Review: Republica Del Cacao – Comunidad Vinces 75% (***)

The good thing about inspiring people with fine chocolate, is that they can surprise you in unexpected ways. A lady who attended one of my tastings is active in the import/export business and when she went on a trip to South America recently, she brought back some fine chocolate she decided to share with me. This way I received a partial bar by Republica Del Cacao from the Vinces Community in Ecuador.

The company has set the goal of putting Latin American chocolate back on the world map by creating fine chocolate from regionally grown cacao, produced into chocolate in their Quito factory in Ecuador. By putting sustainability, traceability and tradition high on their list of attention, their wide array of origin bars ride the wave of fine chocolate makers around the globe. By combining local quality cacao with European knowledge in chocolate making, they might be on to something.

The Vinces community produces Arriba cacao – One of the only Forastero cacao varieties which can be labeled as fino di aroma cacao. Forastero typically is a bean used for industrial bulk chocolate, but Arriba has a much more refined taste – allowing chocolate makers to make wonderful bars based on this cacao.

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The package is filled to the brim with information, stating about the company’s mission and why this bar we are holding is special compared to classic chocolate bars. The logo clearly gives it a traditional look.

Inside, the bar is made out of pretty large square pieces of chocolate, perfectly embossed with the type of cacao and the origin. Novel idea. The design fits superbly with the sleeve and makes it look good. The chocolate itself is super dark in color and hits the senses with a delicate floral aroma.

Bean: Arriba (Forastero)
Origin: Vinces Community – Ecuador
Production: Confiteca CA – Quito, Ecuador
Price paid: gift – 100g – received from a friend

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Color: Dark, dark brown – almost black.

Aroma: Floral notes, hints of tobacco and wood.

Taste: A quick, earthy and sweet start with hints of vanilla and delicate flower notes (jasmin like) combined with a touch of brown sugar. Next comes a gentle coffee bitterness and touches of tannins giving it a bit more power. The melt is super quick and smooth, but not clingy at all. Yet I feel as if a bit too much cacao butter has been used, mellowing down the taste profile. Overall the taste is harmonious, but less pronounced than other chocolate bars around. The aftertaste is very subtle, offering a very deep chocolate flavor, but remains very gentle – after quiet a while you notice some nice smoked wood and chocolate aromas lingering on. This is a very enjoyable chocolate, quiet different from the bars I tasted before. It is gentle in nature, but grows on you as you savor on.

Maybe the European style of chocolate making is what holds it back a little. I can sense a big potential in the bar, but going for the silky texture may inhibit the delicate aroma’s of the cacao to come forth. I wonder how this bar would taste if Republica Del Cacao chose a more “American” artisan style to create the bar. A bit rougher around the edges perhaps, but possibly also more intriguing taste wise.

You can safely introduce any unknowing person into the world of fine chocolate with bars like this one. A perfect place to start your exploration of a wonderful world of taste!

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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: Pacari Raw 85% (***1/2)

Pacari. If there is one name omni-present in the fair trade – organic – origin chocolate, it is Pacari. This Ecuadorian chocolate company has an own vision on the production of quality chocolate with fair trade, organic cacao. And they put a lot of effort in sustainability and social growth af their cacao producers. With their specific taste profile, Pacari stands firmly on the chocolate world map.

After being blown away by their 100% Raw bar, a chocolate rich in taste but hardly for the faint of heart, I decided to try a lower percentage, to see if the added sugar makes for a more approachable yet intense bar. Raw chocolate is made of cacao beans who have been treated with as little heating as possible, in order to keep all the oxidants and the high flavor profiles intact – instead of being roasted like chocolate is made usually. Pacari offers both a raw and roasted line.

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As always, the sleeve of the Pacari bar is wonderful. Dark background with an indian style drawing, the white Pacari logo and colorful name of the bar. Raw still stands strong on the box. Not as a warning, rather as an invitation to experience cacao in a pure form.

Inside the box, the rich decorated foil. Gorgeous to look at, a bit difficult in use when you want to reclose the package when don’t finish the bar in one sitting.

The bar itself is simple and clean. A large rectangular, scored in 15 pieces. The tablet it a little thicker than usual, making a single square perfect for tasting. I’ve always liked the sleek look of Pacari bars.

