Wednesday, February 9, 2011
Chuao is a small village in Venezuela, but to chocolate aficionados is the name for criollo cocoa beans from the area. Casey at The Chocolate Note has some wonderful coverage and photos.
For many years Amadei (Italy) had an exclusive deal for the beans from the region, so the only chocolate made from them was Amadei’s Chuao bars. The bars were hard to find and of course quite expensive (though bars from Chocolat Bonnat existed, that’s kind of another story). And of course there was just the one company’s concept of what was best about the beans (from the fermentation to the roasting & conching). Amadei is no longer the only purveyor of the coveted beans. I picked up three different bars from three different countries to see how they created a chocolate bar from the esteemed cacao: Chocolat Bonnat (France), Amano (USA) and Coppeneur (Germany).
The Chocolat Bonnat Chuao bar is the largest of the group, a generous 100 gram bar (3.5 ounces). It’s 75% cacao and Kosher. There are only three ingredients in the bar: cacao, cocoa butter and sugar. No emulsifiers like soy lecithin and no vanilla.
The packaging is simple and the same as all the other Bonnat bars I’ve had. It’s a large bar with petite but thick rectangular segments. It’s wrapped in a simple paper-backed foil which is then covered in a simple glossy, embossed paper sleeve.
The bar has a beautiful sheen, a light touch of red to the brown color and though the photo makes it look a creamy color, it’s really quite dark.
The scent is rather earthy with a few green notes like olives. The melt is exquisite, smooth and thick without being chalky or dry. The chocolate is flavorful, angled mostly towards the deep flavors like smoke, coffee, dried cherries and molasses. There are some slight mineral notes, like iron. While it sounds like this would be heavy and rich, it still comes off a little lighter than that, mostly because of the texture and a lighter acidity. There’s a trace of bitterness towards the end but nothing distracting, more like a finish of a citrus marmalade.
I’m already quite fond of Coppeneur. From the packaging, which is this smart little matte black “wallet” that’s sealed with a dot of wax to the beautiful design of the bar’s mold. I’ve bought several of their Ocumare bars in the past (straight dark chocolate and Mit Chili & Cacao-Nibs) but never wrote about them. They’re difficult to find in the United States, I’ve been buying my bars at Fog City News in San Francisco.
Like the Bonnat bar, the Coppeneur Chuao Dunkle Schokolade is made only with cacao mass and sugar. There is no added soy lecithin or vanilla. This bar is 70% and comes in a 50 gram tablet (about 1.76 ounces).
The bar has a similar red hue. The format of the bar is different from both the Bonnat and Amano, so I photographed them together. It’s quite thin but has an excellent snap to it.
The initial melt is quick and smooth but the thing I noticed first was the raisin flavors and light tangy notes. Though it’s only 70% instead of the 75% of the Bonnat, it’s not sweeter though perhaps a little more acidic and has a dry finish. Though most of the flavor notes were overwhelmingly fruity, like prunes and raisins and dried cherries there were some light roasted notes of pecans. Towards the end, the flavors got deeper with notes of toffee, leather and tobacco.
There were a couple of little gritty bits, this bar is a 70 hour conch. I have another set of bars from Coppeneur that I got in Germany that are paired: a 70 hour conch and a 100 hour conch. I’ll be trying those soon.
This bar comes in the same package style as the other Amanos, a slim and glossy box. The bars are 2 ounces (56 grams) and wrapped in a sturdy gold foil. This bar differs from the other two in the ingredients: cocoa beans, sugar, cocoa butter and vanilla beans. So I was curious what the vanilla beans would contribute to the profile of the Chuao cacao. The cacao content is 70% and is Kosher (note that it’s also made in a facility with nuts, peanuts, dairy & soy present).
I find the size and format of the bar to be ideal for the way that I like to each dark chocolate. The bar is thick, but not so thick that a lot of chewing is necessary. The segments are a great size for a single taste and the foil is of good quality for rewrapping and saving for later.
The first flavors I got were woodsy and green with a little citrus peel twang in there of grapefruit. The melt is smooth but a little more gritty and sugary than the previous two bars ... and when I say gritty, that’s just a comparison. Taken by itself I don’t know if many folks would notice. The vanilla is noticeable in the flavor profile, I definitely got some oak cask and cognac flavors in there and the finish has that vanilla note and the freshness of white tea. There are more floral notes, like orange blossom and jasmine. But there’s also a kind of volatile quality, a sort of burn like orange oil can give after a while.
I’ve been nibbling and formulating my tasting notes for these bars for about two months. I traveled with the bars, taking them all the way to Europe and back. The Venezuelan Chuao beans are extraordinary and very expensive. They create a wonderful chocolate, apparently every chocolate maker is able to do something extraordinary and unique with the beans. The price is prohibitive though and in some ways it makes me question spending that much on a bar ... the Chuao bars are usually priced 20-25% more than the other bars in that company’s line - so my Coppeneur bar was $8, where a regular single origin bar from them would be $6 and these are only 50 grams to begin with.
