Cocoa Taste Test

As someone who drinks prodigious quantities of hot cocoa, in addition to baking, I use a lot of cocoa. It wasn’t until my friend Meg beat me making brownies – using my own recipe but with a better cocoa, that I realized just how much the quality and type of a cocoa can make a huge difference.

The cocoa in question that my friend used was Hershey’s Special Dark – the old formulation of it, which was 50/50 Alkali and Dutch processed cocoa. I am still a fan of Hershey’s Special Dark as one of the best cocoas to be found in the average grocery store. More recently I have also become a fan of Ghiradelli’s Majestic cocoa – notably not the Ghiradelli cocoa you can find in most grocery stores, which I find to be uninspiring.

Here I wanted to test out two new cocoas, both ordered from King Arthur Flour, the Densdorp Dutch-Processed and their Black Cocoa. The test is on hot cocoa, a mix of 2 parts sugar, 1 part cocoa, with approximately 2 tablespoons of mix per 8 oz of milk. Normally I would add vanilla or other spices to the hot cocoa, but I left those out for this test.

Hershey’s regular cocoa is still a good cocoa. It has a very smooth and even flavor, and tasted the sweetest of all the cocoas in hot chocolate. As there was equal amounts of sugar in every hot cocoa, I am not sure why it would taste sweeter – perhaps its mellower flavor did less to distract from the sweetness of the sugar. It is alkali processed and noticeably much lighter in appearance than the other cocoas.

Black cocoa is the exact opposite of Hershey’s. It is dark with an almost burnt taste. It has, as promised, a near black color, which would make an excellent cake in contrast with lighter frosting. I find it a bit too strong for use in hot cocoa, and a less tolerant tester found it almost undrinkable. The bag recommends it be used mixed into other cocoas, and indeed when I mixed the Black and Hershey’s cocoa together, a far nicer intermediate was found. Although it is the most expensive cocoa here, I could see it being one of the cheapest premium cocoas because only a tablespoon or two added, in addition to a cheaper cocoa like Hershey’s could add a little extra flavor to many baked goods.

The hardest part of the taste test was the Ghiradelli Majestic versus the Bensdorp Dutch-processed. Both are very good tasting premium cocoas, and relatively similar in taste. The Ghiradelli had a stronger, perhaps more fruity flavor, while the Bensdorp was more subtle. Both were far ‘richer’ tasting than Hersheys. Perhaps I would say the Majestic is better for something like brownies, where I expect a more complex chocolate flavor, whereas the Bensdorp might be better for cakes where I expect a smoother flavor.

Regardless, they are all good cocoas.

Cocoas, and their noticeably different shades of brown

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