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Introduction to better chocolate
January 25, 2007
1:51 pm
russjm
Stockport, United Kingdom
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January 2, 2007
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I'm new to this idea of a superior quality chocolate, as devout fan of "confectionary" maybe I'm beyond hope!! Can anyone suggest a handful of bars to start me on the right track? I'm really interested in finding out more about "proper" chocolate, as opposed to the fatty, sugary stuff most of us know.

I've already placed some items in my basket for order, which I'll complete when I get paid!! However I'd like some pointers too.

Pralus Djakarta, Amadei Chuao, Domori Puertomar and Valrhona Gran Couva are the ones I chose to try first, any comments?

Thanks.

January 25, 2007
2:23 pm
ellie
london, United Kingdom
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Very good decisive choice. I'd just vote to replace Grand Couva (though it's so fine this year) with Ampamakia, and add Domori Madagascar - you'll have then a chance to find out the result of different treatment of the same origin beans. May be you'd like to try something different in composition, like Domori Granella, with nibs.
Certainly there could be lots of suggestions, in the end of the day it's your taste buds that going to enjoy it all...

January 25, 2007
8:19 pm
Eshra
Southgate, USA
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Russ,

It is great that you are interested in the world of fine chocolate. However, it must be noted that it takes an individual a lot of time to develop the ability to tastes great chocolates so as to discover their many nuances and complexity.

Your taste buds and senses are not ready yet for chocolates like Domori Puertomar and Amedei Chuao.

Your choice of Gran Couva is an excellent choice. I also suggest Guittard's Ambanja and second the suggestion of Valrhona Ampamakia. Scharffen Berger's 70% is also a good chocolate to start out with.

It might be a good idea for you to try focusing on a single origin bar and contrasting that bar with a bar of similar percentage from a different land. Even better is if you can have these bars be of the same maker. For this reason, I actually recommend tasting Valrhona's vintages, one after another. Get Palmira, Gran Couva, and Ampamakia, and taste them all side-by-side. Then, once you have found a favourite among these, find bars that come from that area that the bar you tasted represents. So, if you like Ampamakia, buy some more bars that are made from Madagascan beans.

The idea is to essentially build a 'library' in your mind. To fully appreciate chocolate, you gotta have a good idea of how a chocolate is going to taste (or how it is expected to taste) depending on its origin.

Sean

January 25, 2007
9:36 pm
Chrissie
Edinburgh, United Kingdom
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Don't pass up Michel Cluizel's Los Ancones. Although a complex chocolate it is also very accessable for the uninitiated. I agree the valrhona vintage bars are another good starting point, they are not at too high a percentage for someone not used to dark chocolate and each have distinctively different profiles. These consist of Gran Couva (Trinidad), Ampamakia (Madagascar) and Palmira (Venezuela)

I would keep away from Pralus to begin with as they definitely have a very 'dark' feel and are perhaps a bit high in cocoa solids for a beginner. They only became available to me online after 6 months of tasting and I still found them a bit of a shock to begin with but now have a few favourites amongst them.

Although Amedei Chuao and Domori Puertomar are excellent choices and unmissable I would suggest keeping them for a later order and getting the Domori Grandes Cacaos selection instead. This would allow you some comparisons of origin with the Valrhona vintages. Sambirano is from Madagascar and Carenero Superior, Sur del Lago and Rio Caribe are all from Venezuela.

Alternatively, I found the 3 Toscano Black bars by Amedei an interesting comparison early in my tasting experiences. They are each different strengths and quite different in the flavours they posess but all blends made by the same company.

Sorry if this is information overload. I must say I have found this website and forum invaluable during my continuing discovery of fine chocolate.

Let us know what you decide to order and what you think of the chocolates once you have tasted them.

Christine

January 25, 2007
10:14 pm
russjm
Stockport, United Kingdom
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Thanks for your help, it's all very helpful, and I'll take all that information on board, needless to say, I'll post again with the results of my first delivery.

January 26, 2007
12:47 am
Alex Rast
Manchester, United Kingdom
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quote:


Originally posted by russjm

...
I'm really interested in finding out more about "proper" chocolate, as opposed to the fatty, sugary stuff most of us know.

I've already placed some items in my basket for order, which I'll complete when I get paid!! However I'd like some pointers too.

Pralus Djakarta, Amadei Chuao, Domori Puertomar and Valrhona Gran Couva are the ones I chose to try first, any comments?