My final conclusion is that everyone makes a wonderful chocolate bar from these beans. But I’ve also been very impressed with each of these company’s chocolate bars made with other less expensive beans, they’re simply good chocolate makers. I’m not convinced that the chocolate bars are worth the premium for these beans in particular, but fans of chocolate in general should try at least one of the bars made from Chuao beans as a point of reference. Personally, I’m not afraid to go back to blended bean bars, which offer a good balance of consistency of flavor over they years and affordability. But with some folks, once you go Chuao you never go back.
Wednesday, December 9, 2009
Back in October the Chocolate Salon came to town, it’s a one day show devoted solely to chocolate and open to the public. It was quite small compared to some chocolate shows held around the world, but one of the best parts was visiting with Art Pollard, his team and Amano Chocolate. They make superb bars with specially selected beans. I’ve been fond of all of their bars, with the Ocumare still topping my list for plain dark chocolate.
I bought some of the other new bars that I haven’t been able to find in stores (Montanya & Jembrana Milk Chocolate) but I also got a preview at the time of the not-yet-released Amano Dos Rios 70%. The beans are from the Dominican Republic and you can read far more about the origin of this bar at Seventy Percent in this article by Martin Christy.
What I’ve found over the years with Amano chocolate and many other small batch brands is that the chocolate changes as it ages, just like cheese and wine. So I ate half of my bar pretty much right away, then wrapped it up tight and put it back in the wine fridge for a couple of months to see what would happen. It is quite startling to see what a difference that makes, but happily both tastings were very nice.
Initial Tasting: Woodsy scent, moss, green sticks and olives. Strong Earl Grey tea flavors, not just the bergamot but also the black tea leaves. Quite acidic and dry yet a smooth and creamy melt overall. Lingering notes of bergamot and a return of the olives and some peppery floral whiffs of carnations.
Later Tasting: The scent is of green olives and lilacs, a little soapy. Strange and compelling - very green, fresh and grassy with a strong astringent quality. As it melts the flavors continue to release including more olives and some black tea/mushroom/cherry notes and mid-tone burnt note like coffee left on the burner a little too long. The aftertaste though is quite unusual as the bergamot emerges and kind of morphs into a fresh orange blossom note towards the end.
The texture was just a little bit chalkier than I’d prefer (but on the scale of chalky things, this was much less so than most other bars that I’d use that word to describe), however I’m used to the super-smooth quality of their Ocumare. But this bar is just too fascinating to not keep eating. If you’ve ever thought that all chocolate was the same, this is a bar to try, because it’s the best demonstration I’ve ever tasted of how varied the flavors within cocoa beans can be. Remember, these aren’t flavors added to the beans, it’s just the inherent flavors within this particular variety, how they were fermented and the way that the Amano team roasted & conched them.
It might be an interesting gift idea for a food-fascinated person in your life - a variety of Amano bars (and maybe a nice bottle of wine or whiskey).
Thursday, July 2, 2009
The trend for small batch chocolate with single origin beans is well established now. The newest twist is the creation of milk chocolate. While I’ve found myself particularly attracted to Ocumare sourced beans no matter who makes the bar, I was curious how it would rank once Amano made their Ocumare Handcrafted Milk Chocolate.
Dark chocolate has fewer ingredients which means it’s more about the beans, but with milk chocolate there that whole milk factor to take into account - is it fatty, is it tangy, is it malty?
The ingredients here show that the Ocumare Milk is 30% minimum cacao content. The list goes like this: cocoa beans, pure cane sugar, cocoa butter, whole milk powder and whole vanilla beans.
The milk is pretty low on the list and looking at the bar it’s pretty easy to see that, it’s a rather dark bar, darker looking than some actual dark chocolates.
The scent is woodsy, a bit tangy with a whiff of malt and grasses.
The snap is bright and distinct, but the bite is soft. The chocolate melts quickly into a slick & creamy puddle on my tongue. There’s a cooling texture to it, it’s sweet but not sticky or cloying like many milk chocolates can be.
There’s a dark note to it and that same sort of cashew nuttiness that I’ve noticed in other Ocumare chocolate bars.
It’s a very satisfying milk chocolate, so smooth and silky that I ate this much quicker than I’m able to do with regular dark bars.
It’s an expensive proposition, the bars are only 2 ounces and I picked this one up at Mel & Rose’s for $6.50 ... a bit more than I’m willing to pay for a regular snack.
(Allergen notes: though there’s no soy lecithin in the chocolate, it was made on equipment that process soy, peanuts and tree nuts.)
Wednesday, March 11, 2009
Amano introduced one of their most exotic single origin bars early this year with their Jembrana 70%. It’s made only from beans from the Jembrana regency of the island of Bali, Indonesia and surrounding areas.
I’ve tried Amano’s other bars: Madagascar, Ocumare and Cuyagua. I loved the Ocumare (in fact, I love just about every Ocumare bar I come across, the flavor profile of the beans just suits me) and really love the style of the bars & overall quality.
