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!

Review: Soma Chocolate – Dancing In Your Head 70% (****)

Blend…. a word which is rare on this blog. Ever since I started reviewing quality chocolate, I focused on Single Origin bars. Using cacao for a single country, region or even plantation. Today we experience a bar created with cacao from 4 distinct regions, all over the world. Venezuela (El Vigia), known for its refined Criollo cacao – Papua New Guinea and Java, countries growing cacao releasing smoked flavors and finally Madagascar, terroir of fruity cacao.

These types of blend could be a masterpiece… or a flavor clashing party!

I’ve tried another bar from Soma a while ago and judging on that experience I was pretty sure I was in for something good and special!

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This time around, it was a hefty 80 grams bar I received from Adrienne, my friend from New York. Unfortunately, the voyage totally broke the bar in 4 pieces. By sheer luck, Soma has decided to wrap this beautiful bar in a transparent cellophane. The label makes everything crystal clear. This chocolate will make the neurons in your head dance from pure joy! I like the sound of that!

The bar is simply scored in small rectangular pieces, but it has such an amazing shine to it. Just by looking at it, you know this is well made chocolate.

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Bean: not mentioned
Origin: Papua New Guinea – Java – El Vigia Venezuela and Madagascar
Production: Soma Chocolate – Toronto, Canada
Price paid: unknown – 80g (gift)

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color: a gorgeous ebony-brown

Aroma: Lots of smoked wood, a touch of acidity, tobacco

Taste: A hard snap. This chocolate has the hardest snap I’ve encountered in quiet a while. A good sign.  It is opening swift and sweet with notes of brown sugar, molasses and roasted nuts. Followed by slight earthy tones and vibrant tobacco notes, slowly turning over to gentle yellow fruits reminding my of raisin and dried apricot and plums. A nice smoke aroma remains in the back of the mouth as the chocolate dissipates, turning to a great chocolate taste near the very end. The aftertaste follows the massive wave of chocolate, spiced up slightly and still reminding of the brown molasses.
Soma managed to deliver a great bar made out of a blend of several origins. The bar itself shows numerous aroma’s, joyfully playing together and never clashing. The taste is just a harmony that takes you though several stages, from the sweet roasted start over an earthy tobacco middle part and ending with gentle fruits and smoke. The chocolate maker somehow captured the essence of every origin and allows the flavor tones to show through in the final aroma. This bar show that even blends can take chocolate to extreme heights compared to bulk chocolate. It’s on par with single origin bars and is simply delicious!

Review: Idilio Origins – Chuao 72% (****1/2)

Chuao… if there is a single word that grasps the attention of real chocolate lovers, there you have it. Chuao, a little village in Venezuela. The origin region producing the finest Criollo cacao around. The crème the la crème! Many chocolatiers create a bar with cacao from this region. Today we have a Swiss bar on the table. Chuao chocolate, as made by Idilio Origins.

Idilio is a little different from other bean-to-bar chocolate makers. Idilio does a lot of research and development to help create crops of the rarest cacao varieties, especially Criollo. Once the have the basic ingredient, they ship it to Switzerland where the beans are turned into chocolate bars by Felchlin. Felchlin isn’t a small company, but they are devoted to deliver the highest quality. When you combine the knowledge and the craftmanship of Idilio and Felchlin, the results are stunning.

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In front of us lays a nice bar. 80 grams of chocolate, wrapped in a white paper wrapper. Simple text and little graphic elements. This almost feels like a laboratory report or a book. The origin is clearly Chuao, 72% and traditionally conched. No modern mixing machines, but old school conching to achieve the best results possible.

A little text in German and French offers a little info on the Chuao origin. The cacao is sun-dried and is the pride of the village.

Inside the wrapper you will find an aluminum foil and the tablet itself. I was a bit surprised it isn’t super shiny. Perhaps a stock problem or did it leave the production site like this? I can only guess. The aroma however is simply divine! Once more, the design is minimalistic and functional. This bar isn’t about being pretty, it is about taste!