Not a bad first selection. I like the idea of starting with 4. Chuao and Puertomar are I think especially appropriate. Eshra, I would disagree with you strongly on the idea that these are chocolates the novice is not ready for. I have introduced many people to Chuao as a first taste and the result has been unanimously positive. In fact, it is for this reason that I think it stands the test as the best chocolate in the world - virtually everyone who tries it has an almost ecstatic reaction. Perhaps the only thing that could be said against trying it first is, having tried the best, you may feel a certain disappointment with a lot of other chocolates. It sets a very high bar that few other chocolates can match. Puertomar makes a beautiful contrast, too, because it's so very different, and people notice that too, its mildness.

Djakarta and Gran Couva are superb chocolates - and good choices perhaps, but I might suggest changing these, because they're not quite so classically representative of a particular profile of chocolate. I think one you'll want to get is one in the classically fruity domain. The archetype there is Domori's Porcelana, but almost equally good is Amedei Trinidad. The one irritation about the Trinidad is of course it's unavailable in bar format. The other thing you might wish is one with more spicy and tobacco notes. Cluizel's Maralumi and Dagoba Eclipse are good reference standards - get the Cluizel if for no other reason that that it's a single origin (fewer unknowns)

If there are 4 brands to try, they would be Amedei, Cluizel, Domori, and Valrhona. Each has a unique style and each is good in its own way. In some ways, since you're getting Chuao and Puertomar (inarguable) and then I'm recommending Cluizel for the spicy/tobacco chocolate, it would be appropriate to get a fruity chocolate from Valrhona - who are the standard-setters for that style. Although I've singled out Domori Porcelana and Amedei Trinidad, in truth, these bars aren't as representative of that company's style. It must be said that Valrhona's single-origins seem to have less control than other companies, and where they do better is in the blends. Among their blends Guanaja is the reference standard and the one I might buy. With these 4 chocolates - Amedei Chuao, Domori Puertomar, Cluizel Maralumi, and Valrhona Guanaja, not only do you sample the best manufacturers in their classic style, but you also get the various flavour possibilities of the bean. Such an introduction would be almost like a textbook lesson - you can't get much better.

It must be said that Maralumi isn't quite the best of Cluizel's chocolates - that honour falls to Los Ancones, another one which MUST be tried, but I might reserve that one so that after the first batch (especially Chuao) you have something truly great to look forward to.

Alex Rast
Alex_Rast_Alternate@hushmail.com

Alex Rast Alex_Rast_Alternate@hushmail.com
January 26, 2007
1:08 am
ellie
london, United Kingdom
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And shell i mention how we envy you - fisrt ever impression..

January 26, 2007
1:29 am
Eshra
Southgate, USA
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Alex,

That is one reason I suggested not introducing someone to Chuao right away--It sets the bar too high.

Also, given Chuao's complexity, you cannot expect a novice to pick out all of the wonderful transitions in flavours Chuao has. Plus, it is extremely expensive, and to tell you the truth, I do not buy it anymore for this reason.

In my opinion, when introducing someone to dark chocolate, the object is to simply show them that dark chocolate is not what they presumed it to be--that being bitter and flat. Many of the aforementioned chocolates are great for this in that they all guarantee a positive reaction on part of a new taster.

Amedei Chuao also accomplishes this, but really it is overkill...

Sean

January 26, 2007
9:32 am
green
Trondheim, Norway
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I do also agree on buying Domori grandes cacaos. It was one of my first experiences with fine chocolate, and it really opened my eyes to how different chocolates made by the same company, with the same percentage, can taste! The same thing goes for Valrhonas vintages.

About the Chuao/Puertomar question, I agree a bit with each of the opinions above:
I think my palate still hasn't developed enough to fully appreciate them, so it might be a bad idea to go for these bars, but still they give me a totally different experience than any other bars. I kind of see at as a goal to be able to really TASTE them, and trying them out once in a while gives me a clue of how my senses evolve...

Good luck, btw, and welcome to a wonderful world!

January 26, 2007
11:13 am
russjm
Stockport, United Kingdom
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Ok, I've decided to stick with the four I chose initially, purely because there's quite a bit of disagreement on alternatives, so I'll try these first and take it from there. I'm a bit of wino too, so I'm aware of choosing flavours carefully. I'm also into real ales for the same reason, it's taken me quite a while to settle on my favourite ales, after tasting many (it's a hard life). So, I'm hoping to have as much fun with the chocolate tasting, but not all at the same time I hasten to add.

