Thursday, October 3, 2013
Original Beans is a small chocolate company that starts with carefully selected, direct-purchased beans and makes them into single-origin bars. They take special care with all aspects of the sourcing, manufacturing and packaging, as their name might imply. The bars are not easy to find in the United States, but luckily a very good chocolate source has developed walking distance from my office, so you’ll be seeing more of these interesting finds in the coming months and years.
The selection of bars from Original Beans is very small, but quite specific. I chose to review their Original Beans Piura Porcelana 75% as my first. You can read up on the Peruvian Porcelana beans on the Original Beans website and on other chocolate aficionado sites. The history of chocolate is fascinating and many people have become interested in the generic diversity of the trees and their distribution. The Porcelana beans, as a variety of Criollo, are characterized by their white color and distinctive flavor. They’re quite rare and grown in a few small areas in South America, so single origin bars are not common and often limited editions.
The bar features all organic ingredients and is made only exclusively with white Criollo cacao from the Pirua River Valley in the Peruvian Andes. The cacao is 75% and the package says that it’s a 22 hour conch. The ingredients list is simple and short: Direct-trade cacao beans, cacao butter, cane sugar. There’s no soy and it’s vegan and gluten free.
The tasting notes for the bar online are: Vibrant, luscious with kumquat, lime, apricot, raspberry flavours and notes of toasted pecan; wonderfully balanced acidity and lingering finish.
Though the beans are white, the chocolate is brown. The fermenting and roasting of the beans makes them indistinguishable at first glance from any other bean.
The bar is simply and beautifully molded. The segments have a great snap and neutral medium-brown color. The scent is mild, it has some smoky vanilla notes
The flavor is an interesting balance of acid like citrus and tannins, for the most part the flavors I got were black tea and roasted nuts. The texture was smooth and has and excellent melt and lack of grit. It still has a bit of a dry finish that’s sharp from the tannins.
I loved this bar, this is the third one I’ve eaten, I bought the first two over the summer but found they weren’t doing well in the heat so I ate them and waited for it to cool off to do a proper review. The flavor is not too intense but still very satisfying after three or four squares. The cocoa butter balanced out the clean but sweet sugar to make it very munchable for a high cacao bar.
The next bar I picked for review is Original Beans Esmeraldas Milk, which is a 42% cacao bar with a touch of fleur de sel. Like the dark bar, it’s made with organic ingredients. From the photo above you can see that it’s a dark looking bar for milk chocolate, but compared to many commercial milk chocolate bars, I’m inclined to call it a dark milk.
Original Beans is in The Netherlands, and the packaging is largely in Dutch (though the website also in English) while the chocolate is made in Switzerland.
The ingredients list is a little longer than the dark bar, but still short: direct trade cacao, sugar, cocoa butter, milk and sea salt. The tasting notes suggest: Exceptionally velvety with salted caramel, hints of summer red fruits and spice.
The Original Beans website has a feature where you input the batch code from your bar into their website that says:
Unfortunately that feature just takes you to the same page you could browse to based on the name of the chocolate bar. For true transparency and education, I kind of wanted specifics about the harvest that made my bar. What was that year like? Were there special issues that would distinguish that vintage from the previous year or the coming year? Or even just things like how many pounds of beans were harvested, how many bars were made in that batch.
The bar has a roasted, caramelized scent that has a bit of a cheese note to it, something a little more savory. The melt is great, it’s soft and fudgy without feeling too sugary or sticky. The flavor has molasses notes, maybe even a little fennel but a lot of milk. The hint of salt does keep it from tasting too much like sugar, but it doesn’t jump out. There’s a sharpness to the bar, again, that powdered milk cheese-ness that doesn’t quite satisfy me. I’m not a big fan of the powdered milk flavors in some milk chocolates; it’s a personal preference, not an indication of quality.
I also tried the Bolivian Beni Wild Harvest bar, as I was a big fan of Lillie Belle’s Wild Thing, also from wild beans, but found the 66% far too sweet for me.
Friday, April 5, 2013
In February I went to Hawaii, to the island of Kauai. One of the reasons I chose it for a vacation spot was that Hawaii is the only place in the United States where cacao can be grown. (I’ve seen a few trees here and there in botanical gardens, but I wanted to see them outside, fruiting.)
