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The Best Single-Origin Chocolate
We dug into the amazing and complex world of single-origin bars and in the process discovered an astounding variety of flavors and textures.
What You Need To Know
The chocolate market has recently exploded with bars labeled “single-origin.” Their wrappers rival French wine labels in complexity, with detailed tasting notes and specific places of origin. But beyond the fact that the cacao for each of these chocolates is sourced from a single provenance, we didn't know much about single-origin chocolates. We wanted to learn more. To find out, we talked to experts and tasted 15 single-origin bars from 14 countries: Belize, Mexico, Ecuador, Madagascar, Guatemala, Venezuela, Fiji, Vietnam, Ghana, Papua New Guinea, Haiti, Peru, India, and Tanzania.
We noticed two things right off the bat. First, single-origin chocolate bars are expensive, often because it can be more difficult to source single-origin cacao beans rather than mixed bulk beans. Second, most of the single-origin chocolate on the market is dark—the bars we tasted ranged from 66 to 77 percent cacao.
No two bars we tasted were the same. Some were floral, others fruity; some were fudgy and ultrachocolaty. Some blew our minds with flavors of shiitake mushroom, tobacco, and grape must. Textures varied, too; bars were “crisp,” “feathery,” “snappy,” “velvety,” and “creamy and smooth.” Preferences varied widely, and we learned that what tasters liked in a bar of chocolate was subjective. Read on to find out which single-origin bar you might want to try, or host a chocolate tasting party (even a party of one!) and try bars from different places to compare.
A Brief History of Cacao
The cacao tree (Theobroma cacao), native to the upper Amazon basin region of Central and South America, was highly prized by the Olmec, Mayan, and Aztec civilizations. When the Spanish colonized the Americas, they brought cacao beans back to Europe, where they were ground and mixed with sugar to produce chocolate that pleased European palates. Over time, cacao trees became more widely cultivated. Today, most cacao is grown in the Cocoa Belt, an area 20 degrees on either side of the equator that encompasses 50 countries, all with rainforest environments.
So What Is Single-Origin Chocolate?
Chocolatiers typically use a mix of cacao beans sourced from different locales to achieve a certain flavor profile. Larger manufacturers such as Nestlé and Hershey have their own proprietary blends, but manufacturers of single-origin chocolates often source beans from one grower, making their bars pure expressions of those singular locations. As Greg D’Alesandre, the “chocolate sourcerer” of Dandelion Chocolate in San Francisco, explained, “For a time, people were seeing single-origin as coming from a single country, but even across a country there is a massive ...
Everything We Tested
Fudgy, Ultrachocolaty Bars
This bar is a classic example of an ultrafudgy, cocoa-forward bar. Tasters found this bar “luscious” and “very creamy” and picked up “notes of coffee,” hazelnut, and “rich cocoa.” The silky-smoothness is likely from the processing as well as the added cocoa butter and sunflower lecithin (an emulsifier).
This bar was nuanced, and tasters picked up whiffs of tobacco in addition to notes of cocoa, vanilla, and tropical fruits. The chocolate was dainty and delicate, and one taster said the bar had a “lovely, light, crisp snap.”
While some tasters said this bar was “sandy” and “gritty,” others praised it for its notes of hazelnut, spice, and hint of citrus at the finish that was similar to a candy chocolate orange but more subtle and refined. It was a complex bar with a deep cocoa backdrop.
This smooth and “waxy” bar started out sweet, which some tasters found slightly cloying. But they were delighted by the notes of “intense cinnamon” and “warming spices” from the cacao, which some found reminiscent of a “traditional Mexican drinking chocolate.”
A “nice, dark chocolate flavor” defined this bar, which tasters compared to hot cocoa and truffles. Some detected a faint roasty bitterness underlying the rich cocoa flavor. This bar had a “thick” melt and was “silky-smooth.”
With notes of cherry, berries, and hot chocolate, this was a complex bar that toed the line between fudgy and fruity. As one taster noted, it was “chocolaty like hot chocolate on the front, but then there’s a bit of tang and acidity that cuts through as it melts.” Other tasters thought it tasted like a “chocolate truffle with liquor.” It was “smooth” and “nicely chewy.”
Herbaceous, Funky, Earthy Bars
This bar was mellow, with a “shockingly delicate snap” and “grassy, floral notes.” Other tasters detected smokiness and a faint dried-fruit tang reminiscent of dried cherries or cranberries.
Tasters were intrigued by this chocolate's “funky” flavor—think rich port wine with a hint of fermented fruit. There were also notes of “orange peel” and a “pruney, dried fig taste.”
As one taster said, this delicate bar “immediately hits you with complex, herbaceous flavors” and “slight lavender and anise notes.” This flashy start mellows out as the chocolate melts smoothly in the mouth, with a “hot chocolate, rich cocoa” finish.
Even with its mellow fudgy backdrop, this “snappy” bar surprised tasters with the earthy taste of shiitake mushrooms and an overall umami depth that one taster thought would pair well with Scotch. Other tasters picked up notes of “tobacco” and “soil and hay.” In short, this is a bar for the adventurous.
Fruity, Acidic Bars
Juicy fruit, anyone? Tasters were delighted by the “fruit punch vibes” of this bar, with notes of guava, berries, raisins, and a “nice earthiness on the back end.” Each bite had a “nice snap” and “lovely creamy texture.” One taster described it as an “all-around great, bright, juicy bar.”
Described as having “great snap on the bite,” this bar melted smoothly in the mouth. Notes of tropical and berry fruits abounded, including “raspberry,” “papaya,” and “subtle banana” flavors.
Though paler in color than the other bars, this bar still packed a flavor wallop. It was “super-raisiny upon first bite,” and tasters also picked up on a tannic bitterness. Think port mixed with bright chocolate. Each bite had a “subtle, soft snap” to it.
This bar started out fudgy, with tasters saying it tasted “like cocoa,” but then as it melted a “bright, tannic flavor” emerged. Some tasters detected notes of “lime peel” and “fruity coffee” and said this was a “good snacking bar,” with a “nice snap.”
This was a snappy, delicate bar that melted smoothly in the mouth. It had notes of lavender and strawberries and cream backed up by a juicy raspberry- and cherry-like tang. Some tasters detected notes of raisin and walnut.
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