This month we bring you a collection that brings together some of the finest bars from European and American makers.
Anyone who follows craft chocolate closely will know that the US chocolate revolution has charged forward rapidly in the last few years, leaving us Europe (and the rest of the world) running to keep up. To put this in perspective: the last few years the UK chocolate movement has grown from less than 5 to close to 20 ‘bean to bar’ makers. In the States, they have gone from about 20 craft chocolate makers to a couple of years ago to several hundred today. In this month’s box we bring you bars from US makers at both ends of the revolution: the already well-established (and respected) Ritual, and exciting new-comer Undone.
Our first bar this month is a very special creation from Utah-based Ritual. When Anna and Robbie first tasted these Maranon beans they knew they had to make a bar from them. Grown in the Maranon river valley in Peru, these beans are an exceptionally pure strain of the Pure Nacional cacao. Only recently rediscovered, there is an ever-growing waiting list of craft makers wishing to use the beans. It took Ritual three years to convince the Pearson family (who own the beans) to sell them some of this rare heirloom cacao. (And it took us almost as long to convince Anna and Robbie to start selling internationally!)
The bar is pale in colour, thanks to the high percentage of white beans. The delicate bar dances between fruity and floral. Sharp cherries with a hint of citrus sweeten into a spicy, aromatic finish. The chocolate has a gently buttery texture, giving a smooth melt without becoming cloying.
Staying in the States, we now travel to Washington DC and welcome our second new maker, Undone. Adam Kavalier, who founded Undone with his wife in 2014, was originally a phytochemist. While researching flavonoids he slowly found himself being drawn to a particular source of flavonoids: chocolate. This particular bar is made using rare Bolivian beans that grow wild in the rainforest.
Indulgent notes of sweet cocoa lead to earthy coffee. We detected a hint of fruit mixed in to the smooth chocolate. The astringency builds towards a slightly drying sherbet finish. A complex bar, on each tasting different flavour revealed themselves.
Next we come to the Netherlands and our second very different Peruvian bar. Chocolate makers Enver Loke and Rodney Nikkels have sourced beans from the Peruvian Amazon. The bar is named for the indigenous peoples, the Awajun, who live in the rainforest and harvest the cacao and are also represented on the front of the bar.
We found this to be a far more intense experience than Ritual’s Peruvian bar. The rich flavour is immediately apparent from the bar’s chocolatey aroma, laced with a hint of bitterness. As with Chocolate Maker’s other bars, the texture is seriously smooth and buttery. There is a green, slightly earthy dimension that reminds a little of unripe banana and fresh coconut.
Finally we have two brand new bars that bring together the snowy peaks of Iceland and the sun-drenched valleys of Tanzania. The eternally stylish Omnom has crafted its latest chocolate using Simran Bindra’s (of Kokoa Kamili) beans from the Kilombero Valley. Look out for Omnom’s new custom mould which completes its perfectly designed chocolate.
At 65%, this is very much a dark milk chocolate. The high cocoa content gives the bar a richness, while the addition of milk creates a thick and indulgent texture. As you take a bite, the chocolate melts softly, almost like a piece of fudge, and filling your mouth with flavour.
Omnom describes its bars as tasting like ‘a brownie’. We agree that there is something deeply chocolatey about the bar. A distinctive note of muscovado adds another layer of decadent flavour.
Omnom’s darkest chocolate to date, the well-tempered bar is smooth with a quick melt. The bar is rich and fruity with layers of damsons, apricots and ripe plums. A darker, roasted note hints of creamy hazelnuts and adds intensity.
This month’s box is the result of long and careful planning. We have two new makers to introduce you to. We’ve been working with for many months and we are delighted to finally give you a taste of these bars.
