Learn how to recognize the difference between high and low quality dark chocolate from a chocolate expert.
With so many types of chocolate on the market, it can be hard to tell which ones are high quality and which ones are not. Here, we ask Lindt Maître Chocolatier Thomas Schnetzler to break down what you should look out for when selecting and tasting dark chocolate.
1. Origin story
Like wine, chocolate’s flavour profile is linked to its growing region, so check where the cocoa beans come from (and if they were sourced sustainably). Madagascan cocoa beans offer subtle, balanced notes of vanilla, whereas Arriba beans from Ecuador are known for hints of jasmine and more earthy notes of espresso and burnt sugar.
2. The right roast
Roasting is a way to bring out the unique flavour of the cocoa bean. Lindt roasts only the cacao nibs at a low temperature, and this brings out delicious toasted notes. Lower quality chocolate producers may roast their beans quickly at a higher temperature, which can leave a burnt aftertaste.
3. It’s in the grind
Grinding is an essential step in creating chocolate’s fine melting texture. Lindt’s multi-step process starts with grinding the particles down to an almost microscopic size. Lindt then uses a conche to further stir the ingredients and blend them together for a fully rounded, robust flavour. Poorer quality chocolate has a coarser grind and the particles will be noticeable on the palate – this is a clear sign of rushed processing. Chocolate produced in this way will also melt unevenly.
4. Percentage matters
Simple is best when looking at a chocolate’s ingredient list. Watch out for vegetable fats other than cocoa butter, and choose chocolate with vanilla rather than the artificial vanillin. Also, check the percentage (this chart breaks it down) as dark chocolate only requires 35% cacao to be classified as a dark chocolate. So with varieties like Lindt Excellence 70% Cacao, Lindt doubles that and provides a much richer tasting experience.
5. Judge by appearances
High quality chocolate should have a smooth, glossy finish without looking artificial. For this appearance, the chocolate must be tempered so that the cacao and the cocoa butter cool together evenly. You can tell if chocolate has been tempered properly as it will appear glossy – without being overly shiny or matte – and each piece will break off with a crisp snap.