Review ratings

So I see you put stars everywhere, that’s really nice and all, but what do they really mean?

(*****) – Simply devine chocolate. The best of the best! A rare find.

(****) – A perfect bar! Remarkable tastes and textures. Truely a fine chocolate!

(***) – a really interesting bar. Well worth the try, though it isn’t as amazing as chocolate can be.

(**) – Hey, it is chocolate, but there is much better stuff out there!

(*) – darn, did I actually buy this? What was I thinking!

Remember, this are my personal opinions. Please, be my guest and try the bars yourself and see if you agree.

Review: Chocolate Tree – Whisky & Nibs – 69% (*****)

The Creator:

There are times that the heart of a food lover rejoices. When you discover a creation which combines two products you love. Origin chocolate and single malt whisky. So many years ago, discovering single malt whisky marked the start of my journey in the world of fine flavors. Years later on, origin chocolate became a passion. The idea of combining both is not new, yet it is the first time I find them melted together in a single chocolate bar.

I’ve attended chocolate/whisky pairings in the past. They are always good fun, but make clear that both products may strengthen each other or clash in a violent way. A chocolate maker who want to create a bar where both strong flavored products form a marriage, must be willing to experiment and be persistent in order to find a true match made in heaven.

Chocolate Tree, a Scottish small batch chocolate maker run by Alastair and Friederike Gower – based in Haddington, is up for the challenge. They create bars using fine flavor cocoa, grown in distinct origin regions. By keeping close relations with the farmers, Chocolate Tree seeks to buy the best quality fermented and dried beans. From there on, they take matters in their own hands and create the final product from bean to bar. Apart from a fine range of origin bars, the company is also known for a variety of chocolates with inclusions. Given the number of awards they have won in the past years, they clearly know how to make a fine chocolate.

Let’s see if Chocolate Tree found a golden pairing.

The Bar:

The bar in front of me today, combines fine Peruvian cocoa (according to the website), cocoa nibs and Scottish single malt whisky. The production process is quiet different from what we normally see in flavored chocolates. The whisky is not simply blended into the chocolate mass. A part of the Marañón cocoa beans used in the bar, are soaked in the Scottish Islay Whisky. Once the alcohol has evaporated, the beans are turned into nibs and added to the chocolate. So in fact they used infused inclusions.

Choosing an Islay Malt is daring. The single malt produced on this Scottish island is renowned for its peaty flavor notes. But peat comes in many different forms. It can be subtle and smooth as a whiff of smoke. Or it can be straight up bold and overpowering, taking you by surprise. Choosing the right scotch is key to success here.

The chocolate bar comes in a distinct, large square box. A big condor shaped drawing sets a South American mood. A dark brown ribbon across the box displays all the needed info. Chocolate Tree’s logo in gold – Whisky proudly bold and white, info on the company and on the bar inside. Luxurious looking overall and very recognizable.

The box flips open like an envelope and reveals a nice surprise. Instead of one big bar, you get two smaller, separately sealed rectangular bars. Great idea. I never finish a bar in one sitting, so this keeps the other part of the chocolate nice and fresh. The bar itself show a well know design in the craft chocolate world. Each bar made out of 8 pieces with the imprint of flowers and leaves and a nice elevation difference between the pieces. Works like a charm. Opening the wrapper of the chocolate made my head spin. Immediately I was met with wonderful and tantalizing aromas!

Tasting:

Bean: Not mentioned

Origin: South America ( Peru Marañón according their website)

Maker: Chocolate Tree, Haddington, Scotland

Price: £ 5,95 – 80 g (website Chocolate Tree)

Batch: Not mentioned – best before 25/07/2018

Color: A lighter shade of brown – near high percentage milk chocolate

Aroma: Chocolaty, and peat… subtle Islay peat and leather. On further sniffing, it surprises me to find the peat perfectly blending with earthy cocoa as if they were a natural marriage.

Taste: An immediate sweet start, where nutty, chocolate notes mingle with sweet flavors, developing to fruity sweet cherry. While the chocolate melts, you actually have a sensation of sipping whisky – a tingling start in the mouth, slowly builds in intensity towards a nice single malt Islay flavor. Sweet and warm starting (cooked pear and cherry evolve to smoky and mingle in with just the right amount of peat – entwined with a sea side saltiness). The cocoa nibs add a nice earthy note, perfectly melting together with the peaty whisky notes. They force you to bite every now and then, releasing more flavor. Once the chocolate has melted, the whisky notes subdue and the chocolate comes emerging more distinctively again and leaves you with warm autumn notes of nuts and honey.

Well balanced a surprisingly complex, this bar show how “infusion” should be done. Cocoa and whisky blend together to near perfection. No overpowering ingredients, just a dance of aromas. At 69% cocoa, this chocolate seems to stand his ground firmly against the whiksy notes. This is by far the best flavored bar I tired up to date! A job well done Chocolate Tree.

