would be sufficient. In order to also rate mediocre chocolate, we felt the scale should include additional values. Ultimately, we decided to use a scale from 1 to 10, with increments of 0.5.

At the same time, we took the opportunity to reconsider the scales we've used for specific attributes. Length, in particular, with the poor distribution of its current values, called out for adjustment. I'll post separate messages with the specifics of other upcoming rescalings.

Over the next several weeks, we'll be implementing these changes. I will also go back and update older blog entries for which I have the relevant information.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Review: Theo Organic 74% Dark Madagascar

Lindy's Rating: 7.5 (previously ***)
Richard's Rating: 7.5 (previously ***)

chocolate makerTheo
barMadagascar 74%
regionMadagascar
plantation(blend)
cacao trees(unknown)
year(unknown)
size84g ~ 3.0oz
cocoa solids74%
added fatcocoa butter
sweetenersugar
emulsifier(none)
flavoringvanilla
other ingredients(none)
list price$5.00

colormedium brown
PANTONE 19-1015
Bracken
texturesmooth with scoring, uneven sheen
aromacitrus, earth, roast (cocoa), spice (clove)
snaphard
tasteroast, fruit (citrus, cherry), sweet, spice (clove)
meltsmooth
lengthmedium
finishslightly acidic
Organic 74% Dark Madagascar is one of Theo's three current single origin bars. The cacao beans used in this chocolate came from Madagascar. The chocolate was made from 74% cocoa solids, and includes sugar, cocoa butter, and vanilla beans. All ingredients were certified organic by the USDA. The 3 ounce bar was scored into 6 large pieces, wrapped in silver foil, and packaged in an outer paper wrapper as shown above. The best before date was August 2012.

The color of Madagascar was a medium brown Bracken (PANTONE 19-1015). The surface was dull and had variations in sheen. The bar had a hard snap.

The chocolate had aromas of citrus, earth, roast in the form of cocoa, and spice that we identified as clove.

The initial taste of Madagascar was of roast that was almost burnt, but then the fruit flavors came out, including both citrus and cherry. Obvious sweetness was present, and then we could taste the clove spice we smelled in the aroma.

The melt was smooth. The chocolate flavor lasted 20 to 25 seconds after the chocolate was gone, giving it a medium length. The finish was slightly acidic.

You can purchase Theo Madagascar 74% online for $5.00 directly from Theo for delivery in the U.S. Theo also delivers internationally, but requires email (info@theochocolate.com) or a phone call (206.632.5100) to do so.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Sale: Ghirardelli chocolate bars only $1.50

Walgreens has a sale on Ghirardelli chocolate bars through Saturday, July 23rd, at the price of 2 for $3. You must buy two to get this price (single bar sale price is $2.29).

This offer does not appear to be available online nor at every store location, but you can check their weekly ad for a Walgreens near you. I've confirmed it is available in Seattle.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Review: Dandelion Chocolate: Madagascar 70%, Costa Rica 70%, and Venezuela 70%

Dandelion Chocolate is a new U.S. bean to bar chocolate maker in East Palo Alto, California. Starting last year, Todd Masonis and Cameron Ring began hand-crafting single origin chocolates made with only two ingredients: 70% cacao beans and 30% sugar. At present, they make three chocolate bars: Madagascar, Costa Rica, and Venezuela.

Last week, I had the opportunity to try all three of these chocolates thanks to Lauren Adler of Chocolopolis bringing them back from the Fine Chocolate Industry Association meeting in Washington, D.C.

Unfortunately, I didn't have my camera, so I do not have any pictures to post. Also, I tasted each chocolate only once, so I apologize in advance for the brevity of a table summary for each. I've put all three mini-reviews together here in a single posting.

More recent complete reviews of each of these chocolates can be found here:

chocolate makerDandelion
barMadagascar
regionMadagascar
plantation(unknown)
cacao trees(unknown)
year2011
size56g ~ 2.0oz
cocoa solids70%
added fat(none)
sweetenersugar
emulsifier(none)
flavoring(none)
other ingredients(none)
list price$8.00

colormedium brown
texturesmooth with scoring
aromaearth, spice
snaphard
tastefruit (citrus, berry)
meltsmooth
lengthshort
finishvery slightly acidic


chocolate makerDandelion
barCosta Rica
regionCosta Rica
plantation(unknown)
cacao trees(unknown)
year2011
size56g ~ 2.0oz
cocoa solids70%
added fat(none)
sweetenersugar
emulsifier(none)
flavoring(none)
other ingredients(none)
list price$8.00

