Credit: Dandelion Chocolate

We tried 10 single-origin bars from four top-notch bean-to-bar chocolate makers—here’s how they stacked up.

August 01, 2017

Tasting single-origin chocolate is an engaging, sensory-driven experience. Made with cocoa beans sourced from a specific country, plantation, or small family-owned farm, single-origin bars are full of distinctive flavors. Due to factors such as terroir (soil, climate, rainfall, and altitude) and manufacturing methods, the differences between these bars can vary greatly. This special type of chocolate is rising in popularity, and whether you’re a newbie or experienced sampler, our handy tasting guide will help you find the perfect bar for your preferences.

Our taste test starts with 10 single-origin bars from four reputable small-batch chocolate makers across the country: Askinosie Chocolate, Xocolatl Small Batch Chocolate, Dandelion Chocolate, and Taza Chocolate. Our sampling covers as much of the cocoa bean producing world as possible, from Central America to South America, across the Atlantic to Africa, and lastly to the South Pacific islands. All of the bars we tried were dark chocolate made with 70% cacao or more, with the most intense being 87%.

For each bar, we considered several factors:

  • Price: Single-origin bars are known to be pricier, so we considered overall value for each bar.
  • Packaging: What information does the company choose to display?
  • % Cacao: The higher the percentage, the more bitter the flavor.
  • Texture: This includes everything from how cleanly the bar snaps into smaller pieces, to the overall mouthfeel.
  • Flavor: Chocolate packs a range of flavors that reveal themselves at various intervals during tasting. We considered every flavor we experienced from start to finish. Like tasting wine, nothing is beyond the realm of possibility (if the chocolate makes you think of your grandmother’s bourbon pecan pie, just roll with it!). 

Here's the one rule of thumb when it comes to tasting: No matter what, do not chew the chocolate right away! Let it sit on your tongue until it softens and the flavors will develop gradually. We organized the bars from highest amount of cacao to lowest, tasting the most intensely-flavored bars first to prevent our taste buds from tiring out. We also recommend having a glass of water nearby to clear your palate in between bars. Below, we offer our observations, experiences, and opinions about each bar, so you can choose the right one for your tastes.

Taza Chocolate (Somerville, MA)

  • Price: $7.50 per bar 
  • Packaging: Bright colors make the wrappers stand out, while numerous certification seals, such as USDA Certified Organic, Certified Gluten-Free, and Non-GMO Verified attract the eye. Each bar lists only the origin country instead of the specific region.
  • Overall Impressions: Taza calls itself "chocolate with grit." During manufacturing, the cocoa beans are stone-ground, meaning all of their bars have a signature gritty texture. While some may not prefer these because of this, other may absolutely love them.

 Credit: Taza Chocolate

Bolivia: 

  • Cacao: 87% 
  • Taste Test: Due to the higher cacao, the chocolate was aggressive and rather acidic at first before softening with subtle tropical fruit flavors. This bar takes some effort to snap into smaller pieces.
  • The Verdict: If ultra-dark chocolate that veers on boozy is your preference, you will love this bar. This was also the only bar we tried to contain vanilla bean in the ingredients list, perhaps to help balance the bitterness.

 Credit: Taza Chocolate

Haiti:

  • Cacao: 84% 
  • Taste Test: We tasted dark fruits such as figs and plums. The overall flavor was roasty, nutty, and, interestingly, a bit musty. Again, this bar snapped into pieces with more effort than we expected. 
  • The Verdict: For a high cacao level, this bar is balanced and surprisingly smooth.

Xocolatl Small Batch Chocolate (Atlanta)

  • Price: $9 per bar
  • Packaging: We love the vibrant, eye-catching colors and patterns on each wrapper. The clean, sophisticated design includes details such as a hand-written “batch number” and a stamped-on “enjoy by” date.
  • Overall Impressions:  An outstanding craft chocolate bar company that comes with a dose of local ATL pride.   

 Credit: Xocolatl Small Batch Chocolate

Peru: San Martin de Pangao

  • Cacao: 85%
  • Taste Test: Roasty and bitter at first before brightening with berry flavors.
  • The Verdict: Bold, complex, and pleasantly bitter, this is the perfect bar for coffee and espresso lovers.

