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Chocolate Zen

June 4th, 2007

The legends preceded it: chocolate so dark it ceased to taste like chocolate. Chocolate so intense it required cautionary statements. Chocolate so fine it cost $32 per pound. One of my coworkers is a fan of dark chocolate, and he was the one who first told me about the 99%-cocoa Lindt chocolate bar.

Such purity is exceptionally rare. A normal Hershey bar is rumored to contain about 11% cocoa (and could get worse). The “Special Dark” Hershey bar is just 45% cocoa. Even the “Extra Dark” variant clocks in at only 60%. Connoisseurs must look to a more exotic manufacturer.

The Lindt Excellence line of fine chocolate bars is widely available in the United States. Dark chocolate versions with 85% cocoa can be found with relative ease at chains as plebeian as Target. Such ubiquity is not shared by the 99% bar. For it, one must travel to a Lindt chocolate store. One exists in the Mall of America.

At the store, I was greeted by two pleasant young women offering free chocolate samples to browsers. My goal clear, I declined their truffles and proceeded straight to the chocolate bar section. There, on the wall, I saw it: a 99%-pure bar of cocoa. One of the saleswomen regarded my choice with concern. She made sure that I knew what I was getting into, that I knew I should enjoy the bar slowly, at home, with proper reverence and plenty of water. Undeterred by the cautionary statements, I asserted my comfort with the chocolate and completed my purchase. On the way home, I picked up a more mundane 85% bar for comparison.

The 85% bar and the 99% bar

The first thing I noticed was that the 99% bar was smaller than the 85% bar. Although the external packages shared identical dimensions, the 99% bar had a net weight of only 50 grams — half that of the 85% bar. That smaller size was not reflected in the price, for the 99% bar cost 10% more than the 85% bar, or 120% more by weight. The ingredient lists were very similar (chocolate, cocoa powder, cocoa butter, and sugar), but the 85% bar contained vanilla while the 99% bar had none. Both were made in France — odd, seeing as how Lindt is a Swiss company.

The 99% bar's back side

I carefully opened the cardboard shell of the 99% bar and pulled out a foil tray. I was more than a bit surprised to find warnings on the wrapper that instructed me to work my way up to the 99% bar via the 70% and 85% versions.

The 99% bar's cardboard and inner foil container

The notice about how to eat the chocolate

Not wanting to disobey a piece of foil, I pulled out my 85% bar and warmed up my palate with a few nibbles. Suitably prepared, I returned to the main event.

The remainder of the foil warning cautioned the consumer to limit indulgence to small pieces left to melt on one’s tongue. Oddly, that part of the warning existed only in the English and German versions of the instructions. Perhaps the French and Italians are naturally better versed in the art of chocolate appreciation.

I took a deep breath and peeled back the wrapper from the fancy tray. Inside was a thin wafer of the darkest chocolate I have ever seen. I cautiously broke off a square, an act reported with a crisp snap. Ready to experience Chocolate Zen, I closed my eyes and laid the square on my tongue. My mouth closed, and my body heat began to release the essence of the bar.

Opening the inner foil container

I was at first struck by a mild bitterness, but that quickly passed (and was not to return for the rest of the session). The super-dark chocolate melted quickly and imparted a decidedly creamy mouthfeel, not unlike a fine caramel. Perhaps the most surprising trait was the absence of chocolate flavor, at least not in the traditional sense. The confection was not tasteless — no, it was simply unlike any chocolate I had ever experienced. Even the 85% bar was a world apart.

One piece of heaven

The 99% chocolate was an experience of purity. No chemical aftertaste. No waxy mouthfeel. Nothing to distract from the singular cocoa focus.

To compare the 99% bar with a Hershey’s dark bar would be to insult the Lindt creation, for they exist not in the same realm. Whereas the Hershey’s bar is overtly bitter and artificial, the 99% cocoa is soothing and natural. Neither are very sweet, but while the Hershey’s bar longs for sugar, the Lindt imparts an air of balance in its lack.