colormedium-dark brown
texturesmooth with scoring
aromaroast, earth (mold)
snaphard
tastesweet, roast (cocoa)
meltsmooth
lengthminimal
finishvery slightly bitter


chocolate makerDandelion
barVenezuela
regionVenezuela
plantation(unknown)
cacao trees(unknown)
year2011
size56g ~ 2.0oz
cocoa solids70%
added fat(none)
sweetenersugar
emulsifier(none)
flavoring(none)
other ingredients(none)
list price$8.00

colormedium-dark brown
texturesmooth with scoring
aromaroast, fruit
snaphard
tastesweet, berry, roast, fruit
meltsmooth
lengthshort
finishvery slightly bitter
Overall, I would rate the Madagascar 7.0, the Costa Rica 5.0, and the Venezuela 6.0. These chocolates were great for a first year production, and I look forward to tasting more chocolate from this promising new chocolate maker.

You can purchase Dandelion chocolate bars online for $8.00 each (or $20.00 for a set of all three bars) directly from Dandelion Chocolate.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Chocolopolis Third Anniversary and Golden Tickets

During their anniversary celebration in July, Chocolopolis places golden tickets in three bars of chocolate in their store. Buying one of the bars with a golden ticket inside wins the buyer one free chocolate bar of their choice each week during the subsequent year! As you know if you're a regular reader, winning one of those golden tickets is what inspired me to begin my exploration of artisan chocolate and this blog.

So, if you live in the Seattle area and haven't yet been to Chocolopolis, then this is the month to go and buy some great chocolate (and maybe find a golden ticket). Throughout the year, Chocolopolis has weekly Thursday evening (5 to 9 p.m.) free happy hour chocolate tastings.

During this third anniversary celebration, they also have many other special events:
  • Saturday, July 16th, 1:30 to 4:00 p.m.: chocolatier Christopher Elbow shares samples of his truffles.
  • Tuesday, July 19th, 7 p.m.: U.W. professor Kristy Leissle (a.k.a. Dr. Chocolate) talks about slavery in the cacao trade.
  • Wednesday, July 20th, 1 p.m.: Chocolopolis chocolatiers demonstrate
    tempering chocolate.
  • Tuesday, July 26th, 7 p.m.: Kate Selting talks about her experience as a Peace Corps volunteer supporting Panama cacao farming.
  • Wednesday, July 27th, 1 p.m.: Chocolopolis chocolatiers demonstrate
    making ganache.
  • Saturday, July 30th, 3 to 5 p.m.: Rob Anderson, founder of local Washington chocolate maker Fresco, shares samples of his new Venezuelan Chuao.
Here's a full list of events.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Sale: 15% off Michel Cluizel chocolate plus upgrade to 2-day shipping

This week World Wide Chocolate has 15% off Michel Cluizel chocolate (through July 18th). Use coupon code SPECIAL15 during checkout for this 15% discount. Note that every three months or so, they seem to offer 20% off Cluizel chocolate, so if you're not in a hurry, you might consider waiting.

In addition, for all orders, your shipping method will automatically be upgraded from UPS Ground to UPS 2nd-Day Air if your destination is beyond two days for UPS Ground transit (choose UPS Ground as your shipping method).

They are still continuing their 25% off Zotter chocolate sale (coupon code ZOTTER25). Here is the complete list of their special offers.

If you are purchasing multiple chocolate brands, World Wide Chocolate has their more or less normal offers are:
  • 5% off all orders: 1day5-0
  • 10% off orders of $40 or more: 1day10-40
  • 15% off orders of $90 or more: 1day15-90
  • 20% off orders of $250 or more: 1day20-250
  • 25% off orders of $600 or more: 1day25-600
If you are only making a small order, then you might consider waiting until they have their 10% off all orders deal (about twice per year, or 10% off $25 or more about every three months).

REMINDER: Only one coupon code is allowed per order.

Between May and September, World Wide Chocoloate also includes free warm weather packaging of a reusable frozen gel pack inside insulated container (usually an additional $6.99), which protects your chocolate for about 48 hours.

