Home > 100 Words, Chocolate > Chocolate Zen

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. September 9th, 2007 at 21:12 | #1

    You know, you could just take cocoa powder, mix it with cocoa butter and some sugar, and have basically the same thing.

    I suppose that other 1% is made up with emulsifiers and other additives to hold the stuff together?

  2. anon
    September 9th, 2007 at 21:42 | #2

    Something to keep in mind with hershy’s and most chocolate made in America is that the milk used in it is intentionally stale (not bad just slightly old) because when chocolate was first made in America they didnt have the preservation and people got used the taste. I think trader joes has by far the best variety outside of specialty shops (whole foods is also good but somethings are nearly double the price) with the really high %’s if the chocolate as a whole is stale then it can be cloying rather than a melt in your mouth experiance.

  3. Anonymous
    September 9th, 2007 at 22:07 | #3

    In San Francisco, I had a very dark (>85%, I think) morsel of chocolate laced with what appeared to be finely ground dried habanero pepper. A unique culinary experience; like being slapped in the face by Angelina Jolie. The pleasure! The pain!

  4. September 9th, 2007 at 22:38 | #4

    Wow! I’m so glad you liked our chocolate. not that I made it myself or anything, but I work in a Lindt retail store! I am at once glad to hear that the girls at MoA offered you a sample and dismayed that you didn’t try the extra dark truffle. Much lighter than your topic of course, but the soft, creamy dark center adds so much to the experience. I must also add a couple of tidbits as a Lindt professional: As you mentioned, yes our chocolate is manufactured in many areas, but all are swiss recipes and the same chocolate-making processes are used in each factory. Truffles you buy in the states are made in Stratham, NH, and the rest of the product appearing in Lindt USA retail stores is imported from all over Europe. interesting to see Ghirardelli chocolate mentioned in these comments, Lindt in fact owns Ghirardelli! But the swiss have no control (or they simply exert none) on the recipes that the company uses. one last thing: if you enjoy fine, quality chocolate, I absolutely must suggest the 65% and 75% cocoa bars, Madagascar and Ecuador respectively. Each contain an added nuance caused by the origin of the beans used to create the bar. The rest of our chocolate is made with a mix of all the world’s beans together to create an overall chocolate flavor. but in the Madagascar you’ll find a hint of vanilla (seeing as how the island is known for its vanilla production, it’s easy to see why) and the Ecuador has an exciting concoction of fruit, nut, and spice flavors. I recommend giving those a whirl, not only as a Lindt & Sprungli employee/representative, but as a fellow connoisseur and chocolate lover! Good health to you, and I’m sure of it, because of the antioxidants, LDL’s, and fiber in that 99% bar, and thank you for writing about my all-time favorite subject: CHOCOLATE!

  5. Jorge
    September 9th, 2007 at 22:48 | #5

    If you like, chocolate, you can try making a trip to Oaxaca (southern coast of México) for some mole negro. It’s a denser variety of mole that leaves a weird-but-tasty feeling of bitterness/sweetness/otherness in you mouth. It’s made with more varieties of chile than most people can name, as well as some varieties of nuts, ground tortilla and bread and (of course) the blackest, most evil cacao around…

    It’s usually served on chicken with a bed of rice (think curry… sorta).

  6. Chocolate Fiend
    September 10th, 2007 at 00:08 | #6

    Consider trying something from the Green & Black range, far superior to Lindt in my opinion.

  7. September 10th, 2007 at 01:07 | #7

    That’s very interesting. A friend brought my family a bar of what I thought was extremely dark chocolate from Central/South America. (I want to say Belize, but I can’t remember…) It was extremely bitter and strong, much like baking chocolate. I’m curious as to how it compares to the 99%. I don’t recall what percentage of cocoa/cacao it contained.

  8. Robert C. Sheets
    September 10th, 2007 at 01:08 | #8

    I’ve seen the 99% bar available at my local World Market store, here in Columbus, Ohio.

