Tag Archives: single origin chocolate

Szántó Tibor Chocolate

As you already know, each chocolatier creates different tastes and textures, even if they use the same beans and equipment. So, you can have a company that produces stone ground bean to bar chocolate that has a very coarse grainy texture, or a more refined texture. You can even have one company that creates varying textures using the same machinery, like Szántó Tibor.

These bars are packaged in a fetchingly designed cardboard box adorned with dark brown images that relate to chocolate consumption, chocolate love, and chocolate manufacture. Much to my delight, they have inner resealable cellophane wrappers.

All of the chocolates I tried are 70%, and tempered to an audible snap. A free-form design of a cocoa tree looks as if it has been engraved on each. The thinness of all the bars allows them to melt more quickly providing a turbo-charged cacao delivery system.

Here’s the run-down:

Cacao Roja from Honduras has an earthy profile and a slight acidic edge.

Hispaniola from San Cristobal, Santo Domingo, is another bar with hints of smoke and a touch of leather, though there is also a pronounced fruitiness. The texture is smoother than the Cacao Roja.

Trinitario from S. Elizabeth, Jamaica is complex with oak, smoke, and spicy flavors. Again, the texture is smoother than the Roja. The Roja is not crunchy, but there are still tiny grains of gently crunchy nibs, like little textural exclamation points.

San Cristobal from Santo Domingo is a much more grainy bar, for those of you who like to echt quality of stone ground chocolate, and it speaks in my taste buds in hushed tones of soil, forest, and citrus, with a nice short finish.

Raw Arriba from Ecuador, tastes very pure and simple, with an atypical cocoa freshness. Quite different from the floral Arribas I have reviewed in the past; probably, because of the earthier texture.

Inti from Ayacucho, Peru, has a smooth, slightly creamier texture and hints of raisin and tobacco.

Cacao Blanco from Nicaragua has a whiffs of coffee and tobacco in a more conched, hence silkier, texture.

Malagasy Criollo from Millot, Madagascar (from the 2012 spring harvest), reveals apricot and lychee, giving it a bit of a dry finish.

My favorite was the Criollo from Venezuela, an Academy of Chocolate Bronze winner for 2013. I am partial to Criollos, and this bar is superb. The texture is velvety, the flavor both elegant and full of nuance. A little peach, a bit of grape, a melange of fruit notes without the citrus that leave my palate feeling fully sated from its deep chocolate presence and soft, but lingering finish.

For all you chocophiles who want to know more, there is a plethora of information on their website: http://www.szantotibor.com/

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Solstice Chocolate

Scott Query’s Solstice Chocolate in Salt Lake City, Utah, is one of the newest kids on the bean to bar block. His five all organic bars make a handsome present in their brown paper envelopes with wonderful wire closures enabling you to keep your chocolate neat and fresh. Each 2.5 ounce bar is divided into 8 squares and has an attractive stylized sun stamped in the middle. They are beautifully tempered to a shiny, crisp, audible snap. The 70% bars hail from four different provenances: Sambirano from Madagascar, San Martin from Peru, Amazonas from Venezuela, Palos Blancos from Bolivia, and a blend called Wasatch.

There are three levels of color to this chocolate flight. The lightest are from Peru and Madagascar. The darkest is from Bolivia, and the two medium ones are from Venezuela and Wasatch.

The Bolivian bar is just fabulous: thickly textured, full of dark fruit flavors, with a nice slightly dry medium finish.

The Venezuelan bar has a touch of leather, that same slightly dry finish, and a hint of citrus.

Wasatch had a more complex texture, almost chewy, that was wonderfully different, though still very refined. It, too had a slightly dry finish.

The Peruvian was a bit creamier, with a heady combination of flavors from lychee to banana, and an elegant, lingering finish.

Madagascar was velvety, a bit less complex, but very appealing in its gentler flavor profile and more subtle finish.

All five bars are incredibly satisfying. One square is a complete chocolate experience unto itself, and the slightly dry finish most of them sport is like a big period at the end of your chocolate sentence.

Vietcacao

Did you know that Vietnam was producing cacao until the Vietnam war intruded? I didn’t. Currently, according to the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, the cacao industry has been expanding at breakneck speed, with trees mainly grown in three areas: Cuu Long (Mekong) Delta, the south-eastern region, and the Central Highlands.

For the past five years André Stengel, Vietcacao’s founder, has been growing beans in the Mekong Delta and sending them to France to be used by chocolatiers and chefs. Stengel’s work history, as head of a high school and VP of the French Confectioners & Chocolatiers Association, has clearly equipped him with the necessary diplomatic, management, and culinary skills for the job.

Vietcacao is fully invested in an ethical and sustainable development program. They have also been training pupils from the Bến Tre School for the Handicapped to learn the various aspects of the cacao industry.