World Wide Chocolate only ships to United States, APO (military), and FPO (diplomatic) addresses. Currently shipping is free on orders over $200. Full information can be found at World Wide Chocolate shipping policies.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Review: Mast Brothers Madagascar

Lindy's Rating: 7.5 (previously ***)
Richard's Rating: 7.5 (previously ***)

chocolate makerMast Brothers
barMadagascar
regionMadagascar
plantationSomia
cacao trees(unknown)
year2011
size71g ~ 2.5oz
cocoa solids72%
added fat(none)
sweetenercane sugar
emulsifier(none)
flavoring(none)
other ingredients(none)
list price$7.00

colormedium brown
PANTONE 19-1317
Bitter Chocolate
texturesmooth with scoring, uneven sheen
aromafruit (berry), citrus, earth, spice, roast
snaphard
tastefruit (lime, cherry, raspberry), sweet, earth, roast, tannin
meltsmooth
lengthshort
finishsomewhat tannin

This is the last of the six bars that Michael brought us from the Mast Brothers factory in Brooklyn.

Mast Brothers made their Madagascar bar with cacao from the Somia Plantation in the Sambirano Valley of Madagascar. The chocolate was made from 72% cacao and 28% cane sugar. The 2.5 ounce bar was scored into 32 small pieces, wrapped in gold foil, and placed inside nice heavy craft paper. The production date of the bar we reviewed was 15 May 2011.

The color of Madagascar was a medium brown Bitter Chocolate (PANTONE 19-1317). As with other Mast Brothers bars, the surface was imperfect, with variations in sheen. The bar had a hard snap.

The aromas of this chocolate were citrus and a red fruit that was a berry. In addition, I smelled scents of earth and some spice and Lindy detected a roast.

Madagascar had a typical citrus taste that came in the form of lime, as well as a red fruit that Lindy tasted as cherry and I thought was raspberry. With 28% sugar, the chocolate was, not surprisingly, sweet. As with the aroma, Lindy experienced a roast flavor and I noticed an earthiness. There was also a tannin flavor.

The chocolate had a generally smooth melt. The length was short, at around 15 seconds. The final aftertaste was somewhat tannin.

Overall, we both rated Madagascar a low ***.

You can purchase Mast Brothers Madagascar online for $8.50 in the contiguous U.S. from French Broad Chocolates or for £8.95 in the U.K. from The Chocolate Society.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Review: Mast Brothers Dominican Republic

Lindy's Rating: 8.0 (previously ***)
Richard's Rating: 8.0 (previously ***)

chocolate makerMast Brothers
barDominican Republic
regionDominican Republic
plantation(blend)
cacao trees(unknown)
year2011
size71g ~ 2.5oz
cocoa solids74%
added fat(none)
sweetenercane sugar
emulsifier(none)
flavoring(none)
other ingredients(none)
list price$7.00

colormedium brown
PANTONE 19-1317
Bitter Chocolate
texturesmooth with scoring, uneven sheen
aromaroast (tobacco, cocoa), fruit (cherry)
snaphard
tasteroast (tobacco, cocoa), sweet, fruit (cherry, grapefruit), butter, hint of bitter
meltsmooth
lengthmedium
finishslightly bitter

Mast Brothers made their Dominican Republic bar with cacao from the La Red de Guaconejo cooperative of the Dominican Republic. The chocolate was made from 74% cacao and 26% cane sugar. The 2.5 ounce bar was scored into 32 small pieces, wrapped in gold foil, and placed inside nice heavy craft paper. The production date of the bar we reviewed was 28 April 2011.

Dominican Republic had a medium brown Bitter Chocolate (PANTONE 19-1317) color. As with other Mast Brothers bars, the surface was imperfect, with variations in sheen. The bar had a hard snap.

The aroma of the chocolate was primarily roast and fruit. We clarified the roast as both tobacco and cocoa. The fruit scent smelled like cherry.

The taste of Dominican Republic was just what you'd expect from the aroma: roast, including both tobacco and cocoa flavors, and a strong cherry fruit. However, there were also grapefruit, sweetness, and butter flavors. Finally, Lindy also detected a hint of bitterness.

The chocolate had a generally smooth melt. The flavor lasted 20 to 25 seconds after the chocolate was gone, a medium length. We were left with a slight bitterness as the final aftertaste.

Overall, we liked this chocolate best among the six Mast Brothers bars we reviewed, and both rated it ***. Thanks again to Michael for bringing them from Brooklyn.

