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Amedei varietals: Bar form at last!
February 14, 2010
8:53 pm
Alex Rast
Manchester, United Kingdom
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Forum Posts: 283
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October 13, 2009
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Finally Amedei have conceded to popular (and it must be said, well-applied) pressure to release their varietals in bar form. It’s about time. How do the new bars compare to older vintages? I’m not going to go through full reviews here, but here’s some summaries of the comparisons.

Some bars stayed virtually the same. The Venezuela is indistinguishable from old. The Jamaica is very similar in overall style, although it has been definitely improved. Amedei have softened the sharpest edges to this chocolate so that it’s a little more mellow.

Disappointingly but unsurprisingly, the 2 big winners from before, Madagascar and Trinidad, suffered somewhat. The Trinidad is the big loser. Gone is that mighty fruitiness; instead it’s become earthy and there’s a strange mediciney finish. I get the impression Amedei may have roasted this batch for longer. The Madagascar, however, is still a fine chocolate, just not sublime as the last one was. This is probably batch variation. The current crop is sharper and with more fermented notes. It’s more aggressive than the last.

In compensation, the Grenada and Ecuador have improved spectacularly. While the Grenada’s aroma isn’t compelling, the flavour is superb (funnily enough, reminiscent of an Ecuador with blackberry and brown sugar!). Better still, in fact, is the Ecuador itself. Amedei’s style has been a perfect match for Ecuador origin so in fact they always should have been able to get the perfect Ecuador, but now, they have succeeded in a total way. It’s very dark, to be sure, but almost perfectly balanced and chocolatey in flavour.

Overall, too, the line shows a more consistent style. I’m not convinced this is entirely a good thing – the very distinctively different flavours of the original origins made for dramatic comparisons, but on the other hand Amedei is very clearly marking their style choice which gives them a more definite place in the market. Now these bars are in a more accessible format which should give them much wider exposure and hopefully inspire interest.

Alex Rast
Alex_Rast_Alternate@hushmail.com

Alex Rast Alex_Rast_Alternate@hushmail.com
February 14, 2010
10:41 pm
Eshra
Southgate, USA
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Forum Posts: 178
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February 14, 2006
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Alex,

I was sorely disappointed with several of the varietals. I will say, however, that I enjoyed the Madagascan the most. Nonetheless, the origins are all plagued by the same exact problems: over-conching and over-roasting. There are subtle differences between the bars, but Amedei’s raisin-y notes simply dominate each of bars to an extent that has the effect of masking the characteristics that each of the origins ought to offer. Compare, for instance, Grenada Chocolate Company’s 71% bar to Amedei’s Grenada. The former is processed less, and the beans speak for themselves through not notes of cocoa, but through tidal waves of pure, chocolately goodness. The latter’s density of flavors have been BOILED off!

The Trinidad and Jamaican bars are similar to the Grenadan. There simply isn’t enough difference to warrant my gravitation to any particular bar. I don’t know if Amedei is attempting to galvanize on more subtle notes, but when I try an origin chocolate, I want everything that that source has to offer. I don’t want a chocolatier to boil a chocolate to an extent where not only the tannins are removed, but the soul of the beans, as well.

Actually, I am going to stop here. I could talk further about how utterly disappointed I have been with Amedei for the past year, but I will not. I will simply stick to more artisanal chocolate makers that have faith in their beans, like Amano and Patric.

Sean

February 15, 2010
1:57 am
Alex Rast
Manchester, United Kingdom
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quote:


Originally posted by Eshra

Alex,

I was sorely disappointed with several of the varietals. I will say, however, that I enjoyed the Madagascan the most. Nonetheless, the origins are all plagued by the same exact problems: over-conching and over-roasting.


I have to disagree here. Overconching would be marked by genuine flatness and dullness of flavour. I didn’t detect any of that here. Similarly overroasting would indicate itself by an ashy, coffee character. The Venezuela might, arguably, be close to that, but it’s not nearly as dark as, e.g. Pralus’ Venezuela which I think is a very good chocolate, and MUCH closer to overroasted.

You can easily underconch and underroast, too. The number of chocolates I’ve had where the taste is an explosion of unmingled, imbalanced flavours is innumerable, the effect confusing rather than interesting. At the end of the day there’s a style choice each manufacturer has to make, but there’s a range of acceptable styles, and my opinion is it’s dangerous to define that range so narrowly that only a small subset of chocolatiers qualify.

quote:


There are subtle differences between the bars, but Amedei’s raisin-y notes simply dominate each of bars to an extent that has the effect of masking the characteristics that each of the origins ought to offer. Compare, for instance, Grenada Chocolate Company’s 71% bar to Amedei’s Grenada. The former is processed less, and the beans speak for themselves through not notes of cocoa, but through tidal waves of pure, chocolately goodness.