However, I might understand that people who are new to sing malt whisky or have a dislike of peated malts – might not agree with me. But trust me on this one. It is sublime for those who like these flavors.

By now, I’m very curious about the single malt used. It remains a mystery so far…

Links: Chocolate Tree

Review: Cacao Prieto – Dominican Cacao 72% (***)

The Creator:

Many bean to bar chocolate makers have passed on this site by now. They all source fine cocoa and turn the beans into exciting and wonderful chocolate bars, or at least try to. But some people go even beyond this. They venture deeper into the cocoa world and take charge of the entire production line, starting from growing the initial raw material on. Called Tree-to-bar, these chocolate makers are sparse even in the craft chocolate world.

Cacao Prieto, based in Brooklyn New York, does not simply make chocolate. They also own the farms where the cocoa beans are grown. It is one of the few companies who offer only one origin, simply because they work with products grown on their own cocoa and cane sugar plantations in the Dominican Republic.

But it doesn’t stop them from offering a large range of bars, from plain 72% chocolate to bars infused with inspiring flavors such as orchid, Dominican spices, Mandarin & Bergamot and Absinthe. Next are the bark bars, who consist of dark chocolate bars sprinkled with dried fruits and nuts. Add chocolate spread, chocolate covered nuts, couverture, cocoa nibs and drinking chocolate to the line-up and there is enough to make any chocolate lover very happy. Cocoa Prieto even goes wider by adding a distillery to the chocolate production, offering heirloom bourbon whiskey’s and cocoa based liquors. There is no other company like this in the business.

I found their plain 72% Dominican bar in the shop Patisserie-chocolaterie Vercruysse in Kortrijk Belgium. It’s amazing to see how far these chocolate bars travel before they can seduce a chocoholic. Geert, the owner of the shop has a fascination for good chocolate and offers some of the best available.

I choose the plain bar with a reason. It gives the best idea of the quality of the chocolate without any added and distracting flavors and inclusions. It can’t hide behind any additional flavors and needs to shine on it’s own.

The Bar:

The chocolate bar is a nice 85 g. It is wrapped in thick paper covered in a dark ethnic decoration. All the needed info is found on a sticker folded around the front and back of the package. The Cacao Prieto logo is written in a stylish font. The info on the label is short and provides the needed nutritional facts, ingredients and indication of the cocoa origin and type. A small sticker shows the cocoa used in organic. There is even a Pareve stamp – meaning this product is certified kosher.

The bar follows a trend in bean to bar chocolate, where the chocolate creator wants the customer to feel he/she has a premium product in hand. Yet the design of the actual chocolate bar itself is minimalistic. Just a big rectangular piece of chocolate, with regular scoring. Somehow the chocolate bar doesn’t meet the expectations the wrapper has set. But in the end, the flavor is what really counts.

Tasting:

Bean: Criollo

Origin: Dominican Republic

Maker: Cacao Prieto,

Price: $ 8 – 85 g (Cacao Prieto webshop)

Batch: Not mentioned

Color: deep dark brown

Aroma: sweet honey, a touch of gingerbread, smoky vanilla and chocolaty

Taste: The chocolate starts sweet with a clear honey note. It quickly turns to light yet abundant chocolate aromas. The flavor is refreshing on the palate, not clingy nor overwhelming. The honey keeps flowing around generously and gets joined by a delightful vanilla twinkle. Every now and then there is a hard to grasp yellow fruit note, gone before it can be clearly detected. Near the end of the melt a flash of toasted bread appears out of nowhere. The aftertaste keeps the great chocolaty flavors hanging on and adds a bit of dried wood. Later on it turns more floral in nature. The texture of the chocolate is butter smooth and silky.

Light and playful are the key words when you want to describe the Cacao Prieto Dominican cacao bar. No deep powerful flavors and impressions, yet lightheaded notes tiptoeing over your tongue. Asking you to explore them more, they are drawing you closer but disappear before you really grasp them. It is quiet a cheeky piece of chocolate for sure! But I do miss a bit of body to give it more of an edge. I would call this a perfect breakfast chocolate.

And now I wonder how it tastes with the flavors and inclusions Cacao Prieto offers them. Craft chocolate, it never ends.

Links:

Cacaoprieto.com 

PatisserieVercruysse.be

Review: Darcis – Pérou 72 % (**1/2)

The Creator:

Belgian chocolate is on the move. Where most Belgian chocolate used to be made by two big industrial manufacturers, we see a steady stream of new chocolate makers rising who decide to take matters in their own hands. People who know there is more to cocoa than the generic flavor we get in every mass made bar or product. Jean-Philippe Darcis, bases in Verviers Belgium is an awarded chocolatier who recently decided to launch his own bean to bar line of chocolate bars. Jean-Philippe has made his name in the chocolate world by creating stunning filled chocolates – several of them were awarded gold, silver and bronze during the International chocolate Awards 2015 and 2016.