You can purchase Mast Brothers Dominican Republic online for $8.50 in the contiguous U.S. from French Broad Chocolates or for £8.95 in the U.K. from The Chocolate Society.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Review: Mast Brothers Brooklyn Blend

Lindy's Rating: 7.0 (previously ***)
Richard's Rating: 7.0 (previously ***)

chocolate makerMast Brothers
barBrooklyn Blend
region(unknown)
plantation(blend)
cacao trees(unknown)
year2011
size71g ~ 2.5oz
cocoa solids74%
added fat(none)
sweetenercane sugar
emulsifier(none)
flavoring(none)
other ingredients(none)
list price$7.00

colormedium brown
PANTONE 19-1317
Bitter Chocolate
texturesmooth with scoring, uneven sheen
aromafloral (jasmine), roast, earth
snaphard
tastetart, red fruit, roast, hints of sour and earth
meltsmooth
lengthshort
finishslightly bitter, very slightly sour

Brooklyn Blend is Mast Brothers first house blend, with cacao from multiple regions. This chocolate was made from 74% cacao and 26% cane sugar on 2 June 2011. The 2.5 ounce bar was scored into 32 small pieces, wrapped in gold foil and placed inside nice heavy craft paper.

The color of this chocolate was a medium brown Bitter Chocolate (PANTONE 19-1317). As with other Mast Brothers bars, the surface was imperfect, with swirls of slightly different smoothness and color. The bar had a hard snap.

Brooklyn Blend had an aroma of jasmine flowers and a roast we didn't identify. I also detected an earthy scent.

This chocolate had a tart flavor, along with a red fruit. We couldn't decide what red fruit, perhaps a berry or cherry. We also tasted the roast, and I experienced hints of sour and earth. Lindy remarked that she especially liked the tartness.

Although the melt began slowly, Brooklyn Blend had a smooth texture. The length was short, with the flavor lasting 10 to 15 seconds after the chocolate was gone. The finish was slightly bitter and very slightly sour.

Overall, we both rated this chocolate a low ***.

You can purchase Mast Brothers Brooklyn Blend online for $8.50 in the contiguous U.S. from French Broad Chocolates or for £8.95 in the U.K. from The Chocolate Society.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Review: Mast Brothers Grand Cru Chuao 70%

Lindy's Rating: 4.5 (previously **)
Richard's Rating: 4.5 (previously **)

chocolate makerMast Brothers
barGrand Cru Chuao 70%
regionVenezuela
plantation(blend)
cacao treesCriollo
year2011
size71g ~ 2.5oz
cocoa solids70%
added fat(none)
sweetenercane sugar
emulsifier(none)
flavoring(none)
other ingredients(none)
list price$10.00

colormedium brown
PANTONE 19-1317
Bitter Chocolate
texturesmooth with scoring, uneven sheen
aromaroast (smoky, cocoa), floral, spice
snaphard
tastefruit (berry, citrus), roast, sweet, chalky, hints of bitter and astringency
meltgrainy
lengthshort
finishslightly tannin, slightly ashy

Like the Grand Cru Chuao 81% and the Grand Cru Chuao 76%, Grand Cru Chuao 70% was made from Criollo cacao beans from the famous Chuao region of Venezuela. Mast Brothers makes their chocolate with only two ingredients: cacao and cane sugar (in proportions of 70% and 30%, respectively, for the Grand Cru Chuao 76%). The 2.5 ounce bar was scored into 32 small pieces, wrapped in gold foil and placed inside nice heavy craft paper. It was made on 19 May 2011.

Grand Cru Chuao 70% had a medium brown Bitter Chocolate (PANTONE 19-1317) color. As with the 81% and 76%, the surface was imperfect, with swirls of slightly different smoothness and color. The bar had a hard snap.

This chocolate gave off aromas of roast, including both smokiness and a rich cocoa. We also smelled scents of floral and spice.

The primarily flavors of Grand Cru Chuao 70% were berry and citrus, but I also tasted sweetness, roast, chalkiness, and a little astringency. Lindy noticed a slight initial bitterness.

The melt began slowly and was actually grainy, obviously worse than either the 81% or 76%, and the first bar we've ever rated below less smooth. The flavor lasted around 15 seconds after the chocolate was gone, giving it a short length. The final aftertaste was slightly tannin and slightly astringent.

In the U.K. you can purchase Mast Brothers Grand Cru Chuao 70% online for £9.95 from The Chocolate Society. Grand Cru Chuao 70% does not appear to be available online in the U.S. Mast Brothers chocolate bars are available at many retailers in New York and some others around the U.S. (here's a list on their website).

