Friday, December 31, 2010

2010 Chocolate Summary

2010 is coming to a close tonight, officially marking the end of my first calendar year of chocolate connoisseurship. It is weird how my favoring these dark little confections has blossomed out into such a beloved hobby as this. When I first started eating dark chocolate I did it virtually only for medicinal reasons: I was having sugar cravings from my adjusting to the paleo diet, so I was utilizing dark chocolate as a healthy alternative. Green & Black's left quite a bitter taste in my mouth and I didn't like it, but I compelled myself to go on. In almost no time at all I developed a palate for it and continued buying and exploring the different chocolates regardless of the fact my sugar cravings had largely ceased. Somewhere in that period I started posting miniature summaries of the chocolates I was eating on my Facebook profile, and for whatever reason I continued doing it since I enjoyed it. Eventually I eloped here for the audience and lack of word limits, and I've gotten increasingly better at my tasting. Now my tasting has gotten to the point where I'm contemplating as to whether or not this may have an impact on my future career goals, as I have no plans to cease this hobby; only to get better.

While I may be only benefiting through the use of Amazon Associates and Google Ads, I feel somewhat like a businessman when I construct my reviews. The monetary rewards may be very small, but I worry all the time about my honesty and work to the best of my ability to make sure I'm making the best and most just estimates I can of what I'm eating. I not only don't want you to waste your money, but I also don't want chocolate companies to be cheated of business they deserve. After all, by inadequately or unjustly stating my estimate of a chocolate I may not only deprive you of a value, but also deal an undeserved punishment upon the companies I'm reviewing and possibly contribute to the destruction of the varieties I enjoy. In considering my honesty I try to stake my reputation on every word: I take things very seriously.

However much you have enjoyed my past reviews, I have yet to live up to my own expectations. There's still so much I can improve on, in my tasting, contemplation, note-taking, article writing, and more. Usually I am against New Year's resolutions since I think it's foolish to hold off one's self-improvement until then, but I see now that this time of year can be good for putting things into perspective. While it's best to allow for self-improvement at any time in the year, I will take it upon myself to take advantage of this seasonal perspective by setting some medium-term goals, which I'll elaborate on a little later down. Self-improvement may be a tired phrase on this blog, but I like to view myself as a being with limitless potential, thereby negating any possible limit on self-improvement.

While I don't know how long I'll be blogging at this particular location -- certainly a long time at least -- I do know that I intend to make this kind of post a regular tradition each year on the last day. The purpose of this type of article is to sum up my thoughts on all the published chocolate tasting I did for the year, to bring back to mind old posts, gather old material into one place, and so on. Most importantly, I would like to take the opportunity to make clear if I changed my mind on something or have found a better way to express my thoughts, thereby improving my chances at being just. However, I won't be listing all the chocolate tasting I did: absent from this collection will be the most boring chocolates which hardly elicited a response from me. Included in this entry will only be the best (the ones you must try), my personal favorites, all the lesser ones still worthy of enjoyment, and the worst ones you ought to avoid.

Let's get on with it then. Here's the summary of my chocolate connoisseurship for 2010:

* * * * *

1.) Best Stand-Alones: For a long time now I've been calling chocolate that doesn't include any flavor integrations as "plain" chocolate, but isn't that inherently insulting? Unadorned chocolate can certainly have depth and complexity on its own without any help whatsoever, so from now on I'll call pure chocolate products as "stand-alone" chocolate. Here's what I think were the best for this year:

* Green & Black's 85% cocoa: This may in fact be the very first dark chocolate I've ever eaten. It was pretty bitter then, but now that my palate has adjusted I'm surprised at how luscious this thing is. Great aroma of drinking cocoa, a warm glow in its body, and a almost liquid mouthfeel.

* Godiva's 85% cacao Santo Domingo Single-origin: Due to expense this was the first and only single-origin chocolate I've tried and reviewed, but what a first impression! The fruit notes are super strong. Unfortunately, it seems to still be out of production, so you'll have to keep your eye out for leftover stock in stores. Build a stash!

* Lindt's 90% cocoa: Not as great as G & B's 85%, but much more affordable and still plenty good. The mouthfeel is smooth and the flavor players get along like the best of friends.

2.) Best Integrations: Chocolate does not always need to play by itself. Combining it with other players can serve well to add dimension. Balance the qualities and depth just right and an amazingly complex chocolate results, one that demands the full use of your intellect to enjoy. Here are my picks for this year:

* Dagoba's 74% cacao Xocolatl: This chocolate is simply beautiful in every way. A masculine aroma, a pleasant fluctuation between fruity sugariness and woodsy savoriness, and a heat that sticks. Deep, complex, beautiful -- just a great chocolate to concentrate all your attention on.

