These days we are blessed with good quality chocolate bars. Thank goodness for that. Here are a few you might not have come across. When you’ve read my reviews, I hope you’ll think some of them are worth seeking out.
I’ve heard a lot about Madécasse in recent months and all of it has been good. It’s a company that ticks all but one of my chocolate boxes. As the name suggests the chocolate comes from Madagascar, a country rich in habitat, but poor in economic terms.
Unusually it is not just the beans that are grown there, the chocolate is made there too. 70% of the world’s cocoa beans are grown in Africa, but less than 1% of chocolate is actually made on the continent. This is a shocking state of affairs as the real money to be made from chocolate is manufacturing it, not growing it.
Madécasse is certified Fair for Life. This means that fairtrade principles are adopted through the whole chocolate making chain, from cocoa farming right through to packaging. Bean to bar at its best.
The missing box, in case you were wondering, is that the chocolate is not organic. However, the cocoa trees grown in the shade of taller hardwood specimens does help to protect the precious habitat, home to 15% of the world’s plant and animal species.
But ethics alone are not enough to sell chocolate, it needs to be tasty and good value for money too. These 75g bars, currently available in Waitrose, Booths, Selfridges and Whole Foods, hit both of these targets. The cocoa content is high for milk chocolate and at 44% you can really taste it.
The cocoa beans used are a rare heirloom variety that are particularly flavoursome – I thought so anyway. Suffice it to say, I am now hooked. At £2.99 they’re not cheap, but they are both affordable and very good value for delicious ethical bean to bar chocolate. They are also, in a small way, helping the people that really need it, the people of Madagascar.
Milk Chocolate 44%
Buttery is a key characteristic of this delicious chocolate. It smells of butterscotch, but it was the tang of buttermilk that first hit my tastebuds. Both seem to be present. There are fruity notes too that could be sour cherry. It’s creamy but also quite rich with a very slight granular texture. It has a real wow factor for me and CT was rather keen too. This is chocolate to savour.
Espresso Bean 44%
CT, who is a coffee chocolate aficionado got rather excited as the strong aroma of coffee assailed his nostrils. I’m not really a fan of coffee flavoured chocolate, but I could quite happily have eaten this bar all by myself. There’s an awful lot of coffee in Brazil and there’s also plenty of coffee in this chocolate or do I mean on? The mocha topping, made of crushed cocoa beans and cocoa nibs, makes for a distinctive feature which gives added interest to the smooth textured chocolate. As he munched, CT could see himself in a late night cafe, peering through the thick blue smoke and sipping on a strong black coffee.
As regular readers will know, I’m a big fan of this Cornish bean to bar artisan chocolate, handmade in Penryn. A friend recently sent me one of the bars I haven’t tried before, but have been coveting for some time. You can find out a bit more about Chocolarder in my post, a Cornish Cornucopia.
Wild Gorse Flower 40% – milk
cocoa beans, raw cane sugar, whole milk powder, cocoa butter, gorse flowers
Growing up amongst the wild gorse on the moors and breathing in the heady scent of coconut that emanates from the flowers in spring, I was intrigued by this 70g bar. The scent escaping from the packet was indeed that of gorse and when I tasted the smooth sweet chocolate, I nearly swooned. A true taste of Cornwall.
Montezuma’s Sea Dog
I’d been given a bar of dark chocolate some time ago, Montezuma’s Sea Dog. I loved the colour of the packaging and the idea of the unusual flavour which was lime and sea salt. I kept it safe and sound wondering if I should cook with it or just savour it in its entire choclolatiness. Then I forgot about it.
Whilst I was working from home recently, however, I had that “I need chocolate” kinda feeling. I remembered the bar, had a rummage and found it. Well, no more thoughts of cooking with it, it was destined for immediate consumption.
Montezuma’s have been making organic chocolate for the past 11 years. Started by husband and wife team, Helen and Simon Pattinson they have grown from their first small shop in Brighton to selling their products around the UK and online. I have tried a number of their bars over the years, some I’ve really enjoyed and others not so much.
Sea Dog Chocolate Bar Review
(71%) – Ecuadorian cocoa solids, sugar, vanilla, sea salt, lime oil.
