I have always been a fan of dark chocolate. Even before I adopted my current lifestyle I always preferred dark to milk chocolate. In foodie speak, eating milk chocolate is like liberally dumping cream and sugar in a French-pressed cup of coffee, diluting a 30 year-aged scotch with ice, or smothering a wagyu ribeye in A1 steak sauce (*gasp*). It masks the incredible flavors that cacao is capable of producing. Just like wine or tea, cacao beans can produce a huge variety of flavors depending on their growing environment and processing after the harvest.
Good dark chocolate consists of roasted cacao beans and organic sugar- that’s it. The best quality bars contain very small amounts of high quality sugar that is selected specifically selected to complement the characteristics of the beans. For the most part, the highest quality chocolate (and most nutritious) has a cacao percentage of 70% or higher.
When considering dark chocolate consumption and your health, it’s a no brainer. Low in sugar, it’s calories come primarily from healthy monounsaturated and saturated fats. It is also bursting with polyphenol antioxidants, making it a true superfood. Regular dark chocolate consumption has been associated with decreased blood pressure, decreased risk factors for cardiovascular disease and increased insulin sensitivity (the opposite of diabetes). Moderate dark chocolate consumption is without a doubt a delicious and healthy habit.
Recently I stumbled upon an article on tasting chocolate mindfully on a favorite blog of mine, zenhabits.net. This article was actually a guest post by Todd Masonis, the co-founder of Dandelion Chocolate in San Francisco. I was so enticed by the brief article that I immediately coughed up $20 plus shipping for three of their hand-crafted bars. I proceeded to conduct a small chocolate tasting and put Todd’s advice into practice:
The tasting consisted of two Venezuelan bars and a third from Madagascar. I ate them in that recommended order, from the least complex to the most complex. Each bar came in beautiful packaging and I took the time to read each one before ripping them open. I noticed that each bar was quite unique in terms of color, texture, and design. I ate them one square at a time, taking a couple of small bites and then letting it melt on my tongue as I let the flavors evolve. After it was gone, I took a moment to reflect before moving onto the next piece. It literally took me 30-45 seconds to eat each one-inch square. I ate nine squares total, equivalent to a little less than half of a standard chocolate bar, and it was incredible.
Here’s the breakdown:
Bar #1 (Patanemo, Venezuela): This bar has a very rustic look to it. It has a grainy texture that really makes it stand out from your typical chocolate bar. It’s flavor is fairly one-dimensional and mild, but nonetheless quite delicious. I picked up on some roasted peanut notes, but that was pretty much about it. Tasty and pleasant, but not complex by any means.
Bar #2 (Mantuano, Venezuela): This bar is quite different visually from the first. It is very smooth and refined looking and boasts a pretty deep shade of brown. As I let it melt on my tongue, I was hit with a rich fudge-brownie like quality. It’s incredible how a very dark bar with very modest amounts of sugar can produce this level of sweetness. Towards the end, I noticed a faint cinnamon note to round it out.
Bar #3 (Ambanja, Madagascar): This bar absolutely blew my mind. Visually, it looks quite similar to the second bar, albeit slightly lighter in color. Taste-wise, this bar is radically different than the previous two, or any chocolate bar I’ve tasted for that matter. It’s flavor is exploding with berries, citrus and a slight hint of almonds. It legitimately doesn’t taste like anything you would typically consider to be chocolate. The people at Dandelion Chocolate describe this bar as a “mini-Starburst explosion in your mouth”- and that is pretty accurate.
All three of these bars contain 70% cacao, and are processed by the same roasters. It is absolutely incredible to see the dramatic difference in flavor these three bars are capable of producing solely based on the geographic location of the beans. This is high quality, handcrafted food at it’s finest.
I’m not saying you should have chocolate bars shipped to you from San Francisco so you can conduct a 30-minute tasting ritual on a Monday night. I’m a little crazy like that. But I do think that anyone who enjoys a nice bite of chocolate should stop by their local Whole Foods or Trader Joes and pick up a bar or two priced in the $3-6 range. Enjoyed slowly, mindfully, and in moderate portions, it should be good for about three or four delicious and healthy desserts.
Here are three excellent, easy-to-find and reasonably-priced bars that I enjoy: