We have 17 bean-to-bar craft chocolate makers in Canada. Well, I think so. Maybe. This number is always a moving target and I have been trying to hit that target with my mouth for a few years now. And just when I think that I've tasted the last one, a new one opens up for business.
Sirene Chocolate of Victoria, B.C. is one of the newest additions to Canada's growing craft, bean-to-bar chocolate movement, and, I believe, is emerging as a most interesting contender.
Why so interesting? Sirene has come out with chocolate sold in packages of 'Tasting Pairs'. In one box, you can find a chocolate bar made from cocoa beans grown in Madagascar and a chocolate bar made from beans grown in Ecuador. For a curious taster, who loves to savour and compare single origin chocolate, I find Sirene's duo boxes a breath of fresh air.
You might be wondering why a 'tasting pair' is such a great idea. Taylor Kennedy, Sirene's owner and chocolate maker says he designed it for the majority of people who are still learning what craft bean-to-bar chocolate is. "Without a direct comparison, it is hard to understand that there is something different about this chocolate," explains Mr. Kennedy. "Alone, a great bar might be thought of as 'just really good chocolate', instead of 'wow, check this out, two totally different flavours between these two chocolates....what is going on here?'"
Mr. Kennedy's goal is to "pique interest" in craft chocolate for the majority of chocolate lovers who have yet to experience it. He wants them to learn why it is so different from industrial chocolate. And those differences? Well, to name a few:
1. Attention to detail due to the craft chocolate maker's passion for chocolate making (and tasting),
2. Care for preserving the natural origin flavours of the bean,
3. A nearly-never use of preservatives or funky bad-for-you ingredients in craft chocolate, such as hydrogenated oil or modified starches (if you have ever read the back of a popular candy bar, you'll know what I am talking about), and
4. Direct trade with the farmers or co-operatives means fairer pay for those who cultivate the cocoa beans used to make chocolate.
As a rather enthusiastic fan of craft chocolate, Sirene's duo box enabled me to taste chocolate in my favourite way: compare two origin chocolates that are vastly different simply because the cocoa beans used to make them grow in two different regions of the world. The best part is that I did not have to buy two bars separately, and I did not have to seek out chocolate with the same percentage for an accurate comparison. Take Lindt for instance - each bar in their single origin range has a slightly different percentage of cocoa solids, which means a different percentage of sugar. This makes it hard to tell if one bean is naturally sweeter than another when tasting the chocolate.
But I get it. Some beans need to be treated differently than others. Some have less cocoa butter, taste bitter and come out with a chalky texture and therefore, those need more sugar. But Sirene's idea is perfect for those times when you just want to identify unique origin flavours in two different chocolates.
Currently, Sirene Chocolate offers Tasting Pairs made from just the two origins: Madagascar and Ecuador. But Taylor Kennedy says he is testing about 12 origins right now to find two new pairs that work well together, so keep an eye out, Sirene is one to watch! For more information on Sirene Chocolate and where you can find it near you, visit the company's website at www.sirenechocolate.com. Mine was purchased at JoJo Coco in Ottawa, but it is also available for sale online at La Tablette de Miss Choco.
Here are some notes from my review of each of Sirene's current chocolate Tasting Pairs:
Sirene's 73% and 100% Chocolate Bars:
With just one or two ingredients, the chocolate is amazingly delicate and delicious. The incredible colour difference between these two origin chocolate bars is fascinating, showing that the beans alone can greatly affect the colour of any chocolate bar. The 73% bars were both delicious in two very different ways. The Madagascar 73% was fruity, with raspberry and fruit flavours. The Ecuador was slightly stiffer due to less cocoa fat in the beans, but it had a heavy cocoa flavour and a nutty finish. I preferred the 73% bars with no salt, but my preference is normally for a slightly sweeter chocolate-and salt-combination. Overall, I really enjoyed the 73% dark chocolate bars.
On the first day that I tasted the 100% bars, I found the Madagascar to be more palatable. On the second day, I preferred the Ecuador. Regardless, if I had to live on sugarless 100% dark chocolate for the rest of my life, I could live on these two bars. Both delicate and unique and nothing at all like the unsweetened baking chocolate I knew from my childhood. Here are my specific notes:
Madagascar 100% - With its light milk chocolate colour and fruity aroma, this chocolate makes you want to eat it from the appearance and smell alone. It tastes nothing like 'unsweetened baking chocolate', and so much tastier than a Lindt 99% bar. This chocolate has a distinct fruity (think unsweetened not-so-ripe raspberries) flavour and there is no chalkiness on the palate. I found it acidic.
Ecuador 100% - This had a very sweet aroma when you smelled it, which is always funny for a 100% cacao chocolate, since there is no sugar added. A little flat in flavour compared to the Madagascar, but still a nice heavy cocoa flavour with a nutty aftertaste.