Review: Akesson’s Madagascar – 100% Criollo (*****)

Today we go red. There is no room for compromises. Today is 100% chocolate!

Akesson is The name in the fine chocolate world when it comes to Madagascan cacao. Bertil’s Ambolikapiky plantation produces some of the finest cacao around and countless bean-to-bar chocolate makers use his cacao to create their masterpieces.

But Akesson also produces their own chocolate. Their cacao and vision combined with the craftmanship of a leading French fine chocolate maker, create some spectacular chocolate. So I had pretty high expectations about the content of the little red box lying in front of me.

Akesson's 100% criollo

The box turns away from the classical dark grey box with red text – so typical for the Akesson line. This time the box is vibrant red. As if you already know this isn’t a normal chocolate. 100% is about as hardcore as it gets. The color also reminds me of the typical red fruits you’ll find in quality Madagascan origin chocolate.

Inside, a cellophane foil and a glorious little square of dark chocolate. Ripping open the foil means releasing an amazing deep chocolate aroma. The bar design itself is still one of the most minimalistic and pure to be found in the origin chocolate world. Sleek and luxurious looking.

Akesson creates this single plantation chocolate from pure Criollo beans – the top quality produced. A mere 2 tons of Criollo cacao is produced on this estate in the Sambirano Valley. Knowing the total yield of the plantation is about 300 tons Trinitario, you’ll understand this is a pretty exclusive cacao.

Bean: Criollo
Origin: Madagascar – Ambolikapiky Plantation
Maker: Produced in France
Price: € 5,00 – 60 g

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Color: Dark, dark dark brown

Aroma: surprising sweet and sour, fruity – roasted nuts pop up – deep chocolate.

Taste: This bar has a nice roasted start concentrating on a nutty flavor, slowly maturing in the full body of a high percentage cacao with gentle but noticeable bitterness. On the tip of the tongue, little sweet, red fruit twinkles develop, while the chocolate remains very powerful in the back of the mount with earthy aromas including coffee and a delicate chestnut flavor. The chocolate certainly bites at the tongue, but never as aggressive as other 100% bars I’ve tried. If you breathe in some air while tasting, the fruit flavors open up in an abundant way. Red currants, raspberry and sour cherry come to mind. It is in fact by far the most palatable 100% bar I had so far and I love how it still reveals the fruity aromas of the Madagascan terroir. The aftertaste brings back the glorious roasted coffee and hazelnut tones and lingers in the mouth for a very long time. Chocolate in abundance all around. The longer the aftertaste floats around in your mouth, the more balanced it becomes, until you have this very satisfying chocolate aroma remaining. And it just keeps going. Texture and melt of the chocolate are superb, following the French tradition in chocolate making. By adding just the right amount of cacao butter, you get a super velvety melt. People who want to try a high percentage bar which still retains the wonderful flavors of fine cacao are in for a treat! This chocolate offers all the maturity of a pure 100% chocolate, while keeping the experience enjoyable. To me it is worth the full five stars!

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Review: Chocolate Naive – Madagascar 85% (***1/2)

After an annoying two-week cold including a blocked nose, things finally cleared up so I can enjoy craft chocolate to the fullest again. About time, because I have a massive amount of bars waiting to be reviewed.

Today we return to my favorite origin. Madagascar. Naive provided me with this gorgeous looking 85% bar, made from Criollo cacao from the Ambolikapiky plantation in Madagascar… By now I understand the better part of all the quality cacao from this region originates from this plantation owned by Akesson’s. It is great fun to discover the different approaches of the different chocolate makers when they use this cacao. The results are so different it is hard to believe they all use the same cacao. It really shows how a chocolate maker has a great influence on the final taste.

Naive, based in Lithuania, by far a renowned country for chocolate, already succeeded in dazzling me with their products. The Dark chocolate with forest honey (also using Madagascan cacao) never ceases to impress me. It is that good.

So it is with great expectations that I turn my attention to the bar on my table.

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The 30 gram bar looks modern and minimalistic. A dark band gives away we are dealing with an extra dark chocolate, the 85 percentage dominates the wrapper. I especially appreciate the extra info spread around to give you an instant idea of what lies ahead. A Madagascan, medium roasted criollo bar. Sounds divine to any chocoholic. Medium roasted means a lot of the inherent flavors of the cacao are preserved and should be detectable in the final product.

Open the package and you will find a thick silver foil hugging the bar itself. Out comes a piece of chocolate of perfect size. Not to big, just the right thickness and my oh my, does it smell amazing. But first take a look at all those perfect little rectangular pieces, deep and shiny. This little bar of chocolate takes my mind immediately to the Pacari bars.

Bean: Criollo
Origin: Ambolikapiky plantation  – Madagascar
Production: Naive Chocolate – Parapijoniskes – Lithuania
Price paid: sample – 30g

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Color:A wonderful light brown, touching the color of a dark milk chocolate with the typical Madagascan red hue.

