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!

Double Review: Peru – French Broad Chocolate – Palo Blanco 66% (****) VS The Chocolate Tree – Salt and Nibs 70% (****)

Guess everyone knows the world championship soccer is played right now in Brazil. National soccer teams battle each other in South-American stadiums. But I like to do things different. I choose one origin and let two chocolate makers battle with their products! Let see who comes out on top!

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Peru is a growing cacao region and is home to some very tasteful beans. Both the American French Broad Chocolate and Scottish The Chocolate Tree, chose this specific origin to create a special bar.

French Broad developed its  66% bar from the harvest of Palo Blanco Community. I’ve already reviewed the Palos Blancos bar of Twenty-four Blackbirds, which delivers lots of mature, earthy flavors. It will be a great pleasure to see if French Broads bar follows this flavor profile.

The Chocolate Tree uses Peruvian Nacional cacao, renowned for its floral characteristics. Their bar also features salt and nibs, so it should be pretty different from French Broads creation. can’t wait to try it!

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French Broad Chocolates – Palo Blanco Community, Chulucanas, Peru – 66%

As always, French Broad Chocolates offers a gorgeous bar wrapped in its distinct French feeling wrapper, with a bright blue ribbon as accent this time. When the people of French Broad visited this Peruvian community, they were especially impressed with the cacao of Juan de La Cruz and only uses his cacao in this chocolate.

Bean: Not mentioned

Origin: Palo Blanco – Chulucanas – Perú

Production: French Broad Chocolates – Ashville, North Carolina, USA

Price: Unknown – 60 g send to me by Cococlectic.com

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Color: Earthy brown/red. A tempting color.
Aroma: A warm spiced scent with a hint of tobacco, vanilla, very chocolaty and sweet.
Taste: Starting sweet as expected, a gentle roast tone comes up before gentle yellow fruit emerge, riding the sweet wave. Grapes, yellow raisins and apricots come to mind. A very enjoyable fruit flavor combined with vanilla and spiced undertone ride the palate with a reappearing hint of tobacco and some wood touches in the back. The texture is ever so slightly grainy, but certainly not offensive. Offering lots of taste, warm and exotic, this is a great piece of chocolate. The aftertaste keeps the more tannin and wood like aromas in the mouth, while keeping a full chocolate taste. Extremely enjoyable, especially later on the day!

 

The Chocolate Tree – Nibs and Salt, Peru – 70%

Delicate green and white flowers decorate the wrapper of this bar. Inside the beautiful design looking like little squares of chocolate combined in one rectangular piece of chocolate. The Chocolate Tree uses the famous Nacional cacao for this creation and mixes is the chocolate with salt crystals and cacao nibs.

Bean: Nacional

Origin: Peru

Production: The Chocolate Tree – Edinburgh, Scotland

Price: Unknown – 40 g given as a sample

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Color: Very alike compared to the French Broad bar, deep brown/red and gorgeous.
Aroma: Deep earthier tones, more masculine with clear wood and tobacco scents.
Taste: This chocolate opens instantly and a lot darker than the French broad bar. It chocolate bring a very nice earthy aroma up front. Tobacco and smoked wood. Salt pops up on the tongue and enlighten the aroma. It actually highlights the full flavor of the powerful chocolate. In between, cacao nibs emerge, causing you to bite down and release additional packed waves of dark earthy aroma’s, coffee, suddenly roasted nuts and a nice floral Jasmin flower hint. The melt is smooth and added nibs make you chew the chocolate, causing a great taste change in the mouth. The aftertaste is lightly smoky and keeps the powerful nib aromas lingering.
Due to the salt and nibs, this bar changes its taste several times. Not with different tones, but different styles of powerful earth tones, nuts, coffee, deep cacao and amidst this all, twinkles of salt and delicate flowers. My favorite bar from the Chocolate Tree so far!

So, two Peruvian bars – two visions. But who’s the winner? Well, I call it a draw! Both chocolate makers provide an extremely flavorful bar, highlighting different  tones and blend them together to balanced and satisfying chocolates. French Broad offers fruits in abundance, The Chocolate Tree offers dark tones and floral aromas. And in between they share a warm, spicy heart and tobacco!

 

Final result: USA – Scotland: 1 – 1!

Bars like these revive my enjoyment in chocolate once more!

Cheating on my chocolate… with coffee!

Oh boy. Last few days have been tropical over here in Belgium. Temperatures raising close to 30° C ( 86°F). Close enough to nearly melt chocolate. So tasting/reviewing some bars is a bit out of the question, unfortunately.

So what to try instead? Coffee! For a while now I’ve been tempted to try quality coffee, preferably single origin coffee. It is like the distant cousin of chocolate. When you think about it, coffee and cacao are pretty alike. Both are beans – able to deliver stunning complex taste experiences, fermented and dried on the farm. Next they are roasted. And once more the way the farmers treat the beans and the talent of the roasters make or break the taste of the final product.