  9. simon
    September 10th, 2007 at 01:10 | #9

    now, enjoy it with a good sharp cheddar cheese or some aged parmigiano reggiano and you will experience chocolate nirvana.

  10. September 10th, 2007 at 01:28 | #10

    I haven’t tried the 99% yet. For some reason I’m not a big fan of dark dark choc…maybe I haven’t learned to appreciate the art of eating chocolate.

  11. anonymous
    September 10th, 2007 at 01:29 | #11

    While the Lindt 99% is out of this world, I have to recommend the Lindt 55% Cuban as one of the best quality darks for daily chocolate. Try it and you’ll see what I mean…..

  12. September 10th, 2007 at 01:29 | #12

    I’ve seen the 99% bar available at my local World Market store, here in Columbus, Ohio.

  13. September 10th, 2007 at 01:32 | #13

    I’ve got about 80% of a bar left in my work drawer (we’ve got a Lindt Cafe just down the street) and I offer it to anyone curious to try. As much as I love dark chocolate, their 99% offering reminds me of … dirt.

    Don’t ask how I know what dirt tastes like.

  14. MK
    September 10th, 2007 at 01:34 | #14

    For a really decent 70% bar, you should try Green & Blacks

  15. MK
  16. Underwire
    September 10th, 2007 at 01:37 | #16

    Sounds wonderful! I’ll be first in line at the local Lindt store!

  17. Corey
    September 10th, 2007 at 01:45 | #17

    When it comes to chocolate I’m all about http://www.amanochocolate.com/.
    The dude that started it is a search engine programmer that became obsessed with making his own chocolate. He bought all the equipment and makes it by hand. They have different bars form different beans from around the world. You can taste the difference in the bean from bar to bar.
    Best stuff I’ve ever tasted!

  18. September 10th, 2007 at 01:49 | #18

    I would say that if you want to try real chocolate you should eat some cacao, not chocolate. Try these broken pieces of cacao or the whole cacao bean with the skin and then see what the Lindt is like.

  19. September 10th, 2007 at 01:53 | #19

    I’ve sampled a swath of fine chocolates from scharfenberger to lindt, but the one I’m digging the most now is a 72% swiss concoction from villars. goodness it’s yummy. the thing that’s intriguing to me about this post, though, is the total lack of added sugar…was the chocolate still sweet?

  20. Anonymous
    September 10th, 2007 at 02:05 | #20

    In Soviet Russia…..

  21. September 10th, 2007 at 02:06 | #21


    Undoubtedly the best chocolates, including 99%, that you will ever taste.

    Simply magic.

  22. thapsis
    September 10th, 2007 at 02:14 | #22

    I believe that there is a law in Switzerland that prohibits any product that contains more than 65% cocoa to be called chocolate. That’s why you will only find the more “pure” Swiss chocolates are made outside of the country.
    Can any Swiss Connoisseurs confirm this?

    Myself, love the 85%, but not seen the 99% around in Australia

  23. September 10th, 2007 at 02:36 | #23

    In Japan there is a brand of chocolate called Midji chocolate, they come in bars – and to my knowledge are only dark chocolate. If you like dark chocolate you can beat these Midji bars..i hate dark chocolate but this was something else, it’s probably the darkest you can get with it still being chocolate. Extremely weird to describe.

  24. Anonymous
    September 10th, 2007 at 02:40 | #24

    What planet are you from that they don’t sell this in any supermarket/drugstore/candy store?

    This isn’t anything special.

    I buy these bars for $2.50 on sale and eat them in a day.

  25. Anonymous
    September 10th, 2007 at 03:24 | #25

    I’m guessing you (i.e. Anonymous @ 10th Sep. 2:40am) are in the US since the point of your e-mail seems to be how wonderful you are, and that you don’t realise that Australia is on the planet Earth. Take a deep breath…..yes there are other places outside the US! All the other country references throughout these posts are also on the planet Earth.

