I must confess that I always view cacao from Papua New Guinea, and the chocolate made from said beans with a little trepidation. There is certainly some inherently good cacao grown on the island but from previous experience there seems to be a few problems with post harvest processing associated with much of the output. This is an issue throughout many, some might say all, of the growing countries but there is one particular characteristic that sets this origin apart. Papua New Guinea, as a result of yearly rainfall figures that exceed the majority of cacao growing countries, have a tradition of fire drying their cacao and as a result you often find smokey notes in the final chocolate. Many people consider these notes a flaw and speaking personally it is rarely something I seek out or greatly enjoy. Personally I have difficulty characterising the practice as inherently flawed unless is undertaken with the aim to cover other undesirable off notes, it could be claimed that it is simply cultural terroir. With all this in mind, when I first heard of Art’s plans to produce a bar from this region, and that his source would be virtually free from the aforementioned drying practices, I was very much looking forward to seeing how he tackled this tricky origin.
The appearance is typical of Amano’s recent batches being quite light in colour and really very impressive. The wonderful shine and clean, medium pitched snap attest to a very fine temper with only a little mould unevenness and the odd bubble to draw any negative attention.
On the nose this is hugely interesting; an intriguing sourness in the form of grapefruit, sharp raspberry/cherry and bitter almonds takes centre stage. There are deeper notes sitting behind with fresh leather and a hint of damp wood. The aroma does show a certain smokey background quality but as I have read in the past, and was recently highlighted to me by a highly knowledgeable chocolate producer, this can come from phenolic compounds present during fermentation, particularly from over-fermentation, so there can be reasons besides the method of drying for such notes. It’s all quite impressive as it remains indefinably characteristic of Papua New Guinea but without the often overt smoke.
The palette carries on from the nose with the main thrust of the profile coming from a wave of acidity with notes of sweetened grapefruit juice, gooseberries, sour apple and lime rind. These notes slowly soften into red currant and raspberries but remain fairly sharp and intense. I find all this quite wonderful but some may consider it a little unbalanced and maybe even slightly jarring. There are other, more subtle, notes sitting behind the mix of sourish fruits; some faint anise and leather and that ever present but somehow illusive touch of smoke always, happily, playing second fiddle to the rest of the profile. There is also a curious salty quality that I have come across in bars produced with Papau New Guinea’s cacao before though it is difficult to pin down. The finish is a little short, faintly herbal and extremely clean, leaving the palette feeling fresh and with only the most restrained of tannins in evidence.
The mouth-feel is good, being rather smooth and medium paced in the melt. There is a certain fudginess in evidence when chewed but overall there is little to speak against it.
All very good and all very Amano then, the roast is light and the flavours highly demonstrative and forceful, in fact this is almost certainly the most intense bar that Amano have released so far and certainly the most exuberant take on this origin I have yet tasted. Those that have read many of my previous reviews with be aware that I do have a natural pre disposition to bright, fairly acidic flavour profiles in chocolate however and with that in mind I can certainly see why this bar has, so far, divided opinion among some tasters. It could be considered quite unbalanced as, unlike Amano’s Madagascar for example, there is a certain lack of notes to contrast with, and lend restraint to the bracing acidity on show and with this in mind it doesnt quite reach the hights of Amano’s best work. However for my aforementioned tastes this works well and is a highly enjoyable addition to an ever evolving range.