What do you mean, It's not classical music? It's classic chocolate; same thing. Besides, a person has to have something to nibble on while listening to good music.
Last updated: November 13, 2013.
Understand, however, that I am not a chocolatier (I neither make nor sell chocolate) nor a chocolate authority (I do not profess to be an expert on the subject of chocolate or chocolate making) any more than I am a professional musician or musical authority. I am simply a person of a mature age who has spent a lifetime eating chocolate and listening to classical music. What you get here is exactly what you get with my music reviews: the opinions of one who loves the subject and has been lucky enough and lived long enough to experience a good deal of it.
Understand, too, that the following brief comments pertain to dark chocolate only, not milk chocolate or fruit-flavored chocolate or nut-filled chocolate or fancy filled chocolate. A guy's got to have standards, after all, and mine apply to straightforward dark chocolate only, in commercially available products, mostly chocolate bars. (Since my youth, I always considered milk chocolate "sissy chocolate." Like it or not, the rather juvenile appellation has always stuck with me, and I still don't care much for it.)
Now, a word about how to eat fine, dark chocolate. OK, I know that sounds pretentious, telling someone how to eat, but let me at least explain how I've learned to eat my chocolate. The first thing is not to eat too much at a time. Like anything really good, a little moderation is in order. I eat only a segment of a bar a day, meaning that a single chocolate bar might last me four or five days. Second, biting off only a small bit at a time helps, savoring the aroma and letting the candy melt on the tongue for maximum release of flavors. In other words, I do not advise gulping down an entire gourmet chocolate bar in a single sitting.
Anyway, my list is nowhere near complete (there are only so many candy bars available to a person, even in a lifetime of eating), nor do I mean it to be anything like comprehensive. It is simply a starting place for considering the taste, texture, and fragrance of good chocolate. I've numbered my ratings from 1-10, the higher numbers indicating the more I liked the chocolate, with 5's and 6's being average and slightly above average. And I've rank ordered my list with the products I like most at the beginning. So, let's start.
Chocolat Bonnat El Rosario: Here you'll find an ultrasmooth chocolate, not too intense yet crisp and deep, with a soft bouquet. Yes, I know that sounds a little like a snobby wine connoisseur describing a fine wine, but it's much the same thing. Chocolat Bonnat is a company that does, indeed, make fine, connoisseur chocolate. Just don't expect to find it in your local grocery store or corner market (I could only find it on-line). It's not only good, it's expensive. Remember when you were a kid and bought a Hershey bar for a dime? A Chocolat Bonnat bar will cost you approximately 80 to 200+ times that. Still, spending eight or fifteen or twenty-odd dollars on a single candy bar might be worth it for that special occasion. I mean, it might be fun to say you've done it just once; then you can rant and rave about how overpriced and overrated the chocolate is. 10/10
Amedei 9: The number "9" bar from Amedei tastes intensely of chocolate while being smooth, crisp, and creamy, almost as delicious as the Bonnat El Rosario. It's also remarkably pricey but maybe worth it for the taste, if, again, only once. 9/10
Chocolat Bonnat Madagascar: I confess a predilection for beans from Madagascar. One thing you learn fast from tasting different chocolate bars is that cacao beans from different areas of the world do produce different-tasting cocoa and chocolate. The "Madagascar" from Chocolat Bonnat is just as smooth, creamy, and intense as the preceding two bars but adds a fruitier flavor as well. Expect to pay the price. 9/10
Amedei Porcelana: Again, very expensive, about $16.00 a bar at the time of this writing. However, it's just as profound, just as smooth, just as crisp, and just as creamy as the preceding bars, and many people will prefer it to any chocolate. Note, also, that most of the companies in this survey make a variety of dark-chocolate products, and I have covered only a representative sample from each outfit. 9/10
Haunted by Chocolate 70% Drops: A brief disclaimer: Loyd Auerbach, a self-described "chocolate maven" who makes this chocolate and sells it through his own Web site (http://www.hauntedbychocolate.com/), is a friend of mine. He calls his chocolate drops "Haunted by Chocolate" because in his other life he's a parapsychologist, a real-life ghostbuster who teaches, writes about, and investigates the paranormal. His chocolate tastes wonderfully balanced, very chocolatey but not too deep or concentrated to turn off fledgling chocolate lovers. 8/10
