Origin Chocolate Event 2014 – Amsterdam Holland

On saturday 25th of October, this years edition of the Origin Chocolate Event was held at the Tropical Institute in the heart of Amsterdam.

It is The Event about chocolate close to me, gathering countless chocolate makers with a deep passion for their product and us, the audience wanting to learn more about the chocolate we love so much. The program of the day is packed with presentations and tasting sessions, combined with a market place in the central hall, where you can taste more chocolate and chocolate related products.

One can attend all the presentations he desires, but unfortunately you can only attend two tastings. My wife and I selected Marou and Amma, as we both are fond of their products and want to know more about the people behind the bars.

 

Marou + Madécasse presentation

Samuel Maruta (Marou) and Brett Beach (Madécasse) both presented their company, terroirs and specific chocolates. Off course chocolates were passed around the room, showing clearly the difference between Vietnamese and Madagascan chocolate. A nice start of the day.

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Samuel Maruta + Brett Beach (far right)

Marou tasting

Immediately after the presentation, we moved to on of the tasting rooms where Samuel Maruta took us a bit deeper into the world of Marou. Samuel sure took me by surprise by recognising me in the crowd and promptly requested me to explain how one should properly savour chocolate, as in his own words: he’s more about making and eating chocolate. Brilliant man.

We sampled the well-known spicy-fruity Ben Tré bar followed by the Treasure Island, a new one for me. The difference between the two bars is stunning. I would have to retaste it, but there was a clear and creamy liquorice tone to the bar, which was stunning.

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Next, Samuel popped a première out of his sleeve and he offered us their youngest, brand new creation, the 70% Dak Lak bar. I would like to thank Samuel for offering me a bar of this chocolate, so I can review it into detail in the near future. All I can disclose now, is that this bar is a lot milder than some of their other creations, but offers an explosion of spicy flavors! I’m truly excited!

The market place

While going from room to room, you have to pass by the central hall, where dozens of stands offer all sorts of amazing products. Impossible to name them all, they went from Claudio Corallo over Akesson’s, Republica Del Cacao, Marou, Solstice, Naive, Grenada Chocolate Company, Original Beans, Chocolate Makers to Solstice. And then I forget about a dozen more! Combine this with cacao cooking stands, cacao beer, chocolate and wine pairing and so on, you will understand this little market is an event on its own!

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Amma… well, no… Idilio and Tibor Szanto tasting

What started out as a little hick-up ( Diego Badaro not being able to make it to Amsterdam on time), was quickly changed into a spontaneous double tasting act by Niklaus Blumer from Idilio and Tibor Szanto. Both these chocolate makers offer a wide variety of high quality origin bars and happen to use some beans of the same region, offering a very exciting tasting session.

Niklaus offered us an Ocumare and Porcelana bar, both originating in Venezuela. Idilio creates such smooth and harmonious chocolate bars, packed with earthy and roasted flavors.

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Niklaus Blumer – Tibor Szanto

Tibor passed the very same Porcelana around and immediatly you discovered the difference in their ideas. Tibor Szanto uses stone grinding and shorter conche, creating a slightly coarser end product with a wonderful flavor complexity that keeps evolving. Where Idillio goes for harmony, Tibor goes for layers of taste. His Rio Caribe offered similar flavor ranges, adding a bit more fruits and finally his Carenero Superior bar took my breath away with its clear marzipan and cherry flavors.

Finally, Niklaus finally let us taste something I searched for since a long time, a very satisfying milk chocolate. Their Orinoco is made from cacao beans collected in the wild (so no plantation cacao) and offers amazing amounts of caramel and a heavenly aftertaste.

A great session indeed!

 

Dominique Persoone

Being Belgian I’m both biased about Belgian Chocolate and intrigued by people like Dominique Persoone, who are so dedicated to their product. The Belgian chef Dominique has a very popular filled chocolate factory and has even turned the heads of the Rolling Stones with his Cacao Shooter, but here he presented a view on the expeditions he undertakes to cacao producing regions. You think it is all about Criollo, Trinitatrio and Forastero when it comes to cacao? Think again. There are over one thousand different cacao related plants, all producing pods and beans. Dominique set up his own plantation, the Chocolate Line Plantation in Mexico, where he cultivates several species and now starts to experiment with them to create his own made chocolate. Yes! Finally Belgians start to see the light and at least try to make it to the bean to bar scene.