* Endangered Species' 72% cocoa with mint: Mint is my favorite herb right now, so I list this with some prejudice. I just love how refreshing it is. The cocoa and mint notes practically equal each other in intensity, so the experience is quite impressionable.

3.) Personal Favorites: I may judge one chocolate as objectively superior to another, but it can still be the case that I value other varieties more. My taste buds are wired one way, yours another. Here are my absolute favorites for the year:

* Endangered Species' 72% cocoa with mint: I love it most when mint makes me feel as if a cold air were circulating in the vessels of my brain. How much more deeply refreshing can you get? This bar is hands-down very nearly at the top of my hierarchy. 

* Green & Black's 85% cocoa: The flavor profile is virtually identical to Lindt's 90%, but the stupendous mouthfeel puts it over the top. I especially love how the vanilla is a very strong player here in contrast to the hidden stagehand I've found it to be in other varieties.

* Godiva's 85% cacao Santo Domingo Single-origin: This is only my first exposure to single-origin chocolate, but I know now that I must take to finding other brands of this special type of cacao. The flavors all blend together in such a unique way that might be unobtainable to simply blending the elements in different forms, like dried fruit.

* Dagoba 74% cacao Superfruit: The tone fluctuation is weird, but the crumbly-sticky texture is a nice twist on the mouthfeel. Additionally, I favor this bar for just how well it puts acai berries on display, a berry that is far too neglected in chocolate.

* Theo's 70% cacao orange: The balance is what makes it for me in this bar. The orange is plenty assertive enough, but it plays backup to the dominant chocolate, which I view to be a good thing. This bar may be horribly ugly, but its mouthfeel and flavor more than make up for it.

4.) Worthy: I actually have a list that tracks which chocolates I value, so that I may keep track of them, and I segregate them largely into two groups: those I like and those I love. Those I love are the ones I want to consume regularly and have on hand as much as possible, even go so far as to buy in bulk; those I like are the ones I would consistently enjoy eating, but not enough to do so often. Here are my picks for the year that I think are well worthy of your pleasure, but maybe not to the point of stacking them high in the pantry:

* Endangered Specie's 72% cocoa with raspberries: This is my first review. I have to admit I'm slightly embarrassed, as I can see how amateur I was before I had begun developing my tasting skills. Nonetheless I still stick by what I say: The tartness may be more mild then I'd like it to be, but it's still there to pleasure. Also, the spotty pinkness of the fruit flesh reminds me fondly of beautiful women.

* Endangered Species' 72% cocoa with cacao nibs: The first time I ever had cacao nibs. Somewhat of a weak exposure, but I enjoyed the crispy texture and hazelnut aftertaste.

* Lindt's 85% cocoa: Yes, it has but 5% less cocoa than Lindt's 90%, but it makes a difference. Its mouthfeel offers a slower melt and the vanilla note doesn't seem to be totally fused with the cocoa. Regardless, it's still good; just not as good. The comparison is only in degrees here.

* Ghirardelli's 100% cacao baking bar: The first baking chocolate I've ever eaten. Delightfully bitter, and positively my favorite delivery device for nut butter. This bar's great virtue is its ease of handling: It's easy to break off from the bar or to bite directly from it.

* Hershey's 100% cacao baking bar: Hershey's is actually composed  of both cacao and cocoa, the latter of which is chocolate that has undergone certain processing. I theorize that this is why this bar is less bitter than Ghirardelli. It might be enjoyable to those who don't totally enjoy the bitterness of cacao, and it's a little cheaper too.

* Baker's 100% cacao baking squares: This is just as bitter as Ghirardelli's, only it's much cheaper and harder to handle. For those with considerable budget concerns this may be the best option, but keep in mind it is much denser and harder to eat. I enjoy it, but it throws the chocolate:nut butter ratio off when I use it for dipping.

* Dagoba's 74% cacao Beaucoup Berries: Nice and fruity, not to mention crumbly, but the vanilla is too weak to be worthy of advertisement.

5.) Worst of 2010: Very luckily, I have rarely come across a chocolate that I would classify as bad. Even if my experience was unpleasant I still got the enjoyment of the tasting and review, thus making it worth my money anyhow. The most common occurrence is that I'll come across something that's simply boring and easily forgettable: No worse, no better. However, there have been a handful that I've considered terrible flops, ones I would encourage you not even to indulge a curiosity and try. Unless they change the recipe and warrant a new review from me, here's what I consider the must-avoids of 2010:   

* Endangered Species' 70% cocoa with goji berry, pecans, and maca: I feel guilty for how I wrote this review, as I tried too much to ignore my own perspective in order to make this seem like it would be valuable to someone else, which I see now was dishonest. Simply put: this was awful. The flavors fuse together monstrously, losing their individuality and making for a sickeningly sweet intensity. It was either this one or the one below (or maybe both), but I remember eating only half of the bar and procrastinating for several days on finishing it. I think I eventually just threw the rest away since I couldn't bare to taste it again.

