Saturday, February 28, 2015

Chocolate Results 2015

This year's chocolate tasting was once again a veritable celebration of Swiss Chocolate, but with a few surprises.  

Gilgen, the Swiss maker from Basel takes the crown again for Milk. The second and third places in milk went to standby favorite Lindt.  Fourth place was the upstart however: Butlers Milk Chocolate, from Ireland. An old hand at chocolate making (since 1932) but new to this tasting, Butler's has notes of caramel and a smooth melt. 

In the Medium Dark (under 70%) category was also swept by Switzerland, with Gilgen taking the lead there too.  Patrizia Dungglischoggi another Swiss maker took second place. Schwarze Herren's Edelbitter, a German supermarket staple which always does well, placed third. Cailler Cremant from Switzerland, another frequent winner, took fourth place.

The biggest contest is always in the 70%+ Dark category, and this year we have several surprising results here.  Marks and Spencer, the british grocer, produced this year's wining dark bar, in Italy, which is a first for Italian chocolate.  Trader Joe's Swiss Dark took the second place, again proving itself the best chocolate you can buy in the US.  Interestingly, Trader Joe's Swiss Dark is made in the Villars factory in Switzerland, and the Villars Noir bar placed fifth in this tasting.  In years past, Villars has beat out the Trader Joe's re-branded bars. This year, freshness may be a factor, as the Villars bar was poured 4 months before the tasting (it had to be hand carried from Switzerland), but the Trader Joe's bar was produced just a month before the tasting. 

The other winners in the 70%+ Dark category were Divine, the German bar which does well every year (and is available in the US!) in third place, and Sainsbury's Belgian Dark, another British supermarket chocolate, in fourth. 

Finally, in the 75%+ Dark category, we have an American chocolate taking the crown. Balao, by Ritual Chocolate from Denver, Colorado. For the complete results, check out this spreadsheet here

Huge thanks to Madleina for providing most of the chocolate for this year's tasting (hand carried from the EU), and to our 50 tasters, who completed 1597 chocolate tastings over 8 hours. 

Friday, February 21, 2014

Chocolate Results 2014

This year's Chocolate tasting results are a little abbreviated, as I'm *extremely* pregnant, but it's all old favorites, so no surprises.   Lindt won the Milk category, Gilgen from Switzerland took the Medium Dark category, and Trader Joe's Swiss Dark won the Dark category.

Friday, March 8, 2013

2013 Chocolate Tasting Results, Short Version

Switzerland and Germany take the lead!  If you can get your hands on some Gilgen, Villars, Edeka, or Schweitzers chocolate, do so at once, but if you're restricted to USA shopping, hit up the Trader Joe's Swiss, Divine, and Galler, which are all available in this country and also received top marks.  If you find yourself in Australia (or have a friend who does), try the new Daintree Estates chocolate, which you will either love or hate- it's pretty different.  You'll need a Russian connection to get your hands on A. Kournov, but it's worth the trouble.  And finally, if you're a die hard super dark fan, go straight for a Blanxart bar from Spain- you'll probably love it!

Overall Winners:
Trader Joe's Swiss Milk (made by Villars) from Switzerland
Gilgen Milk Hausegmacht from Switzerland
Divine Milk from Germany
Galler Milk from Belgium
Lindt Milk from Switzerland

Gilgen Chocolat Cremant Hausegmacht from Switzerland
Edeka Zartbitter from Germany
Callier Cremant from Switzerland

Super Dark:
A Kourkunov Elite 72% Dark Chocolate from Russia
Schweitzers Zartbitter 72% from Switzerland
Divine 70% Dark Chocolate from Germany
Edeka Edel Zartbitter 72% from Germany
Villars Chocolat Noir 72% from Switzerland

Other Chocolates of Note (popular but polarizing):
Daintree Estates Dark 70% and Milk 45% from Australia
Blanxart 82% Congo Dark from Spain
Kallari 70% Cacao from Ecuador

2013 Chocolate Tasting Results

The results are in from this year's chocolate tasting and once again european chocolates triumph, with Switzerland and Germany taking the lead.
Gilgen once again demonstrates the appeal of swiss chocolates- this three-year champion maker once again got high ranks, topping the dark category and coming in second in Milk. Divine also proved themselves perennially popular, with a third place in both the milk and super dark categories. 