First and foremost we are ecstatic to bring you a bar from Islington’s own craft chocolate maker Damson. As a lifelong chocolate lover, prolific chocoblogger and Cocoa Runners founding team member, there only was one chocolate topped mountain left for Dom Ramsey – to start making his own bars. And boy was Damson (his brand) worth the wait. Dom’s factory is a just a stone’s throw from our office, up in Angel. If you are ever passing by, make sure you pop to say hello and stock up on his bars. Here you can also see (and buy from) one of Cocoa Runners’ Craft Chocolate Galleries.
The rich milk gives the chocolate a creamy texture and unusual taste. The beans have a slightly green but floral note that gives the bar a herbal undertone with a hint of vanilla. The the bar’s sweetness is balanced by the sea salt that give an edge and brings out the grassy flavours in the beans.
Damson has used Brazilian beans from the Fazenda Camboa farm in Bahia. Owned and run by two brothers, it is the largest organic cacao farm in Bahia, Brazil.
The smooth dark has a deeply fruity profile, bursting with prunes, raisins and dark fruits. Strong roasted flavours develop, moving towards a creamy but slightly savoury finish. We found this to be an intriguing and many-layered dark chocolate.
Now going to the other side of the world we’ve the epitome of a smokey bar, our first made with cacao from the Solomon Isles and crafted in New Zealand by Solomons Gold. We first met with Clive over a year ago when he let us taste some early prototypes – and for the last year we’ve been waiting to share the fruits of his team’s work.
This the first bar we’ve brought over from a Kiwi maker (watch this space for more). Not only this, but it’s also the first bar in our Library using beans from the Solomon Isles.
This is a seriously smokey-tasting dark chocolate bar. The initial aroma of wood smoke gives way to wooded hints of tobacco, rough leather and saddle soap. The strong flavours give the bar an almost savoury profile. The bar is not bitter or harsh, but the strong flavours give the chocolate an intensity comparable to a much higher percentage dark bar.
A really unique bar, its distinctive taste is divisive but still a must try for any adventurous craft chocolate aficionado.
We’ve also been waiting to bring you this “better than Fairtrade” organic bar from Chocolat Madagascar. Over 70% of the world’s cacao is grown in Africa, but little is made there. Neil Kelsall and Chocolate Madagascar for the last decade or more have been seeking to redress this by growing the cacao and crafting their bars locally.
This smooth dark chocolate is simply wrapped but bursting with subtle flavours. The bar has a slightly peppery aroma, however once tasted, the flavour develops into hints of forest fruits and raisins. Alongside this, we detected a mild spice and flavour notes of balsamic vinegar.
Compare it to their classic dark chocolate and taste the difference that different agricultural practices can have.
Finally we’re delighted to bring you the latest bar from Sabrina and Andres of Ara, their Agua Fina bar, sourced with beans from Puerto Cabello in their home country of Venezuela. Ara means Macaw in French, and the couple are dedicated to protecting this rare bird with the help of their chocolate!
The chocolate has an almost floral aroma, and the initial flavour notes we put as somewhere between lemon curd and salted caramel – a truly indulgent treat. Despite this initial hit of sweetness, the bar has a slightly smoky and astringent finish, with hints of coffee.
This month we are delighted to introduce Chapon as well as a host of new bars from old favourites Pump Street Chocolate, Zotter and Marou. Don’t forget if you like to buy another of this month’s collection, either as a gift or to relive the joy yourself you can find it here.
Patrice Chapon started his career just down the road from our London office (well sort of) at Buckingham Palace, crafting ice-creams and sorbets for the Royal Family before returning to Paris to open up his atelieut after growing demand and numerous requests he opened his own shop next to his atelier in Chelles. In 2010, Patrice set himself a new challenge. He wanted to craft his own chocolate directly from the bean. To him this meant more that just the best quality quality chocolate and a guarantee of the product’s sustainability (although both of these were important considerations). More than anything, Patrice felt that for his creations to truly represent his own creativity and personality they had to be 100% his own.
