I’m amazed that it is already time for the 4th Annual Dark Matters Chocolate Reviews Craft Chocolate Awards! Each year chocolatemakers are upping their game and 2019 was no exception. With so many amazing bars to choose from it was quite the challenge to narrow down the list!
How do I choose winners? Throughout the year I taste hundreds of bars and I keep a running list of bars as nominees for various categories. I look for chocolate that is complex flavor-wise, extra pleasant textures and the representation of single origin and/or inclusion that stands out above the crowd. (It’s important to note that different cacao harvests and separate chocolate bar batches all lead to potential changes in the flavors that come through so the bars tasted in 2019 might taste different than the current 2020 version).
The bars that are eligible to win are ones that I tried in the same year, meaning that the bar might have been made in 2018, but I didn’t actual taste it until the year 2019. Some of these bars are limited editions and some may be part of a makers regular line up.
What disqualifies a bar for being a nominee? As a reviewer, makers sometimes send me bars. (Which is quite a treat! Thank you makers!). If I am given a bar for free then I leave it off the nominees list. I received bars this year that I truly believe deserve awards, but alas, I must continue to stick to my own rule.
And the awards go to….
Dark Chocolate Inclusion Bars:
4th place: Gaston Chocolat Candied Orange 70% dark chocolate made with Vanuatu cacao. The flavor conveys the sense of both fresh and candied orange zests with a great texture crunch from the sprinkled on inclusion. Citrus in bars is a hit and miss inclusion for me with this bar being a definite hit! I found my self coming back to it over and over again until it was gone!
Gaston Chocolat Candied Orange Bar
3rd place: Chocolate Naïve Jaguar Tree Cacao bar with Jaguar pieces imbedded in 70% white heirloom cacao with the addition of smoked paprika and sea salt. This bar tastes of raw cashews, almonds, cream, smoked paprika and sea salt with a taste closer to milk chocolate even though it is actually dark chocolate. You know how some people say a piece or two of chocolate fills them up? Well, that rarely happens to me, but in this case a couple pieces of this bar is filling! I also consider the large pieces of Jaguar to be educational to the palate.
Chocolate Naïve’s Jaguar Bar
2nd place: Dick Taylor Orange Bourbon Pecan with 66% dark chocolate made from Belize cacao and Bourbon soaked pecans candied in maple syrup and orange. Tastes of pecan, toast, light oak and orange with some grape in the finish. Talk about a kicked up pecan pie! Yum! I wish I had purchased more than one!
Dick Taylor Orange Bourbon Pecan Bar
1st place: Qantu Chocolat Silk Road bar with 70% cacao from Peru and quite a long list of inclusions including spices and rose. For a long time rose was one of my least favorite inclusions because it can easily overpower all other flavors, but makers have really stepped up their balance game with rose. This bar tastes of grape, rose, anise, clove, pepper, cocoa and orange blossom water (none added). Delicately balanced so that all the flavors get their time to shine. A very elegant bar. Congrats Qantu!!!
Qantu Chocolat Silk Road Bar
Milk Chocolate Bars With/Without Inclusions:
4th place: Wellington Chocolate Factory Raspberry milk chocolate bar 45% Peru cacao. Tastes of raspberries with chocolate sauce, cream, silk chocolate pie with berries and cream, fudge and caramel. I still want this as a sauce over profiteroles.
Wellington Chocolate Factory Raspberry Bar
3rd place: Theo and Philo Turon Bar with banana and sesame seeds. (Turon is a Filipino street food snack). The taste of this bar is reminiscent of Bananas Foster with the sesame seeds adding a nutty finish.
Theo and Philo Turon Bar
2nd place: Wellington Chocolate Factory Solomon Islands 60% coconut milk chocolate bar from The Chocolate Bar’s limited edition Exclusive Pacific Chocolate Box with only 250 bars made. Tastes of coconut, pale stone fruit, light coffee, macadamia nut, yellow plum and brown sugar with a touch of floral in the finish.
