Review Guide
Experiencing Chocolate
Labeling Craft Makers

Craft of Bean to Bar Project



3. When reviewing chocolate, how do you rank the different aspects in order of  importance.

Candice Alstrom
Some people use weighted aspects in their reviews. For pure fairness, I rank them all equally. I will say in my notes of the review that if it had a sloppy appearance, it's why it has a lower ranking but if it tasted good, to not let that distract you from buying the chocolate. To me it's all important. If a bar has a messy appearance, maybe the makers need to focus on shipping conditions, the stores that handle their products, so that they can ensure top quality. A good example was from reviewing a filled bar from Xocolatl de David. The caramel bacon bar was ashy and budging from the salt and gooey caramel. This s a problem from stacking the bars standing up and of course the salt drying it a touch. He is working on that issue but it's one I need people to ignore. Ignore the temporary issue of how it looks and eat the bar because it was one the most awesome filled bars I have ever had. Salt, caramel, bacon, Ecuador dark chocolate. It was amazing. I still reviewed with the same standards and took the points off the appearance, but I made big emphasis on just skipping that part and jump right into eating it.

I think it's important to disclose your preferences too. I have friends who are into chocolate that do not like smoked Papua New Guinea beans. They list that or discuss that as a defect. I disagree that it's a defect. It's just not to their preference. When I am not a fan of a particular region or flavor point, I make a note of that to be open and then I try to be as fair as I possibly can in reviewing. You got to keep it real. Real can sometimes be drama. I try my best not to be a drama queen about issues I don't like, people I don't like, or flavors. But to be honest and real that will come out in my reviews sometimes. But I would rather people know exactly where I am coming from as best as I can describe it versus downplaying something just to appear professional. Truth is important to me, even if it brings out the drama at times. It helps that I write exactly like I talk. The stream coming out of my thought process goes right to paper or keyboard. You can pretty much hear me while reading me.

I also like to tell people in my reviews what I think certain chocolates are good for. Some are good for eating and taking you to another place after a stressful day. Some are good for melting down and drinking in hot chocolate, some are good for baking with. Chocolate is not unlike beer. Unless it's just really bad quality, there is a time and a place for everything. I have even melted down scraps that have gone past the point of shelf live and eating and melted it down for chocolate face masks. You can do a lot with chocolate.

David Arnold
Let the bar highlight what is most important. What qualities strike first? Overwhelming aroma? Amazing creaminess? Supersaturated taste or just whispering subtleties? What happens next? Pay attention to that bar. What’s different about this dance in your mouth that you’ve not experienced before? Figure out what questions that particular bar requires. I like the way this works with the finest chocolate but it isn’t helpful with poorer quality bars. Scoring with a standardized checklist has the potential to not fully recognize greatness.

Debbie Ceder
For me, I’d rank those aspects like this: 1) my overall opinion, 2) flavor, 3) aftertaste, 4) texture, 5) aroma.  Our ratings are basically our opinion, and my opinion is based mostly on flavor, which includes aftertaste. I may love the flavor of a bar, then the aftertaste comes in as chalky or tannic or bitter, which ruins it for me. Texture and aroma are less important to me. I’ve tasted very coarse textured bars and loved them because of the flavor. Scharffen Berger’s now defunct Jamaica à l'ancienne is one example of this. The texture was unrefined, but the flavor was unparalleled.

Vic Ceder
I don't rank the individual flavor components of chocolate.  I like good flavor (e.g., Caribbean and northern South America are best; Madagascar is good but can sometimes be quite powerful). Aroma is an indicator of freshness and excellent flavor.  If I detect an unpleasant aftertaste, I often downgrade the chocolate significantly (e.g., Vanillin).  As for texture, I'd like the chocolate to 'snap' when I break it.  If the chocolate is soft (Lillie Belle Farms excluded), I also downgrade it.  Most 'health food' chocolate is way too soft.  I also do not like over-roasted beans.  The temperature when tasting chocolate is also important: when cold, flavors don't develop; when hot, chocolate can be soft and mushy but quite flavorful.

For my ratings I believe that some factors are definitely more important than others. For me, flavor is by far the most important, with aroma a close second, since flavor and aroma are so inextricably connected. Next, mouthfeel is also very important. By contrast, although I note snap, melt, and touch,
these factors are very low in importance to me.

When I began rating chocolate I studied the seventypercent.com rating system and I modified my system from that. Here are the 10 factors that I include, along with their weight: (The total of all adds up to 100%.) Taste 50%, Aroma 10%, Mouthfeel 10%, Aftertaste 8%, Opinion 7%, Appearance 6%, Melt 3%, Ingredients 3%, Snap 2%, Touch 1%. As you can see, taste and aroma together count for 60% while the combined total of the last 5 factors--appearance, melt, ingredients, snap, and touch-- only account for 15% of the total score.

