Recent Bars Recommended with Reservations
...or not at all. Craft chocolate is usually made by small businesses doing their best, so I hate to say anything negative. At the same time, there's no point in reviewing anything if you're not honest. I'd much rather you find a good craft chocolate bar and go on to buy many more than to have a bad one and decide you'll never spend that much on chocolate again.
Brazil Forastero 75%
Aroma: smells more like mass-produced chocolate, acidity
Flavor: some nice elements – pleasant but distinct acidity, brown sugar, fruity acidity, burned almond, a bit harsh.
Recommendation: Not recommended. Åkesson's makes excellent chocolate so this has more to do with the beans themselves than the maker. I recommend Åkesson's Madagascar bars.
Philippines Mana Single Estate 85%
Aroma: wood, cocoa shells, dusty, cocoa powder,
Flavor: A decent chocolately base flavor – chocolate cookies, cocoa powder, cooked plantain (fried, a little bit of a caramelly flavor). Also some unpleasant dry leaf/nut skin astringency, some distinct acetic acid sourness a bit out of balance with rest of flavor, and some dusty notes.
Recommendation: Recommended with reservations. There are some pleasant flavors, and a degree of intensity not unreasonable for an 85%, but also some noticeable acid and earthy dryness. I have had other great bars from Auro – the Paquibato, Tupi, and Saloy 70% bars – but this one is not be their best.
Batch info: Batch code C09AM-101413, Best by March 3, 2022
Aroma: Bold, ground spices, dusty cocoa powder
Flavor: A bold and unrefined style, with notes of grape, dried cherry, cranberry juice, and ginger. Also some biscuit notes as well as a slightly metallic and grassy taste like powdered sugar. Slightly gritty, some dryness.
Recommendation: Recommended with reservations. There are definitely some pleasant flavors here, and I like how their style keeps them bold and clear – not dulled by cocoa butter. However, the grassy/metallic notes - probably from the organic sugar – are slightly distracting, as is the gritty texture. Still, I’m curious to try more from Bixby.
Batch info: Best by February 10, 2021
Aroma: dusty, faint
Flavor: earth, coffee grounds, pleasant, peach, little acidity, little bitterness, vanilla, cream, hazelnut wafer cookies
Recommendation: Not recommended. I've had some very good bars from them, but this one is a bit flat.
Aroma: Old coconut, dark roasted almond
Flavor: Burned, lacking typical red fruit acidity, bitter, nutty, a little raspberry/vanilla at the end, super creamy.
Recommendation: Not recommended. I've had some very good bars from them, including a fantastic Madagascar bar. I'm not sure why this one is so different. Very disappointing.
Colombia Elizabeth 71%
I was excited to try this bar from Cacao Hunters since I’ve had several excellent bars from them, and this was a special collaboration with a farmer. It was distinctly astringent and a little chalky, like plantain and powdered sugar. Some red berry/cherry flavor and a cool, slightly menthol eucalyptus-like flavor.
Recommendation: I wouldn’t recommend this one, though everything else I’ve tried from Cacao Hunters has been fantastic.
Santa Maria Cahabón 72%
Flavor: At first there is some pleasant red fruit flavor, but it fades to chalky astringency with notes of black tea, wood, ash, and overripe fruit, a mix of dried cherry and cranberry. There is an unpleasant degree of bitterness. Very nice texture.
Recommendation: Not recommended (unfortunately, since the knot pattern on the bar is awesome!). I’m not really sure what’s going on; my suspicion is that there is an issue with the beans themselves because I’ve had another good bar (Ecuador) from this maker, and even on this one the texture is excellent. Possibly some fermentation issues.
Aroma: raisin, red wine
Flavor: Biscuity, molasses, panela, smoke, brownie edges, dry earth. Gritty texture - slightly dry and crumbly. A rubber flavor defect.
Recommendation: Not recommended. The presence of some good flavor notes and the beautiful bar design made me really want to like this bar. Indeed, there is a nice brownie flavor complemented by dark sugar notes, and the complexity increases nicely as it melts. However, there were also slight burnt and rubber notes that impacted the overall experience, though the finish was actually pretty nice.
Batch info: Batch no. 20097; Harvest: 2020; Best by November 2022
Aroma: anise, licorice, grape, unroasted cashew
Flavor: old grape, root beer, a little starchy, bland
Recommendation: Not recommended.
Batch info: Lot 00034; Best by March 2022
Don Miquesas 75%
Flavor: Mild but some odd flavors. Slightly rancid butter, saltiness, slightly starchy, pudding-like texture, something chemical. Noticeable defects. Cashew, seemed to mellow out over time.
