October 13, 2009
After many, many years as the finest organic chocolate ever made, Domori's Chacao finally makes way for a new champion. And it must be said, from an unexpected quarter. The new winner is Hotel Chocolat's Haicenda Iara 90%.
It seems reasonable to infer that this is being made by Coppeneur, although there isn't anything explicit that indicates this, and it's not a "standard item" in the Coppeneur range, so this is at least a Hotel Chocolat custom formulation. Hotel Chocolat have also revamped the packaging for the "Purist" line, with results radically for the worse. The inner plastic wrap of the old, which did affect flavour, is thankfully gone, but that's about the only step in the right direction. Now the bars receive only a flimsy cellophane wrap, which futhermore isn't sealed; in practical terms no protection whatsoever. It doesn't help that the bars are small and thin. I suspect they'll have problems with breakage in shipment, and it's just not a format that will withstand any rough treatment: even holding it in your hand is likely to risk detempering the surface thanks to body heat. The whole thing feels cheap - to the degree that it appears to have been a marketing exercise in "what is the lowest possible packaging cost we can achieve?" NOT the best way to show off what is supposed to be your "high-end" chocolate.
But these are quibbles. On to the chocolate itself. It superficially looks well-made, with clean temper and little rippling; the dark colour is typical of Ecuador. The aroma, meanwhile, is lovely. It's a beautiful, pure strawberry which then takes on chocolatey notes before moving to raisin. Some nutty and tobacco hints appear, but they're very much in the background: fresh fruitiness is the dominant theme here.
The flavour explodes into powerful chocolatey right away, then manifests the strawberry in the aroma along with grape. Hints of hazelnut and possibly red wine also emerge. Finish moves towards a
suggestion of toast (possibly buttered toast?) but continues to sustain other flavours. Remarkably, there's no bitterness at any point, nor does the chocolate feel austere in the way so many ultra-percentage chocolates do.
Texture is near-perfect, hyper-creamy and impeccably smooth, more or less what one expects from Coppeneur in a 90%. Throughout the tasting one cannot escape the sense that this is one of the greatest chocolates of all time, a truly magnificent achievement. Like Chacao did before, it redefines the notion of the possible organic chocolate. Clearly this is the best ultra-percentage chocolate ever. In fact, soon it will need to be tried head-to-head against Amedei's Chuao for the title of best chocolate in the world.
I might note here that Hotel Chocolat also has a "Chuao" in the same line. It turns out to be an almost perfect clone of Amedei, replicating almost every detail of the style nuances point for point, down to the texture. Nice job Coppeneur (I assume?), but maybe a bit of stylistic originality would have been refreshing? As it is, Amedei might almost complain of copycatting. The Hacienda Iara, meanwhile, ends Amedei's brief reign for the best Ecuador chocolate.
Hotel Chocolat also have a praline featuring this new Hacienda Iara chocolate. I gave it one of the most favourable reviews ever for a chocolate confection, which now seems obviously in large part because of the chocolate that was used. Definitely worth trying but buy the pure chocolate first.
These favourable impressions, incidentally, do not extend to the entire "Purist" line, which maintains the same characteristic as before - maddening inconsistency. But the Hacienda Iara 90% should be bought now. It's worth repeating again, too, that it's organic. A quantum leap over other organic chocolates, and a worthy replacement for the much-missed Chacao.