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 .

Marou Dak Lak  Marou Dak Lak

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.

Marou Dak Lak  Marou Dak Lak

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

Marou Dak Lak
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!

Review: Willie’s Cacao – Venezuelan Gold – Las Trincheras 72% (****)

Today we go back to the real Willie Wonka of the Artisan Bean-to-Bar scene – Willie Harcourt-Cooze creates his magic with odd, vintage machines and has the wonderful madness of a truly passionate chocolate maker in his eyes. In his ongoing mission to learn the Brits – and the rest of the world while he’s at it – how proper chocolate tastes, he creates bars with cacao from so many wonderful cacao regions.

Today we have a Venezuelan cacao bar – Las Trincheras. Venezuela is home to many of the most renowned cacao terroirs and can deliver the highest quality of cacao. Willie selected Trinitario cacao from a single estate, Hacienda Las Trincheras to create this bar. Intriguing enough, I will be able to compare it to the smooth Trincheras bar made by Rószavölgyi I reviewed before.

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As always, Willie offers his bars in neat rectangular pieces, inside a wonderful little box – almost looking like a jewelery case. Inside, the same golden foil protecting the chocolate.

On the back, a little more info is given on the cacao origin and tasting notes – rich, nutty and smooth.

Bean: Trinitario
Origin: Las Trincheras – Venezuela
Production: Willies’s Cacao Ltd – Uffculme – UK
Price paid: € 3,5 – 50g

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Color: A nice deep brown with just a smidge op purple… always a good sign

Aroma: Chocolaty, brown sugar, toast and a bit of wood

Taste: the bar opens slowly with a smoked touch followed by a whiff of toasted hazelnuts. Subtle yet clear sweetness arises before a very gentle yellow fruit profile builds. Yellow raisin comes to mind. Underneath a bit more power is generated by a very moderate espresso tone. Finally, the chocolate melts with another burst of subtle fruits, a little more pungent this time. The aftertaste is very chocolaty in nature and keeps lingering around in the mouth for quiet a while. All in all, this bar offers a very smooth and satisfying chocolate without brisk flavor changes. And it is perfectly in line with the Rószavölgyi bar, which offered just a little more spices.

It is simply a great piece of chocolate! To be enjoyed to the fullest!

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: Rogue Chocolatier – Rio Caribe 70% (***1/2)

Another grey and dull sunday morning. After several days of sunny weather, my mood needs to be lifted up. What better way than to check this bar by Roque Chocolatier I received from a fellow chocolate enthusiast?

 

Rogue is a small-batch artisan chocolate maker from Three Rivers, Massachusetts – USA. If you are into the chocolate scene, you will know the American artisan chocolatier put out some amazing bars and clearly know how things need to be done. From selecting beans, cleaning, roasting, grinding, winnowing, refining, conching, molding over to packing, these guys do it all by themselves. Giving them maximum control over the final product.

These people have my up most respect as they choose to do things the hard way.

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First thing I noticed is how Rogue shines in minimalism. The package of the bar is a light blue cardboard sleeve, decorated with a stylish cacao drawing, reminding me of those old Herbarium books from the time photo’s simply didn’t exist. It states the origin, percentage and on the back some of the tasting notes to be expected.

Inside a cellophane wrapper snuggled the bar and keeps it safe. Well, moderately safe, as it didn’t end its trans-atlantic voyage in one piece. But that won’t interfere with the taste, luckily.

While I couldn’t find any info on the Rogue website about the origin and the sleeve doesn’t offer any extra info, some research learned me this would be made of Trinitario beans from a remote area in Venezuela, the Paria Peninsula and it would be the only Rio Caribe origin bar to be produced. I don’t think Rogue still has them available at this point, according to the bars mentioned on their site.

The bar itself takes the minimalistic approach even further. It is what it is. A bar. A nice rectangular bar of chocolate, perfect thickness and no logo’s ,drawing or scoring. Just a smooth dark brown surface. Due to the voyage my bar made and the breaking, my example is covered with specs and dots, but I hardly can believe this would be the case in a better preserved one.

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Bean: Trinitatrio (according internet source)

Origin: Rio Caribe – Venezuela

Production: Rogue Chocolatier – Three Rivers, Massachusetts, USA

Price: unknown – this bar was a gift, but I expect it to be around € 10 for 60 g

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Color: A very deep and dark brown, I hardly could believe this is “just” a 70% bar and not a lot higher.

Aroma: Slightly acidic with a base tone of warm spices, cacao and a touch of orange – I really like that last one.

