There's a great Toronto-based online store for getting extremely fine chocolate that I love to order from every once in a while called A Taste For Chocolate. It's expensive, but the chocolate is delicious and I generally eat it slow enough that the cost doesn't seem so bad. A bar can easily last a whole week.
Anyway, the store sends out chocolate themed newsletters and I really liked the most recent one so I thought I'd repost it here. It lists five things to look for when buying good chocolate.
- Just chocolate. So many of us Canadians call candy bars with a small coating of something resembling chocolate "chocolate bars". Do not confuse candy with chocolate! I admittedly enjoy Snickers at Halloween but for the sugary peanuts and candy, not the "chocolate" coating.
- Made by a relatively small company. How widely available is the chocolate? If you can find a certain chocolate bar in every store you go into, it is a mass-produced bar likely made with inferior cacao beans. The big chocolate company that produced it had to make some kind of quality sacrifice along the way to pump out such large quantities. Remember also that there are simply not enough finer quality cacao beans to make billions of chocolate bars. Look for bean-to-bar chocolate made by chocolate makers who focus on quality, not quantity. This usually translates into a better quality of life for the cacao farmers as well, but this is another issue...
- Ingredients. Dark chocolate should always contain cacao/cocoa beans (also called cocoa mass or cocoa liquor) followed by sugar. These should always be the first two and sometimes the only ingredients. Third on the list is cocoa butter and often pure vanilla and lecithin. Vanillin, artificial flavours and colours and other added fats are a quick giveaway that the quality of the chocolate is poor. Nothing artificial in my chocolate please!
- Cacao percentage. Not so much to ensure you're getting your 70% cacao content, but more to ensure that you know what you are eating. If this is not on the label, you could be eating chocolate that barely qualifies as such (35% cacao is the lower limit to be considered dark chocolate). Cacao content refers to the amount of cacao beans plus any added cocoa butter, so just be aware that not all 70% cacao content chocolate bars contain the same amount of cacao solids.
- Origin of the cacao beans. Most fine chocolate makers put information on the packaging about whether the chocolate is a blend of cacaos or made from cacao from a single-origin. If there is no indication about the source of the cacao, then the beans from which the chocolate began were likely not very good.