Recommendation: Not recommended.
Short Process 70%
I cannot recommend this bar. A few years ago I had some fantastic Venezuela criollo bars from them, but I have heard from others in the craft chocolate world that Domori’s quality began to change after the company was bought by Illy, the Italian coffee giant. Apparently, there were changes to the roasting process that have resulting in over-roasted, homogenized flavor. That is certainly true of this bar.
The package says tree to bar, yet doesn’t list the origin of the cacao – that’s very odd. The package also says that they use low-impact processing – light roasting and no conching. For fine cacao, that can work really well to highlight the inherent flavors of the beans. In this case however, the cacao they used and their “low-impact” process still resulted in burnt, bitter, almost acrid flavors reminiscent of mass market dark chocolate. There is little nuance and the flavor is dominated by notes of over-roasted almond, over-ripe fruit, and dirt. This is an example of a multi-national company trying to exploit the craft market by advertising tree-to-bar chocolate.
Flavor: A few very mild pleasant notes of fruit like black currant/ blackberry, tea, coconut, also hay and coffee grounds. Dusty notes and a waxy quality. Low acidity, low bitterness, some tannins.
Recommendation: Opinions were divided. Some tasters liked the very mild profile; I found it to be bland to the point of being a defect. Possibly too much cocoa butter, off-flavors in the cocoa butter, or over refining. I know highly respected chocolate judges who like this company a lot, but personally I can’t recommend it.
Honduras Indio Rojo 72%
Aroma: biscuits, graham cracker, shortbread
Flavor: shortbread, biscuit, granola, A bit bland, mellow so its comes across quite sweet. A starchy, very slightly grainy texture. Saltine crackers.
Recommendation: One of our tasters loved it and thought it was wonderful; I’ve also heard some well-respected chocolate experts say they love this maker. I found it underwhelming though.
Batch info: Best before August 1, 2022; Batch no. 200604
Fresco Limited Edition
Venezuela Blend (Chuao, Ocumare, Carúpano Pintao) 72%
Medium Roast, Subtle Conche
Aroma: mild aroma, sourdough/grains
Flavor: mild, slight herbal note (faint), powdered sugar, faint raisin, coffee with milk, dark sugar.
Recommendation: Recommended with reservations. Not unpleasant but a little flat - a little dulled by the cocoa butter I think. Their Guatemala Polochic bars remain my favorite, and I would recommend those over this one.
Batch info: Batch 19-291; Best by November 2021
Dominican Republic Öko Caribe Light Roast Subtle Conche Recipe 212
Flavor: Definitely nice, one of the better DR bars I’ve had. Super smooth melt. Slight astringency like banana skin. Very grain-like/granola flavors. sunflower seeds, light roast is apparent in presence of seed flavors. Chocolate pudding. Dark honey, oats. A slight flat cardboard, maybe from the cocoa butter.
Recommendation: Recommended with reservations. A bit flat; I really love Fresco’s Guatemala bars.
Batch info: Batch 19-271; Best by June 2022
Aroma: Rich aroma, milk chocolate, strawberry, caramel, milk powder
Flavor: Mellow and creamy, almost like a milk chocolate. Also notes of tea leaves, dusty cocoa powder, and chamomile.
Recommendation: Recommended with reservations. Flavor is not unpleasant, but a bit flat. However, I think it would make an excellent drinking chocolate, and some people might really like the mildness. The attention given to sustainable farming practices and local investment is great to see.
Batch info: Batch ISL361; Best before June 15, 2022
Jasper & Myrtle
Flavor: Dusty, earthy, lack of complexity. Like smartie’s candy – chalky powdered sugar taste. Bitter, flat.
Recommendation: Not recommended. Was ok as a chocolate mousse though.
Aroma: grape bubble gum
Flavor: Powdered sugar, earthy bitterness, brandy, grape bubble gum. Unique grape notes. A little astringent.
Recommendation: Not recommended. Not badly made, but not my favorite Ecuador bar. Ecuador beans can be quite tricky; they can have everything from a lovely floral and sourdough bread profile to a very earthy, kind of metallic flavor (I assume that is mostly in CCN-51 beans, a high-yielding hybrid variety described as having a flavor reminiscent of “acidic dirt”). This bar isn’t bad; I think it was well made, but that the beans are a little heavy on the earthy and astringent notes. Beautifully molded bar though. Their Vietnam bar was good.
Ecuador Cayapas River 72%
Flavor: There was some good flavor muted by dryness. It was not complex, though the main nice note was pleasant. A bit chalky.