    And we don’t have oil dammit so don’t come and invade us.

  26. Benjamin
    September 10th, 2007 at 03:25 | #26

    Meet the Migros Sélection 100% Cacao du Venezuela. You can get this extraordinary piece of chocolate in Switzerland. Of course this isn’t your day to day variety anymore as there is 0% sugar, but boy does it taste awesome. I’m nibbeling on little pieces from time to time, since I don’t know when I can replenish my stockpile.

    ALso there is some italian chocolatier who is rumored to have created the first 100% variety of “edible” dark chocolate.

  27. Anonymous
    September 10th, 2007 at 03:27 | #27

    Huh, where I’m from we eat nothing under 115% cocoa (the other 15% being rubbing alcohol). Now, that’s sophistication!

  28. Mathew
    September 10th, 2007 at 03:30 | #28

    How many slaves were used to make that 99% bar I wonder.. where the fuck is the fair trade high % choc..

  29. September 10th, 2007 at 03:32 | #29

    Now this is something I simply must get my hands on. Thanks for the great article !

  30. Steven
    September 10th, 2007 at 03:50 | #30

    Green & Blacks are organic, and some of their bars are sourced from Fair Trade beans.

  31. huy
    September 10th, 2007 at 04:06 | #31

    OMG. My friend gave it to me tonight to try it; and then in the same night, i found this article on digg.com. What a coincidence. It was overly bitter to me. i guess i didn’t do it right. I should buy a bar for myself and eat it at home with a lot of water.

  32. Daddio
    September 10th, 2007 at 04:19 | #32

    You mention the bars were made in France albeit Lindt is a Swiss company. You do realize that the two countries are separated only by an imaginary line don’t you? You could stand with one foot in each country if it weren’t for the security situations existing currently in our world. You would also need to declare your foreign currency and your intent if you were going to put both feet into Switzerland. Enjoy the chocolate, and by the way, I would also recommend drinking a fine French Roast or a Cappucino blend coffee to acsentuate the flavor experience. Also, as oddly as it may sound, a piece of hard crusted roll with some real cream butter would also enhance all of the flavors. That would be the ultimate in this culinary experience.

  33. liquidolgy
    September 10th, 2007 at 04:27 | #33

    Once again, the Swiss have shown their contributions to the world in a dark delectable tasty treat!

    Hershey’s sucks.

  34. September 10th, 2007 at 05:04 | #34

    Do you know that the chocolate can be made from the carob bean?
    It’s odd!

  35. Andrea
    September 10th, 2007 at 05:25 | #35

    Nice Post. Let me give u a hint: I’m Italian and a big fan of chocolate appreciation; another great way to taste 99% chocolate like lindt is taking it with an italian espresso with little sugar coz the mild bitterness of coffee prepares your tongue and nose for the cocoa. Enjoy!

  36. Ari
    September 10th, 2007 at 06:07 | #36

    I had the same exact experience up until you enjoyed it. I came home from the mall of America, opened the package, but the bitterness was excrutiating. I could not get through even just one entire square. It didn’t taste at all like cocoa or dark chocolate of any sort. It only tasted bitter.

  37. September 10th, 2007 at 06:16 | #37

    I dunno. after 90%, it really must be an acquired taste. I used to eat the 87% variety, but it is extremely bitter. I tried the 99% once, and found it to be mostly inedible.

  38. grandpoobah
    September 10th, 2007 at 06:22 | #38

    I prefer Russian dark chocolate over Lindt or other Swiss/German chocolate I have dried. Especially “Vernost’ kachestvu 99%”. The ingredients list made me laugh: Cacao Mass, salt. It was dang good though.

  39. Don_Quijote
    September 10th, 2007 at 07:00 | #39

    Being Swiss, perhaps I should not do that (it is an Italian producer) but if you want to go for the pure thing you might want to try this: http://www.jacksonvillemercantile.com/product.asp?specific=jpcqgne0
    But be careful, it is an intense experience!