Michel Cluizel Noir au Grué de Cacao: A dark chocolate with cocoa bean pieces, this bar has a lighter flavor and aroma than most Michel Cluizel chocolates, but the cocoa pieces make up for it. The more I taste it, the more I like it. 8/10
Michel Cluizel Mangaro: With the Michel Cluizel label we get down to a more-affordable price level, although at about $6.00+ a bar it's still well above the average of a grocery-store product. Their Mangaro dark chocolate, with a 65% cocoa content, has a light coffee taste well balanced with a sweet, fruity flavor that's pretty hard to resist. 8/10
L'Amourette Chocolat Noir Carenero Superior 75%: The chocolate is ultrasmooth, slightly sweet, flavorful, with only a light chocolate scent but a deep chocolatey taste. It's easy to like and has quickly become one of my favorite bars. This San Francisco-based company makes a number of fine chocolates, which also includes a delicious 75% Cacao Rio Caribe Superior. Highly recommended. 8/10
Recchiuti Bittersweet and Semisweet: Recchiuti makes several dark, intense, bittersweet and semisweet chocolate bars, yet, almost incredibly, they are not bitter or sour or tart but mellow and acute. I wouldn't recommend a Recchiuti bar as a starting place for beginners, but for anyone who already loves dark chocolate and hasn't already discovered it, it's great. 8/10
Cachet Costa Rica 71%: This Belgian dark chocolate has a silky smooth texture and a slightly sweet chocolaty taste, with an equally pleasant, light chocolatey aroma. It's really easy to enjoy, I would imagine for both non-chocolate lovers and chocolate lovers alike. 8/10
Cachet Uganda 80%: Like the 71% above, this dark chocolate has a silky smooth texture and a pleasant, though more intense, chocolaty taste, with an equally pleasant chocolatey aroma. It took me a while to get to like it, but once I did, I have readily come back for more. 7/10
Amano Madagascar: Amano makes small, delicately balanced, gourmet chocolate bars, the Madagascar has a tad less bite than their Ocumare or Dos Rios (see below) bars, with a strong but pleasantly chocolatey taste and a sweet bouquet. 7/10
Green & Black's Organic Dark Chocolate: Considering that this bittersweet chocolate contains no more than 70% cacao, it tastes much darker. Perhaps it's because Green & Black use less sugar (organic raw cane sugar) than most brands, I don't know. Anyway, it's very deep, very chocolatey, with a pleasantly mild chocolate aroma and a smoothness than melts on your tongue. 7/10
B.T. McElrath Dark Chocolate Bar: You find a slick, ultrasmooth texture here, with a taste sweeter than it is intense. It's a flavorful bar, though with little-to-no aroma. Call it a dark chocolate bar for people who say they don't like dark chocolate. 7/10
Alter Eco Dark Blackout: If you like an intensely dark taste, this 85% organic, bittersweet bar is a great buy. It's not only deeply chocolatey, it has a slightly fruity flavor and an ultrasmooth texture. 7/10
Villars Dark Chocolate 72%: This Swiss chocolate boasts of its all-natural ingredients, with no additives or artificial flavors, and they seem to be on to something. It is quite good, with a deep chocolatey taste, a smooth texture, and a mild aroma. 7/10
Michel Cluizel Maralumi: There's a faint, tangy, bitter taste about Michel Cluizel's Maralumi chocolate, yet its fruity flavor overcomes any thought of a sour sensation. 7/10
Amatller 70% Cacao Ghana or Ecuador: These Amatller dark chocolates have a bolder, tangier taste than their Extra Fine, with a hint of coffee in a slightly coarser texture. 7/10
Madecasse 70% Madagascar: These bars have an excellent symmetry, with a refined, semisweet chocolatey taste and a light, nutty aroma. They're priced fairly, too. (They also make a 75%, which is a little coarser and more bitter to my taste.) 7/10
Rausch Plantation Tobago Premium Dark Chocolate: With 75% cocoa from their Tobago plantation, this dark chocolate has a distinctive taste and aroma. I'm not sure if the word "Tobago" subconsciously made me think of tobacco, but, indeed, the chocolate seemed to have a mild tobacco flavor and smell. Although I do not smoke, I found the qualities pleasant enough, with an aftertaste that stayed with me for a good hour after I'd eaten it. 7/10
Fearless Midnight Deep & Dark: The ingredients list 75% organic Brazilian cacao and organic rapadura (unrefined whole cane sugar). The candy's texture is finely coarse and melts freely on the tongue, and its aroma is pleasantly fragrant of chocolate. However, for me its taste was too strong, too sharp, too bitter. Perhaps a touch more of that rapadura would have made all the difference. 6/10