Again I have to disagree. While Grenada Chocolate Company’s current 71% is a big improvement over earlier versions, it’s still not perfect. Actually, the 82% and 60% were both better than the 71% in my opinion. Neither, however, matches Amedei’s interpretation IMHO. However, it’s also my opinion that while a varietal should express its distinctive characteristics, they also should express the style of the manufacturer, because exactly what constitutes the “distinctive characteristics” of the varietal are completely dependent on manufacturer process decisions. The notion of just *what* those “characteristics” *are* is meaningless outside of the context in which they have been made into chocolate. In other words, there is no hypothetical “objective reference” against which you can establish what characteristics exist – so you have to revert to the interpretation the manufacturer has decided to apply. I think it’s more a case of whose style produces a more pleasant outcome with the particular bean in concern than whether a “style” is evident in itself.

quote:


The latter’s density of flavors have been BOILED off!


Hmmm – that sounds to me like your personal preferences are for precisely the sort of unmingled overlaying of different flavours that I criticise. My view is that complexity for its own sake is worth very little. It’s not about how many separate components you can count in the flavour profile but whether the components that do exist integrate into a pleasing whole.

quote:


Actually, I am going to stop here. I could talk further about how utterly disappointed I have been with Amedei for the past year, but I will not. I will simply stick to more artisanal chocolate makers that have faith in their beans, like Amano and Patric.


There is one final factor here that I think deserves comment, not necessarily because it’s definitely happening in this case but because it may be a factor and thus needs to be brought out.

Amedei is now an established manufacturer. They’ve been around long enough that people are familiar both with them and the style that they offer. Amano and Patric are both newer and have narrower distribution. Fewer people are familiar with them and still fewer have had them enough to have become accustomed to them.

In matters of taste, novelty factor cannot be underestimated. One reason is simply that the palate adjusts and after a while you know exactly what to expect. Another is that an experience that expands one’s horizons usually registers as more significant. Another, more cynical reason, but it does exist, is that in any industry where image plays a role, an item that is a Known Quantity doesn’t have the exclusivity that an item that only a small group of people know about, much less have seen or experienced.

The danger, and I think it’s a big danger in the case of Amedei, is that this advantage for novelty can really hurt a small company. Smaller companies are far less in a position to be able to absorb even small downturns in sales than large ones. Thus worthy companies producing fine products often have their day in the sun and then quickly wither under competition from newer, fresher faces.

You could say that is the rough and tumble of the marketplace, but in the long run the entire industry suffers, because the process of making fine chocolate is one that requires years of accumulated expertise, and every top-notch company that goes out of business means that many years of expertise disappear. That leaves the newcomers to have to rediscover the hard way how to make fine chocolate – and the consumer suffers because the only things we get are ongoing experiments rather than the result of refinement and craft passed down. Experiments are fine and interesting but really good chocolate needs more than experimentation. Most new companies, I find, make chocolate that can be promising but is still a far cry from the chocolates made by established companies like Cluizel, Domori, and Amedei.

Like any company, the new batch of Amedei chocolates has its successes and its failures, but on the whole not only is it quite good IMHO, but reflects a slight but noticeable improvement on the past. Let this not discourage companies like Amano, on the other side! Amano is producing exciting chocolates, and some of them are the equal, although not the better, of the great Amedei chocolates. Already I recognise a distinctive style in Amano which might in later years be seen as stereotypical. I emphasize that Amano is a bright exception – most of the newer companies are not even close to that level yet. Meanwhile I don’t see anything in Amedei that marks them as “ruining” fine beans in favour of a bland homogeneous style. I see only a company who has created a distinctive and excellent style that we can now all recognise enough to notice.

Alex Rast
Alex_Rast_Alternate@hushmail.com

Alex Rast Alex_Rast_Alternate@hushmail.com
February 15, 2010
5:19 am
Eshra
Southgate, USA
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February 14, 2006
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Alex,

I guess I just am wondering how Amedei has managed to process their chocolate in such a way, so as to confer such similar and recognizable signatures in each bar.