 Credit: Xocolatl Small Batch Chocolate

Madagascar: Ambanja

  • Cacao: 73%
  • Taste Test: Vibrant, fruity, and floral right off the bat. Red berries linger and develop a creamy finish.
  • The Verdict: Crisp and flavorful without overpowering. We suggest taking in the fruity aroma with a glass of Pinot Noir in hand. 

 Credit: Xocolatl Small Batch Chocolate

Nicaragua: Matagalpa

  • Cacao: 72%
  • Taste Test: Slightly bitter at first, then the flavor takes on a smoky profile. The sweetness is nicely balanced throughout. There are also lingering notes of licorice, hickory, and pine. 
  • The Verdict: If smoke and oak are your thing, then you’ll really enjoy this bar.

Askinosie Chocolate (Springfield, MO)

  • Price: $8.50 each
  • Packaging: We were impressed by Askinosie's innovative and informative wrapper, which uses compostable paper. What's more, the wrapped is secured by a tie from the biodegradable bag carrying the cocoa beans from their origin country. Except for Taza, this was the only company to display full nutrition information.
  • Overall Impressions: From smart packaging to a wealth of information offered on their website, Askinosie strives for transparency—and we really admire that. Their chocolate bars are consistently fantastic as well. Additionally, Askinosie’s bars are the only ones to use extra cocoa butter (which they make in-house), a step that lends an ultra-luscious texture to their chocolate.

 Credit: Askinosie Chocolate

Philippines: Davao

  • Cacao: 77%
  • Taste Test: Right away, we taste toasted caramel and a hint of nuttiness. The chocolate has a silky-smooth texture and snaps cleanly into pieces.
  • The Verdict: This bar is comforting and decadent, but not overpowering in the slightest. Think fudgy chocolate brownies. 

 Credit: Askinosie Chocolate

Tanzania: Mababu

  • Cacao: 72%
  • Taste Test: A creamy blueberry flavor with subtle nuttiness and sweetness from start to finish. 
  • The Verdict: Classy, luxe, and smooth all the way through. We'd love to share this show-stopping bar with others over a glass of Port. 

Dandelion Chocolate (San Francisco)

  • Price: $8 each
  • Packaging: The wrapper is clean, minimal, and unpretentious, while being plenty informative. With notes like “sourced directly by Greg,” and “roast profile by Elman,” each bar feels personal.
  • Overall Impressions: Given their pleasing, well-balanced flavors, Dandelion is an excellent value for the price point. These bars all had the perfect "snap."

 Credit: Dandelion Chocolate

Guatamala: Cahabón

  • Cacao: 70%
  • Taste Test: This bar is rich, buttery, and full of caramel flavors. The finish is sweet, creamy, and truly decadent.
  • The Verdict: Delicious. This bar reminds us of coffee-chocolate cake, and if that’s your jam, you’ll want to try this one.

 Credit: Dandelion Chocolate

Trinidad: San Juan Estate

  • Cacao: 70%
  • Taste Test: Sweet and roasty, but also a touch bitter and spicy like chicory. The flavor mellows out with a creamy, vanilla finish.'
  • The Verdict: An interesting, complexly-flavored bar. If you’re a cigar afficionado, this would be a deliciously smoky match.

 Credit: Dandelion Chocolate

Belize: Maya Mountain

  • Cacao: 70%
  • Taste Test: This bar is bursting with juicy, tropical flavors like guava and passion fruit. The lingering flavors are tangy-sweet and creamy, and the texture is silky-smooth.
  • The Verdict: It’s easy to love this bar. Very little bitterness, due to its lower cacao, and overall well-balanced and refreshing. Makes us think of white sandy beaches and crystal-clear oceans.

So, are single-origin bars worth the splurge? Absolutely. Each bar we tasted was an experience, engaging and thought-provoking in its own way. One quality, however, was consistent throughout all the bars—before removing the wrappers, a wonderfully intoxicating chocolatey aroma piqued our senses and made our mouths water. If you see a bar you'd like to try, each one can be ordered online by visiting the company's website.