When such a chef decides to go bean to bar, the expectations are high. It takes a lot of effort to create chocolate starting from the unroasted bean. It is a process that requires a lot of research and experimenting before you get the result you are aiming for.

Today, Darcis has a bean to bar chocolate production in his own atelier, on a artisan scale. He offers chocolates made with cocoa cultivated in Peru, Ecuador, Cuba, Cameroon, Madagascar and Vietnam. Every origin is transformed in bars with different percentages, ranging from 56 to 100%,

I found a 72% Peru bar made with Piura grown cocoa. This origin is especially popular with chocolate makers so it is a great starting point to discover the work of Darcis.

The Bar:

The chocolate bar is protected by a brigh red paper wrapper. An South-American Indian design is printed all over. The Darcis logo shows on top and in the middle you find the origin, percentage, terroir and tasting notes. It claims to be refined and promises citrus fruit flavors. On the back there is a triple language explanation (French, Dutch, English) about the origin and the required ingredients list.

Inside the paper wrapper, a gold foil is found. The gold goes nicely with the red of the outer wrapper.

The bar has a simple yet clean looking style. Large rectangular pieces all over, except for one bigger piece decorated with the Darcis logo. Classy looking. At 75 g, the bar is generous. It has a nice thickness and looks inviting.

Tasting:

Bean: Criollo / Trinitario according their website

Origin: Peru – Piura region

Maker: Darcis chocolat et patisserie – Verviers – Belgium

Price: € 7,5 – 75 g (Darcis online shop)

Batch: not mentioned – best before 30/06/2018

Color: A lighter shade of brown, reddish, nearly a dark milk chocolate color

Aroma: not very strong, subtle wood, subtle gingerbread, chocolaty, roasted bread

Taste: Nice snap. Starts of with roasted hazelnuts. Slowly flowing to chocolaty tones with a remaining nutty background. Every now and then you notice a little lemon touch, yet you really have to search for it. There is a touch of honey in the back. Roasted breadcrumbs trickle in. Near the end of the melt, there is a lactic feel, making the experience very close to a dark milk chocolate.

The chocolate is not quiet as complex as some of the other Piura bars I tasted in the past. Unfortunately the flavors seem all subdued and remain a bit too neutral for my liking. There are some extra flavor notes, but they remain subtle and don’t stand out in a bold way.

The texture is slightly coarse, but the melt is nice and the chocolate isn’t filming in the mouth at all.
I did detect a slight paper flavor in my bar. This is unfortunate for such a piece of chocolate, where everything should be about the glorious aroma’s of the cocoa. I can’t state the cause of this problem as I received it from a friend and don’t know how it was kept. We also had high temperatures in Belgium lately, but bars I bought longer ago don’t seem to have this problem. Perhaps the foils or paper wrapper have an influence?

This bar is difficult to place. I can’t say that this is a bad piece of chocolate. It clearly stand out above average chocolate bars, yet I do feel that the flavor profile is a bit to well-behaved. It stays too close to the flavor of classic chocolate bars. It follows almost exactly the flavor profile of other Piura bars I tried in the past, but those were far bolder and more expressive. The off flavor of paper is throwing in a bit of weight as well in my final appreciation.

Somehow I feel that this bar has more potential. I’m curious how the profile of this bar will evolve over time, when I buy new versions. I just hope Darcis can make it sing a little louder and clearer.

Links:

Darcis.com

Review: Krakakoa – Sedayu Sumatra 70% (***1/2)

The Creator:

If you are into fine chocolate and start meeting equally interested souls, you might have the chance to taste something special from time to time. The chance of finding a bar of Indonesian bean-to-bar chocolate on a shelf in a shop around the corner is slim. Unless you live in Indonesia of course.

I was very happy to be invited to a meet and greet with Indonesian bean to bar chocolate makers in Brussels a while ago. Mike&Becky hosted a special evening where you had the chance to get to know different Indonesian chocolate makers, try their products and exchange thoughts.

One of the companies present was Krakakoa from Bandar Lampung Sumatra. Asia origin chocolate is on the rise and it was great to hear that the movement is finding a way into the local market as well. I find it especially intriguing to try products made by people who are used to a whole other flavor palate than me as a European.

So today I have the chance to share my views with you, based on a very nice bar I received during the meeting.


Krakakoa (nice play of words on the famous Krakatoa volcano), is based in Sumatra, one of the biggest Islands of the archipelago forming Indonesia. The country is hardly the first one you think about when it comes to chocolate or even a cocoa origin. However, there is quiet a history of cocoa in Indonesia. The first cocoa trees were introduced into South-Asia in the mid 1600’s. The first written mentioning of the plant in Indonesia dates back to 1778. Especially the last 25 years, cocoa has boomed according the International Cocoa Orgainisation (icco.org) (1). Cargill states Indonesia beeing the third largest cocoa production country in the world by now (2). Smallholders make up for most of the production (87%), while state plantations (8%) and large private plantations (5%) produce the remaining part. Most of the cocoa grown here is bulk cocoa, aiming at high yields and less interesting flavor profiles. Fine flavor cocoa is a minor part of production.