Kauai does not have a long history of growing cocoa, and it’s not an easy tree to grow. But there are some small farms that have planted cacao in the past 10 years and those trees are now bearing enough pods to make truly Hawaiian chocolate. (In fact, you can grow all three major ingredients on the islands: cacao, sugar and vanilla.)
There are a couple of places on Kauai to see cacao being grown, I chose a tour called Garden Island Chocolate Farm Tour led by Koa Kahili. Koa also runs Nanea Chocolate. What interested me in the tour was not just the chocolate but that fact that the tour would lead us through a small farm where we’d get to see and taste the fruits that grow on Kauai. I was hoping to get to taste some of the exotic tropical fruits we hadn’t seen in the grocery store or at the farmers market since we arrived on the island.
The tour was at a small location, something I’d call a demonstration farm, not a full plantation with acres and acres of each tree. About three dozen people gathered early in the morning, full of sunscreen and bug repellant. We walked around the small farm and Koa would pluck fruits from the trees and share them with us. There was a wide variety, some fruiting and others just flowering or dormant. We tried a few different kinds of oranges, grapefruit and limes. There was a large avocado tree, with avocados larger than grapefruits.
The highlight for me, of course, was the cacao. There was a small grove of small cacao trees planted in rows, not more than two dozen of them and not more than seven years old. They were about six feet tall and had full grown pods. Unlike apple or orange trees, which bear their flowers and later their fruits at the ends of the branches, the cacao puts out flower right on the trunk or branches (kind of like a fig tree does). The flowers are small (see above) and are pollinated by tiny flies.
The pods are tested for ripeness by scraping the shell with the back of machete or knife and it’s not green. Since there were not that many trees and the largest one nearby did have some pods, we could see that someone had tested those within grasp several times (the scratches turn black later).
The key experience for me was the fresh cacao. One ripe pod was opened and passed around for each person in the group to take a bean and a little of the flesh. The rind is tough and stiff, kind of like a pumpkin, but more textured. Within that is a softer inner layer, then the pulpy center surrounding the 30-50 seeds. The beans are firm and fibery, about the size of a flattened pecan (in shell). The pulp is white and a cross between musk melon and mango. It’s tangy and watery with a stringy sort of syrupy texture. It has no relationship at all to the flavor of the roasted beans.
The seeds themselves are rather lilac in color, and taste, well, rather boring. A little acidic and lacking creamy oomph of the cocoa butter. Each pod, which weights about 400 grams, yields about 10% of its weight in dried, fermented beans. So one pod is about as much chocolate as is required for a nice, high quality chocolate bar. (If the bar contains 40 grams of cacao, which is then supplemented with another 15 grams of sugar to make a 72% cacao bar.)
After harvest, pods are cracked open, the pulp and beans are scooped out and left to ferment. The fermentation process can be done “naturally”, which basically means they’re just left in a pile with some banana leaves covering them while they naturally ferment. But in some climates they need a little help and are put in wood boxes to keep the heat more regulated to reach the required temperature. The same goes with drying, which happens after the fermentation process is complete and the beans have turned dark red. The pulp is shed naturally as is some of the shell as they dry and are raked around. After that, they’re ready to be roasted and made into chocolate products. (Okay, I’ve really simplified this.)
The next part of the tour was a tasting. Instead of just sitting and eating piece after piece of chocolate, this was a little different. There were fruits as well as chocolate. Some of the chocolate was in bean form, some in bar form, some in truffle form and then fresh pieces of local fruits to mix it up and give us a rest. There were at least twelve tastings, which for me is a lot at once, and gets me pretty wired. (So some I opted out of, especially if they had stuff like, oh, lard in them.)
We tasted garlic chocolate and dark chocolate and nut infused chocolate and some with ginger and other spices. We ate raw beans and toasted beans. We tried soursop and shared an avocado the size of a cantaloup. It was interesting.
One of the most accessible bars Koa makes for his Nanea line is the Nanea Coconut Milk 60%. It’s just cacao, sugar, coconut and vanilla. It’s still a rather high cacao content bar, even for a dairy milk bar, so it’s a very strongly chocolate bar.