I sampled the 85% and 99% bars in turn several times, exploring different consumption techniques and speeds. All methods were enjoyable in their own ways.

After consuming just three squares of the 99% bar, I felt it was time to bring the experience to an end. The richness of the chocolate was leaving me satiated, and I didn’t want to waste either bar when I was not in the proper mindset for full enjoyment of the act.

If you get the opportunity to try high-quality, high-purity chocolate, I recommend that you indulge. If nothing else, you will gain a new appreciation for the rift between American commodity chocolate and what is possible from the world’s elite chocolatiers.

  1. October 17th, 2007 at 07:51 | #1

    I think Stainer Chocolate has so nice concept of making chocolate, I visit the website: http://www.stainerchocolate.com and finally they are selling in US. Guys you should try this chocolate…

  2. October 23rd, 2007 at 10:57 | #2

    All of you people seem slightly obsessed with chocolate…I like the odd Mars Bar, or Crunchie, and I also like any type of chocolate that I recognise as chocolate. In england we have a shop near us (20 minute drive) called Hotel Chocolat. It’s a nice shop, but I like any type of chocolate, as long as it’s not too dark. My favourite is white chocolate

  3. Dominique
    November 3rd, 2007 at 03:51 | #3

    I am after a bar of the 99%
    85% is easy to get hold of here in the Uk and I love it.
    Any one able to give we a website that ships to the UK?

  4. December 1st, 2007 at 23:53 | #4

    you should hit sweetriot.com -they make wonderful dark chocolate covered cacao nibs. The 70% with a hint of espresso flavor is my favorite!

  5. Ben Keacher
    December 3rd, 2007 at 00:11 | #5

    Dude, I found that exact same chocolate when I went to Italy last year. Unlike you, I found this chocolate bitter to the very end and could hardly bare it. I was with friends on a class trip and we competed to see who could down more than the other. I’d take a Hershey’s over that stuff any day.

  6. Ben Keacher
    December 3rd, 2007 at 00:13 | #6

    Oh, also I found that warning label very funny. The packaging on the one I got was the same as the one you took a picture of. It’s funny that they tell you you shouldn’t start off at 99% and they recommend dipping it in coffee.. if I recall. Nonetheless it was an experience in itself.

  7. Joe Jim Bob
    December 25th, 2007 at 15:37 | #7

    You saying you liked that thing or what?

  8. Geoff
    January 11th, 2008 at 17:05 | #8

    I have just sat down and tried some – admittedly, today, i did NOT have any of the 70% or 85% with me.
    so i had just one small piece of the 99%.
    let it melt on my tongue and… It was like melting rubber. the taste was awful – i’ve eaten dark chocolate (the 85% from lindt for example) for years and found it very enjoyable..this, I completely agree, was nothing like chocolate.
    i did not expect it to taste however, like i had just licked a bicycle brake block.
    i guess i don’t appreciate the finer things in life – 85% seems to be my limit :)

  9. January 14th, 2008 at 14:25 | #9

    Unfortunately for me on Saturday without realization eat about 20 oz of Dove’s dark chocalate. I awoke about 3AM sick as a dog to my stomach.
    Developed muscle cramps due to dehydration since I worked out several hours saturday. Felt miserable the next day !!

    Anything you could do, I drank plenty of water but still cramped up all day .

  10. Santhosh
    January 22nd, 2008 at 07:55 | #10

    Tanks for this article. After reading this, I went online to find out the nearest Lindt store and it was just 15 miles away from home. So we went and purchased 75%, 85% and 99%. While the 75% and 85% had some sugars, the 99% was listed as Sugars – 0

    Since I always research in a different way, I went ahead and started tasting the 99% first and didn’t heed the advice printed
    on the label. To my surprise, I was able to enjoy 99% more when I
    tried first 99%, then 85% and 75%. When I started to taste the
    85%, I can clearly feel the sugar element in the chocolate very
    distinctly. (Sometime back when I tasted 85% alone, I felt it to
    be totally devoid of sugar and very bitter…)
    I wasn’t able to finish more than two small pieces of 99%
    completely. When I tried the third piece, the time it took to
    melt was faster than the first and the second pieces (I dont why
    this happened) but it dissolved to a complete liquid a lot slower
    than the first and the second piece.