Taste: A sweet yet slightly dry start. Puzzling, as once more it acts like a higher percentage bar. Powerful coffee and cacao tones roll in before gentle fruits arises, combined with delicate orange flower tones. Volatile but very noticeable. Vanilla gives extra warmth to the aroma. The melt is good, yet perhaps a bit buttery without being clingy. The gentle, and flavorful aroma gives way to an aftertaste dominated by soothing chocolate and a touch of nutty, spicy notes combined with a very gentle bitterness.

A very pleasing bar with a warm, dark heart that won’t offend anyone and might be a perfect place to start enjoying origin chocolate. While other bars may throw more aroma changes at you, this one stays true to the taste it sets on the palate from the start. Though it is undeniable a quality chocolate bar, I like my taste profile a little bolder.

Review: Chocolate Naive – Trinidad and Tobago 70% (***1/2)

Lithuania. No there is another country I wouldn’t have linked to chocolate some years ago.

How little did I know back then. Today I know bean-to-bar chocolate producers are popping up everywhere. In center point of this movement seems to be the USA and UK, but in nearly every country there are chocolatiers stepping up to the challenge.

Chocolate Naive is on of those inspired companies who put quality before quantity. They produce chocolate all the way from cocoa bean to finished bar from their workshop in Giedraiciai, Lithuania.

http://chocolatenaive.com/

And the origins they state on their website are enough to make your mouth water. Peru, Grenada, Madagascar, Vietnam, and so on.

Agné Laskauskaité was so kind as to offer my a very broad array of samples of their products. I’m very happy with that, as it seems a bit difficult to find their products in my homeland Belgium. I’ll spread their products over several reviews, because I think they all deserve full attention, rather than cramping them into a single text.

 

So let’s start with the two dark origin bars I found in the package. First on the line, the Trinidad and Tobago bar (being the purple one on the right)!

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These samples come in such a great package! It’s almost like little books. On the front you get their logo and the origin. On the back the cacao bean used,the percentage, the roast and the conch time! Perfect! I love it when a producer shares this information.

This bar features 70% of cacao, lightly roasted and conched for 60 hours.

Inside a perfect square of brown gold is preserved by a cellophane blister. Opening this foil reveals a great aroma! Hard not to dig in right away!

The little square looks very nice and shiny with the Naive logo embossed on it. Simple and beautiful.

Made with Trinitario beans from Trinidad and Tobago, situated just in front of the coast of Venezuela. I haven’t tried any chocolate from this origin, so I’m not sure what to expect. let us find out together!

 

Bean: Trinitario

Origin: Trinidad & Tobago

Production: Chocolate Naive – Lithuania

Price: Unknown – sample

 

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Color: Deep ebony brown.

Aroma: There is a hunch of leather and lots of spices, including just a smidge of fruit.

Taste: Sweet at the start, a bit spicy with a touch of tobacco and  even some hay for a moment, before going to a sweet bread-like aroma. The texture is a bit grainy and a bit dry. This isn’t a bad thing to me, as there is no excess cacao-butter feeling to it. Next come subtle yellow fruit tones to mind – delicate and illusive, difficult to specify the exact fruits. Even a hint of vanilla twirls around. The melt is pretty quick but leaves a really satisfying chocolate aroma in the mouth. The aftertaste stays in line with the aromas detected before, although it seems short-lived.

Rather enjoyable, though it could do with a longer melt. It is gone to soon! Fresh and Light on the palate and no trace of bitterness, it is a morning chocolate to me. Balanced and satisfying, it offers everything a good bar should provide.

 

Review: Pierre Marcolini Carré² Chocolat – Madagascar – 72% (***)

High Hopes. The new single of Bruce Springsteen went through my mind when I finally took this Carré² Chocolat of Pierre Marcolini out of the cupboard for a review. The second bean-to-bar producer in Belgium I found so far.

Monsieur Marcolini is a big name in the pralines world in Belgium and his shops are nothing more than luxurious boutiques. Eye candy as far as the eye can see.

I visited their stand at the Brussels Salon Du Chocolat a while ago and tasted some freshly roasted cacao beans, full of intense nutty flavors. So obvious I had high hopes for this bar!

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The package is simply wonderful. Minimalistic, yet luxurious. A black square box with white imprint. Inside, a gorgeous square tablet of chocolate. Once again very minimalistic and quiet recognisable. You can’t miss the Marcolini letters printed over the bar. the pieces are pretty big compared to other manufacturers bars and the thickness is impressive too. Nice.