  40. Doug
    September 10th, 2007 at 07:08 | #40

    Lindt adds malt to their milk chocolate bars.

  41. emily
    September 10th, 2007 at 07:55 | #41

    ha. in Australia Lindt can be found at your local grocery store!
    Its great cause im statisfied with just having one or two pieces of Lindt dark chocolate, its lasts longer than any other sweet in my house. 😀

  42. chocolate addict
    September 10th, 2007 at 08:07 | #42

    Let’s not confuse chocolate and cocoa. Chocolate is a special mixture of the cocoa solid with the cocoa butter at a specific temperature, and cooled down in a special way.

    Cocoa in its raw form does not taste very good. Some how, the re-mixture of its ingredients (chocolate) does taste creamy and sweet, and is delicious.

    The Lindt super dark “chocolate” taste powdery and bitter. Tty Poulain 86% dark “ultime noir”, to find out what good dark chocolate is supposed to taste like (I don’t work for Poulain, I just love chocolate, especially *good* dark chocolate, and hazelnut milk chocolate).

    You should enjoy chocolate, not pretend that it’s good, just because it has a higher content of cocoa.

  43. WTF
    September 10th, 2007 at 08:24 | #43

    That stuff is so common i have *no* idea why are making such a bloody fuss about it! If you want the real deal just stick a dried cocoa bean in your mouth and munch on it. Same thing, same taste.

  44. Anonymous
    September 10th, 2007 at 08:44 | #44

    I second Paolo Ghirardelli’s comment: in Italy all Lindt products, including these unremarkable 99% bars, are regarded as industrial-grade chocolate and are sold in practically all supermarkets.
    We have many easily found brands of really good chocolate, such as Peyrano, Domori, Stainer, Venchi, Baratti & Milano, Majani, Amedei, and a lot of artisans, so these Lindt offerings belong in the cheap and mediocre part of the market.

  45. September 10th, 2007 at 09:04 | #45


    can’t wait, imagine it’s really potent, supposed to be good for your health

  46. Donkeyballs
    September 10th, 2007 at 09:11 | #46

    Christ what a bunch of pretentious fucks we have here. I could feed half you snot lickers a scoop of cat shit and you would go on and on about its texture and subtle flavors. Eat your candy and move on.

  47. TBoston
    September 10th, 2007 at 09:40 | #47

    Best with Merlot.

  48. September 10th, 2007 at 09:53 | #48

    I’ve lived in Switzerland for a while now and have sampled quite a few of the chocolates. 100% Domori Pasta di Cacao is the most crazy over the top dark you can get around here (it’s from Italy). But my favourite by far is Rapunzel 70% bittersweet:


    They use this fancy raw sugar that gives it an amazing taste. You can get it in shops around the world if you know where to look (their website can help you find one).

  49. September 10th, 2007 at 09:57 | #49

    I’ve seen the 99% bar available at my local World Market store, here in Columbus, Ohio.

    oh, squeeeee! that’s right down the road from me!

  50. Bruce
    September 10th, 2007 at 10:32 | #50

    I live in Florida and was able to pick this up at Whole Foods market; if you have one near you check it out and see if they carry it. They tend to have a large selection of chocolate bars from all over the world.

    I enjoyed the bar, but not quite as much as the 85% variety. The bitterness is a bit overwhelming at first, but I did find that it was much better with a nice glass of Cabernet that had chocolate notes. If you want to have some fun though, offer some to people who think they like chocolate and then watch their reaction as the eat it…so hilarious!!!

    Oh, and for the person asking about baking chocolate, it usually is 99% cacao as well, but the taste is not as refined as that of Lindt. Unfortunately I do not have access to other premier brands as many Europeans do…I envy you.

Comment pages
Comments are closed.