Those of us who are passionate about chocolate are imbued with a sense of awe when we try a new chocolate. We'll marvel at the high roast or red fruit flavours, we'll gorge ourselves on the hue of the chocolate or the length of the melt. That may be all and well if you're judging chocolate for awards, as I have done, but what about those who are just looking for a damn good of chocolate to enjoy on their own or with friends? How would you find a great bar of chocolate then?
As with anything it's all about personal taste. When you've tried a fair number of different chocolates you may start to recognise some characteristics you particularly enjoy. It is then our job as a retailer of fine chocolate to help you locate similar chocolates - and that's something I feel we're not particularly good at, and something we're looking to change.
By Cocoa %?
Many people will say they love 70% chocolate and anything over 80% is too bitter for them. On a very basic level this is understandable, but it is important to note that chocolate such as a Grenada 71% is far more intense, for example, than a Patric 70%. If you enjoy a chocolate in this range continue to explore the chocolate that matches your historic favourites but consider stepping up the cocoa intensity and seeing what you find. Sticking to a rigid "70%" may mean you miss out on some absolutely stunning chocolates such as the wonderful Rozsavolgyi Csokolade Sur Del Lago 84%. We've got some samples of the Blyss Chocolate 100% which are made from cacao harvested during different seasons and they taste radically different.
There might be something in this - certainly if you like red fruity flavours Madagascan cacao has often become known for. Many people will similarly say they love Venezuelan chocolate. But it is important to note that there are just so many variables at play to make a great bar of chocolate. Madagascar, for example, just doesn't have cacao with a high level of fine flavour Criollo genetics, there's also a heap load of hybrid cacao out there and even the much loved Pralus 100% is made from mostly (if not all) "standard" Amelonado. The same can be said with Venezuela there are so many different strains of bean available that you just can't say you love Venezuelan chocolate.
Taking the Origin to a more refined degree you can look at the particular region and here Venezuela is such a great example. Personally I've loved, most probably, all Ocumare chocolate I've tried, and also quite possibly all the Sur del Lago. But when it comes to the much vaulted Chuao, it seems to offer me less excitement than it used to. The Amano Chuao, doesn't reach the heights, for me at least, than it used to. The same can be said for the Pralus Chuao. Region is a good indicator, but still there are too many variables. Take a look at our guide to single origin chocolate to find out more about generalising regions.
Each chocolate maker tends to have their own style. Bonajuto, for example, 'under' process their chocolate so it has a very granular texture. Marou tends to be creamier, Bouga Cacao often is more intense, and perhaps even Menakao can be added to that 'intense' category. AMMA is very buttery. And Pralus, often has a higher roast than normal. But you do get some chocolates from a given maker that does stand out. Zotter's Labooko range just can't be second-guessed. Each seem to offer something completely different - and that's one of the things we love most about them.
By Flavour Profile?
This is the most controversial as every individual will pick up different notes in different chocolates. There will consistent flavours, but I feel there are too many variables to offer a consistent profile - unless they're striking. Citrus, for example, may be primarily something you will find from Madagascan cacao, but also in parts of Ecuador, Belize, Venezuela, St Lucia, Peru and elsewhere. We've never had a customer say they like a particular flavour profile, but we will explore the option of categorising chocolate this way - at least by astringency, fruity etc. But what is more importance is the balance of the flavour notes, how well they work together to produce an overall experience.
They've Won Awards?
To me this is the best indicator. There's the International Chocolate Awards, Academy of Chocolate, Great Taste Awards etc., all have their differing approaches and styles. I've got a good insight into the specific chocolate awards processes and they are serious about fair and accurate judging so do make sure you keep an eye out for the latest awards. The problem is that with retailers we can be slow at updating individual product pages, so we might miss some, but at least we'll blog about the awards.
Your Friends Have Recommended It?
This is a great way to find wonderful chocolate. Many of our higher-rated chocolate bars have many social shares and we can see that we get a lot of traffic and sales from people recommending chocolate to their friends. If they like it and describe it to you then that will mean much more than if we write lovely tasting notes.
They're mentioned in the press?
Sometimes the press are very good at picking up on new, fantastic chocolate, as was the case with Marou. But often they miss out on makers that don't have a PR or distributor presence in this country so they're unlikely to get coverage. This is a shame as hard to find chocolate is what we're focused on - perhaps its up to us to get these greater makers more coverage?
What works for us
We just love trying new chocolate. We know that the makers we come across generally make fantastic chocolate. Some we pass up the opportunity to stock as they don't meet the grade, but all the chocolate we offer here has passed our own testing rounds. Some we may not be to our exact taste, but from experience we know that there will be a good number of customers that prefer that style of chocolate. Essentially we'll try anything, but that's our job. If we are looking for chocolate for ourselves we'll go for a maker we trust and either ask them or seek other people's reviews.
We are completely passionate about chocolate: the flavour, the people, the processes, the packaging; and that's why we love to help people find great chocolate. So, if you know you like a particular type of chocolate, but are having difficulty finding it here, or elsewhere, drop us a line and we'll try and find it for you.