What better way to honor Fair Trade Month than to taste-test fair-trade chocolate, a luxury good made under some wildly varying conditions? My guide: a list of fair-trade chocolate bars assembled by GoodGuide, a website that ranks 32,000 foods on their health, social, and environmental impacts. Founded by a professor of environmental and labor policy at the University of California at Berkeley, GoodGuide offers independent product ratings from a group of experts in science and technology.
I was able to lay my hands on four out of five of the best-rated fair-trade bars before the end of the month (a shipping snafu delayed the fifth). In a nutshell: Politics aside, this is some terrific chocolate. Tasting notes and subjective impressions follow, starting from the merely good and working up to chocolate Valhalla ...
Shaman Organic Chocolates Organic Extra Dark Chocolate (82 percent cacao)
GoodGuide shows an incomplete rating for this bar (it had only partial nutritional data, though it logged high environmental and social impact scores). For taste, I give it 8.1 out of 10. It's a smooth, clean chocolate with a healthy cocoa kick. This would be a classic all-rounder for the ages were it not for its slightly distracting aftertaste, reminiscent of roasted peanuts.
Theo & Jane Goodall Organic Dark Chocolate (70 percent cacao)
GoodGuide gives this a 7.5 rating out of 10. I give the taste an 8.8—it's all about creamy chocolate morphing into a fruit-basket explosion of tropical fruit and red berry flavor on the back end. The fruit's a bit loud, but it blossoms naturally from the chocolate's complexity and as such is ultimately charming and harmonious.
Green & Black's Organic Maya Gold Dark Chocolate (55 percent cacao)
GoodGuide rates this 7.4 out of 10. For taste, I rate it 9.3. This orange-and-spice-flavored chocolate avoids the pitfalls of adulterating a pure, sophisticated luxury product (see also: cheese, coffee) by using well-balanced, carefully calibrated, natural-tasting flavors. The orange note is prominent but not cloying; cinnamon and cloves bring up the last bit of flavor, and the overall package is bright and light on its feet.
Equal Exchange Organic Panama Extra Dark Chocolate (80 percent cacao)
GoodGuide gives this a 7.3 out of 10. For taste, I give it 9.8—it's possibly the best chocolate bar I've ever had, and I've eaten a respectable number of quality chocolate bars over the years. The flavor at the heart of this opulently creamy chocolate evokes vanilla liqueur and toasted marshmallows. Overall, the bar exudes a velvety, incredibly rich and creamy chocolate flavor as it melts on the tongue. If this is the taste of fair trade, long may the movement prosper!