Even though I’m not an especial lover of dark chocolate, I wolfed the entire 100g bar and enjoyed every square of it. It smelt deliciously of chocolate, but with a faint whiff of lime. It was delicious; smooth, subtly salty with just the right amount of lime. The salt came and went at irregular intervals, which I really liked and the lime was not overpowering. In fact the chocolate left a pleasant salty limey tang in my mouth long after it had disappeared.
Interestingly, this bar contains no lecithin. This is something I’m always being told is essential to make good quality chocolate. My major quibble with this bar, is that it doesn’t appear to be organic. I had assumed that all their chocolate was, but that’s obviously not the case. 9/10
Chocolate Bars from The Chocolate Cafe
Three 100g bars from The Chocolate Cafe arrived in the post the other day and I was most excited. Having ripped open the padded envelope and bubble wrap, the first thing I noticed was the distinctive packaging which, with my penchant for red, really drew my eye. Each bar is wrapped in matt paper the colour of the chocolate it is safeguarding with the chocolate cafe printed in red and the chocolate cafe’s logo – a sploosh (my words not theirs) of what I take to be molten chocolate, also in red.
Not having reviewed chocolate before, I wasn’t quite sure where to start. So I thought I would do a taste comparison with equivalent bars that I am more familiar with, in this instance from Green & Blacks. This actually worked really well, except it doubled the quantities of chocolate consumed – oh well, not exactly a hardship! I hasten to add, we did not do all the tasting at one sitting.
As I’m somewhat of an idealist, I would prefer it if these bars were fairly traded and better still organic. However, overall we enjoyed trying these chocolate bars and came to realise just how much variation there is between different high cocoa content bars.
Premium Dark Chocolate
(70% cocoa) cocoa mass, sugar, cocoa butter, soya lecithin, natural vanilla.
The first thing I noticed was the fragrant spicy smell that arose when I opened the wrapper – most enticing. These first impressions were reinforced when we tried some, it was smooth and creamy with coffee tones coming through first, followed by almonds. The G&B 70% bar had a sharper smell and tasted more bitter & acidic leaving an aftertaste reminiscent of tobacco.
CT thought it was more like coca cola (this is not good in our book). It was coarse and lacked subtlety, leaving a not particularly pleasant coating inside the mouth and throat. What struck us most about the Chocolate Cafe bar was that unlike most dark chocolate, a couple of squares were not enough. We wanted more, which is not something either of us say very often about dark chocolate. We really liked it. 9/10
Premium Milk Chocolate
(33.6% cocoa) – sugar, cocoa butter, whole milk powder, cocoa mass, soya lecithin, natural vanilla.
I was really looking forward to trying this as milk chocolate is my number one favourite when it comes to eating chocolate in bar form. It had a nice firm texture and a fine grain structure and gave a satisfying snap when broken. Comfortingly smooth in the mouth, yet not cloying, it was sweet, but not overpoweringly so.
Flavours? CT detected coconut, but I was getting delicious caramel notes to begin with and then, strangely but pleasantly, peanut butter. What a disappointment the G&B milk was in comparison. It was coarse and acidic with an almost metallic aftertaste; how could I have failed to notice this before? The two reservations I had with this bar were: 1) it was a little too sweet for my taste, 2) I would have preferred a higher cocoa content, although I did enjoy the caramel flavours. But all in all it is a delicious bar and we both very much enjoyed eating it. 8/10
Premium White Chocolate
(28% cocoa) – sugar, cocoa butter, whole milk powder, soya lecithin, natural vanilla.
Having fond childhood memories of white chocolate (of a brand which shall remain nameless), I hoped for a similar experience. It started well, breaking with a good snap and initially felt smooth in the mouth.
Sadly, this was about the best we could say for it as we found it to be a generic white chocolate without any individuality. It tasted foremost of milk powder and the vanilla was hard to detect. We both found it cloying and it left a not altogether pleasant coating around the mouth. The Green and Black’s bar by contrast is really great with a powerful vanilla flavour and a good texture which is not in the least bit cloying. 4/10
A 50g bar of Sicilian Dolceria Bonajuto 65% chocolate flavoured with cardamom winged its way to my house from London recently. I had heard that the chocolate was very good and I was looking forward to trying it. Founded in 1880 in Modica, Antica Dolceria Bonajuto is the oldest chocolate factory in Sicily. The chocolate was not at all what I had been expecting, which was something dense, rich and smooth.