Amatller 70% Extra Fine: This one may be a controversial choice. I like Amatller's Extra Fine dark chocolate more for its texture, which is luxuriously smooth, than its chocolate taste, which is sort of on the plain side except for a very faint nutty flavor. I also like the size and shape of the bar itself and its beautiful art nouveau packaging. 6/10
Michel Cluizel Noir de Cacao 72%: This chocolate has a light, smooth, creamy flavor, not as intense, though, as the company's Mangaro, which I prefer. 6/10
Michel Cluizel Vila Gracinda: A pleasantly light aroma characterizes this chocolate, complementing a lightly bittersweet taste. 6/10
Republica del Cacao Manabi: All of the Republica del Cacao chocolate bars I've sampled have a very heavy scent of spices, a bouquet you can practically smell from a room away. They are also quite light on the tongue, melting nicely as their aroma spreads. The Manabi is a bit sweeter than most of the other products in their line, with a faintly pungent taste. 6/10
Burie Dark Chocolate: It's hard to beat Belgium chocolate, and the Burie company of Antwerp has been producing it forever. The texture is creamy smooth, the aroma light, the chocolaty taste quite fine. 6/10
Moonstruck Fortunato No. 4: A Peruvian single-origin dark chocolate, 68% cacao, this Moonstruck chocolate has an ultrasmooth texture that takes a moment on the tongue to melt and reveal its flavor. It has a dark chocolatey taste all right, yet mildly sweet, with just touch of floral bouquet (although, for that matter, not much aroma, floral or not). It's worth a sampling, even if it's not cheap. 6/10
JCOCO Noble Dark 72%: The best thing about this chocolate is the aroma, which is gentle and sweet, very alluring. The fairly smooth, chocolatey taste helps, too. 6/10
Lindt Excellence 70% Smooth Dark: Lindt & Sprüngli is one of the world's biggest and oldest chocolate companies, and their Excellence series of dark chocolates are all good values. This one is just what the name suggests: smooth, dark, semisweet, with a touch of fruit flavor. The bars also feel, unaccountably, cooler than most to the touch, perhaps because of their thin size. This and the Ghirardelli Twilight Delight below are the safest dark chocolates you can recommend to friends because they're good, they're easily available, and they're not too intense. 6/10
Ghirardelli Twilight Delight 72%: Ghirardelli is a long-established San Francisco chocolate maker, and this is one of their better creations: light, crisp, dark, fine, if a bit short on actual character. 6/10
E. Guittard Quetzalcoatl 72% Cacao: The E. Guittard company, another long-standing San Francisco Bay Area chocolate maker, produces a variety of dark-chocolate bars, among the better ones being the Quetzalcoatl. It is not entirely a "gourmet" chocolate in the exact sense, but it does have a distinctive chocolate flavor in a slightly coarse texture. 6/10
Nirvana Organic 72% Belgian Dark Chocolate: Every gourmet dark-chocolate bar derives its flavor from the unique cocoa beans it uses, these Trinitario beans coming from the Dominican Republic. While the texture is ultrasmooth, the aroma is nil, and the taste is one you have to get used to. It's not exactly a traditional chocolate flavor, not coffee-like or spicy, either, but a tangy, smoky taste. Interesting to say the least. 6/10
Hachez Cacao D'Arriba: Like several other brands, this one I enjoyed as much for its smooth feel as for its taste, which is a bit on the bland side. 6/10
Theo Organic Fair Trade Ultimate Dark: Made in Seattle, Washington, with 85% cacao, this one is for lovers of really dark, extra-intense chocolate. It has a deep chocolate taste without being too bitter, a pleasantly mild aroma, a smooth texture, and slightly roasted overall character. If I happened to like extra-dark chocolate (above 75%), I'd give it an even higher score. 6/10
Venchi Extra Dark Chocolate 75%: Venchi is one of Italy's oldest gourmet chocolate makers, taking pride in their all-natural ingredients. Here we find a product that is very rich, very dark, and very smooth, with a fruity, tangy taste but almost no bouquet. The problem I had with it, though, is that it doesn't seem to taste all that much of chocolate. 6/10
Equal Exchange Organic Panama Extra Dark: Produced in Switzerland from Panamanian beans, this extra-dark, 80% cacao bar isn't bad. Unlike many bittersweet chocolates, this one is really quite mild, with a sweet, chocolatey flavor and smell. 6/10
