I’ve received a sampling of three different bars of chocolate from E. Guittard, the oldest family-owned chocolate company in the United States. San Francisco chocolate-makers since the 1850s, the company began with one enterprising Frenchman, Etienne, who saw a market for premium chocolates during the California Gold Rush.
My sample included three chocolates, and I will work my way from dark to (relatively) light.
At 91% pure cacao, the appropriately named Nocturne is black as moonless night. Even amongst dark chocolate lovers, this will probably not be for everyone. My advice: before taking a taste of this chocolate, make sure to have a completely clean palate. If you eat anything remotely sweet beforehand, it will probably seem overwhelmingly bitter. If you take a small bit of the chocolate without making it compete with other tastes, however, it is overwhelmingly chocolatey, with just the slightest ghost of sweetness.
In comparison, the 72% cacao Quetzalcoatl, a bittersweet dark, is much more universal. The sweetness, while not overwhelming, makes its presence known, and the chocolate is, again, quite smooth. Of the three, this one alone contains no cocoa butter. I often satisfy my own chocolate cravings with a few semi-sweet chocolate chips, kept in the freezer, but this bar shows that I can handle bittersweet just fine, if it is of a high quality. As with Nocturne, a little bit of this chocolate goes a long way.
Tsaratana, lightest of the dark, I tasted last. If I was going to sample them together, I could hardly go the opposite way. A mere 61%, this one contained the same ingredients as the others: cacao, cane sugar, cocoa butter (except for Quetzalcoatl), vanilla beans. Nocturne, however, contains more cocoa butter than sugar, and in Tsaratana it is the other way around. Tsaratana is classed as a semi-sweet, but this is only by comparison with the vast amounts of sugar one finds in mass-produced chocolate bars. Actually Tsaratana is very sweet, indeed. There’s no need for it to be any sweeter.
If you have an interest in sampling for yourself some premium artisan-made chocolates, the E. Guittard Web Site might be a good place to start. It’s also worth poking around a bit, since there are a number of chocolate-based recipes available, not to mention some interesting information on the history and production of chocolate.