But where chocolate is the easy way for an enthusiast like me, coffee makes you take the hard road.

Let me explain. When you enjoy a nice bar of origin chocolate, you indulge yourself on a product made by gifted chocolate makers who spend hours and hours contemplating how to roast, crack, winnow, conche and temper the cacao into the  taste profile they had in mind. Your taste buds enjoy the final product, preceded by countless trail and errors, hours of experimenting and pulling out hairs by these artisan chocolatiers, until finally the magic happens and all things come together in a great bar.

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And then there is coffee… You buy beans. The roasters carefully selected the coffee beans and treated them in a way to allow them to develop their maximum aroma. And then it is up to you! Now you may grind the coffee to a desired particle size, exactly the weight you need for the coffee you want to brew. You start boiling water. You take it away from the heat once boiling and you wait for it to cool down a bit. The filter goes into the drip system. Rinse the filter to avoid paper taste, throw away the water used.

Now comes the tricky part. The coffee goes into the filter and you place the can + filter + coffee on a scale. Add enough water to the coffee to make it bloom, make it look like a foamy mess. CO2 escapes. After about 30 seconds, slowly and continuously add water, in circular movements. Make sure the coffee remains under water at all times. Once the required weight of water in relation to the amount of coffee is added, let it drip through the filter, but make sure the whole process takes about 3 minutes in total.

 

I bought a Hario V60 dripper, a Hario Skerton hand grinder and a bag of Ethiopian Kochere coffee beans. Opening the bag of coffee almost blew me away. An aroma of sweet honey, a citrus like zest and dark chocolate greeted me. How remarkable different from the bulk coffee I’m used to! Many thanks to the people of Vandekerckhove Koffiebranderij for helping me choose a first kit and some very tasteful coffee!

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But turning this wonderful coffee into a great cup is challenging. The first time you are overwhelmed by everything. The water temperature, the grind size, the brewing times and amounts. All of these have an influence on the final taste. The second day around I succeeded in transferring some of the great aroma tones into my final coffee, but there is still a lot to improve and I’m looking forward to experimenting to master the techniques required.

Let me tell you something. Making coffee this way gives me a whole new level of respect for bean-to-bar chocolate makers. After all, if I mess up, I only have a bad cup of coffee. When they make a mistake, they lose a batch of what could have been glorious chocolate!

 

Coffee and chocolate. So different and yet so alike! Both able to surprise you with utterly complex tastes. Life is good when these two are around!

Review: Domori – Sambirano Madagascar 70% (****)

After spending a while in the American and Canadian Artisan scene, we head back closer to my home today and return to Europe.
In front of me lies a pretty little box stamped with a name that sounds like a bell. Domori. Welcome to Italy!

Domori takes us away from the micro-batch producers and welcomes us in the world of the bigger players. Domori is part of the Illy group (yes, the same people behind the well-known espresso brand). Their factory is based in None, neat Turin and concentrates in the production of high quality chocolate with an Italian touch. They are a chocolate company who made the bold choice not to use Forastero beans, like most do, but rather fine cacao such as Criollo and Trinitario. Domori even owns their own plantation in Venezuela. The ultimate goal is to produce quality, not quantity. I’m excited to experience if their approach can bring out the real tastes out of these fine cacao’s.

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This little bar looks very luxurious. The box has a spectacular clean design, both high-end and very minimalistic. There is little chance of making a mistake in the origin of the cacao. Even more prominent than Madagascar is the Sambirano region, known for its high quality, high flavoured cacao beans. Opening the box reveals a deep red blister protecting the chocolate itself. The color and feel add to the feel of luxury. No one will mistake this for some bulk chocolate.

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The bar follows the same design line of the package. Clean, stylish and minimalistic, yet very beautiful. Four equal pieces hug each other in a perfect square bar. Opening the blister reveals a striking aroma, hard to resist.

Bean: Not mentioned – but should be Trinitario
Origin: Sambirano valley, Madagascar
Production: Domori – None, Italy
Price paid: $ 3,20  – 25g ( 1001 Sense – Munich Germany)

 

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Color: A pretty dark brown, slightly reddish

Aroma: Roasted nuts, gorgeous chocolate, sweet cacao, warm spices, vanilla

Taste: Immediate after taking a piece in the mouth, roasted nuts and coffee, slightly peppery tones come to front. Do I detect some marzipan there for a second? Neatly followed by a vanilla touch and lots sweet red fruit the aroma takes a little curb. Raspberry and red currant predominate. The chocolate remains light on the palate and offers a super smooth melt and über velvety texture. Lots of fantastic chocolate indulges the senses. The aroma stays fresh during the melt and tiptoes over the tongue releasing more red fruit mixed with just enough spices and tannins to give a great depth to the aroma. The aftertaste loses the fruits and develops great smoky, spiced aromas lingering for a prolonged time.
The overall experience is light, fruitful and very pleasing. Perfect balance between body and flavor, sweetness and a superior texture. One can’t help but be drawn into the experience.