Dense and rich it was, but it didn’t melt in your mouth at all. In fact it had a surprising crunchy, sugary texture which was not too sweet despite the crystalline nature of it. The texture reminded CT of Kendal mint cake, only much nicer he thought and not nearly as sweet.
Cardamom can be a tricky spice to use with chocolate. Too much and it becomes overpowering and slightly bitter, but if done well, it is a great combination. This was just about right, giving an aromatic quality which lingered on the palate after we’d eaten it.
Fiona thought that this was more like raw chocolate than tempered and I can see what she meant. It’s certainly not like the artisan bars we’re used to finding over here. But I have to say I thought it was delicious. Thanks very much to Fiona of London Unattached for sending me a bar to try from her Sicilian travels.
Betty and Walter
Inspired by the names of Betty and Walter bags and accessories, Creighton’s Chocolaterie have created a limited range of chocolate bars to complement them. I was sent one of their bars to try. When the box arrived I didn’t know which of the four flavours I was going to get. All of them sounded interesting, especially the fig and pink pepper dark chocolate.
But secretly my heart yearned for rose. I’ve had an affinity with rose ever since I was a nipper and was dressed up as the Fry’s Turkish Delight girl for our village carnival one year. And as I’ve said before, this queen of flowers reminds me of my grandad who was passionate about his roses and won awards for them every year.
Beautifully packaged, the chocolate came with a personalised label which immediately endeared Betty and Walter to me and made me smile.
Almond and Rose Milk Chocolate
(33.6%) sugar, cocoa butter, while milk powder, cocoa mass, soya lecithin, vanilla, almonds, rose oil.
I was so enamoured by the anticipation of not knowing what I was going to get and later by the look, sound and scent of this bar, that I took it in stages. I made the whole seductive process of looking, smelling, touching and finally tasting, last as long as I could. In a nutshell: day one, I received it; day two I unwrapped the outer packaging ; day 3, I unwrapped the inner packaging and tasted the chocolate.
Wrapped in greaseproof paper emblazoned with Creighton’s chocolaterie interspersed with yum, I found this to be a classy way of wrapping the chocolate. As soon as the outer layer of plastic was taken off, the evocative scent of rose assailed my nostrils. But what of the chocolate? Thankfully, it tasted delightfully of rose too. The bar was sweet, but whilst I’m not generally a fan of very sweet chocolate, it somehow works with rose. The crunchy pieces of almond gave added texture and interest. Once started, CT got in on the act and the bar didn’t last very long at all.
At £3.50 for a 100g bar, this is well worth the money,for the pure anticipatory joy, if nothing else.
Doisy and Dam Chocolate Bars
New on the chocolate block, Norfolk based Doisy and Dam have come out with a range of handmade chocolate bars appealing to those who like their chocolate, but want it to be good for them too. The chocolate is all 74% dark and organic too, although not certified by the Soil Association. The nutrient values of the various ingredients are given with some infographics interspersed with a quip or two – if you’re lucky. I hadn’t realised, until I read one of the packs that hemp provides a complete source of protein.
Beautifully packaged with an inner wrapping of bronze coloured foil and an outer one of colourful cardboard, I heartily approved – not a bit of plastic to be seen. They come in 100g bars and rather cute little 40g boxes. The rich dark nature of the bars, precluded any scoffing and a couple of squares at a time was plenty enough to satisfy. This chocolate felt as though it was an indulgence, but thankfully not a particularly naughty one. I wish the creators Rich and Ed the best of luck with these bars.
Coconut & Lucuma
cocoa mass, sugar, cocoa butter, coconut flakes, lucuma, coconut essence vanilla powder.
This was the one I reached for first, I couldn’t help myself, I love coconut chocolate. As soon as I unwrapped the foil, an aroma of coconut wafted towards my nostrils in a most seductive way. The chocolate was rich and coconutty and utterly delightful. I perhaps shouldn’t have started with this one as I had a feeling it would be my favourite and it was. Sadly for me, I only had a 40g bar.
Goji & Orange
cocoa mass, sugar, cocoa butter, goji berries, orange essence, vanilla powder
Goji is a hard flavour to detect, but this had a subtle fruity note which wasn’t just orange and there were bits of berry punctuating the smoothness to give a chewy contrast. The orange flavouring was gentle and tasted of real orange, something some other orange flavoured chocolate could learn from.