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Bean: Unstated, but I’m pretty sure it is Criollo

Origin: Chuao – Venezuela

Production: Idilio Origins/Felchlin – Switzerland

Price: 9,70 – 80 g – 1001 Sense Münich

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Color: Dark brown with a slight purple huey

Aroma: Delicate wood, roasted hazelnuts, a touch of earthyness and a deep chocolate heart

Taste: Opening with a quick and sweet start, hazelnuts and toasted bread pop up, with underneath a heart of yellow fruits, plum, raisins and apricot that slowly rise in potential a midst a lot of luscious chocolate. They are joined by a very subtle bitterness adding just that bit of power to the overall taste to keep things interesting. The overall aroma is warm in nature. The snap is rock hard and the melt simply divine. The piece seems to release layer after layer of super smooth chocolate entwined with all the other aromas. Nothing jumps out. Instead you get a unique, balanced chocolate flavor that builds in momentum and makes you enjoy every second of it. By the end of the melt a little burst of smoked wood guides you to the aftertaste.
Chocolate a plenty in the aftertaste, where the more mature woods, returning roasted hazelnuts and cacao take the lead.

An extremely enjoyable chocolate bar, showing of all the talents of a good chocolatier, combined with the Swiss masterclass of Felchlin. Don’t let this one slip if it crosses your path!

Review: Ara Chocolat – Madagascar 75% (****)

After travelling all over the world with the bars I reviewed so far, I come back to familiar terrain today. In front of me lays a small dark single origin bar stating Madagascar. My favorite origin! I simply adore wonderful fruity chocolate. But the brand is little known to me. Ara Chocolat.

Based in the department Seine-et-Marne at 20 km away from Paris, Ara Chocolat creates its special line of pralines and chocolate bars. They were so kind to send me a package of their products for review purposes. I’m more than excited to find out more about their bean-to-bar made chocolate!

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Ara Chocolat is proud of their attention to their reduced ecological impact and the use of biological cacao in order to protect the precious tropical ecosystems that give us quality cacao.

The bar is wrapped in a simple wrapper made out of recycled paper. The design of the package looks pretty tropical and certainly catches the eye. When feeling the bar itself, I feared it would be broken due to transport. Turn the bar over and you’ll find a lot of ingredient and diet information. However, little is stated about the cacao beans used or the origin of the cacao. Their website http://www.arachocolat.com doesn’t provide any further information either. Guess we’ll have to rely on our senses solely. (edit: Ara kindly informed me on the cacao variety and a more specific origin region)

Inside, a cellophane wrapper keeps the bar protected. A big surprise came when I opened that wrapper. Not only was I greeted by a wonderful chocolate smell, but it turns out this isn’t a bar at all… It is actually 5 single pieces of chocolate wrapped together. Carefully created with a gorgeous waffle structure on top. Simply gorgious!

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But how does it taste? Only one way to find out. Let’s try it!

Bean: Trinitario

Origin: Madagascar – Sambirano Valley

Production: Ara Chocolat – France

Price: unknown – 27 g ( sample for review)

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Color: Deep dark brown, powerful looking.

Aroma: A powerful aroma giving away notes of smoked wood, spices, a slight acidity and hints of fruits.

Taste: The bar opens up with earthy notes, dried grass, wood and a dash of espresso coffee bitterness and ever so slightly sweet. Next the taste mellows down a bit as the chocolate really starts to melt, causing the typical Madagascan fruits to come forth. A warm vanilla tone carries the refreshing zing of lots of red raspberry and a touch of banana. Once the fruits arrives, the palate lightens up t0 let you enjoy the great taste, before the aftertaste kicks in. Here we find deep satisfying chocolate and wood tannins and a slight spiciness lingering for an extraordinary long time. The melt of the bar is perfect. The texture is very smooth.
This chocolate shows two distinct faces. It overpowers you at the start with its powerful dark earthy chocolate tones and masculine bitterness, before slowing down and gently caressing your palate with a refreshing fruityness. I simply adore these type of mood swings in chocolate, reminding you that you are enjoying a bar made by a passionate chocolatier with eye for detail and quality and no industrial company. You’ll never ever experience anything like this in a mass market bar. Well done Ara, well done!

Review: Claudio Corallo – Plantaçao De Terreiro Velho – Sao Tomé E Principe – 75% (***)

Today we wonder across the globe and home in on Africa. I’ve not yet encountered many origin bars coming from this region, producing mostly Forastero beans used in industrial chocolate.

Claudio Corallo however, gathered a vast experience in coffee and decided late on to use this knowledge to produce good quality cacao and turn his harvest into refined chocolate. His plantation is based in Sao Tomé and Principe, an island on the west coast of Gabon in the middle of the African continent. One of the bars he produces is this 75% origin chocolate. Let’s see how it tastes.

