‘Tis the season for chocolate. Aisles are flooded with heart-shaped boxes of sub-par truffles and novelty chocolate flavors. These treats may be sweet (like, too sweet), but read like a hastily thrown together afterthought gift for your beloved. If you really want to show you care, there’s a world of beautifully packaged and thoughtfully crafted chocolate out there. The catch? The price point. These bars cost an average of $10 per bar, but are made with carefully sourced cacao beans, sometimes with organic ingredients and made in small batches to enhance the natural flavors and terroir of each type of cacao bean. It’s a commitment by the farmers, chocolate-makers and a commitment by your wallet, but they make a truly unique gift to share with that special someone you’ve made a commitment to.

If you’ve ever visited one of the shops that sell chocolate bars like this, like Formaggio Kitchen, Cardullo’s or Dave’s Fresh Pasta, you’ll know that the selection can be overwhelming. Unless you already have a favorite brand, how do you know which of the chocolate bars is worth the price? One place to start is to see if the chocolate buyer is around to chat or ask if there are any customer favorites. As for me, I knew I needed to have a serious conversation with someone who takes chocolate seriously before I even went shopping, so I met up with local chocolatière Alexandra Whisnant, founder of gâté comme des filles, at her new storefront at Somerville’s Bow Market. We covered how to identify good chocolate, how to taste it and her favorite chocolate maker.

Alexandra Whisnant and Catherine Smart talk about chocolate WGBH

Here’s what Whisnant had to say (lightly edited):

The first thing I look at is the ingredients. That’s the first indicator if a chocolate is good or not. You want something that’s just cacao and sugar. That’s an indicator that it’s a serious craft chocolate bar. Bad chocolate will have sketchy ingredients, sketchy manufacturing location, off flavors. Astringency is a hard one for the chocolate world to avoid - kind of light a drying out on your tongue feel that easily gets into chocolate. Or a burnt taste if it’s over-roasted, which people will do with cheap or bar cacao to cover up any mediocre flavors. Kind of like bad coffee.

Every chocolate can look different. They can be different colors based on the beans used. If the chocolate bar has been well taken care of, it’s going to have a shine to it. Usually if the chocolate bar has been poorly handled, it’ll have a bloom to it so it’ll have whitish crystals or streaks on the surface. Good chocolate is going to have a good temper, which means that it’s well made, but it doesn’t tell you about the taste. A good tempered chocolate will be shiny and have a nice snap to it. It doesn’t melt in your hand, it melts in your mouth. If it doesn’t have a good temper, it’ll be more melty because the melting point will be lower. You also don’t want it to be waxy in your mouth.

To taste chocolate, break a piece off, listen to it. Put it in your mouth and chew it a couple of times and then you rub it between the roof of your mouth and your tongue and it’s going to start to melt, and then as its melting, you’re going to exhale through your nose so you’re pulling the aroma through your olfactory receptors at the back of your nose and then, just like with wine, you’re going to exhale through your nose and that’s how you’re going to taste the chocolate. It’s best to do it on a fresh palate first thing in the morning in a room with no other smells in it. Water is the best palate cleanser, but also don’t taste too many chocolates at once. Maybe like five, and then you have to wait for the next day.

I’m sort of obsessed with Rogue Chocolate out of Three Rivers. [Chocolatier] Colin Gasko has a very low volume. His bars are just incredible. They take you to another place. A good chocolate will make me emotional. He’s a perfectionist. He’ll remelt his bars over and over until they’re perfectly molded. If you have really good chocolate it’s like angels singing. His chocolate is like that.

Fancy Chocolate Bar Tasting

Emily Balk

With Whisnant’s advice in mind, I took home 11 finely crafted chocolate bars to taste with four other fellow chocolate lovers, none of us experts, to determine which we enjoyed the most.

Somerville Chocolate, Nicaragua 70%
Emily Balk

Brand: Somerville Chocolate
Type/Origin: Nicaragua Cacao Bisiesto
Percent cacao: 70%
Weight: 2.5oz
Ingredients: Cacao, cane sugar
Processing location: Somerville, MA

Tasting notes: There were conflicting opinions about this bar. Some didn’t enjoy the crumbly mouthfeel. Others appreciated the mild and sweet flavor and tart finish.

Fossa Chocolate, PAK EDDY
Emily Balk

Brand: Fossa Chocolate
Percent cacao: 70%
Type/Origin: Pak Eddy/Indonesia
Weight: 35g
Ingredients: Cacao beans, cane sugar
Processing location: Singapore

Tasting notes: This very small bar had a beautiful dark glossy look and was notably slow to melt in the mouth. Tasters thought it had a lovely nutty flavor that wasn’t too sweet.

Marou chocolate bar
Emily Balk

Brand: Marou Faiseurs de Chocolat
Percent cacao:72%
Type/Origin: Đồng Nai, Vietnam
Weight: 24g
Ingredients: Cocoa, cocoa butter, cane sugar
Processing location: Saigon, Vietnam

Tasting notes: This tiny, thin, bar was another divisive chocolate. It had a fascinating spicy, smoky and pronounced cinnamon flavor and melted quickly in the mouth. One taster found it too bitter for their taste, another loved the complexity and diminutive size.

