We had held the first of our new format taste experience workshops last month. The workshops follow a fairly set structure, with more emphasis on how to taste rather than what. So our new advanced format was a chance to let our hair down a little and pull the new, odd and unusual out of the chocolate cupboard.
The idea of these sessions is a more social and informal feel, with a mixed audience of invited faces from the London chocolate scene and members of the chocolate tasting public.
We receive a lot of samples at Seventypercent.com. There are so many new artisanal chocolate makers springing up around the world, and so many new projects and origins, it’s sometimes hard to keep up. So it was great to get some of these out and try them as a group.
Some of the topics we covered this session were:
Amedei comparison – Cru squares (a slightly older batch) compared to the new 50g bars. We tried Jamaica. The newer bars probably had more flavour, but seemed to use more cocoa butter in the recipe, while the squares probably came off better overall. It was a close thing.
US Artisans – we tried samples from some of the new US artisans producing chocolate on a small scale, including Olive and Sinclair, Cacao Atlanta and Fresco. Trying Fresco Jamaica right after Amedei was interesting, and we could see the similarities in the bean source.
The Fresco wasn’t quite up to Amedei standards, but this wasn’t really a surprise as these are ‘prototype’ bars. We tried 205 medium conche and 206 long conche. Opinions were mixed. Some found them too tannic, while a few others in the group found them quite palatable.
Overall, Olive and Sinclair probably came off best – though quite an ordinary bean source, the salt and salt and pepper bars were quite munchable. The Cacao Atlanta Dominican Republic bars on the other hand were found to be way too bitter and strong. 75% was just too high a percentage for those beans.
Green & Black’s 70% – has it improved? This might sound like a surprise inclusion for a fine chocolate session, but Steve and I had noticed some potential improvements in this Cadbury/Kraft owned brand at our last workshop. The group generally agreed. Gone was the gritty earthiness, replaced by a fairly smooth almond creaminess. Not spectacular, but a huge improvement on the previous barely edible version. We wondered where it is now being made? Is it still Icam in Italy and just a change of recipe, or are rumours of production moving to a Callebaut factory in Poland true. (The back of the bar wrapper now says ‘Made in the EU’ rather than ‘Made in Italy.)
Madagascar – Jennifer Earle of Chocolate Ecstasy Tours came along to the event, having just got back from a plantation and factory visit to Madagascar. Jennifer gave us a quick talk about her experiences and we also got to try various bars made in Madagascar and in consumer countries. Madécasse had sent me some bars to try, while Jennifer had brought back some identical bars under a local brand. We tried both these at various percentages, which had the typical Madagascan sourness and were pretty good.
There are two chocolate factories in Madagascar, the one that makes Madécasse and the one that made ‘Malagasy’ chocolate and local brand Robert, which Jennifer also brought, but really wasn’t up to much.
Jennifer also told us that there are only two main plantations in Madagascar – Willow and Akkensons, plus Pralus’ plantation on the northern island of Nosy Be. There are also various independent farmers around the island. This makes things interesting, because many of the upper end or small scale artisan chocolate makers are often working with almost identical beans. This gives a real chance to compare the different styles and approaches of different chocolate makers.
Amano Madagascar batches – carrying on the Madagascan theme, I’d happened to try an older batch of Amano Madagascar the other day – a bar from the 2009 Academy of Chocolate Gold Award winning batch. This was a great all round chocolate, but personally I found it the least interesting of Amano’s bars.
The most recent bar batch though is completely another matter, even though made with the same bean batch. Delicate, fruity and light, it’s almost like a strawberry ice cream speckled with raisins and drenched in honey. If all of Amano’s bars keep improving in this way, they’re going to be a real force to look out for in the fine chocolate world.
Tobago Cocoa – Swedish resident and rum expert Duane Dove had contacted me about his Tobago Cocoa project and also sent a sample of his new chocolate, made in partnership with Pralus. The bar came in rather elegant packaging, so I’d been loathe to open it without proper photography and the right occasion. This finally seemed the time to get the bar out and give it a taste in good company.
Opinions were divided about the chocolate. Some of us around the table really liked it, but a few others – including myself – found it a little underdeveloped, though quite edible. We can’t be too critical though – this was the very first Tobago Cocoa harvest. It can take time to get the right fermentation for a cacao and the right recipe for a new chocolate. I look forward to the next batch and more development.
Show and tell Another feature of these events is the chance to bring along chocolate for the group to try. As well as the various Madagascan offerings brought along by Jennifer Earle, Louise Thomas had brought along some offerings from Melt and Dom Ramsey of Chocablog contributed a Hotel Chocolat Madagascar bar. (Check out Dom’s Chocablog posting about the night here.)
Thanks also to Kate Johns of Chocolate Week and Seventypercent regular review and tasting brain box Alex Rast, who contributed plenty to the event despite having a cold.
All in all a very enjoyable evening that we’ll repeat again in the autumn, though apologies to our public attendees if it was all just too nerdy! We’ll try for a bit more structure next time.