Krakakoa is one of the new companies who aim to introduce fine chocolate in the Indonesian market. Nowadays, most Indonesian people prefer sweet industrial milk chocolates. Just like many European and American chocolate makers, they are directly in contact with the farmers and support them by offering education and formation, process follow up and by paying a higher price for the cocoa beans. This way Krakakoa wishes to secure themselves of good quality cocoa in a volatile market where stable farmer/chocolate maker relations are not yet self-evident.

The Bar:

The bar on my table today, is part of the Single Origins collection of Krakakoa. This is their top of the line chocolate, next to a range of flavor infused bars. This specific chocolate is made with cocoa grown in Sedayu village – located in the island of Sumatra. It promises spicy and fruity notes and states the cocoa used was harvested in 2016.

Indonesian chocolate might not be commonly found in Europe, but when it comes to packaging, Krakakoa has done an amazing job. I was amazed by the complexity of the box. An outer sleeve in black shows the company logo and the weight of the bar (50g). Flip it over and you get some info on the single origin line, the address of the company, a direct trade stamp and new to me, a halal certificate. Shows how often I sample chocolates made in a predominant Muslim country.
Inside the sleeve, a bright red box appears – showing a graphic design of a forest elephant, indigenous to the Sedayu National Park in South Sumatra. This box states the origin and the percentage of the chocolate. On the back, more info on the origin, flavor notes and nutrition facts.

The ingredients list cocoa beans, cocoa butter and sugar sound promising.

And still we are not getting to the chocolate itself. The red box has a lid that swivels open reveal a gold fol wrapper – decorated with cocoa pods and leaves. The whole set-up of the package makes it feel very special and builds expectation. It definitely feels like a premium chocolate bar.

When you finally get to the actual bar, you notice a well known design. It works fine, but a brand specific mold design would make it stand out even more I feel.

The chocolate looks fine and has a nice shine to it – even though temperatures have been very high here in Belgium last month. Not a sign of bloom. Good. The mold design shows perfectly, yet the underside looks a bit uneven and quickly done. This is but a detail, but is noticeable.

Let’s move on to the actual tasting.

Tasting:

Bean: Not mentioned

Origin: Sedayu – Sumatra – Indonesia

Maker: Krakakoa – PT Aneka Coklat Kakoa – Bandar Lampung, Sumatra, Indonesia

Price: Gift during tasting session in Brussels – 50 g

Batch: S050LP1703 / best before 23.03.18


Colour: Deep and dark brown with a slight purple hint

Aroma: dried wood, sweet licorice, faint spices, espresso coffee

Taste: A flash of licorice starts the flavor off, followed by earthy notes, coffee and leather. A honey like sweetness lingers on the palate and dark berry fruits are added. It has a very ripe black berry jam feel to it. Amongst the fruits who shine, pops of ginger and a surprising spicy mint can be detected. Coffee and wood flow underneath the main aroma and brings balance to the overall flavor. The melt is slow and the texture of the molten chocolate is a tad thicker than what I’m used to. Gradually, the fruity notes are pushed aside by gentle wood tannins and more coffee notes. I have an overall purple feel to this bar. Dark, Lush and generous, sweet and warm. The after flavor is gentle and lingers on nicely. It keeps the light spiced notes alive and offers warm chocolate flavors for a prolonged time.

I almost find it hard to describe this bar. The flavor notes are complex and ever changing, depending the moment of day your try the bar. It has a very different feel to it compared to what I have tried of Asian chocolate so far. The spices are surprising and there is an overall exotic feel to the chocolate. I almost lack the right flavors in my personal experience database. I’m very certain someone familiar with the aroma’s of the islands of Indonesia could far better pinpoint the ones you find in this bar. It entices me. It keeps luring me back and frankly I’ve savored more than half the bar just to write this review. I will feel sorry when it is gone.

The melt and texture are a bit thicker than normal. I noticed this in almost every bar I tried during the Indonesian chocolate session in Brussels. The chocolate makers explained me that the cocoa butter used in the bars is also produced with local cocoa and has very different characteristics compared to butter made with South-American or African cocoa. It resists melting to a higher degree, creating a different eating experience.

This might put off some people, especially those who are accustomed to buttery smooth European style chocolate. But if you are into chocolate because of the wonderful flavors it can deliver, you should definitely try this one when you have the chance.

So far it is only retailed in Indonesia and Singapore, but I would hope it will one day be available in a far wider area of our globe. It deserves to be.

Links:

www.krakakoa.com

References:

(1) – International Cocoa Organisation – Indonesian Cocoa Beans: Current situation

(2) – Cargill Indonesia – products

Review: Sadé Chocolat – Arauca Colombia 85% (*** 1/2)

The Creator:

Swiss chocolate. Nearly everyone in the street will immediately tell you those words reminds them of milk chocolate, triangular chocolate pieces in a box displaying mountains or even worse… purple cows. Oh how little people know about real chocolate.

