Review Philosophy

My Goal: To experience extraordinary chocolate.  My ratings are a record of which chocolates I enjoy most and which ones I don’t want to try again.

Please note carefully: 
All ratings are inherently subjective, so my ratings are also unavoidably subjective.  My ratings are based solely on what I enjoy, according to my experience and my personal preferences.  Tasting chocolate is an aesthetic experience, so a great deal of subjective preferences and experiences will always be involved.  I am NOT directly rating the quality of a given chocolate.  Hopefully there will be a general correlation between quality and my preferences, but I believe that it’s an impossible quest to look for a chocolate that can be objectively quantified as “The Best”.  Instead, my much more modest and achievable aim is merely to find “My Favorites”.
  

My Rating System

 ·       Rating Scale- I use a scale from 0 to 10 where 5 is average.  When assessing a chocolate I start at the baseline of 5 and first decide whether or not the chocolate is above or below average.  Then I determine how high or how low the rating should be.  I utilize the entire range of values, so anything above 9 is among my top favorites, 5 is average, and anything below 1 is among my most disliked.

Translated into words my numerical enjoyment ratings would be something like this: 

Rating

Enjoyment

Attention

Procuring

10

My Favorite. 

It sets the standard, and I measure everything else in comparison to it. I feel pangs of longing when it’s finished.

Block out the world; savor every morsel with fully absorbed focus

Do anything to get it; pay whatever it costs.

>9

Top Favorite. Heavenly, sublime

Ruminate slowly

Must buy.  Track it down

9

First Class

Ponder

Search hard for it

8

Very highly enjoyed

Focus, contemplate

Hunt for it

7

Highly enjoyed

Carefully concentrate

Go out of your way

6

Above average

Examine

Look for it

5

Average, ordinary

Munch

Just grab off the shelf

4

Unappealing, Below average, missing something

Eat quickly

Buy with hesitation

3

Disliked. Needs a lot of help, lacking in many ways

Give away

Only if on sale

2

Appalling. It’s hard to even finish the bar. 

Get rid of

Don’t buy it; only taste it if it’s given away

1

Inedible.  It was hard to eat and I’m glad to see it gone.

Make hot chocolate with it

Turn it down if someone offers it to you

<1

Yuck!  Spit it out!

Throw it away

Tell others to avoid it

 ·       I rate on the curve, so I rate all new chocolate in comparison to others that I’ve tasted.  As I taste more chocolate my tastes are always evolving, so what I like and dislike changes.  Whenever I eat a really great chocolate it expands my horizons about what is possible and what my standards for greatness are.  Therefore, there are periodic adjustments to the scale from the top, bottom, or middle. 

·       Score- A total is generated by a weighted formula for various characteristics.  Each characteristic is rated based on my enjoyment relative to all the chocolate I’ve tasted.  There is higher weight given to taste, aroma, and aftertaste.  For each characteristic the Rating multiplied by the Weight gives the Score.  Both the Rating and the Weight are subjective, based on my preferences.  Once again, I’m not rating quality but my personal enjoyment.  The scores from each characteristic are added together to get the Total Score.  The Total Score is on a 0-100 scale.  A key point to be aware of, though, is that the Total Score does not generate my rating, but instead it only informs my rating.  I use the information from each characteristic and the Total Score to help me determine my final ratings. 

·       Class Rating- Because there are so many different kinds of tastes that are very different from each other, I’ve separated chocolates by “Class”.  (In her blog, The Chocolate Note, Casey M. also writes about how chocolates fall into different categories. [2])   For example, White chocolate and Spicy dark chocolate are so different from dark 70% chocolate that I don’t think they can be meaningfully compared.  Even 55% chocolate is so different from 99% that they are very hard to compare.  The Class Rating is to be able to compare chocolate in a similar category, so that when I’m in a mood for a certain flavor I’ll know what I like most in that class.  So the Class Rating rates chocolates only within the category of chocolate it falls in, not universally compared against all chocolate.  For each Class the highest rating is 10, even if that particular class is not one of my favorites.  As an example, I don’t really care for nibs, but within the Nibs Class there is a bar with a 10 Class rating, even though the Overall Rating is only 4.  I interpret this to mean, “If I wanted a nibs bar I’d choose the 10, but overall I enjoy nibs below average, so I won’t usually choose a nibs bar anyway.”

·       Overall Rating- Based on my preferences, rated on the curve, compared to ALL chocolate that I’ve tasted.  This rating generally follows my hierarchy of preferences from the various “classes” (read more below).  For example, I really like chocolate in the 70s percent range as well as Mint and Ginger, so my Overall Ratings will be higher for these Classes.  On the other hand, I don’t care as much for Milk chocolate, Nibs, or 100% bars so their highest Overall Rating will be limited.  As an example, my favorite bar in the 100% Class only has an Overall Rating of 4.