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The result is still experimental, but it is far different from what I tried so far. Still a tad to sweet perhaps, but with an exquisite texture and aroma, it makes me look forward to any real production bars. Even Clay Gordon already sees the potential. Personally my palate had been a little overwhelmed to appreciate the subtleties – so I’ll have to try again later when he sells the chocolate.

 

Birth of Chocolate – Daniel and Linda Lorenzetti

Finally we attended our last presentation, by a couple who has become resident explorers for the Tropical Institute. They already did a project on coffee and now turned towards cacao. Their aim is to give the audience and idea of where chocolate comes from, focussing on the people who cultivate, treat and sell cacao. They travel all over the world, documenting both fine and bulk cacao producers.

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However, the presentation was far to commercial for me. Instead of focussing on the story of one or two people in the project, we got a series of photo’s a bit of explanation all aimed at the audience to be aware about their product. Ending predictable by showing the sponsors. A missed chance in my view on a day like this.

 

Time flies by when you are having fun, so before we knew it, our hotel and dinner reservations for that night called and we had to leave the event.

If you like fine chocolate and if you ever have the chance, you owe it to yourself to visit this great event. It give you the opportunity to meet the makers and hear their stories first hand, while tasting a great collection of fine chocolates. Some would call this heaven!

Review: Duffy’s Indio Rojo – Honduras 72% (*****)

When I found the chocolate of Willie’s Cacao my wife wanted to try for such a long time now, she decided to surprise me with a little present of herself. So I got this Duffy’s Indio Rojo bar… Isn’t she the best wife ever?

The British Duffy Sheardown has a past in racing, but he changed his life dramatically once he got a great passion for quality chocolate. Nowadays, Duffy creates a vast line of artisan bean to bars that will make any chocolate enthusiast go wild. Think of Criollo, Camino Verde, Ocumare, Peru, Dominican Republic, Peru,…

Today we have an Academy of Chocolate gold-awarded bar on the table. Honduras isn’t an origin you see on many bars. So this makes for an extra appeal, to discover a new region and range of flavors. Indio Rojo means red Indian. Let’s see if this Indian can make us dream of far and exotic places.

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 I was immediately struck by the vibrant color of the wrapper. You simply can’t ignore this bar. The blue color and Mayan-style decoration take you straight to South-America, the birthplace of cacao and chocolate. The wrapper proudly shows the origin and percentage of the chocolate. I just love the design.

The 80 grams bar is pretty big, as I see more and more 50g tablets. Hidden in a silver foil, it comes out with a very tempting aroma.

The bar itself is pretty simple in design. A perfectly molded piece of chocolate, carefully divided in rectangular pieces. Neat and sleek.

Bean: Criollo

Origin: Honduras

Production: Red Star Chocolate, UK

Price paid: €- gift received from my wife, bought at Hilde Devolder Chocolatier in Ghent

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Color: a lighter shade of brown with a glorious red hint. So the name returns in the color of the bar. Nice!

Aroma: a touch of leather, raw cacao, faint orange in the back combined with dark wood.

Taste: hard snap on breaking of a piece, always a good sign. The chocolate is medium quick opening with sweet caramelized nuts and brown sugar and very chocolaty, before turning into a nice tangy, orange flower aroma that echoes around in your mouth and becomes stronger on the palate. Amidst, a dash of dried apricot pops up. Suddenly the fruits subdues and more herbal notes come through, reminding me of hay and spices with a pinch of cinnamon. The chocolate bites you a bit on the tongue near the end as if it was a much higher cacao percentage, before releasing a delicate aftertaste that revives the orange blossom flavors. The aftertaste has a great length and keeps evolving as does the chocolate itself. After the fruity tones again come some herbal notes swirling around a heavenly chocolaty flavor and a touch of coffee. The texture of the chocolate is good, if ever so slightly grainy. But it melts superbly in the mouth.

This bar was awarded with gold by the Academy of Chocolate in 2011 and I can clearly see why. It’s not often that you will experience a chocolate that evolves as much as this one. I once heard a connoisseur explain that Duffy builds three stage rocket chocolate. And in fact, this bar displays three distinct flavor profiles while savouring it. But on top of that, Duffy’s manages to create an aftertaste that keeps changing too! Doubling the fun! 5 stars in my book!

Review: Magdalena’s 70% Cacao Bean Chocolates (***1/2)

Today I have the privilege to taste something truly special. After Marou, this chocolate from Madgalena’s is the second sample of Asian made chocolate I have tried so far.