Santander Colombian: A distinct coffee flavor and scent highlight this moderately smooth chocolate. If you like coffee, you'll probably like this "Dark chocolate 100% Colombian expresso coffee" bar, and you can kick the rating up a notch or so. I don't care much for coffee and thus my personal rating. 6/10
Perugina 70% Bittersweet Chocolate: This is an odd one with a taste all its own. You'll either love it or hate, but it's hard to be indifferent about it. Personally, I don't find it tasting enough of chocolate but rather of flavorings. I dunno. Still, it's good. 5/10
Divine 70% Dark Chocolate: From Ghana beans we get a delicate chocolatey taste, starting sweet but ending as it melts a tad bitter. A modest bouquet complements the flavor. 5/10
Spokandy 70% Dark Chocolate: As the name implies, this is a candy bar made in Spokane, Washington, and in 2013 the company celebrated their one-hundredth birthday. So, they've been around. Their 70% dark chocolate bar has a slight but pleasant aroma and a light, sweet, smooth, pleasant chocolate flavor. Beyond that, however, it's somewhat nondescript. It's kind of a middle-of-the-roader here. 5/10
Michel Cluizel Los Ancones: This seemed lighter and chewier to me than the other Michel Cluizel bars I've sampled, yet it still possesses a distinctive flavor of fruits and flowers. 5/10
Amano Dos Rios: Despite its reputation (and cost), I didn't appreciate this bar as much as I had hoped I would. Its slightly bitter, excessively strong flavor sort of turned me away. 5/10
Dagoba Organic Dark: This chocolate wins lots of awards, but I could never find it quite chocolatey enough. It's still pretty good, just not very exciting and a little too bitter for my taste. 5/10
Safeway Select Extra Dark Bittersweet Chocolate: For a grocery-store chocolate bar (made in Switzerland), it's not bad. However, its 78% cacao level can, indeed, be a bit "bittersweet," so expect a deep, tangy, somewhat bitter taste, a medium-smooth texture, and a mild aroma. 5/10
Lake Champlain Dark Chocolate Sao Thome 70%: Here we find a fine, grainy, yet smooth texture, a very light aroma, and a slightly fruity dark chocolate taste. 5/10
Bissinger's Dark 75%: This one has a decent chocolatey taste, yet it's somewhat lacking in associated flavors and aromas. 5/10
Republica del Cacao Los Rios: If you like rich, spicy, aromatic, faintly cinnamon-tasting chocolate, this is your ticket. For me, I prefer primarily a chocolate taste. 5/10
Republica del Cacao Esmeraldes: Here again we find a crisp, spicy, aromatic chocolate, possibly the ultimate for many chocolate lovers but a bit too acute for my taste. 5/10
Republica del Cacao El Ora: Over the years I've kept going back to various Republica del Cacao products even though I don't favor their overly robust taste. This one was definitely too spicy and crisp for me, but it's certainly an individual choice. 5/10
Endangered Species Natural Dark Chocolate with Cacao Nibs: Nothing much to complain about here except any distinctive flavor or aroma of its own. The cacao nibs are very small but give the chocolate a little more texture and "bite." 5/10
Alce Nero Extra Dark Chocolate: This one seems to do everything right. It's organic; it uses 71% cocoa from Costa Rica; it uses cane sugar; it uses nothing artificial; and it's all put together in Switzerland "by an ancient chocolate master." Yet its taste is rather bland and its aroma nonexistent. Go figure. 5/10
Ghirardelli Intense Dark Cabernet Matinee: Ghirardelli added "a hint of natural blackberry and cabernet flavor" to their dark chocolate. Although a lot of folks who like flavored chocolate may love the result, I found it too sweet, rather like eating chocolate-covered cherries. 5/10
Chocolove Extra Strong 77% Cocoa: It has a wonderfully smooth texture and a very low melting point, meaning it dissolves on the tongue quickly. The taste, however, is only moderately deep, given the cocoa content, and there is little or no aroma involved. 5/10
Hershey's Extra Dark 60%: The folks at Hershey have been experimenting for the past decade with various gourmet chocolate bars, this current one as good as any they're produced. It has an ultralight, whipped, and creamy essence, if not particularly strong on chocolate flavor. 5/10
TCHO Dark Chocolate "Chocolatey" 70%: There's a decent chocolate taste here, to be sure, but it's not particularly pronounced, nor are the bar's texture or aroma. In all, it's good but somewhat bland. 5/10
Dove Silky Smooth 71% Cacao Dark Chocolate: Neither here nor there. It's dark chocolate, not much more, with little texture, bite, aroma, or associated flavors. 4/10
Good & Delish MidKnight Premium Dark: Walgreens distributes this 70% German chocolate bar, which has a cool, velvety smooth texture but not a lot of chocolate taste or aroma. 4/10
