Friday, August 15, 2014

What's Your Favourite 85% Chocolate Bar Brand? Maybe it's on this list:

Chocolate. It is not all the same. And certainly no two brands are alike. Each producer uses different ingredients, different processing methods, and cocoa beans from different origins. This means that although a group of chocolate bars, such as 85% dark chocolate, all have the same percentages of cacao and sugar, they will taste completely different from one another.

One cost-conscious chocolate maker might use the less flavourful Forrastero bean to make chocolate, whereas another chocolate maker might use the highly coveted Criollo bean to make fine chocolate.  And that same fine chocolate maker might use a 72-hour conche method to make chocolate with a smooth texture.  But an organic chocolate producer may stone-grind the beans for a rougher, less-processed texture. And yet all these producers make chocolate bars that appear to be the same on the package because they are simply labelled as milk chocolate, 70% dark, or 85% dark.

To find your favourite chocolate bar, it is good to conduct regular 'taste and compare' sessions to sort out the differences and discover your favourite brand.

A few weeks ago, I was craving dark chocolate with 85% cacao solids. When I went to the store, I found several bars on the shelf in that same percentage range. So I bought them all and decided it was a good time to taste and compare. Here is the list of 85% bars with flavour notes, broken down into two categories: Competitive Commercial (i.e. Lindt, Godiva, etc.), and Organic/Fair Trade:

Competitive, Commercial Brands:

The first bar was a Lindt Excellence 85%. It was very smooth (as Lindt's chocolate always is) and perfectly portioned pieces, but the flavour is very bitter and a bit dry. You will need water with this one because it sticks to the tongue. In looking at the ingredients (see below), I could see that cocoa powder was added to the chocolate, which gives it that extra bitter flavour and dry texture.

Walmart's brand, Our Finest 85% Swiss Dark Chocolate, was similar to Lindt but has a brighter, and acidic, yet tangy, flavour.  It was not as crisp to snap and the pieces were a little thicker than Lindt's. Overall, I was surprised to learn that I liked it.

Godiva's 85% chocolate bar was pretty good.  It was smooth for the most part, but had the odd crunchy sugary bit which was not unpleasant. Also, the "natural flavour" (instead of vanilla) was nice and not overwhelming, as it was in the Cote D'Or bar.

Cote D'Or NOIR 86% has 1% more cacao solids, but it is not any more bitter than the others.  However, it does have a strong added flavouring (in replacement of 'vanilla' - see below for ingredients list), in a not-so-good way.

Organic & Fair Trade Brands:

Green & Black's Organic 85% chocolate bar had thick chunks to break off, and it seemed to be softer and maybe more 'melty', if that is the right way to put it. In terms of flavour, it was tangy, acidic and a bit overwhelming, but that may have something to do with the thickness of the pieces.   The vanilla flavour was also strong. And yet, I know that I liked it because I ate the whole bar in a very short time.

Alter Eco 85% was also organic and fair trade.  And it was my favourite.  Bitter but palatable with a nice flavour.

Theo Chocolate's 85% has a lot of vanilla flavour and is very enjoyable, with a  slight sugar crunch. It is also very acidic, so much so that it reminds me of acidic tropical fruit, but without the fruity taste. This is one of my favourite 85% bars.

PC Organics 85% European Extra Dark Chocolate is a Canadian brand that is made in France.  It is very bitter, but I must have liked it because, like the Green & Blacks bar, I ate it all quite quickly.

So what did I learn from this process? For one, Alter Eco was my favourite 85% dark chocolate bar, which surprised me. My second choices were Theo, PC and G&Bs. And I also learned that I like 85% dark chocolate, I just don't like all brands of it. My least favourite was Cote D'Or.

I also learned that although one producer might make an undesirable 85% dark chocolate, I can never discount their other flavoured, white or milk chocolate bars, because they might just make the best bar in another category.

Here are some other 80-something % bars that I have also tried and enjoyed:

Grenada 82% brand was very tropical, citrusy and fruity flavoured. Loved it for its pronounced flavour.

Camino (Canadian brand) Panama Extra Dark 80% is smooth and slightly sweeter than the 85% group.  This chocolate bar is enjoyable in the same way that a black espresso is.

GNAW 80% High Cocoa bar from Norfolk U.K. is full of flavour and quite enjoyable. It is also one of the most 'fun' brands out there.

So let's compare ingredients!  Here are the package details and ingredients lists for most of the 85% chocolate bars mentioned above, which may help you decide which ones to choose based on your dietary needs (i.e. soy vs no soy, vanilla vs no vanilla, etc.) or preference of where it is made:

Lindt Excellence 'Intense Dark' 85% Cacao, 100g
Lindt & Sprüngli (Canada), Inc. (Toronto, ON)
Ingredients: Cocoa mass, cocoa butter, Demerara sugar, bourbon vanilla beans. May contain almonds, milk and soy.

Côte D'Or NOIR 86%, 100g
Côte D'Or (Imported by Jacobs Suchard Canada (Don Mills, Ontario)
Ingredients: Unsweetened chocolate*, cocoa butter*, cocoa powder, sugar, natural flavours, soy lecithin. *Cocoa from Rainforest Alliance Certified(TM) Farms. May contain milk and tree nuts.