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The bar comes in a thick aluminum-like cellophane blister. On top of that, a simple cardboard card noting the manufacturer’s name, the percentage of the chocolate and its origin. There is no further information given and it is unclear which type of cacao bean is used.
Opening the sleeve requires tearing it, offering no possibility to reclose neatly for storing.

I expected a single bar to appear, but instead two small slabs of chocolate emerge. Their design goes on using the same minimalistic approach of the package. there is no imprint, no decoration, nothing. Just two nice rectangular pieces of aromatic chocolate. Obviously mr. Corallo rather have you focussing on the taste of the chocolate than on the appearance.

Bean: Unknown – internet sources claim Forastero

Origin: Sao Tomé et Principe

Production: Claudio Corallo – Sao Tomé et Principe

Price: € 6,30 – 50 g at 1001 Sense – Munich, Germany

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Color: earthy, ebony dark brown

Aroma: a strange and powerful one… somehow it reminds me of the Amma Cupuacu bar – earthy tones, sweetness and roasted nuts are present.

Taste: A sweet start, this bar opens with earthy, woody aromas, while a clear roasted nut aroma is present, mingled with vanilla. In the back a slight coffee-like bitterness. The taste is a bit heavy on the palate and reminds me somehow of a home-made chocolate mousse. Very chocolaty in nature. There isn’t much taste development going on. The aftertaste follows the same pattern and has a nice length. While it misses some refreshing zings and bold taste notes, I can see how this could appeal to a lot of people as it stays close to what people are expecting to find in chocolate. I think the roast is a little on the heavy side, causing a distinct flavor profile. Even though this is a very well made chocolate bar with a great texture and melt, it just doesn’t capture my imagination like other ones do. Somehow I feel that Claudio Corallo has more delicate trick up his sleeve and I won’t hesitate if I get the chance to taste his creations.

Review: Amedei Blanco de Criollo – 70% (*****)

Now here is a first for me. After reviewing so many exciting bars, this time around I present you a blend. But if that blend is made by a company called “Amedei” and it features Criollo, I’m very confident I’ve got the attention of any true chocolate lover!

Cecilia Tessieri travelled all the way to Peru, in search of the most delicate and noble Criollo cacao beans to create an extraordinary chocolate bar. Amedei, based at Pontedera near Pisa in Italy, is renowned for its quality chocolate and high standards of production. This particular bar is part of a 20.000 piece batch, created in late 2012. As a limited edition, it carries its own distinct serial number, 12-903 in this case.

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The sleeve of the chocolate bar just breathes the luxurious Amedei tradition. A wonderful design featuring the amazing color array of fresh cacao pods and Amedei’s distinct logo. Inside, tasting notes are provided and while you are at it, you get a nice overview of other creations by the company. From their traditional bars up to the single origins.

A yellow blister keeps the bar safe from harm. Opening it, you are greeted by a glorious aroma tickling all your senses. The bar itself doesn’t have an eye-popping design, but rather consist of a solid bar made out of rectangular pieces carrying the Amedei Logo.

Bean: Criollo blend

Origin: Perú

Production: Amedei – Pontedera, Italy

Price: € 11,49 – 50 g at 1001 Sense – Munich, Germany

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Color: a light, slightly reddish-brown.
Aroma: the bar offers a distinct smoky and spiced scent. Deep and powerful – tobacco, sweet cinnamon, dried wood and cacao create a warm and inviting aroma.
Taste: The chocolate has a good snap and a medium quick start. The taste opens up sweet for an instant, before gliding over to overwhelming pure chocolate tones. Dried nuts and a nice and gentle coffee bitter come through. The bar has a perfect melt and a superb texture – as expected from Italian chocolate. Furthermore, raisin and yellow plum are detected as the chocolate melts in your mouth. These notes blend in perfectly with the great chocolate taste and create a little refreshing moment. Next the wood tones from the aroma mingle in and make for a warm and balanced taste profile. The overall taste reminds me of the aromas you experience during a walk in the woods during a warm autumn day – earthy and sweet. Before the piece has melted completely, the taste offers more roasted hazelnuts.

The aftertaste remains in same line and seems a bit more etherical with volatile toasted and nutty aromas rolling around for a prolonged time.

Cecilia Tessieri has succeeded in creating a wonderful and complex chocolate – floating on warm, earthy tones, gently surprising you with delicate taste changes. A sign Amedei knows its trade to the very last detail and will only produce the highest quality. Blanco de Criollo –  a bar you need to try whenever you get the chance!