Preview: Marou – Dắk Lắk 70% (*****)

During the last edition of the Origin Chocolate event I had the enormous privilege of tasting the brand new bar created by Marou. It was so new they didn’t even have artwork for a new wrapper yet.

Samuel Maruta offered me a bar of this new origin as a sample for my blog. I simply can’t thank Samuel Maruta and Vincent Mourou enough for this opportunity!

Marou is a pretty special chocolate company. There are plenty of creative and adventurous chocolate makers around. Actually it is a lot of fun to follow the facebook and twitter acounts of many of them to discover the crazy situations these chocolatiers get themselves into while using old equipment or experimental techniques. But Samuel and Vincent take it just that extra step beyond. They decided to create the chocolate in the country where the cacao they use is grown. Vietnam!

So, we have two clever French guys having the best time they can have in an exotic country like Vietnam, pulling all sorts of stunts to get their hands on fine cacao and create chocolate with it. It does include riding and elephant and cruising around the countryside in a classic old school Citroen vehicle. But don’t be fooled, when it comes to the quality of chocolate they create, they are dead serious! Just like their fellow small-scale fine chocolate makers .

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Even while this wasn’t a finished product yet, Marou always brings its bars in style. A shiny gold foil protects the bar, marked by a simple looking label. A hand written one that is! Stating the origin Dắk Lắk – situated in the central highlands of Vietnam, bordering Cambodia. Vincent and Samuel went great lengths to find that one farmer that could deliver them a high quality, aromatic cacao. The origin is pretty different from the others they used so far and during the Origin Event in Amsterdam they were looking for reactions from the audience on the flavor.

The chocolate itself is stunning like every other Marou bar. They always seem to squeeze the specific flavors from a region from the cacao beans, making every bar distinctly different from the next. The aroma coming from the freshly opened chocolate is overwhelming. The chocolate shines beautifully. The traditional Marou bar design means you get a thick, hefty 100 g bar, scored diagonally. It will break the way it sees fit, not in prefect a rectangular piece – as if to state Marou doesn’t follow any of the classic rules in chocolate making. And we should be thankful for it.

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Bean: Trinitario
origin: Vietnam – Dắk Lắk Province
Maker: Marou, Faisseurs de Chocolat – Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Price: Sample bar – 100 g

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Color: A nice deep brown with red hue.

Aroma: Strong. Sweet and slightly spicy, tropical warm with a touch of tobacco in the back.

Taste: Semi quick starting with roasted bread followed by a strong brown sugar aroma. Gently turning over to liquorice with small twinkles of acidity and bitterness popping up to keep the aroma interesting and ever-changing. Did I just detect anise for a second? A deep and very satisfying chocolate flavor comes forth next. Near the end of the melt gentle wood aromas give body to the entire experience without overpowering the palate. The aftertaste follows the main aroma of the Dắk Lắk bar, slowly turning to volatile cacao, wood and faint spice aromas. The aftertaste keeps rolling and rolling in your mouth for an exceptional long time. The melt of the chocolate is great for such a thick bar, even as it is a bit dryer in appearance than French style chocolate. Unlike the other Marou chocolates I’ve tried so far, this bar doesn’t feature the nice, abundant spice tones and isn’t fruity at all, yet it delivers such an amazing warm and gratifying chocolate flavor, I would call it the ultimate comfort food on a dark, rainy day! It will be taking your mind miles and miles away to a warm and exotic Vietnam. 5 stars!

So in a nutshell, Samuel and Vincent, it would be a crime not to take this bar to the shops! That’s a bar of pure gold you gave me!

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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!

Improvised review: Bovetti Equateur – Ghana – Papouasie 73% (*)

All in all I consider myself a pretty lenient person. Especially when I talk about chocolate, I tend to look for the best in every bar a chocolate makers creates. But there are times I become so disappointed. Sadly, last monday was such a day.

While going on a 7 hour road trip to Lyon, France – my boss who traveled with me – noticed a display of French Bovetti bars in a shop. As he knows I’m into good chocolate he convinced me to buy a bar to see if it is any good. He got himself a 38% milk bar. We both looked forward to a little moment of chocolate delight, while turning back to the highway. But just after the first bite we looked at each other and asked ourselves: where is the taste?

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I have to admit the bar is looking great. The bar stands out from generic chocolate packages. It even states an origin and the chocolate itself shines beautifully, while an embossed logo on the pieces gives it a certain luxurious look.

73% can be such a wonderful percentage and while I noticed Ecuador, Ghana and Papua New Guinea I still thought it could be tasty. After all, Soma chocolate already showed me a blended bar can be a delightful aromatic experience.

But then comes the aroma and taste… or rather, the lack of it. I was godsmacked that such a pristine looking bar – sold at about € 5 – could be so… bland. There is no other word for it. I expected roasted aroma’s, maybe some fruity vibrations, smoky cacao…. but nothing. Even the deep chocolate, hard roasted flavor of dark bulk chocolate is missing. Abundant cacao butter makes for easy melting but tasteless bar. The “Pur beurre de cacao – pure cacao butter” imprint on the package could be considered a warning.

And it makes me sad. Because I wished it would have been good.

The 38% milk chocolate was even worse. The only thing I could compare it to is a “chocolate” bar know as Koetjesreep in Holland and Belgium. Basically it’s not a chocolate as it has less than 35% cacao in it and lots of other ingredients. And this high-end looking bar tasted just the same. Sad really.

Simply because I was so shocked by the actual taste, I decided to write about it. So you will forgive me the photo quality – shots taken with my smart phone in a hotel room under artificial light.

This is a prime example of an industrial bulk product repacked in a fancy wrapper to make it better than it really is and it stands as far away from real chocolate as it possibly can.

Maybe in the end I should be glad I tried it. Because now I have a renewed respect for real artisan chocolate makers, who create wonderful chocolate oozing with exciting flavors. Just the thing that makes my heart skip a beat.

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: 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!