We got plain chocolate bars. We allowed no flavorings like sea salt and required at least 72% chocolate to keep things comparable. This immediately disqualified brands like Cadbury and Hershey’s, whose “dark chocolate” tops out in the ~50% range. It also makes this test strictly different from Serious Eats’ tasting, which topped out at 73%. We also disqualified a 100% that had cocoa nibs.
We cut each bar into centimeter squares and put them on disposable plates labeled with a random number from 1 to 20. There was no explicit rating criteria except “Which do you like best?” We asked for 22 tasters’ top 5, in order. People tasted in random order. We recommended not chewing but weren’t insistent.
For palate cleanser, we had a choice of whole milk, unsweetened Chinese-style soy milk, and unsweetened almond milk.
We accidentally randomly chose one bar to include twice, which turned out to be a nice control.
See the spreadsheet for more details
Equal Exchange happened to be included twice, and tasters consistently chose both! This was a big surprise for everyone. My own tasting notes rank them pretty differently, but one of our tasters ranked them 1 and 2, with the same “hot cocoa” description. And, just like in the ice cream tasting, the winner is one of the cheapest. You can get a bar for $2.50 at Target.
Rankings had some correlation with percent chocolate. The top 10 picks had an average percent of 80.9% vs bottom 10’s 84.8%. That said, L’Amourrette was the highest at 91% and ranked 12th, while Green and Black at 85% ranked 4th. In most cases sugar ratio was just the inverse of chocolate percent, but in a few cases it differed by a few percent. This is probably due to rounding errors.
In tasting notes, these terms came up frequently: bitter, sweet, smoky, dark, sour, fruity, coconut (Endangered Species), complex, nutty, dark, milky.
While some chocolates such as Theo were clearly not popular, others were more divisive. Of the chocolates I liked, most had a few different layers of taste. At least one had to be fruity. A classic chocolatey taste alone was not enough. Sourness or bitterness was ok, but only in moderation. I don’t like ashy or smoky flavors, but people who like whiskey or cigarettes probably feel differently. Some chocolates like Tcho were flavorful on first contact with my tongue. Others like Guittard took longer to release flavors.
Perhaps some people thought a good chocolate should taste complex, while others thought it should just taste like chocolate. This would lead to a split on which complexity is best (fruity? smoky?), while people who thought simple flavors are best would be unified, thus Equal Exchange taking the prize.
- Can’t judge a chocolate bar by its cover or price
- If you pick the right brand, 85% chocolate doesn’t have to taste like dirt
- Since every bar was in someone’s top 5, you’ll have to run your own tasting to find your personal favorite 😉
Did we miss your favorite? Let me know!