The average American eats just over 10 pounds of chocolate annually. We've even coined the phrase "chocoholic" for those who can't seem to get enough of chocolate.
With all of the chocolate being manufactured and consumed, most people will eat anything even resembling chocolate, while some will only indulge the premium stuff. So what's the difference?
As a general rule, fine chocolate is made from high quality cocoa beans (mostly of the criollo and trinitario categories), using only pure can sugar, cocoa butter, and sometimes vanilla and soy lecithin. Who makes it is just as important as what it’s made from – chocolate artisans know how to best roast, conch, and make these previous bars.
Let's look at the various types of premium chocolate bars.
To many chocolate connoisseurs their bars can be as complex as wine, even more so in some cases. Where wine may have three or four specific "notes" depending on how it was fermented, some chocolate experts claim that certain kinds of chocolate have many more notes. Being able to taste these individual notes is somewhat of an art to the degree that an experienced taster can even identify the region where the cocoa beans came from.
Dark chocolate ranges from 50% to 100%. Percentage is NEVER AN INDICATION OF QUALITY. The percentage you see on a chocolate bar wrapper simply implies the percentage of cocoa mass (mashed up beans and any extra cocoa butter) by weight. So a 70% bar has 70% cocoa mass by weight. The remaining 30% is sugar, sometimes vanilla, sometimes soy lecithin.
The term “bittersweet” is used less and less as fine dark chocolate span a range of cocoa percentage and rarely has bitter or burned flavors of mass produced chocolate
The basis of all chocolate love and candy memories, milk chocolate can be 20% to 99% cocoa, with the rest of the best consisting of milk powder, sugar, and vanilla. All chocolate starts with chocolate liquor, which is nothing more than roasted and mashed cacao beans. Chocolate makers add fat and sugar to the chocolate liquor in order to form the confections we eat. Milk chocolate is taken one step further by adding normal liquid milk, milk powder, or condensed milk. It was invented by Swiss chocolatier Daniel Peter. In the United States cocoa content can be lower than it can be in most parts of Europe and still qualify as milk chocolate.
As an interesting side note, Milton Hershey developed a process of treating his milk to prevent fermentation which caused butyric acid to be produced. It is this acid that gives American chocolate it's slightly tangy taste; a taste which is fairly unique. Many international confectioners looking to get a foot into the American market simply add butyric acid to their milk chocolate in order to make it more palatable in the States.
Fine chocolate makers do make excellent milk chocolate. Domori’s Latte Sal, for instance, is beloved by chocolate connoisseurs who don’t even normally like the milky stuff.
There is quite a bit of disagreement over whether or not white chocolate should even be designated as chocolate at all. Its cocoa content comes only from the cocoa butter, no solids (that’s why it’s not the characteristic chocolate “color”). It’s basically a mixture off sugar, milk, and cocoa butter. Cocoa butter has very little flavor, but fine chocolate bars, even white chocolate bars use high quality cocoa beans. Better raw ingredients, i.e. butter cocoa butter, along with high quality milk solids and a prudent use of cane sugar means that white chocolate can taste smooth and luxurious as oppose to something resembling a marshmallow. Amedei’s White Chocolate Pistachio bar is a prime example – it turns even die hard dark chocolate snobs into white chocolate aficionados.