Easter is coming and that means chocolate. Lots of it. But why wait until then to enjoy the best of it? When chosen well, dark chocolate is not only the healthier chocolate, but the tastier chocolate. Here are the ten best bars and brands to keep you going all-year-round.
Akesson’s might be one of the lesser-known names on this list, but its also one of the most celebrated: just last year it was the biggest winner at the Great Taste Awards with 19 products awarded 21 stars (including three stars for six of its products and three in the Top 50 Best Foods), as well as picking up World Gold at the 2016 International Chocolate Awards. We tried two bars from the range: 75% Criollo Cocoa and 100% Criollo Cocoa. For such high-percentage chocolate the texture of both bars is some of the creamiest out there, and while we found the 100% too tart for our own tastebuds, we did enjoy the clean, subtle sweetness and lingering fruity aftertaste of the more mellow 75%. An expensive chocolate for only the most discerning dark chocolate lover.
Price: £5.95 per 60g bar
Willie Harcourt-Cooze is a real-life Willy Wonka, transforming fine flavour cocoas from single origins and estates into superior quality chocolate blocks and bars. He was the man behind Britain’s first 100% chocolate bar and has popularised cacao as a pure ingredient, using just raw cane sugar and natural cocoa butter to preserve the natural flavours of the bean. The results are pretty spectacular. Not only is Willie’s Cacao some of the best-looking dark chocolate out there, it’s also some of the tastiest. The thick, squared slabs are gloriously smooth and creamy, with the varying percentage bars offering different, always-subtle flavour notes, from deep cherries and plums in the Los Llanos Gold 88% to gentle spice mingled with red fruit in the 70% version. Bean-to-bar chocolate at its best.
Price: £2.99 per 80g bar
Conscious dark side
Conscious is the original raw vegan chocolate, and each 50g handmade bar is unlike anything else on the market: soft, sumptuous and sweetened with natural agave nectar, they’re more like a slab of melt-in-the-mouth chocolate truffle than a conventional snap-off-a-square chocolate bar. The Dark Side is Conscious’s darkest chocolate flavour, made from 85% cacao solids. While it has the same rich taste and flat matt colouring as the lower percentage bars, the actual texture is a whole lot snappier and – unlike the others – chilling it does it no favours, so keep it out and eat it up: it’s too good to save (or share) anyway.
Price: £3 per 50g bar
We loved Rawr chocolate the last time we reviewed it, but there’s no denying it had a slightly chalky texture that, while not unpleasant, failed to live up to its multiple Great Taste Award-winning reputation. Not any more. Rawr must have changed their recipes because on our latest taste-test, any chalkiness had been replaced with a properly creamy, seriously dreamy bar of chocolate with the same crisp snap and clean aftertaste of the original. Thankfully, the bars are still of a decent size (12 squares each) and whether you go all out with the ‘unadulterated’ 80% dark chocolate (‘for extreme chocolate lovers’) or keep it sweet with the 68%, this is a gluten-free, dairy-free raw chocolate that’s every bit as good as it looks.
Price: £2.45 per 60g bar
Easter without Lindt is like Easter without chocolate, but there’s more to this much-loved Swiss chocolatier than gold bunnies and Lindor truffles. From Chilli and Coconut to Dark Caramel & Sea Salt, Lindt’s range of highly-refined dark chocolate bars offers proper, grown-up luxury: smooth, flat squares, delicately fragrant with a rich chocolate content ranging from 60% right up to a whopping 99%. And it’s these premium, higher cocoa Lindt products that are manufactured without any cereal or barley malt (Excellence 70%, 85%, 90% and 99%). Combining a crisp snap with Lindt’s characteristic creaminess, we love the subtle but full-bodied flavour of the 70%, while the sweet yet tangy freeze dried raspberry pieces in the new Intense Raspberry makes it even more impossible to resist.
Price: £1.99 per 100g bar
DIVINE PINK HIMALAYAN SALT
Divine is the only Fairtrade chocolate company co-owned by cocoa farmers, and better prices and better working conditions all result in a noticeably better chocolate. Take its new Dark Chocolate with Pink Himalayan Salt. Combining the melt-in-the-mouth sweetness of 60% cocoa solids with the salty crunch of nutrient-rich Pink Himalayan Salt, this really is Divine dark chocolate at its very best: rich, creamy and extraordinarily delicious.
Price: £2.39 per 100g bar
WAITROSE BELGIAN DARK CHOCOLATE
The higher the percentage, the higher the price – but it’s not always worth paying more for. Supermarket versions are not to be sniffed at, and Waitrose’s own brand Belgian Dark Chocolate is a particularly sound option thanks to the wonderfully thick, chunky squares and rich, velvety texture. The lower cocoa percentage makes for a markedly sweeter experience, while the lower price tag will go a long way to help justify the two rows you’ll easily scoff in an evening – because who said two squares is ever enough?
Price: £1.62 per 200g
Tesco Plain 85% chocolate
At half the price of comparable dark chocolate bars, it’s difficult not to be tempted by Tesco’s own take on high-percentage dark chocolate. The large, flat squares are Lindt-like in style but considerably flatter in flavour – and certainly not as creamy. It is, however, perfectly pleasant, with a decent chocolate hit that delivers a no-frills, no-fuss everyday budget option.
Price: £1 per 100g bar
GREEN & BLACKS ORGANIC 85% DARK CHOCOLATE
Great cacaos are like fine wines, and at Green & Black’s they’re so proud of the flavours in their chocolate they’ve even got an in-house Taste Specialist and ‘palette path’ to help you find your perfect bar. They call it ‘the complex taste of simplicity’ – and these really aren’t any old bars of chocolate. Even the ‘simple’ 70% dark chocolate combines a rich nuttiness with notes of roasted coffee, sweet vanilla and bitter cherry, while the more intense 85% version is naturally sweetened and softened with organic vanilla from Madagascar. The Dark Chocolate with Ginger is also worth a mention: think fiery, spicy, crystallised ginger, bursting through the sweetness of 60% dark chocolate.
Price: £2.19 per 100g bar
iQ Bean-to-Bar Chocolate
Made from 72% Peruvian cocoa, iQ’s Original Bean-to-Bar chocolate has seen iQ widely heralded for its nutritionally superior and scientific approach to chocolate-making. So much so, it was even included in a banquet for visiting dignitaries at the Olympics. And if it’s good enough for Olympians, it’s good enough for me. 100% natural, organic and ethically produced, you’ll have to pay more for the privilege (£1.95 per 35g bar) but there’s no denying it has all the smooth taste and snappy texture you could expect from such a high-quality bar of chocolate.
Price: £1.99 per 35g bar