I recently had a chocolate tasting party with Michael from the Vegan Mos (Ethan wasn’t feeling well), Carmella and Carlo from The Food Duo, Sharon from Big City Vegan, and my friend Liz who does not blog but who is a great vegan cook. She brought her much loved mock chopped liver.
While I was putting the finishing touches on the meal we’d have first (eat your veggies and then then eat the bean!), Michael read aloud to us about tasting chocolate from the Chocolate Tasting Kit by Eagranie Yuh. Eagrani, who I had met at an IACP conference is a food writer and a leading chocolate educator. I then did an introductory talk about the chocolate making processes from bean to bar, what should and should not be in fine chocolate, and what high percentage chocolate means. I also spoke about the ethics of chocolate because that means so much to me – Fair Trade, Direct Trade, and Rainforest Alliance Certified. Keep up to date on ethical chocolates at www.FoodEmpowermentProject.com.
I also referred my friends the tasters to the information in Chaper 1 of Vegan Chocolate, when they expressed surprise that some dark chocolates can contain milk. I was definitely surprised when I learned this while researching vegan chocolate. I can’t say it enough but I sure say it often–be sure to always read the label, even if it’s a brand you’ve bought before.
Cocoa beans, cocoa mass, cocoa liquor are all terms found on the labels of chocolate bars. They are one and the same when listed on the labels: this is the unsweetened cocoa/ chocolate. We found organic sugar, dried sugar cane, and dehydrated sugar cane juice on some labels– and it all means organic cane sugar. Some of the chocolates we tasted had soy lecithin as an emulsifier, but many did not. One bar listed cocoa powder, which was a huge surprise to me. None had milk powder or milk by products since I choose vegan chocolates.
We started our tasting with 70% chocolate bars from Theo and Divine. They were both lush on tongue, but consensus of group was that the Divine chocolate was less “raisiny”. This translated into it’s a good gateway chocolate for people who don’t’ really like dark or bittersweet chocolate. I find the Theo more interesting. It tastes fruity and more nuanced to me and the others agreed.
Next, we tried two private store brands: Trader Joe’s 72% Organic Belgium Dark Chocolate Bar, which is made with Fair Trade chocolate and contains no lecithin or vanilla, and Whole Foods 71% Dark Chocolate from Costa Rica which is Direct Trade and Rainforest Alliance certified. The Whole Foods bar contains cocoa powder in addition to cocoa liquor. This came as a big surprise to me and left me wondering why. Both of the bars were deemed bittersweet, slightly tannic, but nice. The Trader Joe’s bar was favored. Tannins, fruity, astringent, smooth, long or short finish… doesn’t this sound like a wine tasting? It is really the same.
We drank a lot of water between chocolates and then we decided to chew on some whole grain bread as a way to cleanse our palates.
Our third assignment was a tray of flavored dark chocolates. Here we had a clear consensus! The winner of the bunch was Equal Exchange’s 55% Lemon Ginger with Black Pepper bar, which is organic and Fair Trade. The tasters were surprised by the flavor combination, but the entire bar was eaten. It is crunchy with bits of candied ginger and the pepper gives it a long surprising pow of a finish. Theo’s 70% Chili bar was a close second. This bar contains several spices and while it is hot, the chocolate comes through. I have used this to make my Aztec truffles when I don’t have time to infuse spices into plant milk for truffles. It works a charm. There’s a long hot finish, but it’s not searing.
We cleansed our palates and sampled Theo’s Orange Dark Chocolate bar. I am a big fan of this chocolate! I used it to make my Chocolate Orange Sesame Truffles (250 of them at the Northwest Chocolate Fest in Seattle last year). The orange is pronounced as it should be, but it does not overpower and the bar has a lovely smooth finish. I regret to say that Liz alone liked the Brooklyn Dark Orange Silk 66% Orange Sunflower Cranberries bar. Raspberry and chocolate is a combination I especially like so I was eager to try the Equal Exchange’s 60% Dark Chocolate with (freeze dried) Raspberries. This was another unanimous yes vote to the taste and appearance. The raspberries are freeze dried and really popped and the bar was bumpy with lots of fruit.
Pascha’s 55% Dark Chocolate with Goldenberries bar surprised us with its very sweet tasting chocolate (well, after much darker chocolates, 55% would taste sweet. The Goldenberrries are very tart making this an interesting bar. Pascha alone, by the way, is certified gluten-free chocolate.
After the flavored bars we moved onto chocolate chips and chunks. Chocolate chips are melt resistant so and often lower quality chocolate. Chips have been until more recently, achingly sweet but things are changing. Equal Exchange 55% chocolate chips were sweet and the closes to a ‘regular chip’, but with a darker taste. Two tasters thought them to be a little waxy. Pascha 55% chip chips were sweet but most of my team of tasters though the flavor was “a little off.” To be fair, in my opinion, both of these chips taste good in baked goods. So don’t eat them of hand. You shouldn’t anyway. That is what high percentage chocolate is for. Enjoy Life’s chocolate chunks, another certified gluten-free chocolate, were sweet and the most like a traditional chip or chunk.
Now, I threw in a surprise. This is Liz and her face mirrored everyone elses. “Why would you do this to us??” No one was happy, but I wanted to finish with a 100% unsweetened chocolate as a reference, so everyone got 1-2 Pascha’s unsweetened chocolate chips. I didn’t warn anything ahead of time. No one was happy with the taste of sugarless chocolate! I suggested glasses of water and some bread, and then I brought out the Chocolate Torte to Live For. All was good.
I’m wondering if you tried any of the chocolates we taste tested and if so which were your favorites? (or fails.) There are many artisan vegan-suitable chocolates flooding the marketplace today and I will be doing another tasting at a future date. I would love to hear some of your raves and rants.