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!

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Review: Pacari Raw 85% (***1/2)

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

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

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

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

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

Let us move on to the taste!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review: Green&Black’s – Dark 85% (**)

A while ago, TV-chef Jamie Oliver made a chocolate ganache, as part of a 30 minute meal. He warned the audience not to use the standard bulk chocolate, but a nice one instead. He used a bar with distinct imprint but I couldn’t figure out which brand is was. But it got me intrigued.

A week later I went into  Bio shop Origino’s in Ghent and bought a nice looking 85% bar.

Let’s find out just how good it is…

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The package looked appealing, the gold wrapper added to the impression. Once opened, the bar revealed the same marks as the one Jamie used. Yeah! Lucky strike!

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Bean: Trinitario
Origin: Not mentionned
Production: Green & Black’s, United Kingdom
Price paid: € 2,40/100 g
Bought at: Origino’s – bio shop

Colour: dark brown, like roasted coffee beans.

Aroma: A little smokey, with cacao earthyness and a touch of vanilla. Sadly, as I’ve noted on some other bars, there is a slight rubber smell to it.

Taste: The melt is very butterlike from the first moment on. It takes a little while before the earthyness of the cacao comes through, combined with a very gentle acidity. The creamy texture of the chocolate seems to mellow down the taste changes, so you need to take some time before they come through. The taste itself is balancing between a rather empty, dry moments and more bitter-sweet accents. Only near the end of the melt, a slight bitterness comes through.
The aftertaste keeps concentrating on cacao and bitterness and is short. In my opinion, it’s a fairly straightforward chocolate, a bit boring. It lacks some refinement. After all, some of cacao’s interesting tastes come through ever so lightly, but don’t stay around long enough to be fully appreciated. The overuse of cacao butter probably aimed for a smooth and velvety melt, but it’s to fat like for me. Not a real winner in my book.

Nice try Jamie, but I think you’ll need to check the really nice chocolates out there and dazzle your audience even more!

Review: Lindt 85%

In this time of the year, we Belgians get smothered in Easter chocolate. Yet even the dark variety is just sweet as hell. When you turn back to the “real” chocolate as I discovered it lately, it’s just like a breath of fresh air in a damped room. Makes me really appreciate the true tastes of this wonderful product!

I was really curious about this particular chocolate. There’s a lot of buzz about this Lindt version out there on the web, though I noticed there is a difference between the US version and the European made one. The European reviews tend to be less in favour of this dark brown-red chocolate. Only one way to find out!

Lindt 85% – Noir Puissant (***)

Bean: Not mentioned
Origin: Not mentioned
Production: Lindt & Sprüngli SAS – Orolon-Sainte-Marie – France
Price paid: € 2,18/100 g

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Aroma:  very chocolaty, creamy, surprisingly sweet for the high percentage cacao and some vanilla touches linger on.

Taste: Hard to snap, it immediately releases lots of cacao on the palate, followed by a rising build-up of bitterness. This chocolate melts slowly and reveals a subtle acidity on the tip of the tongue, followed by more bitterness and a slight salty touch, combined with hints of sweetness and cacao. Rather strong as expected in a high percentage chocolate, yet the different tastes are a bit hard to grasp, they seem to pop up but are difficult to hold on too. The sensation of burned coffee beans come through at several points. The chocolate dissolves in a sweet end tone before a rush of bitterness announces the aftertaste. Then it becomes soft again and creamy chocolate remains. Almost like enjoying a strong espresso coffee. This one seems a bit eccentric, never really choosing a way to go with lots of bitter/sweet changes, but strangely it begs to be enjoyed again. Not what I expected, but still very interesting indeed!

Review: Galler – Noir 85% Profond

Galler – Noir 85% (**)

Bean: not noted
Origin: not noted
Production: Galler SA – Belgium
Price paid: € 1,69/100g

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Many popular Belgian Chocolatiers seem to expand their product lines with high cacao percentage products and give them the look and feel of high quality products, meant for the serious chocolate lover. But do they convince compared to the single origin chocolates out there?

Aroma: classic Belgian chocolate smell – cacao, sweet, vanilla

Taste: pronounced bitterness and cacao… earthy and dry start in the mouth, slowly the bitterness builds, followed by an unexpected sweetness as noted in the aroma.
Melts slowly.
The taste doesn’t evolve much, it’s pretty straightforward. There is cacao and bitterness, not fruity tones or acidity.
The aftertaste follows in the exact same way, a standard chocolate taste and the remaining hints of bitterness, it doesn’t last very long.
All in all a very plain tasting chocolate.