The scores from all of the characteristics are added together to get the Total Score. The Score is on a 0-100 scale. A key point to be aware of, though, is that the score does not generate my rating, but instead it only informs my rating. To give a rating I take the score into account, but I give my ratings by comparing each chocolate to the ratings of all of the other chocolates that I have reviewed.

Mark Xian
See explanation above as well as the C-spot’s® self-defined format in any of The Daily Reviews.

Scott of Dallas Food
As a consumer, I want it all--interesting, well-fermented cacao with no off flavors, skilled roasting, textbook texture.  There are enough truly great bars out there that I don't feel the need to settle for "good cacao, shoddy craftsmanship" or vice versa.

Chloe Doutre-Roussel
I do not rank, I give just like as for people a global view, a style- preferences are very subjective, just like with music or people- I give more importance to aromas and flavors than to texture as I think that it is always easier to improve texture (particle size or bad tempering) than the aromas and the flavors so if some one has got tempering or texture wrong, I do not give it too much “negative” points. I just hope they will improve that part.
If astringency is quite bad, then not much hope to get rid of it in future batches; if acidity or bitternes is too strong they might be able to improve.  Aromas can be boring, they’re hidden but either not interesting or expressed to their potential. It is aromas and flavors I give the most importance to.

George Gensler
Flavor is the most important aspect.  For me, the best chocolates are complex in flavor (more bang for the buck?).  If a chocolate has a simple profile, it has to be very well made so that the single flavor shines.  I consider aftertaste to be part of the flavor, but the length becomes more significant the better or worse the aftertaste is.  Texture comes next.  I like my chocolate to have a good solid bite – not necessarily brittle, but with a good snap to it.  Appearance and aroma are close, but appearance edges out aroma.  They’re important, but not crucial, but I do admire a well-made bar.

Maricel Presilla
Everything is important to me when I am reviewing chocolate.

Alex Rast
1. Flavour
2. Opinion
3. Aroma
4. Texture

Richard Vaughan
For us, taste is definitely the most important, but we don’t assign specific weights to each characteristic. We have ranges where possible to rate relative qualities (such as for melt and length), as described on our Tasting Reference page, but many of the criteria are subjective. The final rating we give to chocolate bar is an overall combination based on flavor, melt, aroma, finish, length, appearance, and snap. We explicitly exclude non-experiential factors such as price, ingredients, origin, maker, cocoa solids, etc. from our rating.

Ian Whitaker
The World Chocolate Awards evaluates chocolate in a completely different way: the more negative an aspect is, the more important it becomes.

The World Chocolate Awards evaluation method was designed objectively from scratch to reflect the realities of the experience of tasting chocolate. I believe that your question referred to the common method of ranking aspects of chocolate in order of importance, before adding them up to a total score. The World Chocolate Awards does not use this method because of three significant problems that it presents.
Firstly, there is no rational method to determine which aspect of a chocolate is of higher or lower importance than another, before tasting it. How is the reviewer able to determine which aspect of a chocolate is of more importance than another before they taste a chocolate?

Secondly, there is no rational method to determine what percentage of a grand total each aspect of a chocolate is worth, before tasting it. Someone who employs this system needs to be able to provide an explanation as to why they assigned, for example, 10% importance to aroma. How did they arrive at this figure? What were the factors that made it 10% and not 10.5% or 11%? I certainly can’t tell you how important the aroma, flavour, texture or aftertaste of a chocolate is until I have tasted it.
Finally, when using the common method that you referred to, the reviewer presents a score for a chocolate’s aroma, and also states that this score will count towards, say, 10% of a grand total. And the same is done for the texture, flavour, and so on. Then they are all added up neatly to arrive at a grand total score out of 100%. This method means that if a chocolate has the worse possible score in one aspect – let’s say its texture is rock solid - so it would score zero for texture, it would be possible for this uneatable, flawed chocolate to receive a score of up to 90%. But everyone knows that if only one element of the chocolate is very bad, it makes a bad chocolate bar.
To put it another way, if I asked you to specify what factors would make your ideal restaurant, you could make a smart looking, mathematically sound list and make each aspect add up to 100%, with neat boxes around it all, but in practice, in reality, if you went to a restaurant and there was an unpleasant odour, that odour would begin to take precedence over how good the service was and how nice the food was. The stronger the odour became, the less the other aspects of the restaurant would justify you remaining there.

So, returning to chocolate, I say it is easy for us all to agree on the fact that if a chocolate’s aroma is terrible, the worst it is, the more important is becomes. The less anyone will care about its aftertaste or its texture. Things are all relative, as Einstein said. This is why the World Chocolate Awards has conceived a rational, understandable method that takes account of the realities of tasting chocolate.