Trader Joe's Swiss Chocolate, which is made in the Villars factory in Switzerland, got high ranks- winning the milk category and doing pretty well in dark, though, as it did last year, not quite as well as the Villars' branded Villars chocolate, which placed 5th in super dark.  Still since Villars isn't sold in the US, we highly suggest that you get your hands on some TJ's.  As an experiment this year, we included TJ's milk chocolate from two different production batches a few months apart, and were delighted to see that production quality is very constant, as the votes for both chocolates were nearly identical. 

The other milk chocolate to receive top marks was Galler from Belgium, with rich caramel notes that were popular with everyone, and especially loved by milk fans. Lindt, unusually, did not receive the highest marks in the milk category, at least among the general audience, however when considering the scores of only die hard milk chocolate fans, Lindt Milk beat out every other chocolate on the table, with tasters noting that "it tastes like childhood."

The second place dark chocolate was Edeka's Zartbitter, from Germany, a bargain supermarket bar costing only 0.39 euros, which once again demonstrates both that price is no indication of quality, and that even the cheap bars from Europe beat out what the new world has to offer. Edeka's 72% bar also placed fourth in super dark. Callier slipped from second to third place in dark with their classic Cremant bar, and their new offering of a 64% Cremant bar was poorly received, particularly by dark chocolate fans who considered it mediocre. 

The super dark winners this year were the Russian A. Kourkunov chocolate, a perennially winning performer, a new (to this tasting) Swiss chocolate maker, Schweitzers, and Divine.

Kallari, the big winner from last year, faced an unfortunate challenge in this tasting: due to trouble sourcing the chocolate, the bars we used turned out to have expired two months ago, and the aging showed.  Kallari was the chocolate that received the most "I loved it" votes of any chocolate in the tasting (38% of tasters), but several tasters were off put by the staleness and noted that "it just tasted wrong," leaving it difficult to fairly judge this chocolate in the rankings. 

We introduced a new category this year for the darkest chocolates, because the number of 70%-72% chocolates is exploding, and it seems unfair to compare an 80% bar with them.  This category had a (perhaps predictably) polarizing effect on tasters.  The most dramatic example was Blanxart's 82% Congo bar, which was given very high scores by super dark chocolate lovers, and horrible scores by milk fans, a quarter of whom simply hated it.  Perhaps the complex fruit tones put off the traditionally caramel-loving milk fans, as this chocolate was full of complex fruit flavors. 

Of special note are the Daintree Estates chocolates, which were the most controversial on the table.  Everyone had strong opinions on these chocolates, with many people commenting that they "don't taste like chocolate," or "taste like wine."  This new company is the first australian company to grow beans in the continent, and has taken "bean to bar" to a whole new level by growing the beans themselves. Perhaps there's something about the soil in Australia that polarizes the pallete, but in any event, we suggest you try their chocolate if you have the chance- it's very polarizing. 

For the first time this year, we don't have any "big loosers" to report.  All the chocolates we tried were loved by at least a handful of people, and even the lowest ranked chocolates received middling scores.  Some of the poorer performers include:  Droste from the Netherlands has dropped significantly in the rankings since we last tasted it, earning last place in milk and middling scores for their extra dark chocolate. Equal Exchange, an organic fair trade bar from Whole Foods that we tried this year did pretty poorly in both the dark and super dark categories, though their darker 71% bar was somewhat popular among super dark fans. Sirius, the national chocolate of Iceland (being the only chocolate produced there), got pretty middling scores for all three of their chocolates on the table, with tasters noting a somewhat waxy consistency but good flavor. TCHO has finally (in the third year of tasting) produced a chocolate which no one in our tasting hated: Serious Milk Chocolate. Unfortunately no one particularly liked the TCHO chocolate either- it had the fewest number of people who loved it of any chocolate on the table and nearly everyone gave it middling marks. Madecasse, the new Madagascar chocolate maker was probably the worst performer overall, with both their milk and dark bars receiving very low marks. 

The full list of 54 chocolates we tasted is available here, and the compilation of every chocolate we've ever tried is here

Many thanks to our 52 tasters who provided 1920 tastings for this analysis!  Special thanks also to Madleina for importing most of the European Chocolates and to Cynthia for the Australian Chocolates.  Galler and Blanxart donated chocolates to our tasting and we are very grateful- they were delicious!

Love math?  Curious about the data?  Check out the complete anonymized data set here!