I liked the simple packaging. The bar is wrapped in a heavy, paper-backed foil and then has a sleeve over it for the particular bar. Inside the sleeve is a great photo of cacao beans in a cacao pod. A lovely touch.
The bar molding is simple. It’s a two ounce bar with segments across its width. Easy to snap into pieces.
You’ll need to like the flavor of coconut to love this bar. The fun part is that it uses coconut milk, not coconut flakes. So all the flavor is there, but none of the texture. The chocolate is a little chalky and robust. The coconut is sharp, kind of like a cheddar cheese can be sharp. It’s woodsy and nutty with a sort of cutting note towards the end. The cocoa has a lot of the same woodsy characteristics along with a wholesome fudge brownie batter flavor.
If you know someone who likes coconut but is also dairy averse, this is a great option.
My prize from this tour though was this small batch bar, Nanea Kauai Chocolate - Wainiha & Kilauea made only with beans from Kauai from two different plantations. The bar was untempered, which explains its chalky appearance and slight bloom. However, the texture is really nothing like you’d expect looking at it.
So I’m just going to describe my impressions, even though they don’t make sense. The texture is smooth and creamy but light, like a mousse on the tongue. That doesn’t mean that it’s actually airy, it just feels that way. It’s a little waxy at first, it takes a moment for the heat of my mother to melt the cocoa butter (remember this is untempered, which means that the cocoa butter has formed into one of its other crystalline forms). There’s a slight grit to it, but overall it’s consistently smooth. The flavors have a lot going on. There’s some orange blossom notes along with peppery carnations. Then there’s the bitter background, which reminded me a bit of beer. There’s also a sort of yeasty quality to it, like egg bread. When I first tried it, it was like eating Challah flavored chocolate. There are some light hints of smoke or maybe lapsang souchong tea. But what’s missing throughout out this is a sense of chocolate. Lots of chocolates, especially bars from single estates have strong flavors in them, but there’s always a sense of chocolate. In this bar I never really got the blatant and expected chocolate flavors.
This bar was tempered, I bought it at a farm-to-table restaurant shop called Common Ground in Kilauea. (I also picked up some cocoa butter soap there, too, which my mother gave rave reviews.) Though it’s a petite bar (only 1.5 ounces) it was $13. Islands, they’re expensive.
The bar traveled well. I always appreciate a really thick foil wrapping. (I also kept it in the fridge once I got to my hotel, which sounds extreme, but the fridge didn’t actually work and only kept our fruit at 70 degrees, which is perfect for chocolate.)
The texture of this bar is exquisite, it’s smooth and has a quick melt with a burst of flavor. Some bars that have this quick melt have a thin flavor density. This is wonderfully nuanced. It’s floral, with jasmine notes along with the same eggy bread flavor that the Nanea Wailuia bar had. The woodsy flavors are green and grassy.
I loved the tour, though everyone who goes to something that like needs to be flexible about what will occur. Orchards, farms and plantations are places where stuff is grown, they’re on their own schedules. They have bugs and you’re outside and it may be hot or damp or smelly. A lot of the success depends on being open to whatever experience is presented. Koa was knowledgeable and affable, the grounds were easy to walk and there was a great variety of stuff to look at and taste. The rest of the group on the tour was also very good, including the children. The weather was cooperative. The price is a bit steep, at $55 each but it was also three hours and involved a lot of chocolate.
Friday, January 18, 2013
It’s easy to dismiss this bar as one of the flash-in-the pan intersections of hipsterism. Mast Brothers are bearded bean-to-bar chocolate makers based in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn and part of the trend of micro-producers of formerly mass-marketed products. This bar mixes their carefully sourced (but unnamed) beans with coffee beans from the famed Portland, OR coffee roasters, Stumptown (they also have a Manhattan location).
I admit that I do love very good coffee, though I also drink the mediocre stuff rather happily. (Lately I’ve been indulging in a weekly cappuccino made with Verve beans served up by the excellent baristas at Short Cake at the Farmers Market in Los Angeles.)
I want a chocolate bar that evokes all the pleasures of a well made espresso shot in a portable solid - mix the coffee with chocolate instead of hot frothed milk. Both contain strong akaloids and bitter tannins but the cocoa butter might give a slower release to those flavors than hot water.