The ingredients are simple: Cocoa Beans, Pure Cane Sugar, Cocoa Butter and Whole Vanilla Beans. I was sampling lot number 3/4/97 with a best by date of October 2010.
No lecithin is listed (though those with soy, peanut & tree nut allergies are notified that this is a share equipment environment).
The bars are always packaged nicely. Amano just changed the boxes slightly, they’re a glossy coated paperboard & feature new artwork. (I preferred the matte stuff, but I understand the need to differentiate on the shelves.) Inside the bar is wrapped in a heavy gold-colored foil. This is great compared to the tissue-thin foil many high-end bar makers use that makes it impossible to re-close.
I found with Amano before that I liked the bars after they’ve aged for a little while. I picked this one up in January at Food Fete (a press event for food writers) but put it away for a month after photographing it.
The bar is wonderfully glossy and well-tempered. It has a slight reddish cast to it and smells of coffee, olive oil, beeswax and wood shavings.
I like the thickness of the bar, it means that the little pieces are thick enough to bite, but not so thick that I worry about hurting myself.
I found it melted quite easily once I popped a piece in my mouth. The immediate flavors were grassy, more notes of green olives and matcha. Then it turned darker, to roasted pecans, toffee, anise and cedar but on the tangy side with some hibiscus in there. There was a definite dry finish to it that brought things back around to the greenness of the flavors.
Overall it’s an intriguing bar. Though it’s dark and complex, it’s not hard to just munch - though the lingering dryness kind of begs for a glass of water or some crackers. This bar certainly keeps me engaged with Amano and I’ll keep trying whatever they put out.
Amano is now Kosher.
Monday, August 13, 2007
It may come as a surprise to some candy eaters, but there really aren’t that many different chocolate sources in the United States. Did you know that there are only 16 chocolate factories (actual factories that make chocolate from bean to bar) in this country? Everyone else who makes products that contain chocolate get it from someone else. Usually a big someone ... someone in “Big Chocolate.” But every once in a while a little guy comes along and says they’re going to start with some beans and some sugar and and make some chocolate bars. Of course it’s hard to do that because chocolate making, in some ways, is about large scale. Large batches of chocolate mean lots of blending of beans goes on and then the product is consistent from batch to batch. An artisan maker can either attempt to create a cookie cutter product every time or embrace the individuality of the variety of the bean and the growing region.
Amano Chocolate‘s Art Pollard said just that. His chocolate-making techniques are more like a classic vintner than a candy maker. As a small company he chooses his beans personally and supervises the roasting and blending of the single origin sources to create hand crafted, small batch bars. Each bar is marked with a lot number and a molding date.
The ingredients are simple: cocoa beans, cane sugar, cocoa butter and Tahitian vanilla beans. Note that there’s no added soya lecithin here. (The only other bars that I’ve tried that have no lecithin in them are Theo and Michel Cluizel.) The packaging is equally simple but also appropriate. The bar is inside a nice matte paperboard black tab-top box and the bar is wrapped in a medium weight gold foil. (I’ve had plenty of bars that come in a microthin foil that is impossible to reseal around the bar because it’s torn to shreds.)
Madagascar Premium Dark Chocolate - 70% Cacao Minimum
Madagascar - tart with strong licorice and citrus tones. The tanginess seems to give the chocolate a very crisp finish, it’s smooth, but not as full feeling on the tongue as the Ocumare. Eventually it settles into a flavor rather like golden raisins. (Lot no: 3/4/59 date: 1/14/2007)
Ocumare Grand Cru Dark Chocolate - 70% Cacao Minimum
Buttery and rich with a strong woodsy component. A little peppery bite as well as a little rosemary note. The flavors are thick and resonant, with a deepness and complexity that was good for savoring but also extremely pleasant to mindlessly eat. (Lot no: 3/4/61 date: 3/8/2007)
I have a feeling that I just plain old like Ocumare. It’s my favorite single-origin bar from Chocovic.
I had several of these Amano Ocumare bars and found that they were much better, richer and more buttery after sitting for at least a month. So while “fresh from the factory” is good for some products, so is aging in the case of chocolate.
Brian from Candy Addict reviewed these bars and found them Awesomely Addictive. He notes a strong mint flavor in the Ocumare which was in a single molding of bars. Art Pollard dispatched a newer set of bars that did not have that hint of mint in them, hence the differing descriptions between our reviews (and more Ocumare for me!).
Amano’s been getting a lot of press lately, especially since their good showing at the Fancy Food Show in New York earlier this summer. Here’s a roundup of other reviews: The Art of Tasting Chocolate, David Lebovitz and Chuck Eats.
The final thing to note is the price. The bars run about $7.00 each and weigh 2 ounces - that’s over $55 a pound and isn’t a purty truffle or anything. In my middle-class existence that price makes these bars a “rare indulgence” but certainly for any chocophile is something that should be experienced. You can buy directly from Amano or possibly at Amazon (out of stock right now).
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.