Wellington Chocolate Factory Solomon Islands Bar
1st place: Ritual Chocolate Earl Grey Tea Bar 60% oat milk chocolate with Camino Verde, Ecuador cacao. Tastes of Earl Grey tea, earthy, floral, orange, black pepper and cocoa in a long finish. Very addictive! Great job Ritual!
Ritual Chocolate Earl Grey Bar
White Chocolate Inclusion Bars:
If you think you don’t like white chocolate now is the time to jump back in and try some again. These bars are nothing like the white chocolate I grew up with as a kid. I’m so pleased to be able to enjoy such amazing white chocolate!
6th place: Map Chocolate Sweet Potato Marshmallow (vegan-friendly) white chocolate bar. I bought this bar from Map’s Misfit Maps holiday section and as it had no regular wrapper, I never took a proper outside pic of it; but let me tell you it was so much like eating sweet potatoes with marshmallows! Definitely a bar that I wish I had purchased more than one of!
5th place: Hogarth Chocolate Maple Walnut 34% white chocolate bar. This bar was about as shiny as they get! Tastes of maple, custard, walnut, vanilla and crème anglaise.
Hogarth Maple and Walnut Bar
4th place: Fjak Chocolate Caramelized White Gingerbread bar. Caramelized white chocolate with Norwegian gingerbread from their Nordic Collection. Tastes of ginger snap cookies, gingerbread, cream and caramel.
Fjak Caramelized White Gingerbread Bar
3rd place: Luisa Abram White Chocolate Brazil Nut Crunch bar. Tastes of Brazil nut, candied nuts, popcorn and caramel. Even though salt and cinnamon are not listed as ingredients I get those flavors also. So good!
Luisa Abram White Chocolate Brazil Nut Crunch Bar
2nd place: Solkiki Chocolatemaker Cranachan vegan white chocolate bar with raspberry, oats and Starward Whisky made with 42% Madagascan cacao butter. (Cranachan is a traditional Scottish dessert). Tastes of oats, whisky, golden fruit and raspberry. In my opinion this is one of the best bars Solkiki has made, and I’ve tried many of them. Lovely bar!
Solkiki Chocolatemaker Cranachan Bar
1st place: Omnom Chocolate Rye and Caraway limited edition white chocolate bar from Cacao Review’s Collection #2. Only 200 made. This is an example of a bar made in 2018, but I didn’t taste it until 2019. I loved this one so much that I also ordered a few extra! Tastes of rye, caraway, bread, butter, golden syrup, cream and sea salt. (Not pictured in this blog). Congrats Omnom!
Chocolate Bars with Coffee:
Okay, technically a bar with coffee is an inclusion (sometimes infusion) bar, however, coffee with chocolate is one of my favorite combinations so I wanted to devote an award section just for it.
3rd place: Ritual Chocolate Bindle limited edition bar with Columbia Mustafa coffee from Bindle Coffee combined with Ritual’s Mid Mountain Blend chocolate. Tastes of coffee, earthy, red fruit and lemon acidity.
Ritual Chocolate Bindle Bar
2nd place: LetterPress Chocolate Mocha Crunch with Ashanti Ghana chocolate and Alibi Coffee’s Mugshot Espresso Blend. Tastes of coconut, espresso, nutty, mocha, cream and chocolate cream pie. After a few minutes a subtle bit of orange appears. For this bar the coffee was brewed with cocoa butter instead of grinding the beans into the bar. This particular bar was from Batch #0043.
Letterpress Chocolate Mocha Crunch Bar
1st place: Charm School Chocolate Coconut Milk Mocha vegan bar with 47% cacao made with Maya Mountain Toledo Belize and Quills Coffee. Tastes of rich coffee, cream, brown sugar, sea salt and a coffee chocolate mousse. I don’t have access to Charm School bars often, but when I have they have always been yummy. Congrats Charm School on being my favorite coffee bar this year!!!
Charm School Coconut Milk Mocha Bar
100% Chocolate Bars:
100% bars can be intense, and I’ve some that have tried to blow my head off, but they can also be well-balanced and even have touches of sweetness depending on the flavors that shine through. Plus, when it’s 100% there is no where to hide with the maker’s skill and the quality of the beans fully on display.
