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Tasting Fair Trade Chocolate Bars

March 13, 2012

The best part about keeping 85% cocoa chocolate bars in the house is that nobody else wants anything to do with them. I can have a carton of ice cream in the freezer that I’ve been nursing for weeks, and all of a sudden one day it may be gone, the victim of a savage attack by Mrs. Fussy.

Little Miss Fussy, who continuously demands sweets, calls my favorite treat “the bitter bars.”

Recently I’ve been denying myself a lot of things. Most notable are hamburgers, ice cream, butter, fried foods and chicken skin. Believe it or not, I’m not suffering, because I’ve been finding other things to add to my diet. Frozen wild blueberries with organic yogurt and granola only go so far.

That’s where the dark chocolate comes in. But recently I’ve tuned into the dark side of dark chocolate. So, in a shallow attempt to do my small part, or at least to do less harm, I’ve decided to buy and eat fair trade chocolate bars.

Amazingly, you can find one brand of these at Walmart. The local co-op has many more. Here’s a rundown on some of the bars I was able to pick up, and I’ll tell you which one I think is best.

Not Recommended
Theo | 85% | 3 oz | $3.69 | $1.23/oz | No Soy | Vanilla Bean | Seattle

Theo prides itself in roasting its own cocoa beans. Maybe there’s something about the air in Seattle that makes people crave overroasted beans. Perhaps their tastes have been forged by all the coffee. I don’t know. But I do know that this chocolate tastes burnt. It’s also on the coarse and gritty side. The long skinny bar does have a lovely sheen, and it’s divided into six large half-ounce rectangles, which make it easy for measuring in recipes, but less convenient for snacking.

Recommended with Reservations
The Grenada Chocolate Company | 82% | 3 oz | $3.99 | $1.33/oz | Soy | Vanilla Bean | Grenada

Sure, this is the most expensive of the lot, coming in at a hefty $1.33 per ounce, but the label has human handwriting on it and looks like it was made from someone’s laser printer. It is, however, made with organic soy lecithin, the only bar of the four to use a soy based emulsifier (the others, I’m pleased to report, have found a way to emulsify their chocolate without it). What’s most notable about this bar is that it is a single origin varietal chocolate bar. And man is it acidic. It’s tart. Like puckery tart, and it has almost a winey flavor in the mouth. However, this is presumably the taste of the bean. And presumably this is why you don’t see more of these around. It’s interesting, just not terribly enjoyable. Also it should be noted that this bar is hard – really hard. It’s the thickest of the bunch, and it requires a staggering amount of force to break through the chocolate, even with your teeth.

Recommended with Reservations
Green & Black | 85% | 3.5 oz | $2.99 | $.85/ oz | No soy | Vanilla extract | Canada

This is the problem of doing cross-product tasting. I took a bar that was widely available, relatively inexpensive, and tasted good, and ended up downgrading the bugger. Why? Because its ultra-smooth, easy melting, mellow sweetness tastes a little overmanufactured. The only thing it could possibly be is the addition of organic whole milk powder to the product. One walks away with the impression more of candy than of chocolate. It’s not unpleasing; in fact it’s very fun to get a good snap off the bite then to feel the chocolate yield to the warmth of your mouth. With this bar divided into 30 small rectangles, it was clearly designed for snacking. And I imagine I’ll be snacking on more than a few of these over the course of the next year, especially given its price and availability.

Alter Eco Bolivia | 85% | 3.5 oz | $3.99 | $1.14/oz | No soy | No Vanilla | Switzerland

Now this is chocolate. It’s a little disingenuous to call this a Bolivian chocolate, since the ingredients clearly list that the cocoa comes from Bolivia and Costa Rica while the cocoa butter comes from Bolivia and the Dominican Republic. For what it’s worth, the cane sugar comes from Paraguay, but I give the company three big cheers for being committed to knowing where their ingredients come from. The bar itself has a good snap and a thick chewy texture. The flavor is earthy and it leaves a pleasant lingering finish. There is fruitiness and acidity, but they are kept in balance. And I love how Alter Eco is ballsy enough to put out a bar with no vanilla at all to play against the chocolate. This is very good stuff and my favorite bar of the batch. It was only having this that made it difficult to return to the old Green & Black.

Hopefully Adventure in Food Trading will hear my plea and start stocking some truly world-class fair trade dark chocolate. Because Mrs. Fussy is heading off on another business trip soon, and if I’m going to sneak 10 kg of chocolate into the house, it best be while she’s gone.

10 Comments leave one →
  1. Elyse permalink
    March 13, 2012 10:02 am

    Hey there- maybe I’m defensive of Theo because I used to live down the street from them- but I think you need to give them another chance! They make lots of different bars and it’s not even clear to me which one you tried. Have you tried their single origin chocolate bars?
    I am very fond of their chocolate mint bar and coconut curry bars (also fair trade).

  2. Chris permalink
    March 13, 2012 10:42 am

    Theo does indeed make some fun bars but their 85% leaves a lot to be desired. I’ve tried a wide variety of dark bars ranging from G&B 70% to Pralus “Le 100%” ($10, yikes) and would agree that Alter Eco 85% is the best of the bunch that’s locally & readily available. Some of the darker Dagoba – “Beaucoup Berries” and “Eclipse” – are also acceptable in a pinch.

    • Chris permalink
      March 13, 2012 9:13 pm

      One last thought – sometimes you can get lucky at places like Marshalls, TJ Maxx, Christmas Tree Shop. They often times get boutique or imported dark chocolates where the label isn’t even in English :)

  3. March 13, 2012 10:46 am

    Green & Black’s hazelnut and currant dark chocolate is my chocolate Empyrea. I think you’re being a bit….not sure what the word is…one chocolate bar not recommended for being too bitter and tart and then G&B for being too sweet and candy-esque.

    Haven’t tried the Alter Eco yet- will have to- I do think the best dark chocolates have that earthy feel- like you’re eating chocolate dirt that’s taken centuries to create- fertilized by chocolate worms and magical chocolate turtles that eat volcanic chocolate ash, excrete it, lick it and then turn it into chocolate dirt. G&B does lack that earthy feel.

  4. March 13, 2012 6:33 pm

    As you may have guessed Dan, this is my favorite post of all time. However, the next challenge is to go with even boutique-ey-er stuff. Good dark chocolate is worth fighting for. True story: We buy two kinds of chocolate at the Halliburton house: The good stuff for mom and dad and the mainstream stuff for the kids that don’t appreciate chocolate enough to deserve a ten dollar bar of chocolate.

    Here is my chocolate: Mast Brothers. You need to know about that. True story #2: They used to sell a Fleur de Sel flavor, but now they sell a Maine Salt flavor because they wanted to change the product to using american salt.

    In the interest of forcing your hand and getting you to do some online shopping, I will phrase it as a question: So what do you think of Mast Brothers chocolate? Now you will have to buy and try in preparation for the next Q&A.

    I just made your life richer!

  5. Heather F. permalink
    March 14, 2012 9:31 pm

    Maybe I’m being fussy but in my own mind I don’t consider Green and Black’s dark chocolate, considering it has added milk powder.
    I look a little ridiculous when I stock up at Wegmans but have been pleasantly surprised that The Fresh Market has a really nice selection.

  6. Heather F. permalink
    March 14, 2012 9:35 pm

    Oh, forgot to mention that Hannaford carries Chocolove’s Fair Trade Organic with Cherries Dark Chocolate 73% Cocoa for $2.39/bar. I’m a fan.


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