The bloggers and twitterati have been buzzing recently, fuelled by Amano’s ‘guess the origin‘ competition. A new Amano origin chocolate bar is interesting news enough, but rumours and guesses about a rather famous source have had connoisseur’s hearts racing for the last few weeks.
Tomorrow the chocolate is finally being launched at the Summer Fancy Food Show in New York, and is already available from the Amano factory store. The news about Amano’s new Chuao bar is live on their website.
Chuao, the legend
Yes, that’s right, Amano have taken on one of the most famous of cacao sources, Venezuela’s Chuao. (You can read my travel blog about my 2008 visit to Chuao here). Famous as one of the most fought over of cacaos, until last year Amedei had exclusive rights to the village’s yearly production. Amedei had taken the Chuao origin to new heights; in doing so they helped to make the name internationally known as a byword for the best chocolate.
Amedei’s Chuao is a multi-award winner and is both complex and appreciated by connoisseurs, but also approachable and instantly likeable for beginners. In other words, most people agree it is a great chocolate. (At time of writing, it is still our number one rated bar.)
When Amedei’s exclusivity ended last year, a number of other chocolate makers were suddenly producing chocolate from Chuao’s cacao. The rather mixed results combined with not the best of harvests last year led to questions about Chuao’s continued reputation at the top of the cacao pecking order.
So it’s a bold move then for Amano to take on Chuao’s latest harvest as their new source. Can Amano live up to the expectations that come with Chuao, and perhaps help the source to live up to its past glories?
The making of a chocolate
I had an anxious and excited call from Art Pollard one night. His latest chocolate had recently finished conching and was now ready for tempering and moulding. Chocolate makers don’t usually call me when they have a part finished chocolate, so this must be something pretty important.
A few days later, a FedEx’ed package arrived with chocolate straight out of the conche. This was something unusual that I’d not tried before – chocolate that was finished, but had never at any time been tempered. Ripping open the package, I got to try the chocolate pretty fast. It was strangely grainy as the cocoa butter crystals had never been set.
The flavour really showed promise, but under advisement from Art, I needed to melt then freeze a sample to begin to understand it. An impatient fifteen minutes later I had my first taste. There were a strong, fermented, cacao head, despite the cold temperature, then darker fruit, plum, then cream chocolate. A rather large smile came over my face. This was Chuao, and it looked like it was going to be pretty good.
A few days later I managed to get down to Paul A Young with my 200g or so sample, and a few days after that, was able to pick up a couple of nicely made, finished, bars. Back at Amano base camp, the chocolate had not actually been tempered yet, so we here in London were the first people in the world to try finished tempered and moulded Amano Chuao. An exciting moment.
Over the next few weeks there were hushed moments in private corners as I was able to give tiny samples to a small few who were sworn to secrecy. The reaction was always good and always excited, even among complete non-chocolate heads.
Then finally about a week ago, came another call from Art, followed a few days later by another FedEx package containing fully finished – but unboxed – Amano Chuao bars.
The result was almost an anti climax. I’d been on my crazy no-chocolate diet, and perhaps my palate wasn’t quite were it should have been. That initial cacao hit and three stage roller coaster of a flavour journey was not quite so pronounced. The dark plum fruit had veered towards grapefruit. Perhaps the two day long English summer wasn’t helping.
I spoke to Art and my reaction was “well, this is good, but not quite as exciting as when I tried that first sample. Maybe it needs to settle a little”. The flavours of a chocolate often change and develop during the first few weeks after it’s made. It’s widely known that Amedei’s Chuao is left to sit for three weeks before moulding, so it seemed likely that the same would apply to Amano’s version.
A week on and a few days before the official release of Amano’s Chuao, it’s now perhaps a better time to make a first assessment of Amano’s work. Thankfully, the exciting flavour evolution was back, and with a happy ending.
Take a piece of Amano’s Chuao and smell it and it is at once familiar. Side by side with Amedei, this is clearly the same source, though the Amano roast is clearly lighter.
I’ve given this chocolate to a few people now, and everyone goes through the same journey. At first we get mild chocolate. The chocolate seems good, well made, with mild flavour and we perhaps don’t expect much else to happen.
About 5-10 seconds in though something really interesting starts to develop. The flavour becomes a little ‘green’ – fresh, with a hint of fermentation. To me it tastes exactly like cacao eaten off the ground while drying. There’s no vinegar and it’s not too tart, but just enough to give a thrill. You feel like you could be in Chuao. This lasts about fifteen seconds.
Then comes the fruit – classic Chuao plum, marmalade, some background liquorice, green olives, the tiniest hint of Chuao toffee – pleasantly sweet and very palatable. (You can also detect these at the start, once you know there are there).
Then we get cream, cream toffee – a chocolate cream that’s typical of Venezuelan criollo, and perhaps in Chuao comes through at this point, late in the mouth, along with hazelnut praline. (Chuao is a mix of probably over thirty varieties, forateros and triniatios – some of which will have more criollo genetics).
The length is gently tannic, combining with the cream and the fruit to create a fruit salad and chocolate pudding effect, perhaps with a green tea on the side. It holds up really well.
So, did Amano’s work stand up? Well this is certainly one of the best Chuao interpretations I’ve tried. It’s not too bold or over-roasted, not at all flat, the full fruit flavour is there and you’re taken on a fantastic chocolate journey with each piece. Yet this is still a very accessible chocolate.
Chuao is a deep, complex source, and different maker’s bars will each have their own appeal and we may all have our own favourites. Amano Chuao certainly hit the spot for me, and as a company they only seem to keep improving.
Personally, some chocolate just makes me really happy inside when I try it. In this case, the big smile was back.
Amano Chuao available from the Amano factory store in Utah, Caputo’s Deli in Salt Lake City. Hopefully to hit shelves in the UK soon!