Luckily there is more than meets the eye. Switzerland, just like Belgium, has always been known as a chocolate country. Yet only recently brave chocolate makers start stepping to the plate to create origin chocolate from the bean on. An email by Suzan Inan from the new Geneva based chocolate maker Sadé Chocolat caught my eye. Her question “would you like my non conched origin bean-to-bar chocolate?” really was a nobrainer. Off course I want to!

A few weeks later a package arrived at my doorstep. It contained Sadé’s 85% Columbia Arauca bar. Non raffiné – Pur – Intense. Goody goody. Let’s see what it has to offer.


Sadé was started as a response to what chocolate has become to our society. A generic product, made to suit the masses. Stripped from any special flavors, origins, cultural backgrounds. A product without soul. By turning back to it’s very origin (as discovered by the Aztec and Mayan people), Sadé wishes to make people aware of that they are tasting.
This bar is made with Columbian cocoa, grown in the Arauca region – close to the border with Venezuela at the heart of where cocoa originated. It is a new cocoa region to me, so the tasting started from a blank canvas. Or should I say palate.

The Bar:

From the first impression on, the Sadé bar has Artisan written all over is. The packaging is neatly done. The bar wrapped in silk paper and put inside a thick paper sleeve. The design is simple but elegant and promises intensity, due to the use of dark brown colors and what looks like a wood print. Inside the sleeve, Both in French and English – Sadé explains why their chocolate is different from any other.

The bar is pretty standard in size and shows elegant scoring in wavy chocolate pieces. The chocolate looks a bit coarse and clearly shows this is not your everyday bar.

Tasting:

Bean: Not mentioned

Origin: Arauca, Colombia

Maker: Sadé, Switzerland

Price: € 6,85 / 50 g (CHF 7,5) on the Sadé website

Batch: not mentioned

Color: dark and deep brown

Aroma: deep tobacco, earthy, chocolaty,

Taste: An instant flash of coffee and roasted cocoa, abundant in nature starts of the flavor. Molasses flow through. The texture is particular coarse as expected from a non conched chocolate. Little explosions of cane sugar mingle in. The flavor remains very earthy with coffee and roasted cocoa up front, some faint spices in the back. The chocolate melts really quickly. Near the end of the melt, you get the effect of a chocolate bar with added cocoa nibs. The flavor is intense en deep and stays on the palate for an extended time. There is a sudden lactic flavor popping up just at the very end of the melt. I would almost compare this chocolate to an Italian espresso. It is bold and definitely not made to suit the masses, but offers a great experience.

The sugar distribution in the chocolate make it very enjoyable given the high percentage of the bar. Sadé doesn’t go for a velvety texture, hence there is no clingy mouth feel from extra added cocoa butter.

While starting out tasting fine chocolates, I was learned not to chew the chocolate, but rather let it melt in the mouth in order to experience the flavors locked inside. But this chocolate is very different. Chewing it a couple of times actually enhance the flavor. It releases little flashes of acidity that add freshness. It seems to mingle the ingredients better and delivers more notes when you crush the little cocoa particles in the mass. I get a added nuttiness and more tobacco on the palate when doing so.

It is hard to rate this bar. You know up front this is not your average chocolate bar. It states “non raffiné” (non refined) on the package and this exactly what the chocolate is about. I guess many people will be a bit shocked by the texture and intensity, but it is actually pretty close to biting down on a roasted cocoa bean. What has been done to the cocoa beans is just meant to turn it into a chocolate bar. The maker wants it to stay close to the nature of the base product. A job well done I would say. It intrigues me and makes me come back for more. But it is at it’s best when tried solo. If you savour this bar after a more classic chocolate origin bar – the texture difference is so big it looses some of it’s appeal. You really need to take your time to discover this chocolate bar. A real chocolate lover, who knows about the product, will not regret it at all.

Link: www.sadechoc.com

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Review: Chocolate Makers – Peru Awajún 80% (***1/2)

The Creator:

People might think I’m heavily focusing on what goes on in the Belgian bean-to-bar scene. But chocolate is so international, I keep on getting products from every nation in my hands. I found this Chocolate Makers bar in the shop of my favorite artisan coffee roaster Vandekerckhove in Ghent.

Chocolate Makers is a bean-to-bar chocolate company based in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. That’s right, fine chocolate is also made in the city which hosts the biggest cocoa harbor in Europe.

The company – founded and lead by Rodney Nikkels and Enver Loke – doesn’t simply want to make good chocolate, they also want to contribute to the welfare of the cocoa farmers they work with. Chocolate Makers buys their cocoa beans through direct trade, meaning they are in touch with the farmers themselves, cutting out middle men and wholesalers. They go a lot further than other, for example by building a factory in Peru, in order to create added value to the cocoa beans in the country of origin.