Aroma: warm, powerful and surprising sweet, tobacco,toasted bread and a hint of red fruit.

Taste: The chocolate starts medium quick and lets the Madagascan fruits pop from the very start. They actually took my by surprise. Lots of red currant and raspberry followed by pretty intense earthy flavors reminding me of raw cocoa. Every swirl of the tongue releases a new wave of fruits, followed by a woody interlude before jumping over to the earthy flavors and a remarkable fresh farmer’s cheese tartness. The texture is fresh and light on the palate. Not buttery at all, meaning Naive wasn’t tempted to calm down the powerful taste by adding too much cacao butter. It melts like a charm and releases a final warm vanilla tone before it is gone. The aftertaste carries on the earthy notes, is slightly smoky and reveals a nice cacao aroma and the reminiscence of the berry flavors. I’m impressed by the leap in texture Naive achieved compared to the bars I tasted before.

This chocolate has a pretty high percentage of cacao and certainly doesn’t go for an easy and mellow taste. You get the full power of cacao, rich and intense – combined with the typical Madagascan fruity acidity. It has the potential to scare of people who are used to the sweet industrial chocolate and try this without knowing what to expect, but you should definitely give it a try to experience wild and untamed Madagascan-origin chocolate!

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: 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: 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: 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: The Chocolate Tree – 55% Ecuador Milk Chocolate (***1/2) + 72% Madagascar (***)

Double trouble on a sunny evening… Cue a dramatic music and the camera slowly panning towards a tight duel between two chocolate bars. One milk and one dark bar. Made by The Chocolate Tree in Scotland.

Actually, the pure milk bar will be the first origin milk chocolate ever reviewed on my blog. Still a favorite for many people, I hope to discover what artisan chocolate makers are able to bring out combining milk and quality cacao.

The second bar features my favorite origin, Madagascar, home to tantalising fruity cacao.

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The Chocolate Tree’s 55% Milk bar is produced from Ecuadorian Arriba Heirloom cacao bean, combined with milk and cane sugar. Many typical chocolate brands use about 30 to 35% of cacao for their milk bars, but Artisans like The Chocolate Tree raise the numbers to 55%, meaning it will definitely show pure cacao aromas. Something to look forward to.

The wrapper of this bar is featuring a nice pale blue and the typical flower designs. Inside the pretty bar awaits you to experience its aromas.

Bean: Arriba

Origin: Ecuador

Production: The Chocolate Tree – Edinburgh, Scotland

Price: Unknown – 45 g given as a sample

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Color: a nice lighter brown, yet darker than expected from a milk chocolate. Still the difference to the Madagascar bar on the left is very obvious.

Aroma: A great cacao smell, hay and light wood combines with a creamy diary heart.

Taste: Surprisingly, it has a nice snap on breaking. The bar opens with a nice caramel flavor. Toffee comes to mind to. And a whisk of flowers, hard to tell which ones exactly. Behind a very slight coffee bitterness draws attention to the fact this is still a powerful chocolate in nature. The melt is nice, not too quick, as I’ve noticed with other milk chocolates. Especially nice to notice how the chocolate isn’t buttery or clinging to the palate. The aftertaste flows on more pronounced woody tannins combined with the last touches of dairy with a moderately length. This bar offers delicate aromas without being to sweet, even though the cacao percentage is quiet a bit lower than most fine dark chocolate. It even has a slightly bitter heart, which was rather unexpected but seems to be somewhat of a red line through The Chocolate Tree’s line of bars

 

 

The Madagascar bar is made from a Criollo and Trinitario blend, made with nothing but cacao beans and cane sugar. 72% should be a nice percentage to bring out the wonderful fruit aroma’s the Island is so renowned for.

Bean: Criollo + Trinitario

Origin: Madagascar

Production: The Chocolate Tree – Edinburgh, Scotland

Price: Unknown – 45 g given as a sample

 

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Color: a powerful dark brown, much deeper than the Ecuador bar.

Aroma: A strong bodied smell. Lots of earthy cacao tones and a typical Madagascan fruity acidity.

Taste: Slowly starting, this chocolate opens with distinct earthy cacao and coffee bitter tones. Ones these subside, the Madagascan dark fruits show through reminding me of dark berries, although they seem a bit subdued and never blossom fully. Flowing through the main taste, some subtle vanilla tones. The chocolate melts slowly, prolonging the taste experience. By the end of the melt, some tannins return and make way for the aftertaste who concentrates on wood aromas, tannins and chocolate – making a dark impression.
The bar shows two faces, starting off powerful with the strong raw cacao tones before mellowing down and leaving room for the fruit flavors to develop. But once more the bitter tones somehow take my attention away from the other tastes.