Tuesday, February 14, 2012

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!