Peru seems to be a red line going through my reviews lately. Only when I took out this bar I noticed the origin. At 80%, it should make for an intense flavor. This particular chocolate is made from Criollo beans provided the Awajún Indian tribe, part of the Norandino cooperation. The beans grow along the Cenepa and Rio Santiago rivers in the Northern part of Peru.

The Bar:

Chocolate Maker bars are easily recognizable. Their bars are wrapped in thick white paper, with a dark drawing related to the specific chocolare origin inside. Here an Indian head is portrayed. The percentage of the bar is calling for attention by its big font. The name of the bar, the origin and the type of cocoa are found all over the wrapper, almost making it a puzzle. You instinctively scan the entire package to find all the info, including some info on the Indians who grew the cocoa and how the chocolate helps them out. A short section about the company is also to be found. The design looks clean and catches the eye.

The bar itself is following the same line, a clean bar, scored in rectangular pieces, but with nice rounded scoring lines – adding to a feeling of quality. The bar is quiet thick and generous looking.

Tasting:

Bean: Criollo

Origin: Peru

Maker: Chocolate Makers, Amsterdam – The Netherlands

Price: € 3,5 – 90g (webshop Chocolatemakers.nl)

Batch: Batch 383 – best before 07/08/2017

Color: deep and dark brown

Aroma: Tobacco, roasted cocoa

Taste: Starts with chocolaty, deep roasted nut and coffee tones. Clearly earthy at heart, the chocolate offers a slight liquor sensation while the chocolate melts down. There is a light bitterness at the back of flavor. Some dried yellow fruits thwirl around, adding a twinkle of sweetness and subdued acidity to lavish chocolate flow. When the melt ends, wine like tannins kick in and leave you with a slightly dry mouth.

The aftertaste punches through and brings a lot of roasted nut flavors and dark cocoa and persists for a nice long time.

This is a distinct dark bar that will be liked by people who love an earthy, rich chocolate. The flavor isn’t overly complex or evolving, yet the fruity accent keeps the experience enjoyable and adds depth in the otherwise dark aroma. For an 80% bar, the flavor is well controlled and never becomes too much. Given the nice texture and the fact the chocolate isn’t clingy in the mouth, the Chocolate Makers clearly refrained from using to much cocoa butter – an example for many other mass market chocolate brands who produce inedible high percentage bars. While writing this review, I kept nibbling on pieces of the chocolate, meaning it keeps calling me for more. Always a good sign. This is a perfect bar to casually enjoy when you crave a piece of quality chocolate!

Links: www.chocolatemakers.nl

Review: Mike&Becky – Peru Marañón 70 % (*****)

The Creator:

I have many bars in my stock that await being reviewed. But the one I have on the table here I anticipated the most. Mike&Becky gave me several bars at the end of January, yet they just had been manufactured. Clearly the bars needed to mature for a couple of weeks to obtain their optimal flavor profile. And today they are finally ready.

Mike&Becky as a brand is quiet new to the bean to bar scene. Based in Brussels, they create their chocolate in a wonderful little workshop, which is also a chocolate bar and meeting point. You can hop in to get a cup of hot cocoa, buy a chocolate bar made by themselves or one of their fellow bean to bar chocolate makers, or see them produce the chocolate in their workshop. Located in the back of the shop, it is one of the rare places in Belgium where you can actually see how the dark gold is created.

Going there is person means you’ll meet Björn Becker and his wonderful wife Julia Mikerova. Doesn’t sound to Belgian, right? Björn has a German origin, while Julia is a prime example of the Russian origin. As a couple they landed in Brussels in the diplomatic world, yet also ventured into the world of fine chocolate. Starting with their webshop www.bean2bar2you.be, they soon moved over to making the product themselves. They have a great sense of humor and are always available to tell you more about the fascinating world of fine chocolate.

As I have to start somewhere, I randomly picked this bar out of the collection I received. A 70% Peru bar made from cocoa grown near the Marañón river in Peru. This Nacional cocoa is renowned for its delicate flavor profile shining bright in the hands of a skillful chocolate maker. Peru is quickly becoming one of my favorite origins as different chocolate makers already dazzled me with bars showcasing splendid and aromatic sensations.

Are Mike&Becky adding one more bar to this list?

The Bar:

Even though Mike&Becky as a brand is fairly new to the scene, it is clear they left nothing to chance before releasing their chocolate bars. The product is packed in a rigid cardboard wrapper with a very nice envelop style design. You can open en close the box very easily. The outside is decorated in bright grapefruit pink with clear imprint showing the brand, origin and percentage of the bar. The entire wrapper is printed on every possible side, giving info on the fish at the front (Chocolate Rhino Pleco, a catfish species living in the Marañón river), the ingredient list, an introduction on bean-to-bar en Mike&Becky, an overview of the entire chocolate making process in drawings and finally some tips on how to properly taste chocolate. Impressive!

