A brief guide to the way we review and rate chocolate …
What kinds of chocolate do we review?
Our main focus is dark chocolate. This is because we believe that high percentage dark chocolate gives us the best chance to compare and consider the flavours to be had from the different bean varieties, countries or plantations, yearly harvests and chocolate manufacturers involved in making fine chocolate. You wouldn’t expect wine tasting to be carried out on wine with mixers! In the same way we’ll get the truest reviews with pure strong chocolate.
We’ll review – and we hope enjoy eating – any dark, ‘bitter’ or ‘bitter sweet’ chocolate that fits our definition of quality fine chocolate. The criteria we use are:
Fine chocolate definition (dark)
- A high cocoa content (at least 55%, preferably 60% and up. Generally lower than 64% is too sweet.)
- All natural ingredients – no additives or ‘E’ numbers (except the emulsifier E322, soya lecithin)
- No artificial flavourings (that includes anything labelled ‘natural flavouring’)
- Real vanilla – we won’t review any chocolate that contains vanillin, a chemical substitute with a less than perfect taste. ‘Natural vanilla flavour’ also probably means not from real vanilla pods.
- No fat substitutes – cocoa butter is the key to good chocolate because it melts very close to body temperature, anything else is usually there as a cost saving or to mask poor cacao quality.
- We also believe that the source and treatment of the cacao used to make the chocolate has been considered and where possible is as transparent as possible. Ethical issues are not the main concern, but often go hand in hand with quality. Note that schemes such as organic and Fair Trade do NOT have any flavour quality component.
We think chocolate that meets these criteria is worthy of your attention; and we’ll include any chocolate we can find that meets them.
Milk chocolate and flavoured bars
Just because we think dark chocolate is the best expression and test of cacao beans and chocolate making, it doesn’t mean we don’t like milk chocolate and flavoured chocolate, it’s just with so many chocolates around we had to start somewhere!
So the overwhelming majority of our reviews are for dark, unflavoured bars, but we’ve recently started including milk and white chocolate.
Flavoured bars are coming soon, but we think they will need their own additional criteria.
How does the scoring system work?
Chocolate appreciation is a fairly new field, and while the great chocolate houses have employed tasters for years – to achieve a consistent flavour – there is no accepted, standard ‘language’ of chocolate flavours as there is, say, for wine. So really it’s all down to personal opinion and taste, but here are some guidelines on the Seventypercent way of tasting, as used to rate bars on the site.
We score each category from out of a weighted mark that adds up to 100, because we consider that different categories have different levels of importance (e.g. flavour is much more important than look). The weightings are arbitrary, but generally produce results that reflect our general opinion of the chocolate we’ve tried.
Weighting: 10 out of 100
The sense of smell makes up a large part of the sense of taste, so aroma is a good indication of how a chocolate will taste. All chocolates will have a basic ‘chocolaty’ aroma; try and look past this for other aromas or ‘notes’. Common aromas to be found include forest fruits, tobacco, liquorice, grass, citrus – and even cheese!
Look / snap
Weighting: 5 out of 100
Good chocolates are often redder rather than black (a sign of Criollo beans used rather than the cheaper Forestero, and of better treatment), they will have clean smooth finishes, but have an appealing cracked or marbled look when broken. The grain should be fine, preferably without air bubbles (though these can creep in, in artisan bars.) Good chocolate will break with a clean, pleasing snap – not too brittle and not too soft. This can be judged either by breaking in the hand or the mouth.
Weighting: 35 out of 100
Flavour of course is paramount, so it gets the highest weighting in our overall score. Look for evolving flavours, initial bursts, slow developers, hidden notes. Generally it is best to let the chocolate slowly melt on the tongue, but sometimes other tones are revealed by munching. Feel free to make comparisons with any flavour you can think of; chocolate flavours are commonly described in terms of forest fruits, citrus, dark tans, tobacco, toffee, caramel, milk, coffee, almonds… the list is endless.
Bad ingredients create bad flavours – artificial vanilla, known as vanillin, is easily detected by its metallic candy-like taste. Poor quality unfermented beans will give rough, unpleasantly bitter flavours – manufacturers usually hide this with too much sugar.
Weighting: 5 out of 100
One of the reasons chocolate is so pleasant is that cocoa butter melts very close to body temperature (93°F). Good chocolates will vary in their melt, but will never be cloying or sticky in the mouth. For some fine chocolates the melt can be one of the highlights. Melt is a part of the all-important ‘mouth feel’, which is critical to chocolate makers.
Weighting: 15 out of 100
A good chocolate is revealed in its length, the aftertaste that lingers once the chocolate is eaten. Poor quality chocolate quickly turns bitter and metallic in the mouth, so the only way to keep the chocolate experience going is too eat more! Good chocolate can still taste good in the mouth a long time after eating – sometimes 40 minutes or more. Look out for extra evolving flavours in the length, and for any sign of ‘turning’.
Weighting: 30 out of 100
A chance to influence the overall score by adding in a general opinion of the chocolate. This is about pleasure, so we add in a score for how much we ‘like’ each chocolate.