Let us move on to the taste!

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Bean: Arriba Nacional
Origin: Ecuador
Production: Pacari Ecuador
Price paid: 4,00 – 50g (Hilde Devolder Ghent)

Color: ebony with a reddish hint. Lighter than most high percentage bars.

Aroma: Earthy yet lots of chocolate, the aroma is slightly sweet in nature, contradictory to the high cacao content.

Taste: The chocolate starts herbal, grassy and with even some hay flavors, before giving away to a sweeter aroma reminding me of vanilla/spice and a touch of yellow apricot fruit and a distant hint of banana. Tropical is what pops up in your mind. The texture is less silky than other chocolate due to a slight grainy feeling and the thickness of the bar, but the melt is heavenly and the chocolate is gone to soon. The aftertaste keeps the deep chocolate tones lively and allows some slight bitter tones coming in.
Just at the very end of the aftertaste, I recognised some raw cacao hints coming trough.

Even though it is a 85% bar, it is very approachable even for the inexperienced chocolate enthusiast. This is the most balanced 85% bar I’ve tried so far. It is extremely chocolaty and balanced where other 85% bars seemed a bit nervous in taste changes. But unlike their 100% bar, this one does not make a formidable impression, perhaps due to the balanced taste that seems to avoid grand aroma evolutions. It is a darn good chocolate, without being exceptional.

Pacari puts their own stamp on chocolate making, especially with their raw line which makes for a green tasting bar as there are no roast aroma’s around. Very enjoyable on a sunday afternoon!

Review: Mayta Chocolate – 71% Arriba (****)

It has been a while since I reviewed any chocolates. A burned tongue was the evildoer. It simply eradicated a part of my taste, making everything very dull on the palate. Not your ideal way to taste the delicate flavours in a product like chocolate. Luckily everything healed by now, but it makes you appreciate the sense of taste you have and the difference it makes once it is gone.

Anyway, lets focus on the task, or should I say privileged ahead. During the Origin Chocolate event, I had a great chat with the people of the promotional stand of Ecuador. Not only did they bring the illusive Pacari products, but they handed me a bar of Mayta chocolate. A brand I hadn’t heard of until then. Always a treat to taste something new.

Mayta is an Ecuadorian brand, using national grown cacao to make gourmet chocolate bars, bean-to-bar. This particular bar was made with Arriba (Nacional) beans from the Esmeraldas, grown deep within the coastal plains of Ecuador.

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The bar comes in a rather nice looking square box. The imprint unmistakably puts it in the South-American territory, as it uses an Inca style mask. Clean and simple text provide you with all the details needed. The chocolate itself is wrapped in a cellophane blister, wich certainly does the protecting part, but was a bit of a hassle to open and makes it pretty impossible to rewrap the bar afterwards. Guess I’ll have to enjoy this chocolate within a short period.

Bean: Arriba
Origin: Ecuador
Production: Mayta chocolates, Ecuador
Price paid: Unknown, given to me during the origin chocolate event 2013 – Amsterdam

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Colour: obviously dark ebony with a red/purple hint.

Aroma: This chocolate doesn’t produce a particular strong aroma. Some nice green cacao smells are present, slightly acidic and a hint of woody aromas were detected.

Taste: The bar starts gently with a brief burst of raw cacao followed by lots and lots of deep chocolate. It melts nice and slow and has a very smooth texture, releasing more waves of chocolate, before a subtle sweetness brings delicate dried yellow fruit aromas to the palate. The taste is very harmonic as no elements comes forth strong and overwhelming, they rather mix and mingle to produce a very satisfying chocolate experience. At the very end of the melt, one suddenly notices some tannins adding more depth to the overall taste. The aftertaste lasts just long enough to prolong the enjoyment and brings a slight bitter and woody touch as the last crumbs of chocolate melt on the tongue.
A gentle, but high quality chocolate delight, this bar is to be enjoyed pure while paying attention to all the aromas it provides. Another great chocolate I was privileged to taste.

