Lindt Excellence Cocoa Bar 75% [Smooth Dark]
Lindt Excellence Cocoa Bar 85% [Extra Dark]
Lindt Excellence Cocoa Bar 90% [Supreme Dark]
Lindt Excellence Cocoa Bar 99% [Dark – Noir]
I remember eating Hershey’s Miniatures variety packs as a child, and how I would always go straight for the “Extra Dark” ones before they were snatched up by someone. Besides loving the flavor, there was always something attractive about the idea of “Dark” – this was the rich, “real” chocolate that made you somehow feel privileged to eat it, and anything else was just a faint ghost of chocolate.
It turns out I had underestimated what real dark chocolate was.
“Special Dark” has around 60% cocoa content, but this time I’ll be reporting on a series of products by Lindt which have 75%-99% cocoa (yes, that last figure isn’t a typo).
Everything about these Lindt bars – from the packaging and marketing literature to the flavor – speaks of elegance and sophistication, in a way that other chocolatiers with less than 150 years of experience can’t imitate. Their own term of “gourmet chocolate” is quite fitting.
Cocoa and Coffee have much in common. They both come from a dark-colored bean, have a significant amount of caffeine, and in natural form have a distinctly bitter taste.
As you would expect in these bars, the characteristic bitterness gets increasingly sharp the higher percentage of cocoa you have, and the mild sweetness fades out until there is nothing but a trace.
I’ll give my comments about each bar, broken down by cocoa percentage.
70%: By dark chocolate standards, this bar is sufficiently sweet and the bitterness of the cocoa is subtle. For those accustomed to other dark chocolate this should be a easy starting point to enjoy Lindt’s Excellence chocolate.
85%: Though the amount of cocoa increases by only 15%, the sugar content is less than halved. This results in a much more pronounced bitter taste. My personal favorite and most consumed of the four, I find the this perfect balance of bitterness and sweetness.
90%: I haven’t had the opportunity to sample this, but judging from the ingredients and cocoa content, it must be very similar to the 85% bar. I’d only recommend this for those wanting to attempt the 99% but need a more gradual transition.
99%: The ultimate, most hard core of this serious chocolates. I’ve only tried this once, and with only around 1 gram of sugar per serving, frankily it was just too bitter for me. Having said that, chocolate lovers should try this at least once.
There are several other competing bars with similar composition and cocoa content, but none of them have quite the same consistency or thickness.
In a recent article I had discussed ideas for how to eat ice cream, in particular the importance of the half-melted state. With dark chocolate, especially 85% and above, using the right “technique” is even more important to get the maximum enjoyment of the flavor and texture.
Breaking off a irregularly shaped piece and popping it in your mouth, quickly chewing, and finally swallowing. That’s the typical way to eat chocolate, which is unfortunate since it misses out on so much.
Instead, try to pop a large chunk of chocolate in your mouth, leaving it to rest on the tongue for a few seconds. The first time you do this you’ll surely be assaulted by the urge to bite down, so go ahead and give in. Now try again, holding it even longer on your tongue, until the chocolate starts to melt and soften. The longer you do this, the more you will start to savor the deep, rich flavor, quite different from a crude bite and swallow. When you do finally decide to bite down, fracturing the chocolate into several pieces which whirl around your mouth, you’ll notice the rough edges you felt before are now dulled and smooth on the tongue.
What’s happening here, in my interpretation, is that the digestive juices in your mouth are beginning to gradually break down the chocolate while your body warmth simultaneously melts it. It becomes easier to do this when you repeat it again and again. Beware of drinking liquids such as water mid-snack, which will ‘reset’ the chemistry in your mouth.
Try this once, and I bet you’ll never feel the same about dark chocolate again.
Ingredients / Nutrition
The 75% bar has only five ingredients: chocolate, sugar, cocoa butter, soya lechitin (emulsifier), and bourbon vanilla. The 85% gets rid of soya lechitin and upgrades everyday sugar to demerara sugar, a large-grain unrefined sugar. The 90% adds in some cocoa powder processed with alkali, and the 99% removes the vanilla beans from the 90% recipe.
The emulsifier used in the 75% bar serves many purposes, including reduction of sugar crystallization and helping the ingredients mix uniformly. It also contains choline, as essential nutrient, which studies have shown to have various health benefits.
Cocoa itself has a wide range of nutrients including antioxidants, serotonine, and many essential minerals, with a high concentration of iron. There are many studies linking chocolate to specific health benefits, including a recent one about preventing decline in aging brains (see references section).
For those of you who are sold on Cocoa’s health benefits, this set of products is perfect because of the high cocoa content. As a result sugar content is low, which is a health benefit in and of itself.
The biggest drawback of this product is cocoa does contain a somewhat high proportion of fat and a corresponding number of calories. But even if you gobble up an entire bar, you will only be getting roughly 500-600 calories. That’s not too bad considering it’s the in the ballpark of what you would get eating two servings (half a pint) of ice cream.
Another minor complaint is that these bars don’t really satisfy hunger at all for me (in the same way coffee doesn’t), so don’t eat them on an empty stomach. This applies to many other desserts as well.
See the below table for a nutritional comparison of the four products.
The Lindt FAQ online downplays the amount of caffeine in theirproducts, stating that dark chocolate generally has 20 mg of caffeine per 1 g of dark chocolate, and compares to caffeine in coffee which can typically be 80 mg to around double that.
However if you do the math you’ll see that eating a full 3.5 g bar results in around 70 mg by their estimates. For the higher concentration bars (85%, 90%, 100%) I feel this estimate is still too low since the amount of cocoa, and hence caffeine, is that much higher.
From my personal experience there have been several occasions when I had over half an 85% bar in the evening before bed, and it took me several more hours before I was able to fall asleep due to the caffeine in my system. To be fair, during that time I wasn’t consuming many other caffeine products so my body’s tolerance to this stimulant was low.
I’m not trying to say caffeine is evil here – just keep in mind that caffeine by any definition is a drug, whose effects can vary greatly depending on the dosage, and the state of your body (heavy coffee drinker, empty stomach, feeling under the weather, etc.). It can be used for positive impact (nice temporary buzz) or negative impact (sleep loss, jitters, etc.).
Price and Availability
The 70% and 85% bars can typically be found at most grocery stores, and of course online. For the higher concentration bars (90%, 99%) you might have to do some searching to find them in a brick-and-mortar store.
If you haven’t been to a Lindt store, be sure to check it out – the diversity of the various bars on sale is astonishing. The Sawgrass Mills mall is one of the places in South Florida where you can enjoy Lindt’s world of chocolate.
All but the 99% bar, which sells for $4.99, have prices of $3.85 on the official Lindt website. If you buy in bulk (12 bars) on some internet retailer sites (Amazon, etc.) you can get sub-$3 pricing for the lower cocoa content bars.
(Note: these refer to the 85% bar)
If you’re looking to consume chocolate in its simplest, purest form, you can’t get anything better than this.