Wednesday, June 10, 2009

2009 Chocolate Tasting

Divine was the big winner in this year's chocolate tasting party, with their dark chocolate standing out as the clear winner across all categories, and their milk chocolate placing 4th in that category. This UK- and Germany-based chocolate maker was one of the pioneers of free-trade chocolate in 1998, and is still owned by the co-op of Ghanaian farmers who harvest the chocolate on small 4-5 acre plots of land. At only $1.59 for a 45g bar from Lunardis in Los Gatos, it's also the least expensive artisan chocolate we sampled.

In a repeat of our previous tasting (in 2007), Lindt dominated the milk chocolate category, however they seem to be slipping in the dark and super dark categories (5th and 8th places, respectively). E. Guittard preformed well, as you would expect from the supplier to See's Candies, with their Tsartana taking first place in the dark category (2nd overall). Michel Cluizel, Ritter Sport, and Valhrona continued to preform well this year, with Valhrona improving to 3rd place overall. Of the chocolates we hadn't tried before, six chocolates made top marks this year: Café Tasse (from Belgium), New Tree (founded 2001 in Belgium), Caffarel (from Italy), Chuao (founded 2002 near San Diego), Cost Plus World Market's (generic) 72%, and Godiva (yes, really).

Only three of the new artisan chocolate makers had very good chocolates: Divine, New Tree, and Chuao. Many of the artisan chocolates we tried were terrible, with San Francisco's TCHO (founded 2008) standing out as the overall worst chocolates on the table. The other new San Francisco chocolate, Recchuiti (founded 1997) was mediocre, but no one hated it. TCHO was the second most expensive chocolate ($5 for a small 60g bar), while Amano (founded 2006 in Utah) was the most expensive at $7 for 56g (it was just OK). Theo Organic (founded Seattle 2006) was unpleasantly petroleum flavored and generally unpopular, confirming our results from 2007 which suggest that organic chocolate always tastes terrible. L.A. Burdick's chocolate, a favorite of Bostonians since it's founding in New Hampshire in 1984, was a letdown with only average ratings.

Of the other chocolates we tried, Trader Joe's and Moonstruck (from Oregon) were above average performers with most people at least liking them and several loving them. Hachez (from Germany) was a disaster with rancid butter flavors. Endangered Species Chocolate revealed it's inconsistent quality. The winning Jaguar bar from 2007 was described as "licking the bottom of a chalky shoe," this time around, whereas their Chimpanzee bar, a mediocre performer in 2007, placed 6th in darks this year with "friendly caramel notes." Hershey's was predictably dreadful, and sadly now that they have moved Scharffen Berger production to their large Illinois installation, those formerly delicious chocolates are now mediocre.

We had 54 chocolates, 44 people who filled out tasting sheets, with roughly 30-35 ratings per type of chocolate, for a whopping 1798 individual pieces of chocolate tasted, considered, and rated. Thanks everyone for participating in our chocolate extravaganza!

Top 5 Chocolates per category:

Lindt Excellence Extra Creamy Milk
Ritter Sport Alpine Milk Chocolate
Caffarel Puro Cioccolato Latte
Divine Milk Chocolate
Lindt Classic Recipe Milk Chocolate

E. Guittard Tsartana
Café Tasse Chocolat Fin Artisanal Noir
Michel Cluizel Plantation Maralumi
Godiva Chocoiste Solid Dark Chocolate
Lindt Swiss Bittersweet Fine Dark Chocolate

Super Dark
Divine 70% Dark Chocolate
Valrhona e Noir Amer 71% Cacao
New Tree Pleasure Fine Belgian Dark Chocolate
World Market 72% Cacao
Chuao Todasana 74% Cacao

Do you care about the math? Take a look at the raw (anonymized) data from the tasting: Complete Results (xls)

Chocolates are ranked with a combination of quality and consistency. We score by normalized rating (within each category), and further sort by standard deviation, number of top scores, number of above average scores, and number of people who didn't hate the chocolate. Divine was the only standout winner, with 5 star ratings from a third of the tasters.

Most chocolates were pretty consistently loved, hated, or deemed "just ok" by the crowd. Our most controversial chocolate (Lindt Swiss Bittersweet) received mostly 3's and 4's, with only 5 people deviating on either side of the bell curve. Almost all chocolates had a standard deviation of less then 1.

Thank You!
Many thanks to everyone who participated in this blind tasting, to all the people who showed up early to chop up chocolate, and to everyone who helped me computerize the chocolate forms. You all rock!