Saturday, June 14, 2008

Chocolate tasting 2008



This April, for the second year in a row, I organized a chocolate tasting for MIT graduate students, families, and postdocs (click here for the complete guide). I had planned to forgo the event this year to focus on my research, but a little prodding and imagining all of the new and exciting chocolates I would find was all I needed to give it another go. Here's a summary of my discoveries.
  • The price of chocolate is way up. While I had more than 90 types of chocolate at last year's tasting, there were only about 30 this year and lower quantities. Shipping seems to cost about double what it did last year.
  • Online Shopping
    • While last year I trolled the web and visited every single chocolate shop in the city of Boston, this year I kept things simple and purchased all of the chocolate from three online shops: Surfas, chocosphere.com, and Lake Champlain Chocolates.
    • Surfas, my favorite food store both online and offline, has started offering a wide array of premium chocolates from Cacao Barry, Felchlin, and Valrhona in two-pound packages at the best prices on the web.
    • This year I also shelled out 3 bucks at Surfas for a tool everyone who works with bulk chocolate should have: a chocolate chipper. For home use I typically buy chocolate in 10lb blocks, and in the past I spent hours chopping chocolate, dulling my knives and fatiguing my hands. But with this simple and sturdy device, I can chop an entire 10lb block in a matter of minutes into manageable chunks for melting or eating.
    • Chocosphere is to my knowledge the most extensive chocolate shop on the web, and their prices are among the best as well. If there's any one-stop-shop for chocolate, Chocosphere is it. Their orders have always arrived promptly and in good shape. I especially like their Bargain Basement, where you can get discontinued and expired (but still good!) chocolates at steep discounts.
    • Lake Champlain of Vermont has been one of my favorite chocolate shops, and this year I ordered some of their select origin squares for the chocolate tasting.
  • Chocolates
    • This year's selection was almost completely different from last year's, and the new brands I tried were Felchlin, Claudio Corallo, and Cacao Barry
    • The awe-inspiring story of Claudio Corallo is detailed on his website and in books such as Bittersweet by Mark Rosenbaum and The Chocolate Connoissuer by Chloe Doutre-Roussel. And his chocolate is one of my all-time favorites. It contains no lecithin or vanilla, highlighting the clean, powerful flavor that is characteristic of all chocolates from Sao Thome. I particularly like the 80% bar with crystallized sugar that crunches and crackles in your mouth, but those who prefer the smoothness of traditional chocolate may choose the 75% bar instead.
    • I also really enjoyed Felchlin chocolates. I never had them before the chocolate tasting this year, and now they are probably my favorite bulk chocolate. They are incredibly smooth and masterfully balanced, and I enjoyed the Cru Savage from Bolivia most of all with its deep, dark flavor yet delicate finish. I also really liked the Arriba variety.
    • In contrast, Valrhona has been a big disappointment both this year and last year. Widely touted by chocolate snobs as the world's best premium chocolate, Valrhona costs 50% more than Callebaut and about the same amount as Felchlin, which is far superior. Valrhona's Feves have a characteristic waxy texture and flavor, and their flavors are simply lackluster. For my bulk chocolate needs, I still rely on Callebaut, which for some reason is routinely snubbed by the same chocolate critics which adore its French rival. Callebaut's standard bittersweet chocolate is crisp and flavorful and stands up to all but the most exacting recipes. I only wish I could find Callebaut's special origin chocolates in the US - the Kumabo African blend I bought in Barcelona was amazing. I've scoured the web for them and even emailed the Callebaut salespeople, but they're just not available!
    • Cacao Barry, which is owned by the same firm as Callebaut, drives a middle road between standard Callebaut and Felchlin. They're not as smooth or well-balanced as the Felchlin ones and can have a bit of a chalky and bitter undertone, but they're also not as expensive. I liked their St. Dominique the best, but the Concorde and Ghana are good as well.
    • I also tried Callebaut's strawberry-flavored white chocolate chips. They're cute, but the flavor tastes artificial. Go with their creamy and delectable cappuccino or caramel milk chocolate chips instead if you're looking for flavored chocolate chips.
All-in-all, the chocolate tasting was great fun, and it brought lots people together in a stimulating and satisfying experience.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

If you need a lot of chocolate but don't like rising prices, you should try www.gourmail.com. They have Callebaut, Valrhona, El Rey and a few others for much cheaper than Chocosphere or others. We're talking 11 lb. and 6.6 lb blocks. Shipping is ridiculously cheap, too...

And I totally don't work for them, either.

Anonymous said...

(Specifically, the shipping is cheaper--$4.50 flat rate, east of the Mississippi)