As a chocolate sleuth whose mission is alerting you to what’s new and noteworthy, I peruse many different websites. Some are utilitarian, some glitzy, and some just plain fun. Caoni’s site falls into the latter category. Their dancing chocolate bars, indigenous music, and a mysterious looking black background all conspire to make Caoni chocolate appealing and exotic. But their site isn’t just light hearted, it also offers information on chocolate’s health benefits, some of which were even new to me, like the compound “epicatequina,” a substance similar to aspirin that helps prevent blood clots. Also, I had not read about the effect of chocolate’s aroma increasing theta brain waves, leaving you calmer and more relaxed. All good news.
On the West coast of Ecuador there are three regions supplying Arriba beans for Caoni. Each has its own, distinctive micro-climate. Traveling North to South, we have: Esmeraldas, Manabi (both hugging the coast), and Los Rios (a bit more inland). Esmeraldas is known for its wide variety of tropical forests and high humidity; Manabi is the opposite with very dry conditions; while the Los Rios province is replete with rivers that come down from the Andes mountains. Each area produces a different flavor profile in the bean, from intense to mild and creamy.
Caoni offers a wide variety of milk and dark chocolates. Here’s a capsule review of each:
Milk chocolate with toasted macadamias is a very milky, mild bar with smallish, but still assertive, pieces of nut. If you like a traditional milk base enhanced with the buttery crunch of macadamias, this is for you.
The plain milk bar is the same chocolate, but simplified. The people at Caoni don’t add vanilla to either their milk or dark varieties, which is good to know if you’re a purist and want that lovely floral taste of the Arriba beans to shine through unadulterated.
Milk chocolate with passion fruit is an interesting combination in that the slightly acidic fruit complements the sweetness of the chocolate, adding more complexity.
Surprisingly, milk with coffee was my favorite of the four light bars. Once again, the acidity of the coffee played against the milky chocolate creating a latte like flavor that was very appealing, if not a bit addictive.
The following dark bars are sourced from each of the three regions I described earlier, and available in a 55% or a 77%. I opted for grouping them by region, rather than by percentage of cacao solids.
Esmeraldas 77% is an interesting chocolate as it delivers both a tempered snap as well as a slightly chewy texture. Here, the Arriba beans take on the flavors of dark fruits, a hint of tobacco, and a medium long finish. The 55% Esmeraldas is much fruiter, milder, and has a shorter finish.
Manabi 77% is a delicious sublimely balanced bar. In Caoni’s publicity materials they rightly claim “These beans are naturally sweet, to the point that you will hardly believe it is a 77% cocoa chocolate.” There are 12 grams of sugar per 50 grams of chocolate, but that is far less than many comparable products. The 55% was much sweeter, with 23 grams of sugar per 50 grams of chocolate, and I found it a bit less enticing, though an excellent choice if you are not ready for a 77%.
Los Rios 77% is almost a combination of the other two 77% bars in that it has all the complexity of the Esmeraldas, the lusciousness of the Manabi with the addition of pronounced floral notes and a slightly spicy long finish. I enjoyed the 55% rendition of this bean as much as the 77%. Both Los Rios bars managed to add a creaminess that seemed less pronounced in bars from the other two regions.
If you are a fan of the Arriba bean Caoni’s chocolates provide a wide range from which to choose.