Dick Taylor chocolate bar
Emily Balk

Brand: Dick Taylor
Percent cacao: 72%
Type/Origin: Toledo, Belize
Weight: 2oz
Ingredients: Cacao, cane sugar
Processing location: Eureka, CA

Tasting notes: In comparison to some of the other chocolates, the Dick Taylor was one smooth melter All tasters noted bright, tart flavors, including cherry liqueur and citrus, as well as the creaminess.

Rogue La Masica chocolate bar
Emily Balk

Brand: Rogue
Percent cacao: 75%
Type/Origin: La Masica/Cacao from Honduras
Weight: 2.12oz
Ingredients: Cacao, cane sugar
Processing location: Three Rivers, MA

Tasting notes: A popular choice among chocolate connoisseurs, we were especially excited to try the Rogue bar. After tasting, it was easy to tell why true chocolate-lovers would be excited by Rogue. It had a complexity that I didn’t know chocolate could possess, developing different flavors over time as it melted slowly across the tongue. Tasters picked up a creeping acidity with notes of berries, wine, spice and even tobacco.

Palette De Bine chocolate bar
Emily Balk

Brand: Palette de Bine
Percent cacao: 85%
Type/Origin: Polochic Valley, Guatemala
Weight: 70g
Ingredients: Cocoa beans, sugar cane
Processing location: Mont-Tremblant, Québec, Canada

Tasting notes: Unlike the acidity that built over time in the Rogue bar, this chocolate from Palette de Bine hit hard with the acidity up front. Tasters felt that it had a more “raw” cacao taste and a simpler flavor profile than some of the other chocolates.

Castronovo dark chocolate bar
Emily Balk

Brand: Castronovo Chocolate
Percent cacao: 72%
Type/Origin: Criollo & Trinitario Cacao/Sierra Nevada, Colombia
Weight: 2.2oz
Ingredients: Cocoa beans, cane sugar, cocoa butter
Processing location: Stuart, FL

Tasting notes: This bar was among the favorites of the bunch, with most tasters noting a great balance in flavor and creamy melt. The nutty flavor was offset by a not-overpowering acidity.

Goodnow Farms chocolate bar
Emily Balk

Brand: Goodnow Farms Chocolate
Percent cacao: 77%
Type/Origin: Almendra Blanca/Mexico
Weight: 1.95oz
Ingredients: Cacao beans, organic sugar, cocoa butter
Processing location: Sudbury, MA

Tasting notes: Another favorite among the tasters, the Almendra Blanca was notable for the unusually light color, a feature of the particular cacao bean used. The added cocoa butter, which the Goodnow chocolatiers press themselves, made it among the creamiest chocolates. Almost everyone picked up balanced notes of berry or cherry and hazelnut flavors.

Dolci Fonderie chocolate bar
Emily Balk

Brand: Ciomod Dolci Fonderie
Percent cacao: 70%
Type/Origin: Arauca, Columbia
Weight: 1.76oz
Ingredients: cocoa mass, brown sugar
Processing location: Sicily, Italy

Tasting notes: Not the most popular of the bunch, the Ciomod package was fun, but tasters were not into the pronounced dry/gritty texture of the brown sugar crystals and raw flavor. One taster compared the texture to “the grounds at the end of your Turkish coffee.”

Dolfin chocolate bar
Emily Balk

Brand: Dolfin
Percent cacao: 70%
Type/Origin: Dark chocolate, blend
Weight: 2.47oz
Ingredients: cocoa mass, sugar, low fat cocoa powder, soy lecithin, natural vanilla flavoring
Processing location: Wauthier-Braine, Belgium

Tasting notes: One of two European chocolates we tried, there was consensus on the strong flavors of kirsch/boozy cherry and a smooth melt. Some felt that the Dolfin lacked complexity and tasted heavy and overly sweet. Many picked up on the vanilla flavoring which registered as artificial.

L.A. Burdick chocolate bar
Emily Balk

Brand: L.A. Burdick
Percent cacao: 69 - 72%
Type/Origin: Burdick Blend
Weight: 3oz
Ingredients: Cocoa, sugar, cocoa butter, may contain soy lecithin, may contain vanilla
Processing location: Walpole, NH

Tasting notes: Appropriate for a bar from L.A. Burdick, one taster thought this bar tasted like hot chocolate. Most noted a smooth, buttery melt and but a lack of balancing acidity, marking it as “simple” and “nutty.”

SOMA chocolate bar
Emily Balk

Brand: SOMA chocolatemaker
Percent cacao: 70%
Type/Origin: Creole Gardens/Cap-Haïtien, Haiti
Weight: 65g
Ingredients: Cacao nibs, organic cane sugar, organic cocoa butter
Processing location: Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Tasting notes: This Haitian-sourced bar had a light, balanced acidity and notes of cherry. Most tasters enjoyed the mild fruity flavor and smooth melt.

Overall favorites: Dick Taylor, Rogue, Castronovo, Goodnow, SOMA