Change of domain…

Dear friends,

Thank you for visiting my blog. It has been a great adventure to start my review site and discover the world of fine chocolate. Since traffic is booming and I started giving tasting sessions, I decided to switch to my own domain.

The entire content of this blog has been moved to www.beantobar.be

I won’t post no longer here, all the new content will be published on the new domain. However the content will remain visible.

So follow me as of this date on my new domain, you are more than welcome!

Kris Kellens

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!

Origin Chocolate Event 2014 – Amsterdam Holland

On saturday 25th of October, this years edition of the Origin Chocolate Event was held at the Tropical Institute in the heart of Amsterdam.

It is The Event about chocolate close to me, gathering countless chocolate makers with a deep passion for their product and us, the audience wanting to learn more about the chocolate we love so much. The program of the day is packed with presentations and tasting sessions, combined with a market place in the central hall, where you can taste more chocolate and chocolate related products.

One can attend all the presentations he desires, but unfortunately you can only attend two tastings. My wife and I selected Marou and Amma, as we both are fond of their products and want to know more about the people behind the bars.

 

Marou + Madécasse presentation

Samuel Maruta (Marou) and Brett Beach (Madécasse) both presented their company, terroirs and specific chocolates. Off course chocolates were passed around the room, showing clearly the difference between Vietnamese and Madagascan chocolate. A nice start of the day.

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Samuel Maruta + Brett Beach (far right)

Marou tasting

Immediately after the presentation, we moved to on of the tasting rooms where Samuel Maruta took us a bit deeper into the world of Marou. Samuel sure took me by surprise by recognising me in the crowd and promptly requested me to explain how one should properly savour chocolate, as in his own words: he’s more about making and eating chocolate. Brilliant man.

We sampled the well-known spicy-fruity Ben Tré bar followed by the Treasure Island, a new one for me. The difference between the two bars is stunning. I would have to retaste it, but there was a clear and creamy liquorice tone to the bar, which was stunning.

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Next, Samuel popped a première out of his sleeve and he offered us their youngest, brand new creation, the 70% Dak Lak bar. I would like to thank Samuel for offering me a bar of this chocolate, so I can review it into detail in the near future. All I can disclose now, is that this bar is a lot milder than some of their other creations, but offers an explosion of spicy flavors! I’m truly excited!

The market place

While going from room to room, you have to pass by the central hall, where dozens of stands offer all sorts of amazing products. Impossible to name them all, they went from Claudio Corallo over Akesson’s, Republica Del Cacao, Marou, Solstice, Naive, Grenada Chocolate Company, Original Beans, Chocolate Makers to Solstice. And then I forget about a dozen more! Combine this with cacao cooking stands, cacao beer, chocolate and wine pairing and so on, you will understand this little market is an event on its own!

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Amma… well, no… Idilio and Tibor Szanto tasting

What started out as a little hick-up ( Diego Badaro not being able to make it to Amsterdam on time), was quickly changed into a spontaneous double tasting act by Niklaus Blumer from Idilio and Tibor Szanto. Both these chocolate makers offer a wide variety of high quality origin bars and happen to use some beans of the same region, offering a very exciting tasting session.

Niklaus offered us an Ocumare and Porcelana bar, both originating in Venezuela. Idilio creates such smooth and harmonious chocolate bars, packed with earthy and roasted flavors.

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Niklaus Blumer – Tibor Szanto

Tibor passed the very same Porcelana around and immediatly you discovered the difference in their ideas. Tibor Szanto uses stone grinding and shorter conche, creating a slightly coarser end product with a wonderful flavor complexity that keeps evolving. Where Idillio goes for harmony, Tibor goes for layers of taste. His Rio Caribe offered similar flavor ranges, adding a bit more fruits and finally his Carenero Superior bar took my breath away with its clear marzipan and cherry flavors.

Finally, Niklaus finally let us taste something I searched for since a long time, a very satisfying milk chocolate. Their Orinoco is made from cacao beans collected in the wild (so no plantation cacao) and offers amazing amounts of caramel and a heavenly aftertaste.

A great session indeed!

