Chocolatier and Co-Owner of Chocotenango Aberrahmane ‘Ismael’ Neggaz a native of Algeria, has been a professional chef since 1994. He started his career as a pastry chef in England, and went on to work in some of the finest restaurants and hotels in London, Boston and Washington, DC.
With a Pastry Arts degree from Newbury College, a Professional Chef’s Diploma from the Cambridge School of Culinary Arts and having studied sugar work under Chef Ewald Notter, and chocolate-making at L’Ecole Chocolate and Barry Callebaut’s Chocolate Academy, Ismael’s versatility and experience is well suited to chocolate making.
Chocotenango was born in Antigua, Guatemala in 2005 and means “The Place of Chocolate.” This focus on terroir, micro climate, farming techniques and processing bring out the unique character of each bean.
As you might imagine, Chocotenango’s bean to bar wares have garnered a multitude of awards.
The crisply tempered bars arrive in attractive re-closable thick paper envelopes with an inner foil wrapping. I love being able to eat chocolate neatly. The fewer shards that get on my clothes the happier I am.
All the bars I tasted were beautifully tempered and gave off a fetching chocolate aroma.
90% from Guatemalan Chivite beans is as extreme as I generally want to go. This bar showcased the bean’s inherent fruitiness, a great choice for a 90% bar as it makes it gentle, rather than bitter. I would definitely include this in a chocolate tasting as many people won’t venture into the high altitudes of cacao—usually anything over 75%—on their own, and it’s interesting to experience a purer version of the bean.
85% made with organic Alto Beni beans from a cooperative in Bolivia is as intense as you might expect of a bar in the stratosphere of percentages. Made with only cacao and organic sugar, its smooth texture, lack of acidity and bitterness make this a a good choice for people exploring markedly less sweet chocolate.
73% Duarte from the Dominican Republic has all the earthiness I expect from this bean balanced by the elegance of dark fruits. The slight edginess, dryish finish, and creaminess all conspire to make this very satisfying.
70% made with beans from the Maya Mountain Cacao collective in Belize, consisting of 350 small farm cacao families in the Toledo district, is also a pure rendition of beans and organic cane sugar. I found myself re-tasting this bar as it offered up a nuanced series of surprises: cherry, apricot and pineapple.
70% with beans from Chivite, Guatemala has a cinnamon spiciness that woke me up from the first bite. This pristine bar, like its cousins, made with only beans and organic cane sugar, has a velvety texture highlighted with fig and plum flavors, with a brightness that reminds me of chili, though none is added.
73% organic Dark with Cardamom is also a purist’s dream with only three ingredients: beans, organic sugar and cardamom. I have to confess that I add five whole cardamom pods to my Lundberg Farms Short Grain brown rice before cooking. It imparts a delicate sweetness with its blend of citrus, mint, spice and herbal flavors.
When paired with Duarte beans from the Dominican Republic, it highlights the acidity while adding a spiciness reminiscent of mild chili.
73% Maya is a dark bar with chili. While I can really adore intensely spicy chocolate, I appreciate a little restraint when it comes to chilies as I want to taste both the heat, as well as the bean. It takes a deft hand to put in only enough spice to augment the cacao without having it steal the show. Nicely done.
54% Happy Medium is a good bar for people who want to move into a higher cacao range, but still crave a gentle milk chocolate.
54% with raspberries, even though it’s made with the same base as the plain version, was entirely different. The tart freeze dried raspberries give it greater acidity and fruitiness. Quite craveable.
64% dark with cocoa nibs on its base is a perfect combination of a not-too-strong chocolate heightened by the addition of crunchy little nibs. I am a huge fan of this trend to use nibs on bars as it amps up the cacao content in an unthreatening way…at least, for those folks who are not yet living in the 70% and above range.
64% Sea Breeze, a dark bar with sea salt, takes the chocolate up a few gustatory notches with the edginess of salt. This is no revelation for those of you who already scarf down dark and dark milk chocolate with sea salt; but, if you aren’t yet among them, it’s a marvelously exciting pairing.
54% Kaffee, a delightful mocha bar made with dark milk chocolate, has a lingering just brewed flavor that isn’t overpowered by coffee.
54% Zanzibar with nutmeg, sea salt and chili has the spice and heat apportioned very judiciously. This is not an intensely hot bar; rather, it offers up a melding of flavors that in these balanced proportions enhances the chocolate without claiming all your attention.
Last but not least, I have to tell you about their Bonbons. That’s what they call them, though to me they were like soft center truffles. Either way, they were just scrumptious. In a class by themselves. The flavors sang. I loved the vibrant, essential nature of each one. These little trips to gustatory nirvana are encased in a perfectly tempered thin dark chocolate shell. Their current flavor offerings are: coffee caramel, lemon popyseed, chili caramel, tropical passion fruit & mango, raspberry caramel, and rosemary & fig.