One of the distinguishing features of Mast Brothers bars is the packaging. They’re wrapped in distinctive papers, this one with an appropriately evocative deep red with black line art of a vintage motorcycle. Inside the thick paper wrapper, which is sealed on the back with a large label, it’s also wrapped in a good quality gold foil.
The bar was nicely tempered. I know that working with other inclusions that also have oils in them can be problematic (sometimes I note a hint of bloom around nuts in dark bars). The look of the bar is interesting, it’s not completely smooth and this is accurate to the actual texture of the chocolate itself. It looks a little lumpy (though that could just be the artisan style of the bar molds), but I found it gritty.
The bar is exceptionally dark looking, and the flavor matches. The coffee notes are bold: smoky with aspects of toffee, molasses and oak. I can’t really tell where the coffee stops and the chocolate starts, but the flavors I thought were from the cacao were a little more green. Some olive and dried cherries (with the accompanying tartness) with another little note of lemon zest. The melt is not quite smooth, I’ve mentioned the grittiness already, I found this in other Mast Brothers bars (I’ve never reviewed them before). The finish is a bit dry, but not chalky.
Overall, it’s not my ideal cup of coffee. I will say that the coffee is bold and stands out from the chocolate without being too sweet nor too bitter. I’ll probably finish the bar (though I can’t eat it late in the day because it is actually caffeinated), but I don’t think I’m going to buy another. I’d say as far as bean to batch bars married with single origin roasters go, I’m still the most fond of the Askinosie and Intelligentsia marriage.
The ingredient list is simple and short: cacao, cane sugar and coffee beans. No emulsifiers and no vanilla. There’s no statement about nuts, gluten or dairy on the wrapper.
Note: Eagranie of The Well Tempered Chocolatier also reviewed this bar last year, but hers was a different iteration, which contained more whole beans. For more about Mast Brothers, check out this 2009 NY Times article about Brooklyn food producers.
Wednesday, January 2, 2013
I’ve been looking forward to trying SOMA Chocolatemaker‘s microbatch, single origin chocolate for quite a few years. They’re based in Toronto, Canada and are sold at some fine chocolate shops across North America but they don’t ship to the US.
So I’ve scoured every chocolate bar shop that I’ve come across and was happy to see that a few of their varieties were on sale at The Meadow in New York City.
The tiny bars, which are less than an ounce, are very expensive. I paid $7.00 for my .88 ounce bar. I was hoping to find their highly regarded Chuao, but since that was not available, I consoled myself with another Venezuelan single origin. Their Black Science Carenero Superior is a 70% bar. Other than that, I know nothing. There are no ingredients listed on the package, and if the information is on the Soma Chocolate site, I could not find it easily. From The Meadow website, it appears that the ingredients are just cacao, cocoa butter and organic sugar (no emulsifiers and no vanilla).
Smoke, molasses and toffee are the first notes from the scent. The melt is slow but consistent, owing to the fine conch of the beans. The toasted notes are even stronger as it melts, with a lot of cereal and bread flavors coming through. The finish is dry with a slight acidic twang and some dried cherry flavors. It’s a little chalky at the end as well.
I’m a huge fan of Venezuelan beans and appreciate the flavor profile on this bar. But it’s missing a delightful melt, the dry texture and acidity at the end seem to erase the entire experience from my mouth. I’m still interested in trying the Soma Chuao, but for now, I’ll stick to Ocumare from Coppeneur and Amano.
Thursday, December 8, 2011
Single origin chocolate and single origin coffee sound like an excellent fit. Askinosie Chocolate, one of America’s few (but growing) number of bean to bar craft chocolate makers has paired with Intelligentsia one of America’s fair trade, artisan and single origin coffee roasters.
As with all of Askinosie’s creations, the bar is thoughtfully packaged. It comes in a glassine sleeve that’s tied shut with a little loop of twine from the bags that the cocoa beans arrive in. Inside there’s a folded sleeve label over the cellophane sealed bar. It all fits back together pretty well, which is good because I can’t eat this bar in one sitting.
It’s three ounces and cost $9.50, which is a bit steep, except compared to everything at Intelligentsia. I’ve only had their coffee twice, both times was a dry cappuccino and both times it was intense but brewed nicely - not burnt, not too acrid or acidic. (I don’t go for the darkest roast of the day, either.)