    Thanks once again for helping me learn the new art of tasting
    pure dark chocolate.

  11. February 1st, 2008 at 21:02 | #11

    I like really good dark chocolate, so I thought I would like the 99% bar, but after a while, I realised I was only telling myself I liked it, out of some kind of elitist pride that *I* wasn’t like all those dull proles who like Hershey or Cadburys, *I* was capable of appreciating *real* chocolate.
    the 99% bar just isn’t very nice – that’s why they have to give you instructions on how to eat it without gagging, and printed text explaining why *not enjoying it* is the new enjoyment. Meh. 70% is nice, 99% just isn’t, unless you use it as an ingredient.

  12. February 4th, 2008 at 12:42 | #12

    I’m no connoseur I’ll pretty much eat any kind of chocolate. I tried the 85% and it was definitely quite good, but like I said I’m not picky. Chocolate is chocolate no difference to me. What I like to eat with chocolate is a good grape juice.

  13. February 15th, 2008 at 06:05 | #13

    Your post prompted me to head out to our local Lindt store to give 99% a try. In my case, acclimating my taste buds at 85% didn’t help. I can’t eat more than half a baby square at a sitting. Reminded me of eating coffee grounds. Maybe with time, I’ll grow to love it. In the meantime, I’m loving the Lindt 80% Peruvian Extra Dark. It’s got a smoother taste than both the 85% and the Ecuadorian 70%. Maybe it’s the honeybush tea. And it’s got more fiber per serving than both of those bars too. Check out the Peruvian’s nutrition label at http://veggiepalooza.blogspot.com/2008/02/special-occasion-veggie.html

  14. Phil
    February 19th, 2008 at 00:21 | #14

    my god folks get a life

  15. Lynn
    February 24th, 2008 at 17:18 | #15

    I haven’t found the high test chocolate, so I won’t comment. My problem is that the bar I like is the Lindt Mint Excellence and I can’t find it in my local CVS, my only source around here. I hope that Lindt is not discontinuing the mint bar. Does anyone know? Someone said that Target has Lindt but do they have mint? By the way, my favorite way to enjoy Lindt mint is to let it dissolve on my tongue with a sip of hot coffee.

  16. Jim Ragan
    February 26th, 2008 at 00:00 | #16

    Hi Lynn, as I mentioned earlier on this board, I work at one of the Atlanta area Lindt Chocolate Stores, and there is no plan to discontinue the Intense Mint Bar, and in fact, we now sell the Intense Mint Mini-Bar as of a few months ago. As far as Target, both of my local Target Stores carry our Mint Bar on a regular basis. I am also happy that you enjoy the Intense Mint Bar with your coffee. I compare the taste of the Mint Bar to the Thin Mint Girl Scout Cookies when I describe this bar to customers who have never tried the Mint Bar.

  17. D
    March 4th, 2008 at 16:30 | #17

    Great post! ..very informative about chocolate.

  18. Keith
    March 7th, 2008 at 17:55 | #18

    ¬¬¬I was picking up the 85% bar when I saw the 99% bar for the first time. Feeling adventurous, I decided to try it. Sitting in my car driving I broke off a piece and let it melt on my tongue.

    I’ve never tasted anything so pure. It captured me for the moment… the texture, taste and sensation… it was heavenly. For a moment I lost my focus and nearly hit the car in front of me.

    That’s the closest I’ve ever come to a food-induced orgasm.

    Since then, I’ve found that anything below 70% is too sweet.
    As I write this I’m enjoying a 99% piece in my mouth….

  19. Goofy
    March 12th, 2008 at 14:26 | #19

    @ Benjamin on September 10th, 2007 at 3:25 am —

    The Migros Selection one is made from Domori Italy in this compostion espacially for Migros Sélection Trademark….

    I think i try it once with a unsweeted green tea….