I cannot say that I have ever been a part of the manufacturing process when it comes to chocolate. Thus, I do not know the nuances that go into transforming cocoa beans into a bars of chocolate. Thus I can only speculate on how Amedei manages to churn out such batch-consistent bars that bear more similarity to one another than differences. I have tasted hundreds of bars, and can honestly say that a great degree of homogeneity exists among the Amedei bars. I bought several bars of each of the origins, and felt I had wasted a lot of money. I was hoping for more marked differences between the bars.

I can, of course, strain myself to recognize more subtle differences, but I honestly feel that whatever method Amedei is using to restrain the full expression of their chocolate, it is not a step in the right direction. I try a bar of Patric Madagascar and I try a bar of his Rio Caribe. These bars could not be more different: same maker; completely different flavor profiles.

I also sampled the Amedei origins with several fellow chocolate lovers, and everyone agreed that there was more similarity between the Caribbean varietals than differences. That may be something you prefer, but that does not seem to have the sort of ‘wow’ factor I look for when I do a chocolate tasting. Again, some prefer subtlety Alex, but as I get older, my palate craves marked, delineated differences. There probably isn’t a right answer here. Just a case of preferences.

Sean

February 16, 2010
1:00 am
Alex Rast
Manchester, United Kingdom
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Forum Posts: 283
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October 13, 2009
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quote:


Originally posted by Eshra

Alex,
I guess I just am wondering how Amedei has managed to process their chocolate in such a way, so as to confer such similar and recognizable signatures in each bar.


There are several potential explanations. One of the most important is, quite simply, expectation. The brain is easily “primed” by expectation into interpreting patterns into just about anything ambiguous. I was a participant at a particularly vivid demonstration of this when at a lecture the presenter played a Led Zeppelin track backwards. The first time he did so with no comment, no indication who or what was being played. It sounded like…well, like anything played backwards. Unintelligible. Then, he announced the track and furthermore gave us the words thought to be audible when it was played backwards. Sure enough, all of us could really hear what sounded like what was being described. Amedei is somewhat in this position. Make no mistake, there is a real style here, and yes, that dark, dried-fruit (particularly raisin) note is characteristic, but once that became publicly known and described, people tend to notice it more – much more – because they’ve been primed to expect it. I’m not saying this is all in anyones’ head, but the effect of expectations can amplify subtleties massively so that they seem to dominate.

Another important factor is – this outcome is the result, and the evidence, of skill. Amedei have clear ideas about how chocolate should taste and now they know their process and their methods well enough to be able to achieve that consistently. Much of the variability, easily attributed to varietal characteristics, that comes out of newer manufacturers is often the result of not having enough certainty or experience with the process they’re using yet to get a consistent result. Almost every manufacturer I know is more interested in getting consistent results from consistent processes than in high variability – and in fact many of them lament the outcome of what in their eyes is a failed attempt to capture the “essence” of a given bean, that we may view as a triumph.

As a manufacturer, you have to proceed with some idea of the outcome you’re trying to achieve with your chocolate. Faced with a fresh bag of beans, you can’t come in and identify what the outcome of an “ideal” process for that particular bag would be in terms of a finished chocolate – because there *is* no one ideal, merely a whole spectrum of possible outcomes depending on how you proceed. In fact, it’s the other way round: *you* decide what you think the ideal you wish to aim for is and adjust your process to get as close to that ideal as you can.

The third important aspect is that processing isn’t open-loop. No manufacturer interested in a good result is going simply to follow a “process recipe” blindly, taking it on faith throughout that the final outcome will be what they expect. Processing is a matter of continual tasting, so you keep adjusting your machines to keep the chocolate moving in the same direction. Thus from a wide variety of different beans, you can, and probably will, arrive at broadly similar results, because the ideal in your head of what chocolate should be like stays the same.

quote:


I cannot say that I have ever been a part of the manufacturing process when it comes to chocolate. Thus, I do not know the nuances that go into transforming cocoa beans into a bars of chocolate. Thus I can only speculate on how Amedei manages to churn out such batch-consistent bars that bear more similarity to one another than differences.


What’s happening, most likely, is that broad similarities, the result of specific process preferences coming out of Amedei’s visualisation of the “ideal”, are getting amplified in the mind because of existing expectations, so that on the one hand the similarities come to the fore and on the other act as a distractor that makes it difficult to notice the differences. Now that they know how to achieve a given style reliably, it makes it that much more noticeable.

quote:


I have tasted hundreds of bars, and can honestly say that a great degree of homogeneity exists among the Amedei bars. I bought several bars of each of the origins, and felt I had wasted a lot of money. I was hoping for more marked differences between the bars.


