After encountering extreme batch variability difficulties with their earlier Venezuela 91%, with some bars
coming out fantastic and others near-inedible, Theo make another stab with the Costa Rica. The switch
to the new origin indicates perhaps that the Venezuelan source they had was just too intractable, or
possibly sourcing unreliability. Whatever the cause, an additional benefit of the new choice is that it’s
organic, and given that it also offers rather an unusual source, different from the norm provides promise
that this bar will offer a new experience in the ultra-percentage range. The big question is whether Theo
has mastered the process enough to provide a consistent experience.
Alex Rast: 28-Jan-2011
Theo Chocolate’s second attempt at an ultra-percentage bar appears to iron out the wild inconsistency of the previous Venezuela, which, when it was good, was great, and when it was bad…was not so great. This one is quite good, and as an exposition of the
Theo style, can be considered to be definitive. As an additional benefit, it’s now fully organic. But has consistency been bought at too high a price? While perfectly acceptable, it must be said this chocolate isn’t the equal of Coppeneur/Hotel Chocolat’s superb Hacienda Iara 90%, or Zotter’s equally remarkable Peru 90%., and the Venezuela bar, at its best, approached these heights. It’s hard to tell whether the source is an issue, as well, because the processing rather overwhelms the origin, at least so it seems. Theo seems to be improving but clearly they still have some process decisions to iron out.
Out of the wrapper, the bar looks alarmingly dark, almost jet-black, although as per Theo’s usual style, with immaculate finish. The slab format does look a bit forbidding, suitable perhaps for such a high percentage but nonetheless intimidating. Aroma is even more alarming, dominated initially by blackberry, then an ashy, coffee sensation with hints of coconut and brown sugar. This is typical of a lot of lower-quality bars, and certainly suggests very aggressive roasting.
Flavour, however, is interesting. The initial sensation is of powerful and lingering raisin, and then brown sugar starts to lead. Traces of coconutty appear but they are never dominating. Still, the finish drifts ever towards dark coffee, although intriguing hints of balsamic suggest that there might be more here. But with the finish ending in a flat coffee sludge, nothing more materialises after an initially promising start. The texture, meanwhile is good, smooth and very creamy, but it should be noted that at this percentage, one expects near-exemplary texture, so in this respect it’s a bit of a miss.
This in fact seems to summarise the bar as a whole: perfectly fine, but a bit of a miss. Process decisions are clearly the problem. Theo appears to be roasting at too high a temperature. The result is an outside of the bean that gets a little overdone, leading to the coffee dominance, and then in order to control the overall taste Theo is probably cutting the roast on the short side, so that the centre is, if anything, underdone, leading to that lack of fullness and flatness in the flavour. The solution would be a gentler roast, for a longer time; there’s no reason Theo need give up on their trademark dark, brooding style: it’s original and different (and somehow quintessentially Seattle), they just need to modulate how it is achieved so that the bars reveal more depth.