On first tasting we were surprised – we detected none of the earthy or vegetal notes we have come to expect of this origin. The smooth chocolate has a delicate, almost aromatic note that hints of fior di latte and vanilla. A sweet and gentle spice permeates the bar and gives a flavour strangely reminiscent of cinnamon milk. The intriguing tasting notes are given an indulgent quality by the smooth and creamy chocolate.
Chris Brennan and Rob of Pump Street Chocolate have also been winning awards galore for their bars and their packaging. Already they have won Silver at the Academy of Chocolate Awards 2015 for their Honduras bar. This new bar is made using the 2015 crop of beans from the Finca Tres Marías estate. This is family owned plantation located in the mountains of Northwest Honduras.
Instantly you are met with an delicious smell full of chocolate and yeasty notes. The light coloured chocolate has a delicate flavour and not even a hint of bitterness. The chocolate seems to almost have been infused by the aromas of the bakery. The smooth chocolate is full of sweet buttery flavours and caramelised currants. The bar reminded us of a toasted tea cake or thickly buttered slice of burnt toast.
And then we’ve ventured further afield to Vietnam to offer you a taste of one of Vincent and Sam’s classic bars – their Lam Dong. As ever the flavours are strong and distinct – while the bar is great enjoyed by itself we think one the joys of Marou is comparing the different Vietnamese regions. Try some alongside the Ba Ria or Dak Lak and the impact terroir has on flavour.
From the province of the same name, the thick bar has the rich smooth quality we’ve come to expect from Marou. The inital aroma had a lightly roasted quality with some nuts and fruity coffee. We tasted notes of spiced blasamic and raisins, with a yeasted hint. A kick of black cherry on the finish.
Moving back across the channel, we’ve another example of Austrian wizardry from Joseph Zotter. Zotter is an Austrian bean to bar chocolate maker with a penchant for the wacky. Founder Josef Zotter loves to experiment with flavours. His filled chocolates include everything from cheese to bacon and vodka to frankincense. But at the heart of everything Zotter does is a simple, ethical approach to chocolate making. Don’t worry though – the Labooko bar in your box focuses on the fine flavours of the cocoa beans rather than unusual inclusions.
This particular milk bar was described by chocolate tester Georg Bernardini as ‘the world’s best milk chocolate’. We’ll leave it up to you to see whether you agree. This creamy and fragrant milk has a higher cocoa content than most. We were struck by the strong chocolatey flavours of the Nicaraguan cacao, which are complimented by delicate fruit notes. A very well balanced dark milk bar with a good melt.
So far this is the only bar we have that uses Indian beans, but we are sure we will be seeing more from this origin in the future. These particular beans come from Kerala in the south west of the country. An incredibly smooth with a quick melt and sweet flavour. Fragrant and honeyed spices dominate. We detected hints of mace and strongly roasted coffee but little earthiness and almost no fruit. A surprisingly high acidity contrasts with the sweeter tones. Zotter’s characteristic touch of salt finishes the bar, picking up the spice.
It’s time for the first box of the New Year, and to welcome in 2016 we bring you bars from three chocolate makers new to the Chocolate Library, as well as a brand new origin bar from old favourite Pacari.
Last year we brought you 19 new makers from across the world. We welcomed makers from a whole host of new countries including Iceland, Finland, Peru, Sweden and Sao Tome.
This year we’re committed to bringing you even more. We’re looking forward to sharing our favourite bars from new makers from countries such as Australia, New Zealand and Slovakia. What’s more, we’re looking forward to sharing the very best new bars from more familiar makers.
This month we’ve four fantastic new bars to share with you. It’s important to us that we continue to be the first to bring the hottest new chocolate makers to Britain. And today we would like to be the first to introduce Lyra and Soma – the former a precious new talent and the latter an internationally renowned maker. So join us in saying ‘Vitajte’ to Slovak chocolate maker Lyra. Karol Styblo, founder of Lyra, has been on a mission to create wonderful bean to bar chocolate in Slovakia since 2011. His training has seen him working on cacao plantations in Colombia, and studying under master craftsmen in France and Belgium. We first met Lyra in London last autumn, and we hope you agree that Karol’s smooth, rich chocolate is quite remarkable.