  20. Grace
    March 13th, 2008 at 02:38 | #20

    It’s really astounding, the effect the 99% chocolate has…I ate a piece, and then followed it with a Hershey’s Milk Chocolate Kiss…even the tiniest nibble felt like a huge mouthful of sweetened condensed milk…bleh!

  21. Stacy
    March 16th, 2008 at 13:24 | #21

    Goodness, that’s a lot of chocolate angst.

    Just wanted to point out that Green and Black’s is owned by Cadbury Schweppes.

  22. Sammi
    April 4th, 2008 at 18:40 | #22

    Stacy – “Just wanted to point out that Green and Black’s is owned by Cadbury Schweppes.”

    No, they aren’t: http://www.greenandblacks.com/uk/ourbeginning.php

  23. Sammi
    April 4th, 2008 at 18:42 | #23

    Oh wait, now they are yes. Apologies!


  24. April 22nd, 2008 at 14:04 | #24

    I have never tasted a chocolate bar that has 99% chocolate in it. Is there a big difference?

  25. Kathy
    April 25th, 2008 at 13:45 | #25

    I have not been able to get my hands on the Domori Pasta di Cacao Chocolate bar, but I eat the 70% and 85% Lindt bars all the time. I may have to send via the internet for the 99% bar, but I am definitely going to find them somewhere. The bar I ADORE is made by BiJa. Its 70% Dark Chocolate covered Omega 3 Truffles. Its too die for. It has the soft, smooth truffle center & it literally melts in your mouth. It has to be stored in the fridge or it goes rancid. The 2.3 oz bar is $4.00 in the US, but worth every penny. Anyone know where to get the Domori in the US?

  26. May 24th, 2008 at 17:23 | #26

    All of this chocolate is just candy if you want true delight you need to try raw dark chocolate. You will never be able to eat another chocolate after you try true raw chocolate in bar form. I have only found it 2 places one was 15 times the price of the other so I never bought it. The other is from the healing chocolate revolution and that one is to die for. I love the way it makes me feel but unlike other chocolate it satisfies me very easily. They also use only Fair trade sources where the companies listed above do not. I am not saying no one else does just no one here. I had a friend who was a chocolataholic her whole life since she was 5 or so. It was the last thing she put in her mouth when she laid down at night and the first thing she put in her month when she opened her eyes. It was really weird she acted just like it was a drug. I sent her a case of this and she quickly ordered more and was eating it like crazy for about a month and now she is stable she eats it 3-4 times a day for the health benifits about and that is it. She has finally started losing weight and now that she can eat as much chocolate as she wants she does not have the desire to eat it as much as before it was like the other stuff did not quench her chocolate thrust. My family and I eat it everyday and we no longer buy junk food or sweets because no one wants them. It is too funny. What is your weightloss and health secret? Chocolate LOL

  27. Vee
    May 25th, 2008 at 02:12 | #27

    Omgah. Now I MUST get myself a bar! What a mouthwatering review!!!

  28. Anonymous
    May 27th, 2008 at 03:49 | #28


  29. June 2nd, 2008 at 17:57 | #29

    My wife just got into Marketing Healthy Chocolate. Check out her site and we can send you some if you are interested. http://www.healthychocolateisyummy.com

  30. June 6th, 2008 at 19:01 | #30

    Chocolate Bariloche Mamuschka. Chocolate artesanal de la patagonia argentina. Chocolatería donde se puede comprar chocolate en rama, bombones rellenos, turrones, tabletas de chocolate, chocolate caliente y mazapan.


  31. blair
    July 9th, 2008 at 14:56 | #31

    Hi keacher,
    Very interesting account. What must be remembered is that in order for a chocolate bar to take a form, it must have a lipid (fat) component. In most high-class chocolate bars, this is acheived through the addition of cocoa butter. Lower quality ‘chocolates’ are made mostly with vegetable oils. If you think about it, a 99% cocoa bar (if it was 99% cocoa solids as one would expect – the solids give it the characteristic sensual bitter taste) would be almost impossible to form into a bar – it would powder and break apart. How do companies get around it, you ask? Well, make the bar with 80% solids, and make up the remaining 19% with cocoa butter – under FDA law, this is still considered “cocoa” or “chocolate”. Then you can sell a 99% bar at 110% inflated prices by weight — pretty smart if you ask me.

