A Pralus made bar, sold in handy zip-seal packaging by Chapon under their own brand.

Like many of the new bars of Chuao coming onto the market, Chapon describe Chuao as ‘criollo’. (See the Manufacturers information section below.)

Chuao is not a criollo variety, it’s a location, a terroir, consisting of a blend of varieties. Other companies guilty of this confusion are Soma and Hotel Chocolat. (Who still described the bar as ‘criollo’ on their website at the time of writing, but I believe have now corrected their packaging.) I am sure they are not the only ones.

Chuao varieties

The Chuao valley is documented as containing 36 different varieties of cacao, from criollo through a range of trinitarios, right down to the Amazonian classic forestaro – amelonado. (San Jose’s Chuao, for example, is produced from three of what they considered to be the best Chuao varieties, cloned from the valley in the 1980s and grown in their own plantation in Rio Caribe. This is the cacao used to make Domori’s ‘Chuao Hacienda San Jose’)

It only takes a simple walk along the road from the beach at Chuao to the village to recognise the wealth of cacao varieties in the valley, as anyone who has been there will tell you. This is the beauty of Chuao as a source, and its strength. Chuao is a remarkable natural blend of varieties, environments and processing that just ‘comes out right’ – almost all the time. (I am told that higher up the valley there is a higher concentration of criollo and a different micro-climate, but I didn’t make it this far myself).

As far as I am aware, all the cacao is mixed and fermented together, there is no separation of the criollo element. This is supported by conversations with Amedei, Amano and questions asked directly in Chuao

Misleading marketing?

It is mistaken then at best and at worst misleading marketing to be telling consumers that Chuao means criollo. The association we can suppose is because Chuao is often considered the best of cacaos, and criollo the best of varieties, so one name attaches to another.

Perhaps over-excitement to heap praise on Chuao is the cause, which perhaps can be seen in this feature from the Chocolate Trading Company. They erroneously base their whole argument on why Chuao is so good on the mistaken idea that it is all criollo. Amedei, for example, have never described it in this way.

All this does not help transparency or consumer confidence in understanding cacao sources or believing what chocolate companies are telling them.

It would be better to be more honest about Chuao and celebrate it for what it is, not what some people would like it to be.


Alex Rast: 18-Nov-2012

Posted: November 18, 2012 by
SCORES Score/10 Weight
Aroma: 9.5 10%
Look/snap: 9.5 5%
Taste: 8 35%
Melt: 10 5%
Length: 8 15%
Opinion: 8 30%
Total/100: 83.25 100%
Best before:
Batch num: 121277
Supplied by:
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The Chuao craze shows no sign of abating, with yet another interpretation gracing the market, this one from French producer Chapon. As it turns out the end result is strangely similar to those films with a spectacular trailer and an inevitably mildly disappointing actual film. Here, though, the “trailer” isn’t simply the prestige of Chuao but rather the aroma which is a sumptuous preview to a bar whose taste can’t quite live up to the promise. Nonetheless, it’s nice to see a broad variety of interpretations for a particular source, and this might ideally become the standard for many sources: lots of manufacturers, lots of different ideas, results to please one and all.

Chapon goes for a very polished style in the visuals, quite literally, the bar having the high sheen of the smooth-faced mould. An almost complete lack of moulding defects, and again, that sheen, indicate impressive handling, although the bar is worrisomely darker than typical for the source. However, the aroma is so archetypal of the source as to be a reference standard, immediately bursting out in redcurrant and blueberry, then moving to dark liquorice and wood, with some interesting hints of floral and honey that put it that step above all other Chuao interpretations. It’s hard to imagine an aroma much better or more characteristic than this.

But where the aroma compels tasting, as it turns out, the flavour is much more basic. Initially it begins with fairly generic creamy and chocolatey, before clear signs of strong, heavy roast turn up as the flavour evolves to cocoa and then to coffee, with some hints of ashiness in there as well. Fruity hints do emerge, mostly of a dark blueberryish variety, but on the whole it’s the roast that dominates, unfortunately erasing most of the notes so prominent in the aroma. Not that the flavour is bad per se, but still, a real pity.

It’s really too bad that the flavour speaks of heavy-handedness too, for the texture is at the peak of perfection, impossibly smooth and creamy and completely remaining true to the visual impression. It’s a bar that, to judge from the aroma, could have been the best ever, but for the roast. If it weren’t so aggressive, and if the flavour could have retained the elements so obvious in the aroma, this chocolate would have been very close to getting the unimaginable, a perfect score. But as it is, it turns out to be another worthy and interesting interpretation of the Chuao origin, but no more than that, something worthwhile to try but something that needs a bit of tinkering

Martin Christy: 28-Aug-2011

Posted: August 28, 2011 by
SCORES Score/10 Weight
Aroma: 7.5 10%
Look/snap: 7.5 5%
Taste: 7.5 35%
Melt: 8 5%
Length: 7.5 15%
Opinion: 8 30%
Total/100: 76.75 100%
Best before:
Batch num:
Source: Donated by chocolatier or shop
Supplied by: Given by Chapon at Salon du Chocolate, Paris, 2010
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Rating: 0.0/10 (0 votes cast)

When first out of the packet, the aroma is very cheesy, something like a blue bree. After airing a little there is dark tobacco, polished mahogany and a hint of lit matches, which is perhaps an indicator of things to come.

On the tongue, Pralus’ thick texture is the first thing you notice, followed quickly by burnt toffee, some cherry/plum and notes of Dominican Republic rum (more salt than sweet). Along the way their are true Chuao tones and pleasant subtleties, including a fizz of light passion fruit/mango in the top.

Something here though is clearly burnt, as was Pralus’ own Chuao of the same period. There is a continual and lingering taste like the bitterness of burnt toast, and fatty fried cacao at the end. A great shame as this really spoils the potential. I believe this is the same batch (or similar) as Pralus’ first Chuao, as tried at the 2009 Salon. Even they didn’t like it then. The more recent batch, in a square 50g box, is much, much better.

That said, the after-taste is not all bad, and actually gets better as the burnt-bitterness clears, with some fruit, but still sour.

For the appearance, the bar is well moulded and shiny, with a burgundy brown colour. There is a good snap, though the chocolate is a little more flexible than we might hope.

Not the best of Chuaos by a long stretch, but edible despite the burnt note – a bit like eating burnt toast covered with lots of butter and apricot jam. Pralus’ high cocoa butter recipe probably helps with this.

About the Author

Martin Christy
Martin Christy is Seventy%’s editor and founder and is a leading voice in the chocolate industry, promoting the cause of fine chocolate and fine cacao and those who produce them. With twenty years’ experience of fine chocolate, he has travelled extensively visiting cocoa plantations and meeting the world’s top producers and is a consultant to the fine chocolate and cacao growing industries worldwide. Martin is Judging Director of the International Chocolate Awards, which he founded in the UK with Kate Johns of Chocolate Week. He is also Acting Chairman of the new fine cacao and chocolate industry association, Direct Cacao and is a member of the Heirloom Cacao Preservation Initiative Tasting Panel. He is also a freelance writer about fine chocolate, contributing to UK magazines and several books about fine chocolate.