Recommendation: Not recommended. This was just ok, overall.
Flavor: First apparent is the noticeable sourness. Notes of peanut butter, sour cherry jam, vanilla, soil/earthy. Distinct back of tongue bitterness is the main aftertaste, along with unripe fruit-like astringency.
Recommendation: Not recommended, even considering the higher cacao percentage.
Belize Maya Mountain 70%
Flavor: Flavor: Pleasant acidity, honey, chocolate sauce/brownie, vanilla, chocolate frosting, black cherry, Nutella; Reminiscent of the cherry and dark fruit flavors of some other Belize bars.
Recommendation: Not recommended. It’s an interesting bar. I noticed some potential defects, though. Maybe over-roasted a little, some stale coconut flavors, almost a commercial dark chocolate type flavor. Not bad but I would recommend other Belize bars over this one.
I find Naïve’s chocolate pretty variable in flavor quality. Their DRC nano-lot as well as their Jaguar Cacao and Cacao Pulp bars were quite good, but both recent Colombia nano-lots were, frankly, bad. I think they are worth trying as a company – they make some good chocolate, and offer unique inclusions. But I would advise caution when ordering the nano-lots because they are expensive - not necessarily unreasonably so - but hit-or-miss in terms of taste. The Colombia Patiburrú is unfortunately a miss (across a panel of four tasters).
Flavor: Dusty astringence like powdered tea leaves in a way that is distracting from the flavor, which, unfortunately, is not good either. The flavor is flat, vegetal, acidic, and bitter, with notes of banana candy, earth, powdered sugar, and an odd herbal note like wintergreen. The texture is starchy, chalky, and very dry.
Recommendation: Not recommended. Disappointing.
Batch info: Best before December 21, 2022
Colombia Hacienda Betulia B9
I find Naïve’s chocolate pretty variable in flavor quality. Their DRC nano-lot as well as their Jaguar Cacao and Cacao Pulp bars were quite good, but both recent Colombia nano-lots were, frankly, bad. They are worth trying as a company – they make some good chocolate, and offer unique inclusions. But I would advise caution when ordering the nano-lots because they are expensive - not necessarily unreasonably so - but hit-or-miss in terms of taste.
Flavor: A little rough in texture, and soft, not ideal. Light in color, a few pleasant notes of sesame, tahini cookies, distinct astringency, melts fast, gritty. The whole beans had a distinct acetone note and a lingering medicinal/aspirin taste.
Recommendation: Not recommended, unfortunately. Naïve does interesting things with cacao and finds some unique origins, but I find their nano lots to be highly variable.
Batch info: Best before September 29, 2022
Aroma: dusty, old paper
Flavor: honey, raisin, molasses, leather, rubber
Recommendation: Not recommended. This is completely inedible. I tried it in 2021 so perhaps things have improved since then.
Mexico Tabasco 74%
Flavor: Very mellow. Cherry, almond extract, macadamia nut, biscuit.
Recommendation: Not bad, but a bit flat. The cherry and almond extract flavors are unique and pleasant, but overall I don’t get a lot of depth or complexity from this bar.
Batch info: No batch info
El Salvador Cuyancúa 72%
Aroma: faint; dry leaves
Flavor: Distinct dry leaves, Mineral, dry leaves, dry wood, very faint hint of red fruit
Recommendation: Recommended with reservations – with slow tasting that allows the chocolate to fully melt, there are some pleasant flavors, and an interesting interplay of mineral notes. It’s also a hard-to-find origin, so craft chocolate fans might enjoy the uniqueness. In and of itself, it’s not my favorite flavor profile, but not unpleasant.
Batch info: Best before June 1, 2022; Batch no. 302LC013
Peru Marañón 77%
Flavor: Super smooth, buttery texture, but astringency dominates the experience. Macadamia nut/heavy creamy richness, cherve, yogurt, unroasted nuts, but a strong black tea dryness.
Recommendation: Not recommended. There is a lot of potential here – great texture and some good flavor notes – but the astringency is way out of balance. I look forward to trying Violet Sky again in the future to see if that element has been improved.
Tanzania Kilombero Valley 73%
Flavor: Slightly grainy, warm, graham crackers, cardboard, powdered sugar, starchy. Whole grains/ bran. When chewed, some restrained red fruit flavors like dried raspberry. A bit of a dusty flat flavor
Recommendation: Recommended with reservations. Not the best example of this origin, which can offer a great red fruit flavor profile similar to Madagascar. Certainly not unpleasant though, and this origin can be variable.
Batch info: Batch no. 6; Best by February 1, 2022