The bar has 18 squares, spelling out Askinosie Chocolate. The color of the bar is exceptionally dark, glossy and has a clear snap to it.
The scent is quite strong with more of a woodsy, coffee grounds scent than a brewed note. The texture of the bar is noticeably stiffer too. The melt is smooth but slightly chalky and dry at first. There’s plenty of cocoa butter to thin it out after a few moments, kind of like the crema on a cup of espresso.
The coffee flavors are strong, bitter and rather overwhelm the chocolate. The ingredients are cocoa beans, cane juice, coffee beans and cocoa butter. So there’s no vanilla in there, no emulsifiers.
I found myself returning to bar, even though I had to be very restrained in my portions because of the strength of the coffee. I appreciated how well blended it was, that the bar wasn’t just a superior chocolate bar with a bunch of coffee grounds thrown in like so many other companies seem to do. The flavors linger, with more mild notes of licorice, apricot, fig and molasses.
The package says there are two servings, I was much happier with six pieces over the full nine, but I’m the kind of gal that just has a small cup of coffee in the morning (an actual 8 ounce cup). Lest you feel bad about the calories (154 per ounce), there’s also almost 4 grams of protein, 4% of your calcium and 14% of your RDA of iron in that ounce. I can’t hazard a guess on the caffeine.
It’s not an every day bar, which is fine because it’s hard to get a hold of (at Intelligentsia cafes or their website) and pretty expensive. But as a substitution for three coffee drinks, it’s mighty fine, just as satisfying, far more portable and ready when I am. Now ... when is a white chocolate/coffee bar coming out?
Friday, October 28, 2011
I regularly watch the eBay candy auctions. And when I say regularly, I actually check the pages several times a day during the week. Partly to spy new candy products, partly to find international candies that are hard to get in the US, partly to find deals and partly to squash folks who like to use Candy Blog photos for their auctions without asking.
About a month ago I saw a new auction pop up for someone selling 13.2 pounds of Felchlin Swiss Couverture chocolate coins of Grand Cru Arriba 72% Cocoa (conched 72 hours).
The auction was priced at $95 and included local Los Angeles delivery. I bid. I won.
Because it’s for use as an ingredient, it’s packaged modestly. The mini case holds three bags. Each bag is 2 kilograms (4.4 pounds). I pulled out one bag for immediate enjoyment and put the other two, inside the box, into the bottom of my wine fridge. (Okay, I’d probably call it a chocolate fridge, which keeps everything at 58 degrees.)
Each little coin is about 3/4 of an inch around and has a set of embossed cacao pods on it. They’re kind of scuffed up, as they come in a bag like chocolate chips. They work as extra large baking chips but function better as eating chocolate. At this writing I am finishing up the first bag. I’ve made one batch of chocolate pudding, one small batch of Chocolate Hazelnut Rocher (meringues from a recipe from Tartine) and the rest has simply been eaten.
The disks fit in the mouth wonderfully, especially if you’re the kind of person who likes to let their chocolate melt. (Put two together to create an oblate spheroid and they’re doubly good.) The flavor is exceptionally well rounded, there is no dominant flavor though I get notes of molasses, honey, coffee and raspberry jam sometimes.
As noted above, this is a 72 hour conch. Conching is the process of both mixing and grinding chocolate over low heat. The longer the processing the smaller the grain size of the cacao bits and the more emulsified the chocolate becomes. This process varies in time depending on what the cacao is like and the necessities of the final product. It can be anywhere from 24 hours to 100 hours. The grinding part is done with either stones or metal rollers.
This long conch also allows Felchlin to make an uncompromising chocolate without emulsifiers. So all that’s in there is cacao mass, sugar and vanilla. (So if you must avoid soy, try this.) It’s also creamy without cream. (So if you’re a vegan, try this.) It’s made from Criollo beans from the Los Rios area of Ecuador.
Earlier this year I got to try a great example of how important conching is. When I was in Germany at ISM Cologne, one of my favorite chocolate companies, Coppeneur gave me this box of two chocolate bars. They were both made from highly prized Chuao beans (review of those bars here) but inside this box were two versions - one that was conched 70 hours and one that was conched 100 hours. The difference is quite remarkable. The longer a bar is conched, the silkier it becomes.