But the star is the chocolate bar itself. As the Belgian painter René Magritte would claim: Ceci n’est pas une barre de chocolat! It is a work of art! I have not encountered this mold before. It has relief offering a staggering three dimensional feel, no matter how you look at it. Turn it around so the light hits it from different angles and it seems to be made up of cubes, protruding from the bar. Even more impressive.

Overall, everything about this bar screams premium. But good looks are just a plus. What about the flavor?

Tasting:

Bean: Fortunato N°4 Pure Nacional

Origin: Peru

Maker: Mike&Becky, Brussels Belgium

Price: Sample received from Mike&Becky – 70g

Batch: Batch 701P1 (production 21/01/2017) – best before 07/2018

Color: A lighter shade of brown, almost like a dark milk chocolate

Aroma: Light in the nose with touches of toasted bread, yellow fruit and cocoa,

Taste: Good snap on breaking of a piece of the bar. You immediately notice a butter smooth yet light, French style texture. The melt starts off with toasted bread and a hint of Italian espresso coffee – followed sweet by lush chocolate with a pinch of fruity acidity popping up left and right. For some reason it makes me think of pineapple. Flowing on, the aroma reveals some caramel and honey, before releasing and end aroma of roasted hazelnuts and coffee. The aftertaste follows the base notes of the main flavor, without the fruits. It remains endlessly lingering in the mouth, becoming a bit smoky and ethereal and adds to the enjoyment of experiencing the chocolate.

Almost everything about this chocolate is spot on. The velvety texture, a smooth and rewarding flavor profile – light, yet aromatic and finally the rewarding after flavor.

The more I taste chocolates, the more their flavor profile starts to remind me of colors. This particular bar has a distinct green/yellow feel to it. Mellow and sweet at heart, it has just the right amount of fruity and earthy counter notes to keep it light and playful. It meanders like a peaceful stream through a dense rain forest. The perfect companion early in the morning or during a lazy afternoon.

If Mike&Becky can keep up this quality throughout their product range, their star will shine bright in the bean-to-bar scene and Belgium can be proud of being home to yet another great chocolate maker (with a distinct international German-Russian accent to it).

Well worth the try and don’t forget to visit their shop whenever you are in Brussels!

Review: Zart Pralinen – Kokoa Kamili Tanzania 70% (****1/2)

The Creator:

How do you know a chocolate bar is good? When you put a bar on the table during a diner with friends, and by the time you turn your head again, it is all gone. Wonderful indeed, except if it happened by accident and you intended to resample the bar before writing your final review.

The above scenario happend with one of the bars the kind people of Zart Pralinen send to me. They are more than proud that they were rewarded with a silver award in the European Bars Semi Final Competition of the International Chocolate Awards in 2016. Having been a Grand Jury member for the Belgian round, I know by experience your product has to appeal to all the judges in order to be awarded.

Zart Pralinen is an Austrian micro-batch chocolate maker. The owners have a Dutch background, but moved to Austria to follow a career opportunity and finally rolled into the world of fine chocolate. Next to an array of filled chocolates, based on quality Felchlin couveture chocolate, Zart also produces their own chocolate bars – bean to bar.

It is surprising to see a artisan chocolate bar made from African cocoa. The continent produces the largest amount of cocoa in the world, but it’s nearly all used for industrial chocolate product. Quantity over quality. Yet a few growers row into the stream and try to achieve a higher cocoa quality. Zart supports Kokoa Kamili, one of those dedicated cocoa growers, by buying their cocoa beans directly. The chocolate company pays a price 24% above the fair trade level. Good for both the grower and chocolate lovers, who will be able to enjoy the wonderful flavors of an African fine cocoa.

The Bar:

The bar comes in the typical Zart style wrapper. White with the company logo and entwigned with a darker line design with added text, teasing you with the words Kokoa Kamili Tanzania, 70%, bean to bar, direct trade and 2015 Harvest. So much info in an elegant design. The International Chocolate awards – European competition silver award is proudly adding expectations about what is to be found inside. More info pops up when you open the wrapper. The cocoa variety with Trinitario/Criollo genetics and a more precise location on where the cocoa was grown: Mbingu village in Morogoro – Tanzania.

The chocolate bar is made with a mold we see quiet a few times when searching for chocolate bars. Finely striped square pieces for a nice rectangular bar.

Tasting:

Bean: Trinitario/Criollo genetics

Origin: Mbingu Village, Morogoro – Tanzania

Maker: Zart Pralinen, Austria

Price: € 4,5 – 50 g

Color: Deep ebony brown

Aroma: Earthy, chocolaty, deep and profound.

Taste: a slow, slightly dry start is followed by a massive tsunami of chocolaty notes. Next comes a refreshing fruity touch – some raspberry and red currant, cut through the thick veil of deep chocolate tones. The fruits are less abundant compared to other fruity chocolate bars, but the notes are perfect to open up the flavor experience and forms a great counterpoint to the lush cocoa and chocolate flavors. They don’t overpower nor shift the flavor balance towards the acidic. Instead, both flavor notes flow along each other and add depth to the overall aroma.