·       Quality Grade: The quality of a chocolate bar is very difficult to quantify, and there will always be an inescapable element of subjective bias to every rating.  In addition, I believe that unless a person has tasted every single chocolate bar in the world, within a reasonable period of time, that it is impossible to crown “The Best Chocolate in the World”.   However, after reviewing over 650 chocolate bars I think that I can generally determine the quality of a chocolate bar.  In the broadest terms there are 3 categories: Good, Average, Bad, although there is a gray area between each category.  I have expanded on those categories a bit by using a school style grading system that uses five grades of A, B, C, D, F.  Because of subjectivity and the many challenges to rating quality I think that it is too difficult to be more precise than this.  The grading scale starts with C being Average.  Translating these grades into descriptive words:

A = Very Good

B = Good

C = Average

D = Below Average

F = Bad

There are also gray areas between grades when a bar could go up or down.  Because of this some times, if a bar is on the borderline between two grades I won’t assign a letter grade.  I also find it very challenging to objectively grade the quality of different categories of chocolate bars.  How does one meaningfully compare the quality of white chocolate to a 100% dark bar to one with hot spices?  Here subjective taste rules, and that even changes depending on one’s mood and circumstances.  For example, ginger is one of my favorite flavors so I rate them high, but others do not like ginger at all so they rate them lower.  Some people adore nibs whereas I don’t usually care too much for them.  It’s even hard to compare bars in the 60-69% range to bars in the 70-79% range.  (How much difference is there really between 68% and 70%  anyway?)  Some people prefer sweeter bars and some prefer less sweet; neither is right or wrong, so how can an objective quality rating be made without subjective bias?  For these reasons I have not graded quite a few bars that are in a class other than the 70s.  In these cases I defer to my to my Enjoyment ratings, and other people can compare their tastes to mine.

 ·       Value Index- or “Pleasure to Price Ratio”, comes from the ratio of my Overall Rating to Price (per 100 grams, and with a factor to get it on a 1-100 scale).  The purpose of this index is to see which chocolates offer the most enjoyment for their price.  Generally, I don’t pay much attention to this factor since I’m willing to pay top dollar for my favorite chocolate.  However, it becomes most useful for pointing out very inexpensive chocolate that’s pretty good (such as Trader Joe’s 72% Dark), or high priced chocolate with a low rating.

My Preferences:

My taste preferences, listed by Class.  My favorites are at the top and least favorites at the end.

·  70s class

·  Mint

·  Ginger

·  Coffee

·  60s class

·  Other flavors, especially Cherry, Orange

·  80s class

·  Spices; Lemon

·  Spicy (I have to be in the right mood for it.)

·  Nuts

·  90s class

·  Nibs

·  50s class

·  Milk chocolate

·  Pepper, salt- I don’t like either of these very much.

·  100% class

I don’t care much for:
·  Milk chocolate
·  Nibs
·  Less than 60% or greater than 80%
·  Red wine/ Red fruit flavor.  (Often found in Scharffen Berger, Valrhona, Domori)  

In the pure dark bars my preferences generally follow this order: 70s, 60s, 80s, 50s, 90s, 100.

In general, I prefer beans from Ecuador, Venezuela, and Bolivia.  This is only a general principle, though, and there are many exceptions. 

What kind of chocolate do I review?
I review almost all kinds of chocolate bars: dark, white, milk, flavored, bars with inclusions.  For flavored bars allowances are made for added ingredients such as spices, nuts, dried fruit, dairy, or other natural flavors.

Chocolate that I will not review (or even want to taste) are those with:

·   Vanillin, an artificial flavoring

·   Preservatives or artificial flavorings or colorings. 

·   Dutched chocolate (processed with alkali).

If a company wants to send me samples of chocolates that meet the above criteria then they are more than welcome to do so.  I appreciate the work done by all chocolate makers, and I appreciate that artisan chocolate is both a livelihood and a creative expression of hours of craftsmanship.  Therefore, I try to be charitable and gracious in my reviews.  However, I also have a strong commitment to integrity, so I must be honest about chocolate that I don’t care for.  When I don’t like a chocolate my ratings will be low, but I usually try not to be too negative in my written descriptions.  Any company who sends me chocolate must understand that their acceptance does not guarantee a good review, and in some cases I may not even review it at all.

My background

·  I have had no formal training, but I consider myself to be a well experienced aficionado.  I have reviewed over 630 chocolate bars which include a wide range of the great chocolates of the world.  I have also read and studied widely, and interacted with many chocolate makers and reviewers.  My lack of formal training may even be seen as an advantage in that I am more representative of a well educated consumer.

·  My palate and sense of smell are average; I’m not a super-taster.  In one way, though, this may be a positive aspect, since I represent the average tasting ability of the majority of informed customers.  Through a great deal of experience I have trained my palate, however, and I’ve developed a good list of descriptive adjectives to guide me.

·  Keep in mind that I’m a perfectionist, so I can almost always find something that could be improved.



[1] For more a more detailed explanation please read my thoughts on “The Challenges to Numerical Ratings”

[2] “Another part of this is that every 8.6 is not the same. I would not take a white chocolate, a 70% bittersweet chocolate, and a truffle that I have given an 8.6 to and call them “the same.” Because they are so different, I hope readers of my reviews will understand that chocolates are being compared to others in their category when given their ratings. So the 8.6 is within the category of chocolate it falls in, not universally compared against all existing chocolate.” Casey Meshbesher, Chocolate Note blog.

Comments