Bars made from Ecuador’s nacional variety have always been typified by dark strong roasts that tended to dominate all other flavour notes. While in Ecuador itself, the local idea of the flavour of nacional – otherwise know as ‘arriba’ – was a chocolate with a strong ‘kick’ and ‘floral’ notes. Often though the ‘floral’ aspect was nowhere to be found and the strength of the roast produced a distinct liquorice tone.
Yet taste ‘nacional’ drying in the sun out on the collection centre floor and a host of delicate fruit and caramel flavours can be found in a well fermented batch.
These more delicate flavours have only recently begun to be explored by a new wave of chocolate makers. Their philosophy is to take good tasting cacao and produce chocolate that tastes as close as possible to the original flavour of the bean. This is in contrast to traditional chocolate making styles that tend to transform the flavour of the cacao into something new. (A tradition that has perhaps grown up to deal with less than perfect cacao batches.)
Pacari are one of the leaders of this new style, and being on the ground in Ecuador have a much better chance to quality control their sources. As a growing country chocolate maker they have a huge potential advantage over Northern companies, but one as yet that has been little exploited.
As local producers, they also have a better chance to tease out the distinct flavour characteristics of the different regions in Ecuador, which despite the appearance of some of these names on a number of bars, have not really stood out in any particularly distinct manner until now.
Los Rios is one of the true ‘arriba’ provinces of Ecuador, where the name can genuinely be applied as the cacao came from ‘up river’ to be shipped out of Guayaquil port in the heyday of Ecuadorian cacao production. As such, it’s perhaps carries the definitive ‘arriba’ nacional flavour, if allowed the chance to express itself.
Alex Rast: 2-Oct-2010
Pacari’s strongest “regular” chocolate, but also unfortunately its least accomplished. It seems here that a heavy-handed approach to both roasting and cocoa butter addition got the better of them, resulting in a chocolate that just doesn’t sparkle. Pacari is quite capable of producing top-notch chocolate; here, however, they need to do more work.
Unsurprisingly for an Ecuador, the chocolate has a sinister dark colour out of the box – and moulding isn’t exactly uniform – no surprise perhaps, but not a bar that generates any instant attraction by visuals alone. Luckily, however, the aroma is another story altogether – born to attract and allure. It has a lovely delicate strawberry upfront scent, that slowly develops more towards blackberry. Much earthiness is also apparent, but in a pleasant, rich way – rather the feeling of smelling fresh, fertile humus than common soil. The power of the aroma captivates right away and leaves one continuing to wish to smell, perhaps forever.
Unfortunately, perhaps that’s the best plan, for the flavour completely fails to live up to the promise of the aroma. It’s dull and thudding, starting out very earthy with a grassy note right from the start, then becoming dark, almost burnt woody with only the slightest trace of the blackberry detected earlier. It’s a flavour that just never gets going.
The texture offers a hint as to why, being on the one hand of only average smoothness but on the other with an incredibly creamy melt, attesting to a high cocoa butter content. This is surely part of the problem: all that cocoa butter is smothering the fine flavours present in the aroma. While some of this might be fixed with a longer conche, allowing the flavours to permeate more, a lighter roast would seem to be even more important, brightening the flavour while hopefully moderating that heavy earthiness. It seems clear that it’s the aroma that Pacari wanted to capture in the flavour. This is a frequent mistake among new chocolate-makers – who appear to trust aroma as indicative of flavour when in fact it tends to reveal the potential of the chocolate rather than its actual realisation. We may thus confidently suggest that Los Rios is a chocolate with great potential – and with some process experimentation may turn into a great chocolate – but which for the moment is still underachieving.
Martin Christy: 24-Sep-2010
In daylight, you can really see the bright redness and lightness of this chocolate, indicating a light roast, though this does also reveal some bubbles in the moulding.
The aroma is strong, full, perfumed, with honey, molasses and rich fruit cake.
Intial flavour has hints of grapes and lemon, but soon evolves into full cream and molasses, dark fruit with a deeply satisfying chocolate note developing in the back. At the tail end we get a little bitterness / grapefruit tempered by kiwi and strawberry, perhaps some herbal lemongrass.
Eaten in a casual way, this might come across as too sour for some palates, and the Pacari style certainly leads us to new places on the chocolate flavour map, so expect the unexpected.
There is a little dry waxiness at the end – after all this is nacional and we have to expect some tannins. The length goes on and on, with some bitterness, but good chocolate as well.
The texture is a little grainy and the melt is a little dry, but it’s hard to have complaints as the flavour is delivered so well.
Overall it’s hard to believe that so much fruit can come from nacional, though it’s a distinctly different palette from the high citrus and red fruits found in a good criollo.
The strength of the recipe at 72% gives enough backbone to balance the fruit sourness, creating perhaps a role model for the arriba flavour.