 

Dominique Persoone

Being Belgian I’m both biased about Belgian Chocolate and intrigued by people like Dominique Persoone, who are so dedicated to their product. The Belgian chef Dominique has a very popular filled chocolate factory and has even turned the heads of the Rolling Stones with his Cacao Shooter, but here he presented a view on the expeditions he undertakes to cacao producing regions. You think it is all about Criollo, Trinitatrio and Forastero when it comes to cacao? Think again. There are over one thousand different cacao related plants, all producing pods and beans. Dominique set up his own plantation, the Chocolate Line Plantation in Mexico, where he cultivates several species and now starts to experiment with them to create his own made chocolate. Yes! Finally Belgians start to see the light and at least try to make it to the bean to bar scene.

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The result is still experimental, but it is far different from what I tried so far. Still a tad to sweet perhaps, but with an exquisite texture and aroma, it makes me look forward to any real production bars. Even Clay Gordon already sees the potential. Personally my palate had been a little overwhelmed to appreciate the subtleties – so I’ll have to try again later when he sells the chocolate.

 

Birth of Chocolate – Daniel and Linda Lorenzetti

Finally we attended our last presentation, by a couple who has become resident explorers for the Tropical Institute. They already did a project on coffee and now turned towards cacao. Their aim is to give the audience and idea of where chocolate comes from, focussing on the people who cultivate, treat and sell cacao. They travel all over the world, documenting both fine and bulk cacao producers.

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However, the presentation was far to commercial for me. Instead of focussing on the story of one or two people in the project, we got a series of photo’s a bit of explanation all aimed at the audience to be aware about their product. Ending predictable by showing the sponsors. A missed chance in my view on a day like this.

 

Time flies by when you are having fun, so before we knew it, our hotel and dinner reservations for that night called and we had to leave the event.

If you like fine chocolate and if you ever have the chance, you owe it to yourself to visit this great event. It give you the opportunity to meet the makers and hear their stories first hand, while tasting a great collection of fine chocolates. Some would call this heaven!

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: 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!

Where to get it: Cococlectic Bean-To-Bar Club

Fine chocolate. When you surf the net, the number of bean-to-bar chocolate makers grows steadily. Yet it is still pretty difficult to get the good stuff when you crave for it. You can’t exactly get it in you supermarket behind the corner. When you are lucky, you live near one of these wonderful little companies, but if not, you’ll have to have the spirit of a hunter. It takes a while to track down stores who stock these fine chocolates.

Personally I love browsing around, hopping into shops whenever I visit cities abroad, hoping to catch a rich deposit of bean-to-bar products. But the chances are few to get the bars you actually would like. Or let a shop owner guide you to a bar you haven’t heard of before and discover something special.

The internet is your second source. There are some specialized sites out there, where you can buy chocolate bars, but somehow knowing what you’ll get kinda takes the surprise out of the entire thing. You get what you want, but it feels a little clinical. It expects you to know a thing about the bars, so you make the decisions.

 

Option three is also an internet source, but a different one. A subscription to a bean-to-bar club.  Now here is a great idea. You get the element of surprise and it is delivered right at your doorstep! You let the world come to you.

Cococlectic.com is such a club. When you visit the site, you’ll notice the owner sure knows how things are done. You get a wonderful selection of subscriptions, perfectly matched to your rate of chocolate consumption. From a single delivery Gift Box over to subscriptions that are renewed monthly, very 3 months or every 6 months – with prices ranging from $34 to $189 – Off course, how longer you subscribe, the better the deal is.

Now what do you get? 4 bars selected from the vivid American Bean-To-Bar scene, carefully selected by Doreen Leong.

Doreen usually only ships within the USA, but for my blog she made an exception, just so I could experience how she goes along – she sent me the March edition of her subscription.

Let’s take a look!

Packaging:

Inside the very generic Postal Services cardboard box, you’ll find this:

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A gorgeous rectangular box, wrapped in nice cardboard paper, neatly held together and closed with an actual wax seal. First thing that went through my mind was how special this little box seems. Much like a valuable present, not just like a generic mail order.

Inside the wrapper, a sturdy cardboard box, proudly stamped with the Cococletic.com logo.

Once you open up the box, the amazement keeps going!

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The inside:

Inside, the box is lined with a thick padding, protecting the bars inside. the will certainly guard the bars from being smashed around during transport. Once more this adds to the feel of luxury.
In the box you’ll find, a reduction coupon (nice gesture), an extensive text about the chocolate producer selected this month, including back-ground and descriptions of the origins and tasting notes of the bars included. And then off course the 4 bars from the month’s selection.

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The selection:

March was the month of French Broad Chocolates, including their 66% Palo Blanco community Peru – 68% Nicaragua – 70% Tumpes Peru – 81% Palo Blanco Peru bars. A great selection over the high percentage cacao bars of French Broad Chocolate.

