Thursday, June 27, 2013

Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Lover's Chocolate Bar

I don't know how I turned into such a chocolate snob so quickly, but it's easy to do. This is a realm where 95% of options are crap, yet greatness is findable with effort. It is, in other words, a classic Leff Trap.

I've been preparing a magnum opus dumping everything I've learned about chocolate, and where to find the good stuff, but the specifics keep changing. So this is just a short preamble plus tip.

None of the chocolate at Trader Joe's or Whole Foods has ever been worth a damn. Same for most fancy gourmet markets. Fairway has a couple of good things (Cafe Tasse 77% Extra Noir and the fat little fruit/nut bars near the cash register which are Fairway branded but actually made by Lake Champlain), but nothing else of interest in branded chocolate (their bulk chocolate's a different thing, but also a long story...which I'll get to eventually).

As with so many things, once you've deeply dived in, none of the choices you've heard of remain within the pale. The good stuff's devastating, not super expensive, and will spoil you to the point where you can't touch Scharffen Berger, Valrhona, Callebaut, et al.

But there is one exception: "The Dark Chocolate Lover's Chocolate Bar" from Trader Joe's, 85%, is very nearly as good as my fancy stuff. It's only barely sweet, and I understand if you believe you don't like that sort of thing (I myself once prefered milk chocolate), but the fact is that super dark/bitter chocolate that's really great is really great (the aesthete's tautology). And this one's nearly really great, with all the subtle-yet-lavish complexity you find in single origin chocolate. The only problem is the bars are way too thin. Great chocolate requires in-mouth time to yield its flavor, and if the stuff has melted and drizzled down your throat before it fully develops, you're missing the full show.


Peter C said...

Great post Jim. Have you been to The Meadow? A friend of mine has progressed along the same pathway all the way to 100% and gets a lot of his stuff there:

Jim Leff said...

I'll try it, thanks. The only 100% I currently like is the Ecuadoran Hacienda Iara from Hotel Chocolat

Peter C said...

I realize my comment was misleading. The Meadow has all manner of dark chocolate. My friend gets his 100% there, but you can get just about anything that's on the market, of any percentage.

Unknown said...

Any updates on the chocolate magnum opus? The Art of Eating had a good list recently...

James Leff said...

'll do it hastily here, and expansively as its own post some other time.

Best value in choc is the one mentioned above.
But 2nd best is the bulk chocolate at NY's Fairway (near the nuts in all the stores). Not the big blocks, but the preformed large shrinkwrapped bars. Anything dark of that is good. Same of the chocolate chips....the dark ones are stupendous choc (any varietals also available in bars should be bought in bars). That stuff's all from Chocovic (in spain) and it's all fantastic and 1/3 the price of fancy shops.

Anything from Lake Champlain
Anything from Rabot Estate (a sub-label of Hotel Chocolat....there's a store in Boston and another at the Roosevelt Field Mall on Long Island)
Cafe tasse 77% extra noir (available at fairway, located in with the branded chocolate)
Anything from Amano (in Utah)

Bear in mind you'll need to wait at least 30 secs for flavor to really crest with any of these.

For fun novelty chocolate, the fat little fruit/nut/caramel bars from Lake Champlain (branded "Fairway" at cash registers there), Tazza, from Boston, for Mexican style (chalky and spiced), Dark spicy Aztec and Grace under fire from Lake Champlain, and any of the novelty stuff at Hotel Chocolat.

Hudson Valley Natural Beekman Buttercrunch is great, but hard to find

Unknown said...

Thanks! Unfortunately a bit NY centric for me to try much but I do see about half this list from time to time, and will try them. I had Champlain once and was unimpressed but will give them another whirl.

My all time favorite bar is Michel Cluizel Maralumi Noir. I can get it at Central Market here in Austin but I often get an order from where it is fresher.

My favorite chocolate found easily in stores (here in Central Texas) is the Madecasse Dark 70% at Whole Foods.

James Leff said...

You can cut past the new yorkcentricity by trying to figure out who's doing brisk biz in chocovic stuff in your area. That's what Fairway's selling, and if you can buy it from a non-super-expensive source, in its original generic, shrink-wrapped blocks, you can make out quite well. I recommend the Ocumare, but all the darks are good in that line.

I need to try the Michel Cluizel Maralumi Noir. But as for favorites, for me, it's any chuao. Trendy name to drop, I know, but look to Hotel Chocolat/Rabot Estate and to Amano for reasonably priced versions.

Unknown said...

I wish I know how to make my name not "Unkonwn" but anyway, I finally got to try this TJ Dark Chocolate Lovers bar and it is good. I do think the awesome flavor is from the vanilla (and same with my beloved Cluizel) which I think the chocolate purist scoff at. But I don't care; I like tasty things :)

Very happy to see the relatively low sugar on this (it is 85% after all). I've been trying lots of 85% lately and this was the best. I also like the Taza (which is 87%) but you it has the Meso-American texture.

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