I was lucky enough to sample four bars, and a cache of burgundy-mahogany colored pods which I immediately ground up into a supremely aromatic coarse powder to use on various savory dishes like: deviled eggs, chili, pilafs, Molé, vinaigrettes, quick sautés of vegetables and chicken with smoked paprika, garlic, dijon mustard and olive oil. I also sprinkled this magic powder on an open-faced sandwich of almond butter, home-made nectarine chutney, and thinly sliced avocado. In sweets, I sprinkled it over ice cream with a splash of Kahlúa, added it to tempered chocolate for textural interest, mixed it into cookies, and dusted it over fruit salad. The possibilities are endless.

All four bars I tried are quite different and worthy of attention.

70% Mint has an assertive but not overwhelming herbal presence, exactly the balance I seek in this combination. Frankly, I could eat the whole 100 gram bar as it lulled me into a minty stupor. No exaggeration, as mint is known for both its rejuvenating and relaxing qualities.

Their 70% bar with tiny bits of ground, roasted nibs is very different from most of the nib studded chocolates I have tried. Here, the crunch and intensity of actual cacao is more of a footnote than an in-your-face experience.

The 40% milk is a very comforting bar whose dairy notes are a bit more acidic than milk chocolate produced in the US or UK. It is that delicate edge that takes it above your normal milk chocolate. A great choice for those looking for a higher cacao content milk.

70% dark, the base for their mint and nib bars, is rapturous by itself. I could never call this a plain bar, though it is unadulterated, since there are so many flavors and textures: plum, raisin, hints of soil, light citrus notes, woodsy undertones, a lovely floral scent, and a lingering clean, fresh, slightly dry long finish, all in a perfectly creamy texture. Not only is this well-tempered bar great as-is, it would also be wonderful for tempering and chocolate desserts. Right now, I am thinking of mixing shards of it with some Greek halvah (just sesame seeds and honey, from Amazon.com) into dark chocolate organic ice cream.

If you are hankering for more news from Vietcacao, take a look at their beautiful and informative blog. Just google: “Vietcacao blog” and have google translate it for you.

Askinosie: Happy Hemp CollaBARation bar

For the sixth bar in Askinosie’s CollaBARation series they partnered with Tara Miko, founder of Happy Hemp. After searching for a “super food” to complement their fruity Tanzanian chocolate, they found the perfect match in Happy Hemp’s toasted hemp seeds. Hemp is known for its nutritional powerhouse of vitamins, minerals, all 20 amino acids, polyunsaturated fatty acids, and protein. It also boasts the perfect 3:1 ratio of Omega-6 Linoleic Acid and Omega-3 Linoleic Acid bolstering cardio-vascular health and strengthening the immune system.

With all those benefits, you might begin to wonder how this bar tastes. Fear not, like other Askinosie chocolates it’s delicious. One look at its beautifully tempered, shiny, alphabet embossed surface and hemp encrusted underside whets my appetite. Those crunchy, toasted seeds popping on my tongue go fantastically with the just-sweet-enough, creamy dark chocolate. Shawn is right when he says the “nutty flavor of toasted hemp seeds meets the sweet berry notes of our velvety Tanzania dark chocolate–we think it’s the perfect munchie!”

If, like me, you love gustatory surprises and go for the crunch in life, this bar will delight you. If you think of chocolate as a food group rather than a dessert, it would make a perfect companion for work, car trips, hikes, and afternoon dips in blood sugar with their typical feelings of fatigue and poor concentration. At the same time, it tastes like a treat and has only 11 grams of sugar in half a bar (42.5 grams).

I love the collaborative approach Shawn has taken with this series of partnerships. It’s friendly, mutually beneficial, and creative. As someone who has been involved with food co-ops for almost 40 years, that mind-set of working together to produce something unique and delicious speaks to my inner hippie. What thrills me is how so many of those 1960s ideals have been making their way into current business models by focusing on fairness (they pay their cacao farmers higher than fair trade prices), sustainability, and community. Kudos to Shawn and everyone else who is working to create a better paradigm for us all.

Marou Faiseurs de Chocolat

Marou Faiseurs de Chocolate, a Vietnamese artisanal chocolate company founded by two Frenchmen, creates exquisite bars in the 70-78% range. What makes them so marvelous? Everything. Their single-origin beans are grown and sourced locally by farmers who are paid a fair wage, with no middlemen. Even the cane sugar is from small Vietnamese farms.

There is a wonderful piece on their website detailing their philosophy on organic and fair trade that I heartily agree with. (Here’s the link: http://www.marouchocolate.com/?page_id=46 )

Let’s start with the packaging. The background color of each wrapper is inspired by the color of the cocoa pod the chocolate comes from. A silk-screened gold overlay, reminiscent of fin de siècle design, is just beautiful. No matter how great the chocolate, I find my anticipation is heightened with captivating packaging.