Cacao isn’t native to the Philippines, the place where this chocolate was created. However, due to being a Spanish colony, cacao was introduced in the country and now a days cacao originating in the Davao area of The Philippines is used by several industrial chocolate makers and at least one artisan bean to bar chocolate creator.

Gerry & Cynthia Baron started Magdalena’s Chocolates in 2011, in order to create a pure Philippine chocolate. They create chocolate using locally produced products like cacao, vanilla and raw cane sugar. Currently they produce only 20 kilo per week, making them truly small batch.

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The package is surprising. Clearly this is not a single bar. Magdalena’s hasn’t used a mold or decorations or anything alike. They simply create the chocolate and spurt them into droplets, letting them harden as they are. Nothing says artisan or hand-made more than this. Not a single piece looks like another. Novel and surprising, it sets Magdalena’s well apart from other producers. The chocolate pieces almost seem like little pralines as we know them in Belgium.

The package states all the usual information as ingredients, benefits of chocolate and nutrition facts. Good eye for detail.

But now we finally get to taste them!

Bean: Trinitario

Origin: Davao, Philippines

Production: Magda Coco Treats, Magdalena, Laguna, Philippines

Price paid: €- sample received from Magdalena’s

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Color: Due to the long voyage, the chocolate must have been rattles around a bit, causing it to be dusted with cacao dust. It takes the shine away from the deep brown, reddish chocolate

Aroma: Chocolaty, vanilla and subtle spices come forth

Taste: The chocolate starts rather sudden with a wave of earthy aroma’s. I detected some mushroom flavors, artichoke and wood. A gentle bitterness comes through while the earthy aroma’s give way for a flash of vanilla. Next, the aroma creates a tartness reminding me of fresh cheese cake. Very surprising and the first time I noticed this in chocolate! Near the end of the melt, a clear coffee aroma emerges and moves the experience over to the aftertaste, which keeps going on the cheesecake flavor and offers surprisingly a lot of chocolate flavor and some smoky wood.

When I first tried the chocolate, I immediately was reminded of Claudio Corallo’s Sao Tomé bar. But Magdalena’s chocolate offers a more complex taste. While the earthy, mushroom flavor won’t be enjoyed by everyone, it sets the chocolate apart from others. The texture is a bit coarser than usual and the chocolate a little dryer in the mouth, but I prefer this over too much cacao butter.

While it might not (yet) be as refined as other chocolate bars, it still offers a great deal of flavor and opens up a new array of flavors that I’m not accustomed to, which shows Asian chocolate is a very distinct origin on its own.

Remarkably, Gerry informed me that due to the small size of his business and the limitations of the local made machines, he doesn’t include a conch yet and tempering could do with perfecting. But in my eyes he does indeed achieve a great result already. Magdalena’s is a name to keep in mind the next year! I can’t wait to try the chocolate covered fruit and nuts he sent me.

Review: Original Beans – Cru Virunga 70% (****)

sometimes chocolate makers make things simple… a little rectangular piece I received as a present from my wife, made me smile even before I tried it.

My local “haute chocolat” shop – Hilde Devolder Chocolatier only offers the small pieces, but they are more than enough to create a review.

Original Beans still puts high efforts in creating quality origin chocolate, while helping the conservation of the rainforest cacao is indigenous to.
Every sold bar equals a new cacao tree planted in one of the plantations they cooperate with. In the case of Cru Virunga, they take us to the very heart of dark Africa: Congo. And while you enjoy a nice piece of chocolate and help save natural habitats, you even help protecting the endangered Mountain Gorilla! Original Beans offers so much more than simply chocolate.

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Every origin Original Beans create has its own distinct color scheme. The Cru Virunga is hidden in a deep purple wrapper with golden label and writing. It’s a one portion size and is just perfect for a little nibble.

African cacao is rare in fine chocolate. After all, most industrial chocolate bars are made of high yield, less tasteful Forastero beans grown in this region. Orginal Beans however, search the best and rare cacao in the eastern part of Congo, grown in the Virunga national park, and create a great looking dark chocolate with it.

Bean: not mentioned

Origin: Congo

Production: Original Beans by Felchlin, Switzerland

Price paid: €- present by my wife

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Color: Deep brown nearing purple – somehow the color reflects the wrapper. Or is it the other way around?

Aroma: woody, punchy and powerful.