This Italian view on high quality chocolate is pretty different from the American bars I tasted to far, offering a far lighter aroma, with less pronounced tannins and a texture that can only be described as silky. Simply amazing to experience the different views of chocolate makers around the world. Don’t miss this little gem when it crosses your path.

Review: Hummingbird – Hispaniola Dominican Republic 70% (****1/2)

Even National and European elections in Belgium won’t keep me away from things that really matter and actually bring people together, despite difference in nationality. Single Origin Chocolate! Time for another review!

Today we visit Canada once more. My bag of treats from over the pond isn’t empty yet. Not by far!

Hummingbird states on its bars: Industrious, not industrial. They take the slow, old way to produce chocolate and “tease” out the best flavors. What a wonderful way to describe what these artisan chocolate makers actually do.

Drew and Erica Gilmour traveled all over the world working with farmers across the globe. At one time Drew came into contact with cacao on Haiti and they discovered the secret world of the new artisan chocolate scene. From interest, chocolate making soon became a passion and turned into a mission. To let other people enjoy the incredible taste varieties in quality chocolate.

This Hispaniola bar is the first I try from these inspired people.

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The small size bar is wrapped in a light yellow sleeve. Their wonderful logo proudly sits on top, followed by cacao percentage and the name of the bar. I love how they create a distinct name for each bar, rather than using the origin. The Hispaniola bar features Trinitario cacao from the Dominican Republic. The bar can be pushed out of the sleeve and is hidden in a golden foil. While I like the presentation, it is a bit tricky to rewrapthe bar after some pieces.

Not only the packing seems familiar, the actual bar aswell. They use the same nice looking design as The Chocolate Tree in Scotland. Stylish, yet I love it when a chocolate maker put the bar design to his own hand. While off course this isn’t the most important thing in chocolate, because all that really matters is the taste.

Bean: Trinitario
Origin: Dominican Republic
Production: Hummingbird Chocolate Maker – Almonte, Canada
Price paid: $ 6,49  – 50g

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Color: Extremely dark, bordering black

Aroma: Fresh green cacao, tobacco, spices – strong and appealing

Taste: A swift starting bar with a flash of slightly roasted tones and molasses, followed by a great dot of sour cherry, before vibrant coffee kicks in. The chocolate overwhelms your senses in a heartbeat with sudden, yet fluent aroma changes.  The melt is pretty slow, releasing fresh cherry flavor time after time followed instantly by more subtle tannins, creating a wonderful sour/sweet experience with a refreshing feel to it. The texture is a bit drier than most french style chocolate, without being brittle and remains very pleasing indeed. The aftertaste concentrates on the coffee and tannins, with a warm slightly spiced back drop taking over after a short while. When you pay close attention, even here the cherry aroma faintly emerges again.

Hummingbirds Hispaniola bar is a wonderful joyride, offering a great fruity experience while being full-bodied at the same time. Starting of fresh and sour/sweet it gently turns over to a warm end note. A piece of chocolate I enjoyed to the fullest!

Review: Soma Chocolate – Camino Verde 80% (****)

Canada. Yep, we are in Canada today. A country I used to relate to chocolate the same way I related Belgium to bobsleighing. Virtually not existing. Oh, little did I know before my eyes were opened to fine chocolate. And behold, nowadays even Belgium has an olympic bobsleigh team, for that matter.

So without any ado, I present to you: Soma Chocolate’s Camino Verde 80% from their Black Science collection. So far, Ecuador – where the cacao used in this bar is produced – offered me herbal, deep, balanced and intense chocolate bars made by Mayta and Pacari – both originating in Ecuador itself. I was more than curious to find out if an artisan producers outside the country would stand for a total different view and taste.

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Soma is based in Toronto, Canada and specialises in creating bean-to-bar chocolate and chocolate creations. They focus on top quality cacao – Criollo, Trinitario and Arriba, but seem to have a soft spot of a Forastero cacao from Ghana, a region normally related to bulk chocolate cacao. Interesting! As a micro-batch producer, they take the time and effort to let the cacao and its origin shine in the bars they produce.