The texture is a bit thick in the mouth, a tad clingy, without being distracting. A lactic mouth feel appears near the end of the melt. The after flavor is light and has more chocolate tones in abundance and keeps flowing on the rhythm of the main flavor adding a touch of smokiness.

It is not hard to see why this bar conquered a silver medal during the International Chocolate Awards competition. It offers a well rounded flavor, rolling from chocolaty to subdued fruity. Dark hearted, yet still pretty sweet if doesn’t look to surprise those who try it, but rather seduce them with delicate flavors. But before all, it shows that Africa has more to offer than Madagascar when it comes to fine flavor cocoa. It can shine just as bright as many other renowned cocoas, especially in the hands of skilled chocolate makers such as Zart.

A job well done!

More info: Zart Pralinen / Kokoa Kamili.com

Review: Raaka Chocolate – Cabernet Sauvignon Peru 68% (****)

The Creator:

Chocolate. Heart warming. Surprising flavor notes. Always good for wonderful new discoveries. Dark origin chocolate has captured my attention for years now and it is still as fresh and exciting as the day I discovered it.

I’m mad about a well made bar of pure chocolate. I’ve never been a fan of inclusions, where chocolate makers add all sorts of spices, fruits, nibs, flowers and other additions to the chocolate. For me the taste of the chocolate should speak for itself. With a couple of exceptions where a chocolate maker really understands the art of combining flavor notes to create a chocolate where the flavor notes work together to form a whole new experience, most seem to lack subtlety or have overpowering ingredients.

Yet there is a new form of added flavors emerging in the chocolate world. The bar on my table today doesn’t have any additions to the chocolate itself. Raaka has altered the chocolate production process in order to combine flavor notes. Their Cabernet Sauvignon and Bourbon cask matured bars both sparked my interest, as they are very different from your usual origin bar (with or without added flavors).

Unfortunately the Bourbon Cask bar has sold out at my local supplier, yet the Cabernet Sauvignon bar lays on my table now.

The American creative chocolate maker Raaka tries to create an ode to fermentation with this bar. Both wine and chocolate wouldn’t be around without the natural proces of fermentation. Both products reveal the terroir where they are grown in their flavor profile and both require the hand of a skilled master to be turned into an exceptional end product.

Chocolate and wine as a combination can work – as I’ve demonstrated during a tasting session a while ago, yet it is a tricky combination, asking for extended sampling and trial and errors.

Rather than adding actual wine to the end product, Raaka uses Cabernet Sauvignon wine during the chocolate making proces. They steam the cocoa beans over simmering wine to capture the essence of both in one product. In theory, this should create a harmonious flavor profile in the final chocolate bar.

Let’s see if they succeed.

The Bar:

A Raaka chocolate bar is easily recognisable in a blink of an eye, The distinct packaging features an abstract pattern on the paper outer wrapper, combined with a nice label stating the type of chocolate, origin, percentage, etc. It is a beautiful design with a hint of luxury. Yep the type of wrapper doesn’t allow to reclose easily after enjoying some pieces.

The bar inside is very different from what we are used to aswell. There is no scoring. None. It is a rectangular piece of chocolate. A tablet, without any preformed pieces. You as a chocolate enthousiast, decide on how the bar will be broken.

Tasting:

Bean: Not mentioned

Origin: Peru – CAC Pangoa

Maker: Raaka, Brooklyn, New York, USA

Price: € 6,95 (50 g) – Hilde Devolder Chocolatier Ghent

Batch: 1 / best before Nov. 2017

Color: Dark brown with a hint of purple

Aroma: chocolaty, slightly earthy, a faint wood/wine note

Taste: Starts of with a roasted note and quiet earthy, followed by lush dark fruits (plum and cherry). The sweetness of the bar is countered by the full flavors of the chocolate. The flavor keeps the fruit flavors running, while a very slight woody tannin emerges in the back. This chocolate immediately brings the color purple/red to mind for some reason. The melt is perfect, the fluid chocolate is very light on the palate, almost like wine, with a hint of fruity acidity. The slight tannins give depth to the overall flavor and enhance the experience. The aftertaste keeps the fruits alive and offers more smokey wood. There is a distinct wine flavor in this bar, but I my view might be a bit colored due to the fact that I adore deep fruity wines who show a very similar flavor profile with chocolate, vanilla and oak wood in their flavor.

At 68%, the bar is should be sweet, but isn’t due a nicely balanced flavor profile. It is like sipping a great glass of red wine on a lazy, relaxed evening next to a cracking fireplace. Very enjoyable.

But what I really wonder is what makes me think of wine while I enjoy this bar. Is it really there in the flavor or do I search for it, knowing this bar was made with Cabernet Sauvignon in the production process? I guess only a blind tasting could reveal this.

I absolutely adore this bar though! And as Rakaa stated – you don’t even need a glass.

Link: https://www.raakachocolate.com/