* Endangered Species' 70% cocoa with cacao nibs, yacon, and acai: Virtually the same as above: Sickeningly sweet and no detectable individuality amongst the players. I've learned from this and the above review that I must be totally honest in my evaluation and not pussy-foot on my estimate in hopes that I might make it somehow sound palatable to someone. I have only my own tastebuds, so that is the only perspective I should give you; it was foolish of me to think I could guess other people's. This chocolate is just plain terrible.

* Theo's 70% cacao mint: I love mint -- which is why this such a huge disappointment. The mint intensity is okay, but the chocolate is weak and there's a note of rye! Sure, not bad enough to invoke disgust, but this variety is still an outright absurdity. Not one to provide herbal refreshment.

* Valor's 70% cocoa banana: I haven't reviewed this bar -- and I refuse to. I ate it before my connoisseurship really blossomed into a hobby, and to date this remains the biggest disappointment I have ever suffered in chocolate eating. Bananas and chocolate seem like such a perfect combination, one I would desperately like chocolate companies to make work, but this was chalky and tasted of stale bananas soaked in beer. I distinctly remember my throat being sore and stomach being irritated afterwards as well, which I attribute to the added fructose. This bar is absolutely the biggest let-down of the year, and almost makes me leery of trying any more of Valor's line.

* * * * *

I'm proud of the effort I've put forth this year, but I am far from content. This may be only a hobby as of right now, but I do take it seriously and intend to continue improving myself in this field. No, it's not for the prospect of earning more via Amazon Associates or having people increasingly visit my site, but rather to continue advancing me forward in my chosen central purpose in life to become a culinary entrepreneur. My connoisseurship is a facet of my aims, not some side-pursuit serving to give me a break from it. I'd like to achieve professional competence in this field, and become the greatest I can with my own faculties. Whether or not this all has any professional significance in my life in the long-run is virtually irrelevant; it's about striving to be the best I can in what I love.

My yearly goals will not be something I'll carelessly state and promptly forget. The cultivation of my abilities is not a light matter, so I'll be taking care to have a document of all my goals for the year and will constantly reference it for daily guidance, as well as establish some markers which will indicate my progress on each goal. Now, what will I aim to do this year?

1.) Establish an original layout for this blog: I've long been unsatisfied with what pre-made templates are available to pick and choose from, which I believe contributes negatively to how my content is viewed. Additionally, I have no skills in constructing internet aesthetics, so I can't take it upon myself to break out an editor and change the layout with any expertise. Given the pursuits in my life I have no real interest in gathering such skills in the future (though may change my mind), so most likely I'll commission someone to do it for me. I'd like to do this in order to give my writing a more professional appearance.

2.) Improve my writing skills: I may not desire to be a professional writer any more, but writing will always play a significant role in my life. Every single one of my chocolate reviews strikes me as awkward in some way, especially the start of the piece and the transition between attribute considerations. I may relay the facts of my interpretation well, but in such bad style! I may choose to do more than this in the future, but for right now I think the purchase and use of a computer printer would works wonders. Editing on my computer just isn't all that effective: I do my best when I'm dealing with a physical copy. Up until now I've needed no such thing as a printer and the library is a burden to constantly drive to, so it's long overdue I get one for my own use.

3.) Buy a camera and begin practicing food photography: This is the most drastic change I wish to make. Whether I'm writing a chocolate review or about a new recipe I tried, it would contribute a lot to the experience if I could take photographs of what it is I'm eating, and I mean good ones. I don't intend on just taking johnny-on-the-spot photos of my practice with a camera phone, but rather actually working to develop food photography skills with quality equipment. If I ate a good chocolate or made a good soup, wouldn't it be great to be able to advertise that to you? It would be relevant not only for my blog, but for my future goals as well. Take, for instance, practicing taking photos in order to construct my own restaurant menu images.

To put things in a rough hierarchy, I'd like to work on my writing skills and buy that printer first, buy the camera and begin photography practice second, and squeeze in the blog template reconstruction whenever. Tracking these goals will be easy, since it'll mainly involve saving up my finances until I can afford what I want. As for what goals I'll set for photography practice, I'll cross that bridge when I get there.

I won't always be talking about these goals, but you can be sure I'm keeping track of them and working on them consistently. My sole aim in life is to become as great as I can be.


  1. The Lindt 85% and 90% deliver a lot for the price. I pay something like $2.25 a bar for them at Target and Wal-Mart. Have you tried their 70% with sea salt?

  2. No, I'm afraid I haven't tried that variety yet. I'll put it on my list for future consideration.

  3. I like the Green & Black chili flavor better than the Dagoba. I think it's called Mayan Gold. Best chocolate ever.


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