Taste: The chocolate start of soft and sweet before suddenly picking up pace and thunder down on the palate with lots of dark chocolate and underneath a nice dark rich cherry tone, mingled with smoky notes. The cherry flavor goes back and forth in waves and seems to battle the wood aroma’s to get all your attention. The texture and melt are heavenly. Melting easily and incredibly velvety. Just the right amount of dark espresso tones make this a very mature and satisfying chocolate. Powerful, without being overwhelming. Too soon the chocolate is gone, but next comes the aftertaste. Starting very smokey, it gives way to more cherry aroma before it starts rolling over and back once more. If there had to describe the taste of this bar it would be: cherry-chocolate-wood waltz. It just keeps on going and going! Devine!

 

And the funny part is… I really didn’t have to write this review. Original Beans just nails the flavor profile on the wrapper itself! Notes of zingy morello cherries, deep chocolatey and smoky tobacco… I can’t say it any better myself!

Review: Ara Chocolat – Chiapas 72% (***1/2)

Reviewing different products made by one chocolate manufacturer is always interesting. Because some of them create distinct flavor profiles, where others tend to surprise you with every different origin. And today we sample an origin I haven’t tried before.

Chiapas is a region in Mexico. This coastal area borders Guatemala and hide centuries of cacao history as the Mayas already knew about the brown gold.

Ara Chocolat transforms the delicate cacao from this far away region into their special little bars.

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The Paris based company Ara Chocolat is working hard to get noticed in the origin chocolate world, and I must say I’m pretty excited to try this bar, after my past experience with their Madagascar chocolate.

The bar is once again not a bar at all, but 5 little pieces neatly packed together. I still like this approach, as you don’t need to break pieces of a block to take a bite. The little rectangular chocolate pieces are just perfect to get the best out of the chocolate. Though the package doesn’t allow you to re-wrap the bar after tasting.

Bean: Trinitario

Origin: Mexico – Chiapas region

Production: Ara Chocolat – France

Price: unknown – € 2,5 / 27 g

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color: very deep and dark with a distinct purple huey

Aroma: Woody tannins, dried grass, raw cacao acidity

Taste: the chocolate creates a slightly dry start, but then slowly develops lots of raw cacao tones. Slightly astringent on the tongue, earthy and powerful, reminding me of biting in a cacao bean. A gentle sweetness softens the first strong flavors down and reveals delicate roasted almonds and faint yellow fruits, before dark flavors return. Tannins come back in full force – for a moment I noticed grapefruit like acidity – and finally the chocolate draws all your senses to the aftertaste. Dry in nature, full of the strong earthy aromas with a delicate, sweet smoky undertone. But certainly you’ll also note the rich, full-bodied dark chocolate taste as well!
This is truly a dark chocolate. Pretty intense for a 72% bar, in fact it feels much closer to the 80 to 90% range. It bites you in the tongue and grabs your attention with its powerful notes. Not a bar that will be enjoyed by everyone, but this chocolate once more show there can be numerous faces to a piece of brown gold.

Ara certainly achieves chocolate bars with very distinct flavor profiles, homing in on the aromas of an origin!

Review: Willie’s Cacao – Madagascan Gold – Sambirano 71 (*****)

Just after I developed an interest in the world of fine chocolate, A Belgian TV station aired a “fly on the wall” series about Willie Harcourt-Cooze’s efforts to create his own artisan chocolate. The camera’s followed his ordeals with machinery, investments, the work on the cacao farm he owns in Venezuela up to making the actual chocolate and trying to get his product in the shop. Willie’s Wonka Chocolate Factory sure is a series you want to see if you would like a first hand view on what it means to make a decent chocolate.

Ever since my wife and I saw this series, we wanted to try some of his chocolate. I’ve read a lot about it an I’ve heard other enthusiast speak about it, but there is no better way to get to know a chocolate but to try it yourself!

By pure chance I walked past a chocolate shop in Bruges a while ago. Amidst countless chocolate shops selling the same mass made chocolate products, a big golden logo caught my eye! For sure, Brown Sugar, a shop in the Mariastraat in Bruges, sells Willie’s bars! I couldn’t believe my luck! I love being surprised like this.

