Pure maple syrup is graded according to Federal USDA regulations, and is based on both color and flavor. All syrup available to the public is Grade A, and then further classified by color.
Golden Color, Delicate Taste. This light syrup has the mildest maple flavor and is usually made early in the season.
Amber Color, Rich Taste. Still light in color, this syrup has a more full-bodied maple flavor.
Dark, Robust Taste. This syrup is for those who prefer a substantially stronger maple flavor.
Very Dark, Strong Taste. This bold flavored syrup is ideal for cooking and baking, and is made late in the season.
All maple syrup grades are better than the artificial stuff. Otherwise it's strictly a matter of personal choice. Ask yourself (or someone else) these questions: Which is better, white wine or red wine? Which is better, light beer or dark beer? Beer can probably be compared most easily to the different maple syrup grades/flavors. A light Pilsner beer has a light color and delicate flavor, while a Stout or Porter has a very dark color and strong flavor. It's strictly a matter of personal choice, and there isn't one grade of maple syrup that is "better" than another.
Maple producers have no control over which grade they make. As a rule of thumb, lighter syrup is made earlier in the season, and darker syrup is made later. But since we are dealing with Mother Nature in our business, anything can happen. Producers have seen years where 95% of the annual crop was light amber syrup, and some years yield almost no light syrup at all, when most of the crop is dark syrup. During the six-week maple production season, the weather goes from cold to warm as spring pushes aside the cold of winter. Additionally, the trees themselves undergo metabolic and chemical changes as they go from winter dormancy to springtime activity. The tree buds start to form towards the end of the sugaring season, about a month before they open up into small leaves. These changes cause differences in maple syrup flavor as the season progresses. Experiment with the different grades, and continue to buy what you like the best. Remember: There is nothing better than pure maple syrup.