What I’ve learned is that I love long conched chocolate. It’s so smooth that the texture itself becomes like a flavor because it’s simply so forward in the experience.
I’m not sure why the local gal was auctioning the bulk lots of chocolate, but I did find out that she runs a local chocolate catering company called Chocolate by M. She was kind enough to leave me with these huge nonpareils along with the delivery. The photo might make them look small, but they’re huge 3 inch platters of dark chocolate (I don’t know if it’s the same as the Felchlin 72%) with a dense sprinkling of nonpareils on the bottom.
It’s just one easy idea of what I could do with my bevvy of chocolate.
Mostly what I think I’m going to do with my chocolate stash though is eat it. It’s incredibly munchable but also exceptionally intense. I’ve found that I can’t make it an evening snack as there are too many caffeine-like compounds in there that keep me up at night. But I’ve found that it’s a great treat during the day while I work, I’ve been keeping a little dish of them on my desk and probably eat about an ounce of them a day. They’re filling and sustaining.
But maybe the last bag will make it to December and I’ll end up making chocolate truffles for Christmas.
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, October 13, 2010
The first experience I had with fair trade chocolate as Equal Exchange exactly five years ago. I was in love with their ethics and their product. Fair Trade as a concept means that everyone in the chain to create a product for sale gets a fair payment. It also means that working conditions are safe and that child labor or slaves are not engaged.
The bars are now much easier to find and the breadth of the program and the product line has expanded over the years. I was sent this assortment of their darkest bars: Ecuador 65%, Very Dark 71% and Panama 80%. First of all, they’ve redesigned their packaging to great effect. The wrappers are simple and compelling and distinctive in the now cluttered world of chocolate bars. The focus is on the product and the producers, the inside of the wrapper details Equal Exchange’s programs.
Each bar is 3.5 ounces and is certified organic and Kosher. Unlike some Fair Trade bars, all of the ingredients in Equal Exchange’s dark bars are Fair Trade content.
The Organic & fairly traded Dark chocolate from Ecuador (the bar on the top of the pile) is 65% cacao content. The bar looks crisp and perfect, right down to the snap when I broke it in half. Each bar is sealed inside an opaque plastic sleeve to keep it fresh.
This bar did have a crunch to it, the tempering was crisper than the other two bars. It smelled of toffee and stewed fruits. It was sweet on the tongue at first but had a lot of flavors going on immediately, a light tangy note of apricots and then some more fudgy flavors like the tasting notes predicted. It was sweet and didn’t have the puddly melt like the others but still had a very fine texture.
The Organic & fairly traded Very Dark chocolate is 71% cacao content but doesn’t list the origin beyond “Latin America.” The bar was nicely molded, shiny and with no voids or bubbles. It had a slight red cast to it.
71% has a great blend of flavor characteristics. It has a rich scent, very woodsy with coffee and cherry notes. On the tongue I was getting more green notes, like olives and asparagus plus a little hint of charcoal. It’s bitter but also has a silky melt that’s also a little sticky.
The Organic & fairly traded Extra Dark chocolate from Panama is 80% cacao content. This bar was more of a smoky brown and had less of the red color that the other two had.
This bar smells distinctly like raisins, tangy and fruity with a little wine note to it. The flavor is the same: a strong tannin base but with berry and cherry notes. It’s a little tangy but with a great soft melt on the tongue and a light dry bite. For a very dark bar this is incredibly munchable, smooth and not too bitter or chalky.
I found myself drawn to both the 80% and the 65% for wildly different reasons, they were all distinct but those two fit my desire for rich chocolate at the moment. I liked the wrappers and the plastic sleeve that held its own (I was able to put the uneaten portions back in there without making a crumbly mess or melting it by handling too much).
Equal Exchange has also made some more “candy” version of their bars such as Organic Chocolate Caramel Crunch with Sea Salt and Orange Dark Chocolate. I’ll have reviews of those soon. All of their chocolate is a pretty good value, retail for these bars is around $4.00 which is less than some of the more upscale bars but more than your standard Lindt or Ghirardelli.
They’re vegan, soy free and gluten free. They may contain traces of tree nuts, milk and peanuts.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.