A magnificent high-percentage chocolate, and one which decisively sheds any “second-rate” image associated with organic chocolate. With this Hacienda Iara, Hotel Chocolat prove at last that it is possible to create a balanced chocolate at extreme percentage and achieve ideal results. Furthermore, they demonstrate authoritatively that organic chocolate can be in every way as good as a conventional. Such technical prowess has not been achieved since the now-departed, much-missed Domori Chacao Absolute, and Hotel Chocolat perhaps even go one step further by delivering a single-plantation organic, one which by any standards must furthermore be seen as one of the best of the Ecuador general origin. A first-rate effort, and clearly Hotel Chocolat’s best. Let us hope this one stays around for years to come!
Alex Rast: 24-Sep-2010
The King is dead; long live the King. The now-departed, much-lamented Domori Chacao Absolute is finally bested for the title of best organic chocolate – by Hotel Chocolat’s superb Hacienda Iara 90%. An earlier review mentioned that Domori’s Chacao erased any contention that organic chocolate could not be as good as conventional; now Hotel Chocolat comes back and makes that same statement again with renewed authority, in a single-origin, furthermore, that should enhance excitement about the new stream of chocolate coming out of Ecuador where local skills are rapidly improving. A bar to take again and again.
Unsurprisingly for an Ecuador, especially at such high percentage, the bar is forbiddingly dark, a true ebony in colour, but certainly with a nice sheen to it and a good, if slightly uneven, moulding. Nothing to get excited about yet. The aroma, however, is definitely to get excited about, truly beautiful, with strawberry mixing with pure chocolatey, then moving on to raisin with nutty hints and a suggestion of tobacco. It’s equally gratifying that there is NO suggestion off harshness, or bitterness, or flatness, qualities that all too often affect organics. Still, the proof will be in the pudding.
And proof it is: the flavour explodes immediately into powerful chocolatey before moving to strawberries mixed with grape. More flavours appear: hazelnut with hints of red wine. And yet there is more, a suggestion of buttered toast in the finish, that completes a progression of extraordinary length and interest. The flavours have been developed to perfection; not only that, but they are all quality flavours: there is not a defect to be found and this must surely be about the ultimate that could have been achieved with any bean, from any source, anywhere.
If this weren’t already enough, the texture is likewlse impeccable, although this shouldn’t come as a surprise in a 90%. But Hotel Chocolat have achieved in this a masterpiece. It’s amazing to list the number of categories in which this chocolate is the best: best organic, best Ecuador, best ultra-percentage. This last achievement is possibly the most impressive of all: ultra-percentage chocolates have always been a difficult area, even for accomplished chocolatiers, and with Hacienda Iara 90% Hotel Chocolat have finally managed to produce one that doesn’t eventually become a little leaden and dull. This chocolate just continues to sing.