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Announcing the 2013 Chocolate Tasting

It's chocolate time!  This weekend at the SF Fancy Food Show I had the chance to meet several chocolate makers and get ramped up for our 6th annual Chocolate Tasting Party, which we will hold Sunday Feb 17th.  Last year we compared new American small batch makers to the usual winners from Europe (mostly, the Swiss still win). This year we're bringing back old favorites and pitting them against new European chocolate makers plus some other chocolates of interest.

At the Fancy Food Show I met Jean Galler, the maker of Galler Chocolates from Belgium (new to this tasting), who sent me home with deliciously caramely milk and super dark bars to include in the tasting.  Blanxart, a favorite from the 2007 tasting will also be back, with two chocolates not yet released in the US- both single origin blends bursting with fruit.  I enjoyed meeting Xavier Puigarnau, Blanxart's chocolate maker himself, at the show.  On a less positive note from the show, I met a promotor for Chocolove (a popular 2011 chocolate), who brusquely informed me that their chocolate is not bean to bar.  I also met the promotors for Dagoba and Sharffen Berger, both now owned by Hershey, and suspiciously co-located in a booth with the name of the mother company nowhere in sight- both served me chocolate samples which I found rather dreadful.  The chocolateirs I met, who were too numerous to mention here, had many interesting flavors and really rounded out the Fancy Food Show for me.  Most of the chocolateirs I met are using E. Guittard chocolate, which we will have in the tasting, or importing chocolate from Europe.  Callebaut, which has tasted well in our tasting party in the past, was the most commonly mentioned european source. 

The final list of chocolates for 2013 is not set yet, but so far includes chocolates from America, Switzerland, Germany, France, Belgium, Spain, Netherlands, Iceland, Madagascar, and Australia.  If you have a chocolate you'd like to include, tell me now! The tasting is only open to bean-to-bar manufacturers, and only to their pure chocolate bars (no flavored chocolates, even hazelnut). Chocolates will be grouped by category: Milk, Dark (no milk, up to 70% cacao), and Super Dark (over 70%). In the interests of not completely overloading everyone, we'll try to keep things down to 50-60 total chocolate types. 

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

2012 Chocolate Tasting Results: The Short Version

The new artisan American chocolate scene does not yet measure up to Swiss chocolates.  Artisan American chocolates are very controversial though, so we suggest you give them a try and see if you passionately love or hate them. In the meantime, we highly suggest you get your hands on the new Kallari Chocolate from Ecuador, which was the best chocolate available retail in the US.  For the top chocolates though, fly to Switzerland and buy any chocolate at all. For those of you without a private jet to satisfy your chocolate cravings, buy Lindt or Divine, and you might want to check out Trader Joe's new Swiss Chocolate, which is clearly made in the same factory as this year's winning super dark chocolate, Villars

Results from the 2012 Chocolate Tasting

The results from the 2012 Chocolate tasting are in, and (sadly) we have to report that the many new and interesting American artisan chocolate makers have not been able to topple any of the winning international chocolates. Switzerland continues to make unquestionably the best chocolate available. In particular, the winning Gilgen Chocolat Cremant Hausegmacht and Callier Cremant from our last tasting once again blew all the other dark chocolates out of the water. Sadly, the only way to lay hands on Gilgen Chocolate is to show up in person at their family factory in Basel Switzerland, preferably with a German speaker in tow.  Other Swiss makers won top marks including Villars, the top performing super dark chocolate, and Bernrain, which followed Gilgen and Callier as third place in dark. Indeed even the Co-op Chocolate from Switzerland's budget supermarket chain was more popular than any American chocolate (at a whopping $1.30 per bar to boot).

However, we can report with interest that Small-Batch American chocolates were the most controversial (high standard deviation), with decided camps for and against most of them during the blind tasting. Unusually for our tastings, many of these chocolates were adored by some who went back for seconds, and literally spat out by others who described them as "not even chocolate."  There was no correlation by person either- everyone had some they liked and some they hated.  Perhaps we're seeing the emergence of a whole new kind of chocolate which is not yet ready for widespread consumption.  Dandelion Chocolate from San Francisco was the most controversial, with half of all tasters hating it, the other half passionately loving it.  Ostara Raw Chocolate from Berkeley was also quite controversial, and was the only chocolate at the tasting which used sun baked rather than oven-roasted beans. The even darker (higher percent cacao) American chocolates were all extremely controversial, including Snake and Butterfly from Campbell, CAChuao Chocolate from Encinitas, CA, and Theo Chocolate from Seattle. Perhaps predictably, the Dark Goats' Milk Chocolate by Escazu in Raleigh, NC was extremely controversial, something which can't be explained by it being the darkest milk chocolate as it was equally enjoyed by milk and dark chocolate fans.  