Ginger, Chilli Flakes & Hemp Seed
cocoa mass, sugar, cocoa butter, hemp seed, chilli flakes, ginger essence, vanilla powder
Being something of a chilli head, I do like the combination of chilli and chocolate. This bar was particularly fiery with hot ginger added to the mix, a lovely combination that isn’t used often enough in my opinion. Chewing on chilli seeds embedded in chocolate was a first for me. I have to say the presence of hemp seeds rather passed me by, which was probably a good thing as I don’t find them particularly palatable.
Maca, Vanilla & Cacao Nibs
cocoa mass, sugar, cocoa butter, cacao nibs, maca, vanilla essence, vanilla powder
This was my least favourite bar. I’ve never really got on with maca, which I find a bit too bitter for my taste and I could definitely detect it here. It has a bitterness which is quite different to cacao nibs, which I like. As with the orange bar, the flavours were subtle, but I felt this one could have done with a bit more than just a hint of vanilla; it needed a lift. However, I have heard from others that it is their favourite bar and it also won a Great Taste Award last year, so there is just no accounting for tastes!
Mulberries, Chia Seeds & Spirulina
cocoa mass, sugar, cocoa butter
Fresh mulberries are sadly very hard to get hold of. My mother planted a mulberry tree a couple of years ago; I’m not sure how long it will be before we get any fruit from it. Meanwhile dried mulberries are not a bad substitute, they are chewy and slightly sticky with a pleasant flavour. They are even more appealing when covered with chocolate. I couldn’t taste the spirulina, but imagined it doing me lots of good as I savoured the chocolate. The chia seeds provided an interesting crunch and made a change from consuming them in my morning smoothie.
Chocolate Bars from The East India Company
When the East India Company contacted me recently, I was very excited. What, THE East India Company? Surely not? Not the one I studied in history at school, the one that played such a large part in building the British Empire, bringing tea and spices to the British table and at one time employing 1/3 of the British workforce? Surely, that couldn’t still be going?
Well, lots of question marks, so a bit of digging was required. The answer? Not quite; the original company, founded in 1600 by Royal Charter granted by Queen Elizabeth 1 was dissolved in 1874. Indian entrepreneur Sanjiv Mehta managed to buy the name in 2005 and has recently relaunched the brand by opening his first shop in London’s Mayfair in 2010. The company has an online store too and specialises in fine foods with chocolate featuring as one of the products offered.
The two chocolate bars I was sent to review came in sumptuous and exotic packaging. A reminder of the Raj. The flavours were exotic too.
I really enjoyed these bars, partly because of the historical association but mostly because of the flavours. Subtle they are not, so best avoided by those who prefer a more delicately flavoured bar. They are also quite low in cocoa, only 30% and way too sweet for my taste. Disappointingly, there was no mention of where the chocolate had come from. At £5 a go, these 80g bars are not cheap, but they would make a good present for a lover of spicy chocolate.
(30%) – sugar, cocoa butter, full cream milk powder, cocoa mass, soya lecithin, cinnamon oil, vanilla.
This had an aromatic spicy smell and a nice snap when broken. It was very smooth, but not particularly creamy. CT thought it stayed solid in the mouth for an unusually long time before melting. It had an unusual but delicious flavour – the leaf being quite different to the usual cinnamon bark. The flavour could best be described as a mix of cloves and cinnamon. Overall, this was quite refreshing and the taste lingered on long after the chocolate has disappeared.
(30%) – sugar, cocoa butter, full cream milk powder, cocoa mass, soya lecithin, nutmeg oil, vanilla.
The aroma was again spicy but hard to identify. Biting into it, however, nutmeg surged across our palates. It’s a powerful, but pleasant taste, that persists long on the tongue. One small square has as much nutmeg as the average rice pudding thought CT, but it did combine well with chocolate.
More Chocolate Bars from The Chocolate Cafe
When I heard about the new Strawberry Bar from The Chocolate Cafe, I couldn’t wait to get my mitts on it and more importantly get it into my mouth. I really enjoyed the Chocolate Cafe’s first three own brand bars when I tried them back in March. So I was looking forward to trying their next creations. Another three bars duly arrived, so not only was I able to try out the strawberry but also their mint and honeycomb too. I loved the new bold colours of the wrappers and I’m already a fan of their distinctive logo which goes brilliantly with the new colours.