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Willie takes me back to familiar ground. Madagascar. Home of very fruity and exquisite cacao able to create amazing chocolate if treated the right way. The 50g square bar is tucked in a great looking little box. No mistakes possible, Willie’s Cacao logo shines in high gold, giving the bar a luxurious feel. Madagascan Gold and Sambirano 71 state the origin and percentage. Ingredients? Cacao mass, unrefined cain sugar and cacao butter. Pure and simple!

A golden wrapper keeps the chocolate safe from harm inside the box.

Bean: not mentioned
Origin: Madagascar – single estate (the estate itself isn’t mentioned)
Production: Willies’s Cacao Ltd – Uffculme – UK
Price paid: € 3,5 – 50g

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Color: a lighter shade of brown, mixed with a typical Madagascan red tone mingled in.

Aroma: Lush cacao, slightly spiced and earthy tobacco, entwined with a nice and promising fruity acidity

Taste: The chocolate has a particular hard snap and starts of slightly sweet with a nice roasted nut aroma and a surprising mushroom type of flavor, before a dense chocolate taste comes forth. Immediately this flavor is combined with blackberry and raspberry aromas. Underneath the main flavor, a noticeable full-bodied aroma strengthens the taste experience. Well controlled tannins and wood  carry the twinkling berry flavors that keep emerging out of nowhere and dance around on your tongue.
The texture is far smoother than I expected after reading other reviews of Willies bars. It melts beautifully and is but a tad coarser than the smoothest French style chocolate. This particular chocolate is thick and lush on the tongue without ever becoming clingy or too much. Near the end of the melt, the darker earthy aromas gain in momentum a bit and even the touch of mushroom returns vibrantly. Far to quickly, the chocolate disappears entirely, but what remains is a glorious aftertaste, long and thick.
It allows the roasted nut aromas from the very beginning reappear, carried by the ongoing woody chocolate aromas.

Balanced in nature, this complex chocolate brings high fruity flavors and dark bold earthy aroma’s and simply combines them beautifully into an amazing piece of chocolate, captivating all the highlights of the origin I came to love so much. It has been quiet a while since I’ve experienced such vibrant fruits in a Madagascar bar. Wonderful!

Mister Harcourt-Cooze, you sure know how to make a chocoholic very happy!

Review: Hummingbird Chocolate – Momotombo 70% (*****)

“I’m talking about that hummingbird
oh she’s little and she loves me”

BB King knew all about Hummingbird when he recorded this famous track written by Don Robertson. Just my way of telling you we are reviewing another bar by Hummingbird. A small-scale artisan chocolate from Canada.

Last time around, I received a wonderful message from the owner, to state his joy about the fact that I love his Hispaniola bar, but also to ask how the heck a bar made in his little shop made it all the way across the Atlantic Ocean to Belgium. I have to thank Adrienne, my New York friend and fellow chocoholic for that. We swap bars we both can’t get at our side of the world.

The bar doesn’t seem to be available anymore in the online shop in the website, but keep an eye on it, you never know it returns. (Edit: Hummingbird changed the name of the bar to “Oh Mama!”, so it is still available!)

Today we have a Nicaragua bar on the table. 70%, as all the bars of Hummingbird.

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The same wonderful Hummingbird logo can be found on the sleeve, all the necessary information, including some tasting notes. The bar is tucked in a gold foil and has a wonderful smell when opened. It always feels like getting a precious gift when you open up such a package. The bar design is still made with one of the prettiest molds out there. Looks good!

Bean: not mentioned
Origin: Nicaragua
Production: Hummingbird – Ottawa, Canada
Price paid: 6,49 $ – 50g

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Color: dark dark dark – near black

Aroma: Green raw cacao, floral, yet sweet and with a touch of spices

Taste: Starting medium quick, sweet dark molasses and the taste of a brown sugar come forth, combined with a delicate coffee bitterness. Next the aroma opens up and becomes buttery smooth, while not being clingy at all – even lighting up the palate. A thick chocolate taste with an undertone of roasted bread – sweet brown sugar and molasses stay present and make this a very satisfying chocolate bar. The earthy tones and sweet buttery taste keep rolling over each other and keep the taste both extremely chocolaty and refreshing at the same time. The aftertaste has a remarkable length with lots of dark cacao and brown sugar remaining present. I’m not a big fan of these dark brown chocolate, those who follow me know I truely enjoy fruity, more acidic bars. But this time around I must admit I kept on tasting, even while I had devoured the typical single square I use for reviewing.
A good sign, it is actually hard to put this Momotombo bar away! Yummy! And that is why it deserves the full 5 stars in my book!