Kallari Chocolate from Ecuador and Wild Boar Chocolate from Vancouver, Canada (both available at Wholefoods) are the only new local makers to earn top marks this year.  This is the first top chocolate from either country, which is especially an accomplishment for Kallari as every other chocolate we've tried from the tropics has been pretty terrible. Kallari made a surprising second place in super dark with intense fruity notes and fresh flavors, and is the chocolate we most recommend you try, as it's the best chocolate from our 2012 tasting which you can buy retail in the US. 

Other Chocolates of note:  Haighs Gourmet Dark Chocolate from Australia remains a top chocolate, but was knocked from second to third place in the super dark category this year.  A. Korkunov, the National chocolate of Russia which made top marks in 2007 and then became effectively unavailable outside of Russia, made a strong return to our tasting as 4th place in the dark category.  We almost didn't get to include this chocolate, until I found a company that ships Russian Dolls by boat across the Pacific-- they were able to import some (no joke!).  E. Wedel Milk Chocolate from Poland turned out the top milk chocolate, pushing the ever popular Lindt Excellence Milk to second place.  Freia Melkesjokolade, the national chocolate of Norway, was the least controversial of the winning chocolates, taking 3rd place in Milk. Divine Chocolate, the winning chocolate maker from 2009 which is owned by a Ghanan farmer co-op and produced in Germany, has a new 85% Dark Chocolate which was the best of the over-75% cacao chocolates.  Divine's 70% Dark was even more popular though, earning 4th place in the over-70% "super dark" category. 

Most interestingly, the brand new Trader Joe's Swiss Dark 72% and Milk Chocolate are clearly being made in the same factory as the winning Villars Chocolate Noir 72% from Switzerland. Unwrapped, the two dark chocolates are identical in break and snap, and all are made in the same unique molds. Trader Joe's Dark took 8th place whereas Villar's made 1st place, so perhaps the factory is reserving their best quality beans for the house brand and using "seconds" for their Trader Joe's production, or maybe the time in transit had a noticeable effect on quality.  Impossible to know, but still it's definitely worth checking out the new TJ's Swiss bars.  

Poor Performers:  Sadly, we had two chocolates which crashed and burned in our tasting: Mast Brother's chocolate from Brooklyn New York, and Taza Stone Ground Chocolate from Somerville, MA. No one liked these chocolates and a many spat them out with effusive cursing- they were pretty universally reviled. I gather they are using some very different techniques for their production which, at least for this audience, did not pan out. Also included in our tasting was the much hyped "Fortunato No.4" Chocolate, which is made with a rare and different variant of chocolate bean (the beans are white instead of purple inside).  Unfortunately the chocolate did not do well, with most people either finding it boring or outright disliking it, and it is certainly not worth the extravagant price tag. 

Winners of the 2012 tasting:

Milk Chocolates: 
1. E. Wedel Milk Chocolate from Poland (imported)
2. Lindt Excellence Milk (available at any grocery store)
3. Freia Melkesjokolade, the national chocolate of Norway  (imported)
4. Trader Joe's Swiss Milk Chocolate (made in the Villars factory in Switzerland)

Dark Chocolates
1. Gilgen Chocolat Cremant Hausegmacht from Switzerland (imported)
2. Callier Cremant from Switzerland (imported)
3. Bernrain Cremant from Switzerland (imported)
4. A. Korkunov Dark Chocolate, the national chocolate of Russia (imported)

Super Dark Chocolates (Over 70% Cacao):
1. Villars Chocolat Noir from Switzerland (imported)
2. Kallari 70% from Ecuador (available at Wholefoods)
3. Haighs Gourmet Dark Chocolate from Australia (imported)
4. Divine 70% Dark Chocolate (available at Wholefoods and increasingly many other grocery stores)

Thank you: We would like to extend our thanks to Madleina, Cynthia, Paul, and Eva who carried chocolate across oceans for this tasting, and to the makers of Ostara Chocolate, Dandelion Chocolate, Snake and Butterfly Chocolate, French Broad Chocolate, and Chokolait in Melbourne for donating bars.  We would also like to thank the 42 people who faced down a table of 54 chocolates and provided 1414 data points for this statistical analysis. 

Interested in the math?  Check out the complete anonymized results!