When you get into the REAL dark chocolate world, also known as bean-to-bar chocolate, artisan chocolate, craft chocolate, or small-batch chocolate, you will start seeing a significant amount of features in the chocolate bars that you might not know what they mean. Here is a list of the Top 10 details that you should recognize:
As explained here, this speaks about what comes from the cacao bean. Dark chocolate by law, in many countries, must have a specific % of ingredients from cacao. The cacao percentage is taken as a feature of quality, but that is not necessarily true. Big companies have picked this up and try to trick consumers into getting a higher cacao percentage bar that it is of industrial quality, but rarely unique. Most craft chocolate makers try to use as much as possible from a high-quality cacao bean.
What location is this cacao bean grown? This will help you start noticing the differences in aromas and flavor that each continent, country, city, a small town might have in a specific dark chocolate bar. Some experts call this the terroir.
You might see one of the three original and classic cacao varieties mentioned. We now know that is more complicated than that. See this (link), so you learn more about this topic. Some countries use a region's name to identify their cacao beans, and the dark chocolate maker will use it in its bars. Cacao varietals are becoming as complicated as wine.
In a real dark chocolate bar, you should see cacao (cocoa) and sugar as explained here (link). However, you might see other ingredients that are supposed to enhance the flavors of the cacao bean. It might help you realize that the bar is not as good as you thought if you see undesired additives like "vanillin," "natural flavors," or even "chocolate" which basically means that the maker used someone else's chocolate to make a bar.
Name of the chocolate bar
Some chocolate makers add a personalized name to each dark chocolate bar. This could help you find the bar if you liked it and wanted to taste it one more time.
You can identify the company that makes the chocolate, the person who makes it, or both. Most bean-to-bar dark chocolate makers are proud of what they have accomplished, and you will see their names in the packaging. If you have time to check their website, you should be able to see details of their stories traveling around to source their cacao beans themselves. Also, you might see names of chocolate connoisseurs that sometimes are consultants to chocolate makers and help them reach unique aromas and flavors in a final product.
The country where is created
Most dark chocolate bars are created outside the cacao bean country of origin. As of today, the United States of America is leading the world with hundreds of artisans making real dark chocolate. In a chocolate bar, you might see, not only the country source of the cacao bean but also the country where is made. In the last few years, many chocolate makers are creating chocolate at the source, which means they use local cacao beans for their creations; this usually indicates less manipulation, transport, storage and less risk of contamination of these cacao beans.
Most dark chocolate bars that you will see in this world range from $7 to $20. Like wine, you might start recognizing that price does not necessarily correlate with taste and quality. It is up to you to decide what price range you can afford and what quality you are getting. However, in general terms, the chocolate bars that are made with additional efforts, that are using scarce cacao beans, that are personally designed regarding aromas, flavors, processing, and packaging, will be reflected with a higher, but worth it, price tag.
Aroma and Flavor notes
Some artisans add what they perceive in the dark chocolate bars. This information can help you recognize these features and learn from the experts. These tasting notes have really changed the game and brought it back to its roots, i.e., identifying cacao beans' own flavors with no additives. What we mean is that industrial chocolate seeks standard taste; on the other hand, small-batch chocolate bars look for uniqueness, and this can change with every batch, and every harvest; therefore hints are written in the package to guide you through this exploration and discovery.
You might want to be interested in this particular category that has won awards from the critics in a local, national or international competition. Dark chocolate bar makers submit their creations to the world experts and undergo detailed scrutiny. Very few reach the acclaimed praise in world competition, so this is a very unique feature of real dark chocolate bars.
We are sure these suggestions will help you evaluate each dark chocolate bar that crosses your eyes, and will also help support the few that are making magic transforming one-of-a-kind cacao beans, into unique, exceptional and flavorful real dark chocolate bars.