Review: J.D. Gross 81% Arriba Superieur (**)

And she dangled the deep red package in front of my nose… women, don’t you love them? Ever since I got hold of the 60% and 70% origin chocolate of JD Gross, I searched every Lidl to find the illusive 81% Arriba Superieur. But it was always sold out.
Last week I went shopping with my wife, and yet again another empty display of 81%. Until my girl decided to dig in deep in the row of 70%. And guess what she found! Right! The price was even lower than last time around. I wonder how they’re even able to produce such a 125 g bar at this discount price.

Once more, the packaging looks very luxurious, with lots of glossy print and a golden wrapper hiding the chocolate.

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Bean: Arriba
Origin: Rio Esmeraldas – Ecuador
Production: J.D. Gross for Lidl ( Made by Rausch)
Price paid: € 1,29/125 g

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Colour: Deep dark brown with a reddish hint.

Aroma: dark cacao, not really revealing many other tones, other than an expected high cacao butter content.

Taste: Chocolate mousse… I know it sounds crazy, but that’s the first thing that comes to my mind. A deep cacao taste, combined with a sweet, buttery tone. A gentle bitterness accompanies the dark roasted taste of the beans. Much like the chocolate mousse my mother makes.
But I do miss a refreshing zing to it, something to cut through the thick, heavy chocolate taste. There is some coffee hidden but other than that it’s clear this chocolate has a higher than normal cacao butter content, wich makes it a little heavy on the palate. Ending with a soft, sweet touch. The aftertaste follows the main taste like a mirror, it doesn’t evolve at all and isn’t as long as hoped.
I had high expectations about this one, as it’s so hard to get in the shops near me, but the 70% is better in my opinion, more balanced.
I do believe some chocolate producers actually add way to much cacao butter to high percentage chocolate, as it hides the more earthy taste in its creamyness. But that means so many subtle tone get lost. To bad, a missed chance…

Review: Pacari – 100% Raw (****)

So we finally meet, i whispered softly. It responded by utter silence, either ignoring me or was it already looking forward to what was to come? Hard to tell. I’ve dreamt about this moment, lived through it a thousand times in my mind. It could all turn for the worst in a second, or for the best. Who will tell… who?
As time went by, a single drop of sweat formed on my forehead. I kept staring at it, hoping it would reveal anything that could prepare me for what was to come. It’s deep dark face remained motionless. I know many have found themselves in this exact situation. I know the stories. But somehow, that doesn’t help. I have to do this al alone… my first try of… 100% chocolate…

Pacari 100%. Raw. I reached out, gently picked up a piece and brought it to my mouth… no way back now!

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Pacari offers a line of Raw chocolate. This means the beans ar fermented, but weren’t roasted, rather processed in a natural state. This would keep all of the good anti-oxidants, vitamins, magnesium, iron, etc. within the chocolate, instead of being reduced by a heat treatment like roasting. Pacari produces bean-to-bar premium chocolate in Ecuador.

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Bean: Arriba
Origin: Ecuador
Production: Pacari Ecuador
Price paid: € 5,00/50 g

Bought at: www.choqoa.com

Colour: A deep deep brown colour, nearly black. The tablet looks sleek.

Aroma: As one would expect lots of dark chocolate, but surprisingly also red fruit, with a distinct earthyness in the back as a small warning of what’s to come.

Taste: The earthyness and tannins overtakes the palate instantly, no hunch of sweetness present.It grabs you like no chocolate ever did before. It takes some seconds before other tastes come through, as your palate slowly adjusts itself after the initial shock. Then the pure cacao comes on. It’s only because I’ve eaten real cacao beans that I recognise the taste. It’s cacao in its purest. Mingled in a deep dark espresso taste followed by tardiness and a nutty finish. It reminds me of chestnut. The aftertaste is remarkable chocolaty in nature with the nut tones and tannins hanging on.
It is quiet an experience to taste this chocolate. No sugar, a little coarse in the melt, but still tons of flavor. This isn’t subtle chocolate, it is strong and will overwhelm anyone who isn’t used to high percentage chocolate. But for the ones looking for genuine cacao taste, this is as close as you get without actually eating a bean. I only hoped that the fruits from the aroma would come through in the taste, which doesn’t. Well worth the try, but I still prefer 80-90% cacao’s so far, as they reveal even more tastes.