  32. July 11th, 2008 at 00:49 | #32

    Nice piece. I’m a Lindt lover since teenage (1970s) and delight in picking up these bars at West Coast Grocery Outlet stores for 99 cents (3 oz bars). When they show up–from 56 to 85%–I buy them by the case. Twelve bucks, twelve bars–and when people look at me funny I note that three cases, $36, is still less than a carton of cigarettes. (Though I think cancer sticks are closer to five bucks a pack these days.)

    I would like to note to Women Of A Certain Age and their partners that I have recently had the exquisite experience of informing my physician that my unusually rapid hematic bounce-back from a nearly fatal anemia and uterine hemorrhaging last year was due to extra dark Swiss chocolate. The idiot nurses with my HMO still recommend RAISINS for iron, which is no more than hype from the raisin growers. So it’s lots of fun to show them nutrition facts about extra dark chocolate and iron. Though I also got a lot of iron from red lentils. I have been telling friends on chemotherapy that I have reason to believe that it was the enthusiastic consumption of dark chocolate–56% and greater, 1.5 to 3 oz. per day–that enabled me to cope with four months of dreadful chemotherapy. I didn’t lose weight, I actually gained 14 pounds, and I don’t care. The damn stuff is a miracle food in my view.

    I agree with your assessment of the 99% bar–decoupling the sacred bean from sugar is something all chocolate lovers should experience. But I’d like to speak up for the mixing of many things with chocolate. The Uruguayan journalist Eduardo Galeano describes somewhere in the first or second volume of his “Memory of Fire” trilogy how rich Spanish colonists in Latin America would attend mass with their house-slaves toting chocolate-making apparatus. Masses were long, and the womenfolk needed sustenance to get through them (it was also one of the few, if not only, times these completely imprisoned women got out of the house). At some point the bishop of someplace or other issued a proclamation decrying the preparation of cocoa in church. That was due to the fact that in the middle of the elevation of the Host, or whatever, the womenfolk would be back in the corners of the church, saying “Try more orange peel!” or “That’s not enough chili!” Or passing around new combinations with exclamations of thrill.

    Botanical anthropologists of my acquaintance tell me that cacao was a foodstuff that was combined with many other foods in many combinations, and the ritual consumption of it was never by itself. Though I always figured it was the only thing on earth that could make some of the more pungent hallucinogenic mushrooms palatable enough to choke down.

    In closing I would like to comment on your dissing of the Hershey’s Special Dark bar. Apart from the de gustibus aspect, one problem is that people eat HSD too cold. Try slipping it into your own or your lover’s pocket or waistband for half an hour, and then taste it at a skin-warm temperature. The “waxy” quality leaves entirely. At warmer temperatures it can be quite voluptuous. I find it more sweet than Lindt…which is fine when I want a sugar buzz, and when I want the sheer cacao rush, I go with Lindt.

    I agree with the commentor who noted that a lot of people criticize HSD out of snobbery. I am a chocolate geek (not a snob, there’s a difference), and I’m always surprised by how good HSD is. Though I prefer American cocoa, for the extra flavonoids (which I understand the Dutching/alkalization process removes). I buy Hershey’s American style cocoa in the five-pound sack at the local restaurant supply store, and we go through it at an incredible clip.


  33. Anonymous
    November 21st, 2008 at 09:40 | #33

    No, I REALLY like chocolate, more, MORE than you all!

    You’re all douchebags, trust me.

