June 29, 2011

Potomac – Upala 70%

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Written by: Stuart Robson

Potomac’s Ben Rasmussen is a recent addition to the constantly evolving world of fine chocolate production in the U.S and is currently focusing on beans from Upala, Costa Rica.  An uncommon origin and my first taste of Potomac chocolate, this should be very interesting.

The finish of the bar is good but certainly not perfect with the shine being quite uneven and the back showing a fair amount of pitting and swirling.  The mould depth is very even however, something that is often not the case with small batch producers from the U.S.  The colour is quite dark but with a certain red hue that adds interest. The snap is sharp and even, heightening expectations.

The aroma isn’t the most forceful, being somewhat flighty and un-sustained, what is there however is very interesting and a little unusual.  The first thing that’s strikes you is a soft, slightly molasses tinged sweetness that flirts with a hint of smoke and then seems to calm back down quickly into light coffee and caramel.  Set against these suggestions of a fairly deep roast sits a lovely cherry and raspberry led fruitiness.  An unusual combination that reminds me slightly of Pralus more lightly handled offerings.  There is a touch of plastic in the background which is a little troubling and could be as a result of the simplistic packaging or perhaps the moulds themselves.

On the palette, and after a brief flash of red currant and stone fruit, it is, perhaps predictably, the deeper notes that make the strongest first impression; pure, richly roasted cocoa with touches of brown sugar, coffee, toasted herbs and a little dusty cinnamon take centre stage at the start of the melt.  A little time brings about a greater sense of balance as the gentle raspberry/cherry fruitiness, found on the nose drifts into frame.  In the mid palette the differing sides of the profile have found a pleasing union with delicately acidic fruit, slightly earthy sweetness and a thread of roasted bitterness all being on show.  There is no great complexity in the finish but those that enjoy a pleasing duality of deeply roasted notes that leave at least a suggestion of the high notes intact will love this.

The melt is slow to medium paced and quite smooth, if a little fudgy perhaps.  It certainly doesn’t have the refinement of the very best European or American producers but considering the scale and relative youth of the operation this is impressive work.

The American fine chocolate scene is hugely vibrant and innovative at the moment and has been so for some time now.  Potomac is certainly a worthy addition and I would encourage anyone interested in fine chocolate to sample their work.  The style clearly embraces a somewhat deeper roast and lighter use of cocoa butter than the likes of Amano, Patric, etc and, though it never gets into darker Pralus or Willies Cacao style territory, this may have eroded some of the high notes. However with that being said it is very hard, particularly when dealing with a rarely tasted origin, to be quite sure of the true reason for this. Regardless, this is interesting, promising work and a new producer that many will follow with interest.

About the Author

Stuart Robson
Stuart Robson is a passionate foodie born in Scotland and based in Hertfordshire whose main expertise lies in the world of whisky and chocolate. He first began tasting fine chocolate in 2005 with Valrhona Manjari and has since developed a particular interest in single origin bars and a desire to highlight skilled cacao farmers and artisan producers all over the world. Stuart previously trained in Paris while working for a fine chocolatier, and has since become a reviewer for Seventypercent. He is still involved in freelance consultation for small companies working with bean-to-bar chocolate producers and chocolatiers.



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