I have no experiences with French Broad so far, thus this make perfect sense to me as a selection.

I’m really looking forward to try these bars, having great expectations about them. In the weeks to come they’ll be featured in separate reviews.

So in brief, what do i think about these subscriptions? They are the perfect way to get introduced to the wonderful word of bean-to-bar chocolate, especially if you want to be guided and surprised by the choices of people who know their chocolate. Cococlectic.com has a great way of making this experience special, from packaging to the added extra information about the products and the actual selection itself. The fact that you don’t have to subscribe for a long time and you can cancel at any time if you wish (which I doubt you’ll do when you are a chocolate lover), make this a very appealing offer. The price is very fair compared to the quality bars you get and the services delivered. In my book, this means highly recommended!

The only thing I would remark, is the fact that Cococlectic.com only ships within the States, which leaves chocolate lovers from Europe like me out of the picture, while the US artisan scene is actually one of the most exciting around.

Review: Fruition Chocolate – Signature Dark Chocolate 66% (*****)

The chocolate circle. I’ve written about it before. Somehow the origin/artisan chocolate world is filled with people who are so thrilled by the wonderful products they make or discover, they want to share this knowledge with as many people who will appreciate it!

A while ago, I was contacted by Adrienne from the United States. She was intrigued by the Amma Cupuaçu bar, which she couldn’t find locally. So she proposed to swap some bars. You know, you toss me the Amma bars and I’ll throw some other bars back at you. And if we throw hard enough, we’ll reach the other side of the Atlantic ocean. I’m glad we both turned out good throwers!

In my package, I found two Fruition and one Rogue Chocolate bars.

Today I dig into the first of the Fruition bars. Let’s start with the lowest cacao content, to get a smooth first impression!

Fruition is a small batch, bean-to-bar chocolate maker from New York. The Catskill Mountains to be precise. I’ve heard a lot about them and saw their products pass by on Twitter and Facebook, but they are really hard to get over here in Europe. So I was thrilled to set my teeth in this bar.

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The package is simply gorgeous. Stylish, yet playful and reminds me of an envelope sleeve. The first thing I noticed is how Fruition doesn’t throw the origin all over the package. It just states Signature 66% Dark Chocolate. Almost as if they already want to draw your attention to the bar itself, rather than name-dropping terroirs or bean varieties.

Flip over the package and there you’ll find all the info you desire.

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So Bryan Graham is the person behind this receipt, it is made from Peruvian cacao beans and contains nothing but cacao, cane sugar, cacao butter and vanilla beans. The cacao is stone ground and slow roasted.

The bar itself is hidden in a clear cellophane blister, but to my happy surprise, it is one of those blister you can actually open in a way you can rewrap your bar for storage after tasting. Excellent!

Unfortunately, my bar seems to have been shaken up a bit during the cross Atlantic throw-about, as it had broken into several pieces. But you can tell the design follows pretty much the sleeve. The same markings show up, combined with nice “F” letters stating it is Fruition. The chocolate shines like there is no tomorrow. Perfect thickness and a gorgeous surface.

Bean: Not mentionned

Origin: Peru

Production: Fruition Chocolate – Shokan, New York, USA

Price: about $10 – 60 g

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Color: A pretty dark brown, considering the lower cacao content.

Aroma: Dark Cacao tones, wood and roasted coffee. Smells more powerful than expected.

Taste: An obvious sweet start giving room for clear vanilla aromas, supported by loads of luscious yellow fruits. They remind me of ripe papaya, apricot and raisin. Slowly some roasted coffee tones come through, giving body to the chocolate. Never overwhelming, but just enough to make it mature. The texture is extremely smooth and the melt is very seductive and long. The aftertaste has a nice length and looses the fruit tones, but leaves you with such an amazing chocolate taste including touches of wood and espresso.

Even though the cacao percentage is lower than I normally experience, this chocolate never becomes to sweet. It is simply delicious. Full bodied, amazing flavors and a gorgeous melt. And what struck me most? I barely could put it aside. I could easily have eaten the whole chocolate bar in one sitting. Not because it is the most complex chocolate ever or throws the most amount of flavors around, but just because it is so darn good!

Highly appreciated and recommended! I can’t wait to try the other bar I have laying in the cupboard! Mr. Bryan Graham unmistakably knows his trade!