Upon opening the outer paper you find a gold foil inner liner sealed with an attractive “M” logo. Just one more example of their attention to detail I find noteworthy as it’s a harbinger of the Marou chocolate gestalt. In every aspect of manufacture, from sourcing the beans to final presentation, Samuel and Vincent share their vision for what a wonderful chocolate experience can be.

The glossy dark bars are scored into irregular funky shapes with that “M” set off in a square in the middle. The bar itself snaps to attention when broken as its perfect temper gives off a heady chocolate scent. All five varieties in their current range possess a deeply satisfying texture that has a chewiness I always find quite fetching.

The 100 gram bars range in cacao content by 2% increments from 70-78%.

Tien Giang starts this flight at 70%. Immensely complex, yet with gentle undertones, this bar, made with Trinitario beans, has a slightly spicy character and a bit of a dry finish.

Dong Nai, 72%, seemed creamier, had a subtler profile, and just a smidgeon of dryness to its finish.

Lam Dong, 74%, a rare chocolate made in mico-batches, was a little less complex with more memory of soil.

Ba Ria, 76%, is also made with Trinitario beans and tasted woodsy.

Ben Tre, 78%, seemed to incorporate many of the qualities of the previous four bars at once, though it was a bit more fruity, and had an earthier presence.

All five bars tasted different from other single-origin offerings I have sampled, and would make an exciting addition to a chocolate tasting.

Though the company is based in Ho Chi Minh City you can buy Marou from Dark Chocolate Imports: http://darkchocolateimports.com.

Michel Cluizel 66% Mokaya

If you love single origin high end chocolate, you are already familiar with Michel Cluizel. His new estate bar, Mokaya, is made with Mexican beans from the Chiapas region and differs from others in his range in that it has an earthier presence. Earthy is a relative term that can span something tasting of soil to chocolate with a soupçon of terroir. Since this is a Cluizel bar, you can rest assured the earthiness is subtle, adding an extra layer of interest and complexity.

If you read about cacao plantations and chocolatiers it quickly becomes apparent how a good relationship between them helps procure the best beans. Luckily for consumers, the Cluizel family cares about all aspects of their business, not just the finished product. This means they are able to get the best cacao from the best part of the plantation.

Mokaya offers an elegant balance of coffee and licorice notes beautifully enhanced with a perfect amount of sweetness. Its smooth, creamy texture carries everything off to a lingering, slightly dry finish.

If you are hosting a chocolate tasting, all of Cluizel’s Premier Cru Single Origin bars would make for a lively discussion and a delicious chocolate trip around the equator.

Cocoa Loco Organic, Fair Trade, Single Origin chocolates

Just as some dishes become classics, along with tried and true presentations (think of Coquilles St. Jacques served in half a large scallop shell), some chocolate shapes have stood the test of time. Take the 100 gram bar, for example. It is ubiquitous worldwide because it allows for portion control, fairly neat division of pieces, and great portability. As fond as I am of that design, especially when it is scored into many small rectangles, something alchemical happens when that same chocolate is formed into discs. Whether paper thin flat spheres, or thicker, smaller rounds, each shape changes the chocolate’s melting time, thereby altering your experience.

I was recently reminded of this as I tucked into Cocoa Loco’s organic dark chocolate buttons made with luscious 73% fairly traded beans from the Dominican Republic. Each one inch disc delivers an immensely satisfying earthy, yet sophisticated experience. Rich, dense, slow to melt, with a creamy lingering finish, these are simply divine. The user-friendly shape makes them easy to share, eat at a movie, stash in your briefcase, or savor piece by delicious piece as you meander through a great book.

Christmas Pudding Truffles come in a clear, long rectangular box that shows off their lovely design: dark chocolate orbs capped with white chocolate and a piece of dried cranberry. Inside you will find a yuletide blend of citrus, nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger, and cloves. Each is double dipped in the aforementioned 73% single origin chocolate.

I also sampled two of their 100 gram bars. One, a 37% milk, is topped with honeyed sesame seed crunch. The combination of flavors and textures (chewy, crunchy, creamy) is memorable. Their 73% Sunflower Seeds and Sea Salt bar is a mini-revelation of intense sunflower flavor enhanced with sea salt and vanilla. The lovely crunch against snapppily tempered Dominican chocolate is positively addictive.

As always, I am delighted when bars are wrapped in resealable sleeves. It may seem like a small thing, but it keeps the chocolate fresh and neat. On the subject of packaging, I was smitten with the pure design and retro color palette of their logo.

A last little treat was a whimsical offering of a milk chocolate mustache on a stick. What a perfect gift for little boys eager to grow up, as well as new fathers seeking an amusing non-cigar post-baby celebratory token.

There are a plethora of other treats on their website; and, if you are lucky enough to live in the U.K., you can enjoy their bakery offerings.