Lyra – Peru Milk 46% (Mixed Box)
Lyra only craft two single origin bars at the moment a milk and a dark. This is a rich and creamy bar with a luxurious mouthfeel. As it melts, sweet and subtle fruit notes are released. The delicate taste of the coconut blossom sugar gives an added fragrance to the fruity aroma.
Lyra – Peru Dark 78% (Dark Only Box)
In this, his first dark bean to bar dark chocolate, he has produced an understated dark chocolate bar with just a subtle hint of citrus. Made with only two ingredients – cocoa and coconut blossom sugar – this is a wonderfully simple bar.
We are also delighted to share with you an exceptional bar from multi award winning Canadian chocolate maker Soma. Founders David Castellan and Cynthia Leung have been making Soma bars in Toronto since 2003, and we are so happy to finally be able to share its fantastic bars with you. Indeed, they are so proud of their home city that David and Cynthia continue to mould the city map of downtown Toronto on the the surface of every bar. You can find out more about Soma and read our interview with them on our blog here.
A wonderfully creamy bar with a delicious melt. At first bite you are met with a rich and incredibly chocolaty taste. As it melts sweet raspberries and wild berries rush to the surface. Wonderfully intricate floral notes unfold and release the lightest hints of spice. A pleasant and delicate finish leaves a lingering warmth on the tongue.
Please join us in welcoming Seaforth, a craft chocolate maker from a little closer to home. Making chocolate on the Isle of Wight, this super ethical British chocolate maker always has one eye on sustainability. Its founder, Abraham Seaforth, believes in the importance of sourcing all his cacao directly from farmers in the Caribbean. He then uses Fairtransport Shipping on the famed Tres Hombres to ensure that his beans have a carbon neutral passage to his workshop on the Isle of Wight.
We found this to be a sharp but still fruity dark. The fruit flavours are mixed with richer nutty notes with give way to delicious ripe bananas. The finish is sweet with an almost alcoholic edge – the intriguing rum-like notes had us coming back for more. Surprisingly smooth for a stone ground bar.
Finally, taste the Los Rios bar from Ecuadorian maker Pacari. Made exclusively from Arriba Nacional Cacao grown in the Los Rios province of Ecuador, this certified organic bar provides an interesting contrast to this maker’s more widely tasted raw chocolate. What’s more, as may of our long standing members know, Pacari invests a portion of its profits in a scheme designed to microfinance donkeys for its farmers. This not only helps to make the physically arduous task of carrying cacao pods more bearable, it also ensures that production of this exceptional cacao continues as more of its farmers are persuaded to continue to farm the crop.
An incredibly smooth and silky bar. Compared to the unusual velvety texture of Pacari’s raw bars, the smooth almost buttery texture of this bar comes as a surprise – this is much more of a classic dark. Initial creamy chocolate notes give way to tropical fruits and berries mixed with a dried fruits. Strong flavours of raisins dominate this bar right through to the roasted coffee finish.
As ever, we love to hear your thoughts on the bars that you have tried. Please do take a moment to share a few words via the ‘review’ section on each bar’s page on our site.
What’s more, we are always keen to hear about any new bars you have tasted that you think deserve a place in our chocolate library. Please either get in touch via social media, or email us at email@example.com to share your recommendation.
We would be delighted if you would attend one of our monthly chocolate salons. These evenings are held once a month at The Winemakers Club in London, and full details of upcoming events can be found here. If you have any suggestions for themes for future evenings, please do get in touch to share them.
Finally – you can now purchase this month’s collection as a stand alone collection. Perfect for a gift or simply if you want to repeat the whole experience! Simply click here to see the box.