Jelina Chocolatier Noir Dark: 72% cacao helps, but the first bar I bought was so hard, I had trouble just biting into it. Thinking it might have been on the shelf too long, I tried another of their bars, this one with cocoa nibs, that turned out a bit easier to nibble. Aside from the coarse texture, though, the bar actually tastes at least respectable. 4/10
Sharffen Berger 70% Bittersweet Dark: Since being sold and moving out of the San Francisco Bay Area, Sharffen Berger chocolate has never tasted the same to me. It now seems too sweet and too fruity, drowning out the original chocolate taste. 4/10
Charlotte's Dark Belgian Chocolate: You know that California's Napa Valley produces some of the world's finest wines. Did you know that Napa also produces Charlotte's Confections? The flavor of this dark Belgian chocolate is rather too sweet for my taste, however, and not chocolatey enough. It's also a tad too grainy in texture, a little too much like homemade chocolate fudge. 4/10
Valrhona Guanaja 70%: This one has a good, balanced texture but a rather bland flavor. 4/10
Valrhana Caraibe Noisette: I probably should have checked the label more closely before buying this bar. I don't care for nuts in my chocolate, and this one tasted strongly of the hazelnuts they used in it. Otherwise, it's smooth, somewhat chewy, and obviously nutty. 4/10
Droste Superior: We now get into the fairly odd categories, like this Droste bar that I found both rich and chocolatey on the one hand and rather banal on the other. Kind of a Jekyll and Hyde bar. 4/10
Heidi Grand'Or: Despite its Swiss-sounding name, the Heidi 75% "Intense" bar is a product of Romania. I would take that "intense" business with a grain of salt. It's actually a very mild chocolate, velvety smooth, a little chewy, thinly presented, with almost no aroma. Its taste will not offend, but it has little individual distinction. 4/10
Godiva Dark: It's hard to knock this dark-chocolate bar from the ubiquitous chocolate maker, yet there's not a whole lot to recommend it, either. It's innocuous enough, a little like a Dove dark-chocolate bar. 4/10
Pascha Organic Dark Chocolate: This Canadian product does almost everything right, using beans from Peru and all organic ingredients. However, with only 55% cacao and what seems to me a good deal of sugar, it tastes much too light and too sweet for my palate. 4/10
World Market All Natural Dark Chocolate: Distributed by Cost Plus Markets, this 72% cacao bar is about as bland and inoffensive as they get. Like the Godiva and Heidi bars, there is nothing bad about it, yet there is not much to commend about it, either. It looks like dark chocolate but beyond a mild coffee flavor and aroma, it has little chocolate taste about it. 4/10
Sweet Obsession Dark Chocolate: Made in Poland and advertised as "Simply the finest chocolates on earth," this product tastes very smooth, very delicate, very sweet, and largely devoid of chocolate flavor or aroma. It's a big bar at over five ounces, and since I bought it a local drugstore for a buck, it seemed like a bargain. What's more, it's not unpleasant; just dull and undistinguished. And did I mention sweet? Very, very sweet? 4/10
TAZA Stoneground 70%: Its taste is ultra-sweet yet slightly bitter, too, with a coarse, crumbly texture that kind of lies flat on the tongue. It may remind some people of homemade fudge, which is not entirely a bad thing. 4/10
Finally, as I mentioned above, don't expect to find too many of these chocolate bar brands at your local supermarket. The best place to start looking is in your own locality for specialty stores and gourmet shops (google "chocolate shops" in your area). If you have to go on-line, the problem is that high shipping costs compound the high price of many of the bars. A ten-dollar chocolate bar could have a five-dollar added shipping charge. Nevertheless, you might check on Amazon (www.amazon.com), Chocosphere (http://www.chocosphere.com), or some such retail site.
About the Author
I've been listening to classical music most of my life, starting with the classical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first classical recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor. Today, I'm retired from teaching and using a pair of VMPS RM40s. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (moviemet.com, formerly DVDTOWN) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.
It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.
When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.
So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.
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