To a degree, that would be roughly analogous to buying multiple albums from the same musical artist and expecting marked differences in the music. Even if you take an artist that worked across multiple media – Michelangelo, say, it’s easy to identify a distinct style across pieces in a different format. Individual chocolates from Amedei have differences – fairly pronounced differences, in fact, but they also share many similarities – the reflection of a developed and mature style.

quote:


I can, of course, strain myself to recognize more subtle differences, but I honestly feel that whatever method Amedei is using to restrain the full expression of their chocolate, it is not a step in the right direction.


I think this misrepresents what is probably going on. I don’t think Amedei is trying to “restrain” anything. They aren’t trying to force chocolate into subjection to some authoritarian style decision that creates an homogeneous taste. Again, it must be reemphasised: the notion of “full expression” is *meaningless* outside process decisions of the manufacturer.

quote:


I try a bar of Patric Madagascar and I try a bar of his Rio Caribe. These bars could not be more different: same maker; completely different flavor profiles.

You have to be careful here because as a relatively new chocolate manufacturer he may not yet have reliable data about his process, so that 2 different batches of *anything* might produce radically different results. Also, if you don’t already have a style expectation about Patric, there will be nothing to “prime” your attention – so you wouldn’t notice a stylistic leaning that you didn’t know existed, or to be exact it wouldn’t be nearly as prominent.

I also sampled the Amedei origins with several fellow chocolate lovers, and everyone agreed that there was more similarity between the Caribbean varietals than differences.


Probably, but I don’t think anyone has established that all else being equal, source will dominate over process. In other words, it’s quite possible that *any* 2 chocolates from *any* given manufacturer would be more similar than they are different.

That may be something you prefer, but that does not seem to have the sort of ‘wow’ factor I look for when I do a chocolate tasting.

I try to evaluate a chocolate in isolation on its own merits, as opposed to a comparative sense of “how different/unique is this chocolate in comparison to any other chocolate I’ve tried?” My personal opinion is that a chocolate is good in some absolute sense, so that if you had 3 completely different varietals, from completely different origins, that ended up tasting exactly identical, if the first one you tried tasted good then the other 2 would receive the same rating. One might say that the quality of a chocolate isn’t affected by what it says on the label.

The way you say “wow” factor sounds like what you want is an element of the unexpected. Unexpectedness does indeed attract attention (in fact, it’s the *driver* of attention!) but if that’s what you look for, how can any chocolate that isn’t fundamentally new (or at least a recent introduction) avoid being rated poorly? Then all chocolates would be on a sort of temporally-decaying rating: at the time of introduction their potential rating would be high, but with each successive year in production that rating would decline, quite steeply. If that’s the case, how can any chocolate at all have intrinsic value (beyond sheer novelty value)?

Again, some prefer subtlety Alex, but as I get older, my palate craves marked, delineated differences.

That to me suggests that it’s more than a question of the chocolate; it’s a question of tasting *format*. It sounds like your preferred way of experiencing chocolate is as a series of tastings each with a variety of different chocolates per sitting.

By contrast I like to focus exclusively on a particular bar. It’s rare that I taste more than one bar at a time – almost never if I’m doing a formal review. To me that would ruin the purity of the single experience.

As I said initially, I don’t necessarily think that consistent style across Amedei’s range is entirely an improvement, but it’s not a deterioration either, rather it has a different set of benefits.

Alex Rast
Alex_Rast_Alternate@hushmail.com

Alex Rast Alex_Rast_Alternate@hushmail.com
February 19, 2010
10:30 pm
Scott--DFW
Dallas, USA
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Forum Posts: 74
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October 26, 2006
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quote:


Originally posted by Alex_Rast
In matters of taste, novelty factor cannot be underestimated. …an item that is a Known Quantity doesn’t have the exclusivity that an item that only a small group of people know about, much less have seen or experienced.


Not to dispute your broader point, Alex, but in the US, Amedei has very limited distribution–probably more than Patric, but definitely less than Amano. Limited distribution combined with Amedei’s steep pricing (nearly double, by weight, that of most small American chocolate makers) has resulted in Amedei being much less familiar to many American consumers than the domestic upstarts. In other words, when American consumers favor certain American-made chocolates, seldom can it be chalked up to “Amedei ennui.” In fact, it may be precisely the opposite–that they haven’t had enough Amedei to recognize the company’s general level of excellence (whether they ultimately prefer it or not).

Scott