January 26, 2007
6:05 pm
Alex Rast
Manchester, United Kingdom
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quote:


Originally posted by Eshra

Alex,
...
Also, given Chuao's complexity, you cannot expect a novice to pick out all of the wonderful transitions in flavours Chuao has. Plus, it is extremely expensive, and to tell you the truth, I do not buy it anymore for this reason.


Although the same cannot be said at least in relative terms for Domori Puertomar. Still, I think Chuao's price is justified: again, if they didn't deliver the goods it would be preposterous, but you get what is advertised with this bar. In that respect it represents value for money. A novice taster might not pick out every flavour, but I don't think that's necessary or the point. If they like it, it's not a requirement IMHO to be able to dissect it. The high price, also, gives people an understanding of what can be had if you're willing to spend the money. That's an important lesson IMHO to learn about chocolate (or anything else): that, broadly speaking, you get what you pay for. You can't expect to find something wonderful if you budget too low, and conversely you should know that a high price is not necessarily an indication of egregious overpricing, in fact, more commonly it isn't.

quote:


In my opinion, when introducing someone to dark chocolate, the object is to simply show them that dark chocolate is not what they presumed it to be--that being bitter and flat. Many of the aforementioned chocolates are great for this in that they all guarantee a positive reaction on part of a new taster.

Amedei Chuao also accomplishes this, but really it is overkill...


Difference in philosophy there. I've always thought that a little overkill never hurts[;)] Just as importantly, though, I think that it is not enough simply to show a novice chocophile the possibility of a bar not being bitter and flat. I try to introduce them to the full range of possibilities right from the outset, because if you don't do that, the risk is you may end up limiting peoples' horizons somewhat. It might not occur to them that there would be better or more characteristic chocolates beyond what you'd introduced them to under the approach you recommend, and then they might be led to conclude that what they'd just tried is as good as it gets. In the same way that a bar like Chuao or Los Ancones sets a very high bar and might encourage novices to be overly dismissive of other chocolates, a chocolate that is only above the level of bulk bars but nothing particularly special sets the bar a little low and doesn't promote the development of discernment. This actually might in some ways be a good thing, but in other ways it's not so good. It's the old question of whether it is preferable to be ignorant and blindly content or knowledgeable and unsatisfied.

But on Chuao specifically, it's not so much that it's good so much as it is archetypal of a particular flavour profile. This makes it a reference standard which is useful in the development of understanding flavours in the first place. While the novice as you say might not capture all the flavours at first taste, there are only a few other bars that give such a profound lesson in knowing what the flavours are. It's another reason that, again, Puertomar is a particularly inspired choice. Los Ancones, by contrast, is superb in every way but not so archetypal of a profile. That makes it better as a chocolate to try second rather than first.

Alex Rast
Alex_Rast_Alternate@hushmail.com

Alex Rast Alex_Rast_Alternate@hushmail.com
January 26, 2007
8:19 pm
marioh
Bonn, Germany
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When it comes to me I believe that you two have completely different approaches. So why arguing about a topic on which you will obviously never agree? [:)] I believe it is doubtless that everyone how tastes the Chuao form Amedei will immediately realise that this is a chocolate without any bar similar to it, something great. On the other hand I’m sure that it is very difficult to appreciate the quality of the Domori Chateau Line as the bars a very special and very different from chocolate as you normally think about. I can imagine that one can be disappointed by these bars because they are so different (which I have seen by friends of mine).
Finally I believe that it is the best to find your own way into the chocolate world. Everyone is different. The most important think is not to throw in the towel when you do not find what you have expected but to try again, try something different. But I’m sure that everyone really interested in chocolate will do exactly that.

So Russ: Go in and win!

March 1, 2007
8:44 pm
crispyfrank
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Russ-
I'm curious how it went tasting those 4 different bars. Let us know! I joined the world of quality chocolate gradually - finding my own way from Suchard to Lindt to Dolfin, and then to the big hitters that every is mentioning here. I'm glad to have gone that way.
I can only speak for my own experiences, but I think I wouldn't have appreciated Domori or Cluizel or whatever, if I had started with them. I needed to gradually get there. And I guess I'm still in the process, because the couple of Pralus bars I've tried have been too strong in flavor(or maybe ovewhelming?) to me.

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