In the beginning of 2015, I met with Nicolas de Schaetzen. We both were members of the International Chocolate Awards Belgium round. Later that year, Nicolas sent me some samples of a Cuba chocolate he was creating. He requested my opinion on the bar and awaited the results with a lot of anticipation. I sampled the bar without expectations, as there weren’t many Belgian chocolate makers out there. I gathered it would take a lot of experience to create a real bar. Yet the result was stunning to say the least. Texture wise there were some issues, but the bar was so layered in flavor notes, I hardly believed it was Belgian. Backed-up up by my under the radar review, Nicolas and his wife Caroline kept working on their concept. And behold, end of 2016 they finally took the plunge and did set up a company called Mi Joya.
Based in Tervuren, Brussels (Belgium) – they create their chocolate from bean-to-bar. So far they have created three bars. Two dark ones (Venezuela 70%, Cuba 72%) and one milk bar (Ecuador 55%).
Nicolas and Caroline also create a line of artisan ice cream products and combining both when possible.
They have sent me 2 of their creations – the two dark bars. I can tell you I was very much looking forward to seeing how the Cuba bar would have evolved.
When you get Mi Joya’s bars in your hands, you’ll notice a lot of thought went into the presentation of the chocolate. At first view, the cardboard sleeve looks a bit minimalistic. Three stickers form the artwork. The logo of the company changes per bar. Each origin has a different color and bird on the sticker. On the bottom, the origin, bean and percentage is displayed. Flip the box and the ingredient list appears. Cocoa beans, sugar and cocoa butter. Nothing more. A good sign.
Once you notice the sleeve is closed by a pull out mechanism, which makes it easy to reclose, you understand this is more than a simple sleeve. Inside, a cellophane wrapper guards the actual chocolate bar.
The bar has a design I never saw before. It reminded me of row of cigars at first. It just looks beautiful. But just as with the sleeve, it is even more engineered than meets the eye. The embossed design makes it look good, but when you break of a line, you will notice two double imprints on either side. This looks as part of the design, but also makes it possible to break off a smaller piece neatly. Clever.
Both bars shine brighly and look very inviting.
Both origins ar emade of Trinitatio variety cocoa. Venezuela is known for it’s hight quality cocoa and Ocumare is a region that will catch the attention of chocolate connoisseurs. It is one of the illusive origins that instantly cause a rise in expectations.
Cuba is a totally different thing. Based in the south eastern tip of the island, it remains the only region where cocoa is still cultivated. Cocoa isn’t native to Cuba and thus far less wide spread compared to Venezuela, one of the area’s where cocoa originated from.
1) Venezuela Ocumare 70% (****)
Maker: Mi Joya
Price: sample received – 75 g
Colour: Dark brown with red mingled through
Aroma: dark, earthy, roasted nuts
Taste: A slight earthy and very chocolaty start. Fruity and refreshing light on the palate. Building fruits (blueberry, raspberry and red plum) keep your attention while woody tannins and a touch of espresso bitterness in the back emerge later on. Chocolaty remains the main feeling. The chocolate has a clean snap and superb texture. It melts nicely while releasing wave after wave of flavor. The after flavor loses the fruitiness and reminded me of fresh ground, lightly roasted coffee beans. And chocolate keeps lingering.
The bar shows pretty dark, earthy notes that could make for a heavy, stern feeling chocolate. The fruity notes of the cocoa however, perfectly counter the base notes and make the entire experience light and zingy. It feels refreshing on the palate – obviously a lot of cocoa mass has been used and minimal extra cocoa butter. It is an ode to Venezuelan cocoa and shows what chocolate is all about.
2) Cuba Baracoa 72% (**** 1/2)
Origin: Cuba – Baracoa
Maker: Mi Joya
Price: sample received – 75 g
Colour: Deep dark brown
Aroma: Tobacco jumps forth, roasted cocoa
Taste: A Sweet start. Light in the mouth. Yellow preserved fruits show at first, followed by a touch rhum and building fresh apricot and sweet citrus fruits – like Yuzu. Surprisingly flowery tobacco mingles in and keeps dancing with the fruits who stand their ground. Back and forth both flavor tones waltz around on the tongue. The flowery note even remains at first in the after flavor. Later on, there is also a touch of coffee, but a lot less intense compare to the Ocumare bar. The flavor is complex and layered and keeps changing during the tasting.
The Cuba bar brings forth flavors so typical of the island. It makes my chocolate heart sing with joy as I unravel layer after layer of flavor notes. It has a warm tropical heart and if you listen very carefully, you might even imagine some Salsa music playing in the back.
Nicolas didn’t only tackle the texture problems of the prototype, but even enhanced the flavor profile! Both are top notch and this bar is my favorite of the two by a slim margin.
It is clear that Belgium is seeing a whole chocolate revolution going on. For far to long, our chocolate was an industrial mass product. Now we see a surge of new bean-to-bar chocolate makers who rise to the challenge of making origin bars from the bean. Mi Joya can stand proud next to Coup De Chocolat and Chocolatoa. All these young companies have shown they have what it takes to make a good chocolate bar. They will have to prove themselves over time and expand their range of products, but I’m pretty sure they will find their way to the hearts of many true chocolate lovers around the globe.
And there is more to come. In the near future one more Belgian chocolate maker will be introduced here at beantobar.be
Keep your eye on Belgium, we are merely starting!