This specific bar was sent to me by my US supplier Adrienne, who provides me with all sorts of amazing bars from the North-American scene. It’s packed in a glimmering thick foil, simply stamped with a label giving some info and credit on the cacao producer who supplied the beans. Vincente Norrero is the owner of the Camino Verde project, focussing on quality Arriba Nacional cacao by controlling the growth, harvesting and most important, the fermenting of the beans. By now a lot of different chocolate makers have discovered these aromatic beans and create their own version of this chocolate. Most tend to stay in the lower 70 to 75% range, but Soma takes it a step further and goes for 80% cacao. During my tastings I discovered making a bar over 80 percent cacao is a difficult balancing act and many fall for powerful taste with a brittle texture or rather fall the other side by adding to much cacao butter, ending up with a clogging bar with reduced aromas. But if done right, these bars can be so delicious!

This actual chocolate bar doesn’t look particular impressive. It is a nice rectangular, shiny piece of chocolate with generic decorations. Obvious Soma wants you to focus on the taste rather than the looks.

Bean: Arriba Nacional
Origin: Ecuador
Production: Soma Chocolate – Toronto, Canada
Price paid: $ 4,49  – 25g

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Color:the darker spectrum of brown – deep

Aroma: round and roasted, earthy tones with coffee and dried grass

Taste: The chocolate opens with a sudden flash of gorgeous roasted aroma’s, gone is a second to make room for green cacao and deep, deep chocolate tones. A mild espresso bitterness lays as a veil over the main taste and adds power. Next comes a slow rising wave of sweetness, carrying a floral aroma. This sudden change opens up the taste en enlightens the palate, briefly reminding me of sweet fruit and brown sugar and molasses, before the more powerful tannins return and guide you swiftly to the aftertaste that keeps your tongue playing with the woody, earthy cacao aromas, chocolate and coffee with a satisfying length.

One more thing to note: the texture. It is simply amazing. Perfect melt and French style smooth. But not a trace of overuse of cacao butter. It is balanced perfectly and offers tons of aroma. Soma created a wonderful example of a higher percentage bar, creating a very smooth and aromatic experience! One thing I couldn’t find was the renowned orange blossom notes typical for Camino Verde chocolate. I should compare it to other versions of this bar to see if I missed it or if it is simply not present in this otherwise glorious bar.

A piece of art!

 

Review: French Broad Chocolates – Tumbes Perú 70% (****1/2)

What is to tell. American Craft chocolate made by French Broad Chocolates… Now gimme gimme gimme!

Oh, I’ll hold my horses for a moment and push aside my love for the US chocolate scene and put on a more objective suit.

French Broad still creates its products in North Carolina. Search my other review on their chocolate to read more about their history. How many can state they went from the US to Costa Rica, fell in love with the cacao way of life and returned to the States to start-up their own chocolate company.

This time around, I get to sample a bar made from Peruvian cacao, harvested by the Tumpis Cooperative. Tumbes is situated in the northwestern part of the country.

 

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Tucked in its stylish wrapper, this time a deep red band accentuates the bar. Almost as if stating this will be an intense piece of chocolate. Almost French as their name states, this bar oozes with a luxurious vibe.

Inside, French Broad’s delicate scored bar strikes me as great looking once more. but how does it taste?

Bean: Not mentioned

Origin: Tumpis Cooperative – Tumbes, Perú

Production: French Broad Chocolates – Ashville, North Carolina, USA

Price: Unknown – 60 g send to me by Cococlectic.com

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Color: Dark ebbony

Aroma: Cacao, woody tannins, earthy with an illusive touch of berry fruits and ever so slightly spiced. An enticing dark aroma.

Taste: Starting slow, the bar opens up with an immediate black fruity acidity (blackcurrant and black berries) and a distinct coffee bitterness. Somehow those two flavors enhance each other and start of a slow waltz dance going back and forth. A while later, the aroma reveals a sort of added tartness, reminding me of fresh cheesecake with an almost creamy texture adding a fresh note of sweet and sour aromas. The chocolate has a really nice texture and wonderful looooooong melt. The aftertaste takes over swift, but not before the chocolate reveals a last note of woody chocolate. What remains in your mouth after the melt flows with the same flavor style of bitter/sour/sweet and keeps rolling and rolling on for ages.

 

I’m baffled. In some bars I would state this bitter note a bit too strong. But the powerful fruit flavor circles it constantly and tries to take the lead without ever succeeding. This makes for a very exciting taste profile that keeps you paying attention as the flavor develops. This bar might be a bit different in nature, more powerful and more pronounced than other chocolate bars, but if this doesn’t show you clearly how diverse chocolate can be, if you compare it to, let us say Original Beans light and roasty Porcelana bar, or Akesson’s tropical flavored Bali bar, I simply don’t know anymore!

Good job Jael and Dan!

 

Perú is slowly becoming my second favorite origin, next to Madagascar. Peruvian chocolate sure can deliver some amazing fruits combined with a deeper, more robust earthy tone. Can’t wait to try the next one!