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Review: Mast Brothers Grand Cru Chuao 76%

Lindy's Rating: 7.0 (previously ***)
Richard's Rating: 6.5 (previously ***)

chocolate makerMast Brothers
barGrand Cru Chuao 76%
regionVenezuela
plantation(blend)
cacao treesCriollo
year2011
size71g ~ 2.5oz
cocoa solids76%
added fat(none)
sweetenercane sugar
emulsifier(none)
flavoring(none)
other ingredients(none)
list price$10.00

colormedium brown
PANTONE 19-1317
Bitter Chocolate
texturesmooth with scoring, uneven sheen
aromaroast (cocoa), spice (clove)
snaphard
tastesour, fruit (berry), spice (clove), roast, bitter, ashy
meltsmooth
lengthshort
finishsomewhat astringent, slightly ashy

Like the Grand Cru Chuao 81%, Grand Cru Chuao 76% was made from Criollo cacao beans from the famous Chuao region of Venezuela. Mast Brothers makes their chocolate with only two ingredients: cacao and cane sugar (in proportions of 76% and 24%, respectively, for the Grand Cru Chuao 76%). The 2.5 ounce bar was scored into 32 small pieces, wrapped in gold foil and placed inside nice heavy craft paper. No number was stamped on this label, but based on the numbers stamped on the 81% and 70% bars purchased at the same time by my friend Michael (Thank you!), the bar was likely produced in May 2011.

The color of Grand Cru Chuao was a medium brown Bitter Chocolate (PANTONE 19-1317). As with the 81%, the surface was imperfect, with swirls of slightly different smoothness and color. The bar had a hard snap. The aromas of this chocolate were primarily a cocoa roast and a clove spice.

Grand Cru Chuao 76% tasted sour, with flavors of a non-specific berry, a clove spice, roast, and ash. The roast of the 76% was stronger than that of the 81%. Lindy also found the taste slightly bitter.

The melt was smooth, much better than the 81%. The length was short, with roughly the same 10-15 seconds of flavor after the chocolate was gone. The finish was somewhat astringent and slightly ashy, and lacked the bitter aftertaste of the 81%.

Overall, we both rated this chocolate a low ***.

In the U.K. you can purchase Mast Brothers Grand Cru Chuao 76% online for £9.95 from The Chocolate Society. Grand Cru Chuao 76% does not appear to be available online in the U.S. Mast Brothers chocolate bars are available at many retailers in New York and some others around the U.S. (here's a list on their website).

Friday, July 1, 2011

Review: Mast Brothers Grand Cru Chuao 81%

Lindy's Rating: 5.5 (previously **)
Richard's Rating: 5.5 (previously **)

chocolate makerMast Brothers
barGrand Cru Chuao 81%
regionVenezuela
plantation(blend)
cacao treesCriollo
year2011
size71g ~ 2.5oz
cocoa solids81%
added fat(none)
sweetenercane sugar
emulsifier(none)
flavoring(none)
other ingredients(none)
list price$10.00

colormedium brown
PANTONE 19-1317
Bitter Chocolate
texturesmooth with scoring, uneven sheen
aromaroast, earth (must), floral, spice, hint of orange
snaphard
tasteroast, fruit (citrus, cherry, lemon), bitter, ashy, spice, hint of sweet
meltless smooth
lengthshort
finishsomewhat bitter, slightly astringent

As a favor to me before coming to Seattle, my friend Michael (who lives in New York) went to Brooklyn to purchase the entire line of unflavored chocolate bars made by Mast Brothers. Thanks to his generosity, this is the first of six new reviews of Mast Brothers chocolate bars.

Grand Cru Chuao 81% was made from Criollo cacao beans from the famous Chuao region of Venezuela. Made with only 81% cacao and 19% cane sugar, the 2.5 ounce bar was wrapped in gold foil and packaged by hand inside nice heavy craft paper. The bar was scored into 32 small pieces. As indicated by the number 11200511 stamped on the label, this bar was produced on 20 May 2011.

The chocolate had the color of a medium brown Bitter Chocolate (PANTONE 19-1317). The surface was imperfect with swirls of slightly different smoothness and color. The bar had a relatively hard snap.

Grand Cru Chuao gave off aromas of roast, musty earth, and something floral. I also noticed a spice scent as well as a hint of orange.

Bitterness was the initial flavor, and then we tasted a strong citrus that seemed to be lemon, cherry, some roast, spice, ash, and a hint of sweetness.

The chocolate took a while to begin melting, and we judged the melt to be less smooth. The flavor lasted about 10 to 15 seconds after the chocolate was gone, giving a short length. The final aftertaste was somewhat bitter and slightly astringent.

For a Chuao, this chocolate was disappointing. Overall, we both rated it **.

In the U.K. you can purchase Mast Brothers Grand Cru Chuao 81% online for £9.95 from The Chocolate Society. Grand Cru Chuao 81% does not appear to be available online in the U.S. Mast Brothers chocolate bars are available at many retailers in New York and some others around the U.S. (here's a list on their website).