Godiva Extra Dark Santo Domingo Chocolate, 100g
Distributed by: Godiva Chocolatier, Inc. (New York, NY) - product of Germany.
Ingredients: Bittersweet chocolate (unsweetened chocolate, sugar, cocoa butter, soy lecithin (emulsifier), natural flavouring). May contain tree nuts, peanuts, milk and wheat.

Our Finest 85% Cocoa Swiss Dark Chocolate, 100g
Imported for: Wal-Mart Canada Corp. (Mississauga, ON)
Product of Switzerland.
Ingredients: Cocoa mass, cocoa butter, sugar, natural flavour. May contain: Milk, soy, tree nuts, wheat.

Theo 85% Organic and Fair Trade Pure Dark Chocolate, 85g
Theo Chocolate (Seattle, WA)
Ingredients: Cocoa beans*+, sugar*+, ground vanilla bean*+. Allergy information: Manufactured on shared equipment with products containing milk, eggs, wheat, peanuts and tree nuts. (my side note: no soy!)

PC Organics European Extra Dark 85%, 100g
President's Choice Organics brand by Loblaws, Inc. (Toronto, ON)
Product of France
Ingredients: Organic unsweetened chocolate, organic cocoa butter, organic sugar,. May contain tree nuts, milk, egg, soy and wheat.

Alter Eco 'BLACKOUT' 85% Dark Organic Chocolate, 80g
Alter Eco (San Francisco, CA)
Ingredients: Cacao beans*, raw cane sugar*, cocoa butter*, vanilla beans*. *organic and traded in compliance with Fairtrade standards, total 100%.  Made on shared equipment with milk, hazelnuts, almonds and soy.   (Made with Ecuadorian cacao, but made in Switzerland)

Do you have any favourite 85% bars?  Tell us about them in the comments below!  This 85% chocolate list can be added to over time with help from my chocolate-loving friends.


  1. The only 85% I've had (so far) has been Green & Black's, that was quite pleasant. It had some nice flavour tones. I've had an 84% (more impressive Bean-to-Bar company), and then I've got a few in the 80's sitting in my collection waiting to be tried:)

  2. Agree with Green & Black. Two more really good bars are Ghiradelli 86% and Endangered Species 88%.

    1. Thank you for those! We get a limited selection of Ghiradelli chocolate here in Ontario - the flavoured squares mostly. I'll have to look out for it and for the Endangered Species 88% too.

  3. Great post! i've been on an 85% kick lately. Here are my notes:

    Green & Black's 85% - my fave. I like how smooth it is, and how the thick pieces melt more slowly in my mouth. I find the flavor more balanced than other similar bars. Not too bitter, sweet, or acidic.

    Alter Eco 85% - seems we have different tastebuds, because this was my least favourite! I found it dry, gritty, and burnt-tasting - ashy and bitter. Not so bad that I disliked it (I still ate the whole thing!), but I wouldn't buy it again.

    Giddy Yoyo extra dark 89% - ditto the Alter Eco. It was edible, but distinctly dry and burnt-tasting, and I didn't love it. Expensive, too. Wouldn't buy it again.

    Walmart Our Finest 85% - I was surprised how good this is for a $2 Walmart product. It's nice and balanced and nutty - a little on the sweet side, but it definitely tastes more like chocolate than candy. I'm eating a bar right now and I'm so impressed I went looking for reviews to find out what other chocolate snobs are saying about it. Melts pretty fast, though - my fingers are covered in chocolate!

    Lindt 85% - I don't actually see this one on the shelves too often, so usually I get the 90%. I quite enjoy it, though my friends all say it's too bitter and dry. I find it pretty smooth and low-acid. I like pairing it with a hot espresso or strong Americano - a sip of hot, bitter coffee helps the chocolate melt faster and primes your tastebuds for the subtle sweetness and smokiness of the chocolate.

    Theo 85% - I liked it, but found it so aggressively acidic that I couldn't eat too much. The acidity dried my mouth out after a few pieces. I liked the fruitiness, though. I wonder if this bar would be better after aging it for a few months?

    Godiva 85% - I think I only got this one once, and I didn't hate it, but I remember finding it inferior to other bars on the same shelf like Lindt and G&B, so I only bought it once or twice when it was on sale. I remember feeling like it tasted "too strong" somehow, but not in the right way - like instead of balancing the sweetness, acidity and bitterness, they'd just cranked everything up to 11. All the nutty, fruity, nuanced flavours were overpowered.

  4. Missed one! Vivani 85% is also really good. Smooth and balanced.

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  7. There are a few different types of 85% chocolate bars out there. Some are made with milk, some are dark, and some are in between. Here are a few brands that you might want to try:

    1. Lindt Excellence - This Swiss chocolate brand is known for its smooth texture and rich flavor. The 85% bar is made with extra cocoa butter to give it a creamy mouthfeel.

    2. Valrhona - Another Swiss chocolate, Valrhona's version is slightly darker and has a more intense flavor. It's made with beans from Venezuela, which gives it a unique taste.

    3. Amide Toscano Black - This Italian chocolate is one of the darkest on the market, and it has a complex flavor profile with notes of fruit and spices.

    4. Cluizel Noir Extra AMER - This French chocolate is also quite dark, but it has a softer texture thanks to the addition of almond milk. It's got

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