4th place: Goodnow Farms Chocolate Special Reserve 100% Ucayali River cacao from Peru with house-made cacao butter from the same beans. Tastes buttery in both flavor and texture, figs, oak, vanilla (none-added) with some tobacco and dark roast coffee showing up in the finish.
Goodnow Farms 100% Cacao Bar
3rd place: Tibito Chocolate 100% Putumayo Columbia cacao. Tastes of cocoa, unsweetened cinnamon roll, earthy, subtle cardamom and light coffee. A very palatable 100% bar! (If you wonder why there is a pic of this bar with a spider it was part of my Who’s Afraid of the Dark series I post each Halloween on Instagram. Don’t worry, neither the bar nor myself touched the spider!).
Tibito 100% Cacao Bar
2nd place: Ritual Chocolate 100% Bar made from a cacao blend. I am always pleased to find well-made blended bars and wish there were more available. Imagine all the flavor combos that would be possible with quality cacao blends! This bar tastes of red currant, cherry, cocoa and nutty changing into a long finish of cracker, coffee and Malbec wine.
Ritual Chocolate 100% Cacao Bar
1st place: Chocolate Tree 100% Belize Black made of Belize cacao from Uncommon Cacao. Tastes of ruby citrus, dried cherries, butter, coffee, cocoa, earthy, floral and spice. This is an excellent example of how to make a 100% bar!
Chocolate Tree Belize Black 100% Cacao Bar
Dark Chocolate Bars:
We have now arrived at the final category. This was one of the hardest sections for me to eliminate bars from and I still ended up with 8 winners!
8th place: Foundry Chocolate 70% Tumaco Columbia cacao. Tastes of salted butter, powdered sugar and raw nut. Wait a few minutes for the appearance of cocoa, red currant and lemon in the finish. An exceptional bar!
Foundry Chocolate 70% Tumaco Columbia Bar
7th place: Solstice Chocolate 70% Ben Tre Vietnam cacao. Tastes of jasmine/floral, cinnamon, cocoa, green tea and dates. Solstice bars are consistently great.
Solstice Chocolate 70% Ben Tre Vietnam Bar
6th place: Wayfarer Chocolate Along the River 70% Honduras cacao. I ordered this bar direct from the maker. Tastes of dark fruit, dark grape sweetness, blueberries and cocoa with some minerality in the finish. If you have the opportunity this bar is worth getting your hands on!
Wayfarer Chocolate Along the River Honduras Bar
5th place: 9th & Larkin Chocolate72% Tanzania, Kokoa Kamili bar. Tastes of vanilla (none added), dark fruit, floral, grape, cocoa, lychee and jammy in the finish. I was literally saying “Mmmm” quite a lot while eating this bar.
9th & Larkin Tanzania Kokoa Kamili Bar
4th place: Fruition Chocolate 85% Tumaco Columbia cacao. Tastes of brownie, floral, butterscotch, light toast and dark fruits. This bar has the lovely snap and texture that Fruition always manages to achieve.
Fruition Chocolate Tumaco Columbia Bar
3rd place: Chocolate Naïve Platinum Grade Ferment 70% Nicaragua cacao Nano_lot bar. Tastes of cocoa, floral, light honey green grape, something like vanilla meets sweet almond, subtle matcha and then after 10 minutes a touch of plain yogurt.
Chocolate Naïve Platinum Grade Ferment Bar
2nd place: Arete Fine Chocolate 70% Costas Esmeraldas, Ecuador cacao. Tastes of brown sugar, raisin, red apple, floral, earthy and light honey. A very special bar.
Arete Fine Chocolate Esmeraldas Ecuador Bar
1st place: Dick Taylor 78% Limited-edition Palomino Columbia cacao bar. Tastes of cocoa, hay, coffee, earthy, green banana, powdered sugar and dark plum. You need this bar in your life! Congrats Dick Taylor!
Dick Taylor Palomino Columbia Bar
Congrats to all the winners! Wow, what a year!
*All pics taken by yours truly, Victoria Cooksey.