  34. Chef D
    July 5th, 2009 at 05:27 | #34

    The whole concept that you have a more defined pallet because you can choke down a bar of cacao with very little of the ingredients that make it palatable… in fact the whole idea that you were getting something special in 99% cacao is akin to Drinking grain alcohol because it tastes better…


  35. Bob G.
    July 11th, 2009 at 15:46 | #35

    No one has said a word above Dove chocolate. I have tried many, many different kinds of chocolate from the worst to the best and from milk chocolate to 99% and I find that Dove Dark Chocolate is hard to beat. Just enough bitter and just enough sweet. Yummy!

  36. swiss miss
    September 8th, 2009 at 08:51 | #36

    Bear in mind there is a difference in quality between Lindt chocolate made in Switzerland, France and Germany. The ingredients will vary. The milk is different in each country, so the quality of chocolate is different (look at it this way, the grass is different, the soil content, the cows in France eat different quality, texture of grass compared to Alpine Swiss cows, this all affects the milk)
    Swiss chocolate MADE in Switzerland is far more superior than it’s externally made Lindt chocolates. Go to the Lindt factory near Kilchberg and you will see…

  37. zeta ford
    September 9th, 2009 at 00:07 | #37

    the best chocolate i have ever tasted was from new zealand! it was a whitekers milkchocolate, it was AMASING better than some of the swiss chocolate i have tasted in my days

  38. Carl
    November 15th, 2009 at 23:53 | #38
  39. D.C.
    December 8th, 2009 at 13:45 | #39

    I ordered a couple of 99% bars from the giftswish website – they were excellent! I disagree that it tastes very bitter; in fact, I liked it better than any dark chocolate that contains alot of sugar. But that may be because I’m used to eating pure cocoa powder from when I make my own hot chocolate at home. So the taste isn’t new to me.

  40. B.S.
    January 28th, 2010 at 15:16 | #40

    I found that the Swiss manufacturer teuscher offers a great 99% bar: smooth, robust, deep.
    Found it: http://www.teuscherboston.com

  41. Shannon
  42. Anthony
    March 28th, 2010 at 19:35 | #42

    @erin: agreed I’m particularly fond of Ghirardelli 100% with a nice port or some fruit, it’s quite bitter and delicious at the same time.

  43. p-j
    April 29th, 2010 at 02:29 | #43


  44. Misty
    May 21st, 2010 at 00:32 | #44

    I have recently tasted for the first time both the 85% and the 99% chocolate from Lindt. I’m trying to change because I’m really sweet-toothed and I’ve always loved fine milk chocolate, especially with a hint of hazelnut taste, and the sweeter, the better, so I’ve always gone for the unhealthiest option of all!! So I want to switch to dark chocolate. I loved the 85% bad, but it’s no surprise, since it’s sweetened… So I have to eat it with or inside something else, so as to not get too excited with it and eat the whole bar. I’ve tried this in a yoghurt and it’s delicious!

    The 99% is a bit too bitter for my taste, I’m not really used to that much bitterness, but I still love the intense cocoa flavour. The other day I ate this chocolate with bread, and it still was really bitter, but right now I’m eating a yoghurt with almonds and two ounces of this chocolate and it’s so yummy!! =) I was doing it the other way round, but now I found the perfect combination!! From now on, I’m eating my 85% chocolate with bread, and my 99% chocolate with yoghurt.

    I know that many of you might find this to be some kind of aberration, to adultelrate the taste of these pure chocolates mixing them bread and yoghurt, but I really have this serious problem with chocolate and I can not have just a little ounce and stop there. I have to make off with the whole bar!! Well, actually, I don’t have tha problem with the 99%, because I said it’s way too bitter for me to taste it alone, but we’re still talking about chocolate, which has so many calories, and it should always be consumed with moderation. But I’ve found that if I eat chocolate this way, at least dark chocolate, I can enjoy it and I’m in control of myself =) Bye bye, fat-loaded milk chocolate!! ^^

  45. May 25th, 2010 at 17:07 | #45

    I am quite satisfied with Ghiradelli’s Midnight Reverie, 86% cacao, I am currently looking into large purchases for making a soy product and that is all I will reveal at this time. I think I would triple the cacao, use agave nectar, and stay as close to nature as possible. An excellent antioxident.

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