high-end chocolate: the winners – the losers

As a result of a steady trend of the last fifteen years or so, high-cocoa-content chocolate has become widely available. In the late 1990s, the Swedish customer still had to rely on a few special addresses until one particular chain store took three varieties of a French 86% cocoa-content brand into their assortment. In 1999, Wegman’s in Ithaca, NY, carried many American specialty brands (some of which were really good) but apart from that only the 70% cocoa-content Lindt chocolate. Today, even our local supermarket offers a whole gamma of Swiss, Swedish, Danish and Finnish high-cocoa-content chocolate.

After many years of chocolate addiction I have, among perhaps 30 brands, been able to identify two clear winners in terms of taste and smoothness. I am continuously testing new kinds. The first winner is the German brand Hachez from Bremen with all their high-end non-flavored varieties (including their milk chocolate, which strictly speaking shouldn’t be mentioned here). One warning is, however, necessary: Hachez’s famous and widely exported 77% Cocoa d’Arriba comes in rather many varieties, not all of which are honoring the excellent standard of the “Classic” unflavored kind. Especially their chocolate with peanuts has an unbalanced, rough taste that reminds of old peanuts found between the cushions of the TV chair. The cocoa blend used in the d’Arriba chocolate is also not altogether compatible with the flavors of their mango and chili variety. One would wish the people of Hachez to reconsider their fancy experiments, or to offer several cocoa blends within this line to match their specialty recipes more closely.

This morning I was surprised by a kind I had never heard of: Malmö Chokladfabrik offers their own brand “1888”. The chocolate contains 70% cocoa, and apart from that only cocoa butter and cane sugar. It is fantastically smooth and has a very full flavor.

Not surprisingly, the high quality of the winners is a direct result of a more elaborate preparation. The Hachez conching process takes up to 72 hours according to their website, and also the Malmö factory needs “several days” to produce their “1888” chocolate.

Many other brands accept shortcuts in their production. Some of the results are quite depressing (funny, it’s chocolate after all). Low on the scale, to my personal taste, were:

– A few sandy, dusty pieces from the “Origins” line by the Danish factory Anton Berg. After three attempts in three distinct moods, I couldn’t face another bite and melted the rest of the bar into ice-cream topping, which – not surprisingly – still was sandy and dusty.

– the widely available Lindt “Excellence” chocolates. Most of the various kinds of this line are hard and sour, except for one that contains an overdose of vanilla, possibly to mask the taste.

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