The cacao in this bar originates in the Sambirano Valley in Madagascar. More specific, Domaine d’Ambanja. The Trinitario beans used should offer a great aromatic chocolate.

Bean: Trinitario
Origin: Madagascar
Production: Pierre Marcolini, Brussels
Price paid: € 7,00 – 80g (Stand Pierre Marcolini – Salon Du Chocolat)

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Color: A lighter shade of brown with a distinct African red mingled in.

Aroma: A clear strong scent of roasted nuts, spices, vanilla and a little fruit acidity. Breaking of a piece reveals lots of roasted cacao earthyness.

Taste: The start is a touch sweet, followed by a surprising high bitterness which subdues a bit the Madagascan fruit flavors. It is not a coffee type bitterness, rather a more tannin like taste, somewhat reminding of wood. The texture is not super smooth, even slightly grainy and dry, though the melt is long. The bitterness keeps up through the entire melt. There is some vanilla and other warm spices present in the back, but non of the tastes comes out particular strong. The typical red fruit profile of Madagascar is present, yet doesn’t seem to blossom to the full power compared to other Madagascan bars. It is a rather discrete bar in my opinion. The aftertaste reveals more cacao and chocolate and prolonged tannin.

Somehow this bar confuses me a bit. It doesn’t offer the complexity as found in other bars. But it does show the typical tastes of Madagascar and it is a Belgian chocolate bar that actually has taste! The tanninlike bitterness pushes me out of balance though.  I’m not very fond of the effect it has on the other flavors. Somehow it reminds me of a dark roasted cacao. I wonder how the taste would be affected when the bitterness was reduced.

Review: The Grenada Chocolate Company – 82% Cacao (*** 1/2)

The Grendada Chocolate Company. If there is any chocolate maker out there that takes fair trade and environmental sustainability serious, it is The Grenada Chocolate Company. Few producers actual own cacao farms, yet alone create cooperatives to produce the beans and the chocolate, to produce a quality product and raise the standard of life of the local people to new heights. They do. Few try to minimise their ecological footprint by using solar power to produce their chocolate and occasionally transport their products to Europe by sailboat. Just to show it is possible! Mott Green, the late founder of the company was a man with a vision. Unfortunate a tragic accident earlier this year ended his life to soon. Let’s hope his legacy will live on.

Anyhow, so, the chocolate. What are we getting here. Their 82% cacao bar. Organic and fair trade. Strange they feel the need to add some vanilla to their chocolate, but it’s also organic and natural.

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The package has a simple, but colourful design, clearly stating what it is all about. Gently pushing the bar out of the sleeve reveals an orange glossy wrapper hiding a big bar. The design is nice, an embossed center piece, surrounded by several scored blocks. This bar is thick, thicker than many others out there.

But the most important thing is it’s taste, right?

Bean: Trinitario
Origin: Grenada
Production: Grenada chocolate company
Price paid: € 4,50/85 g (Hilde Devolder Chocolatier)

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Colour: Dark ebony, with an almost purple hue.

Aroma: Unmistakenly high in cacao due to the pure cacao aroma emerging. The aroma is green in nature, with vegetal notes and raw cacao intensity. No sweetness comes through.

Taste: A very hard snap on breaking a piece off, it opens quiet slowly without too much of  high cacao dryness, it just pops up. It starts up even slightly sweet and spicy before a gentle espresso-like bitterness reminds you it is in fact high in percentage cacao chocolate. Suddenly the bar takes a step back and introduces the first sweetness again, combined with hints of dry fruits like raisin and plum, while a wine tanine touch keeps mingling in as the chocolate melts. The dry start turns over to a smooth melt, creating a velvety sensation in the mouth, without becoming to clingy. Lots of chocolate aroma on the offer. Biting on the piece will release another wave of fresh green and fruitful aromas and adds a little dryness. Once the piece has molten, a very chocolaty aftertaste appears. All the fruity flavors have gone and the high cacao percentage becomes clear again as chocolate and coffee bitterness roll around in its exeptional length.

While this chocolate is generally very pleasing, it still strengthens my feeling that producing a chocolate over 80% is serious business if one wants to keep the vibrant notes of the high quality cacao alive. Grenada certainly succeeds in creating a very balanced bar, showing both sides of the medal. The intensity of high percentage cacao, with just enough sweetness to open the flavor notes, before swapping over to a more powerful aftertaste. And these swift character changes produce a somewhat nervous taste experience, like I’ve noted before in 80+ percentages.

Makes me wonder how the 70% version tastes. So a well deserved 3 stars and a half in my book!