These bars are variations of the three originals, the dark, milk and white, but with some very noticable differences. They all retained the underlying smoothness characteristic of the Chocolate Cafe brand. All in all, I think these bars are rather good and at £9 for the three, they represent good value for money. The Chocolate Cafe is a cafe I would very much like to visit and if ever I am in the vicinity of Ramsbottom I most certainly will. However, they do a very good line in high quality and interesting chocolates that can be bought online, so a visit is not essential.
Premium Dark Chocolate with Mint
(70%) cocoa Mass, Sugar, Cocoa Butter, Mint Oil, Soya Lecithin, Natural Vanilla
A wonderful scent of dark chocolate and mint wafted up from this bar as soon as I picked it up and it became even stronger when I opened the wrapper. I had to savour this for a while as I love the smell of mint. I couldn’t hold out for too long though, so I soon broke off the first piece. It gave a very satisfying snap and then proceeded to melt gradually on my tongue. It has a very smooth texture which gives it a sensuous quality.
Not too minty, which was a big plus as far as CT was concerned as he does not likes his mint to be too strong. The mint was a good foil for the cocoa, cooling and softening its powerful wallop. Overall it has a harder, drier, stronger flavour and is not as sweet as the other bars, making it ideal for the adult palate. This is not a bar for gorging on, but rather to be savoured in small doses. Indeed, it would make an excellent after dinner mint. 8/10
Premium Milk Chocolate with Honeycomb
(33.6%) – sugar, cocoa butter, whole milk powder, cocoa mass, glucose syrup, butterfat, water, polydextrose, salt, soya lecithin, natural vanilla.
As I have now come to expect with the Chocolate Cafe, this chocolate was silky smooth even though it had crunchy bits of honeycomb scattered throughout. It had a creamy taste and texture although it was rather too sweet for my liking. It does, however, have a pleasant coconutty flavour which becomes more pronounced over time as does its emollient quality.
Despite not liking my confectionary overly sweet, I do have a penchant for honeycomb and butterscotch in chocolate. I decided to compare this to the G&B Butterscotch, which is one of my favourite bars. They were two very different beasts indeed. The G&B bar was richer, chunkier and not as sweet, but it was also harsher – more bitter with a coarser texture. 7/10
Strawberry Chocolate with a Hint of Black Pepper
(28% cocoa) – sugar, cocoa butter, whole milk powder, freeze dried strawberry black pepper, soya lecithin, colour E120, natural vanilla.
As soon as I opened the wrapper, I was accosted by a strong strawberry aroma. This was followed by an equally strong fruity hit as soon as I bit into it. The chocolate iss most definitely pink. And although I’d prefer not to have any added colouring, it was quite fun. Following on from the strawberry, came the sense of overwhelming sweetness from the sugar, although the sharpness of the fruit does help to counter this a little. I really liked the hint of pepper, but a hint was all it was, accenting the strawberry flavour rather than overpowering it.
Like its sister, the white chocolate bar, it is slightly cloying and leaves a bit of a coating on the tongue. Because it’s highly reminiscent of one of my childhood favourites, the strawberry Pink Panther, I had to say I did enjoy this one. I suspect the quality of this version is of a much higher standard though and I’m sure it would be infinitely preferable if only I had one of the old panther bars to compare it to. However, because it is so sweet, scoffing the whole bar in one sitting would probably be a bit of a challenge. 6/10.
Following on from my review of Ohso last month, I was sent some orange Ohso to try. CT and I sat down to savour our daily dose of probiotics. These little 35g bars contain masses of good for your gut bacteria.
CT is very fussy about orange chocolate, which often tastes artificial and makes him feel ill. He liked this one though and thought it tasted like real oranges. Combined with the 53% plain chocolate, they had a sufficient complexity of flavour to make them interesting and pleasant to eat. As with the plain Ohso though, we both found them a little too sweet for our palates.
Like their plainer cousins, they are available to buy online and at many health food shops.
Let Us Know
Thanks for visiting Tin and Thyme. If you try any of the chocolate bars featured here, I’d love to hear about it in the comments below. Do share photos on your preferred social media site and use the hashtag #tinandthyme, so I can spot them.