Monday, July 11, 2016

An Innovative Tasting Box Highlights Variations in Nicaraguan Cacao

Last week, I told you about Eau de Rose, a new chocolate maker in Quebec. And today I want to talk about another Quebec chocolate maker that has been around a little longer. I first wrote about Chaleur B Chocolat in February of 2015; at that time the owner and chocolate maker, Dany Marquis, had just begun applying his coffee roasting knowledge (he had built a successful coffee business in Quebec) to roasting cacao and making chocolate from the bean. But over the last year, this now-seasoned chocolate maker has become one of the most innovative in Canada.

I'll tell you about some of Chaleur's more 'colourful' creations in a future post, but right now I want to tell you about an innovative product offering from earlier this year. As Mr. Marquis described it to me, he created "Nicaragua tasting boxes with the 5 botanical varieties at the same %." 

That's right folks. Five chocolate bars. All made with the same percentage of cocoa solids. And all made from a different variety of cocoa bean, grown in different locations of Nicaragua. I was in chocolate connoisseur heaven.

What was really cool about this package was it offered a detailed account of the cacao origin and bean type; a level of detail rarely found on chocolate packages. So not only did each chocolate bar package state the region where the cacao was grown, it also explained the number of producers (farms) the cacao came from, who the 'Main contributors' were, the zones of Nicaragua, the date of the cacao harvest, and the specific type of bean (i.e. Trinitario, Criollo, etc.).

For instance, the 80% Chuno chocolate bar was made from Trinitario-type cacao beans that were harvested between March 27th and April 5th of 2015, and produced by 69 producers. After analysis, these beans were thought to be grandfather to the coveted Criollo beans of Venezuela. Whereas the Johe 80% chocolate bar was made from 'Acriollo' cacao beans (an old Criollo variety) that were harvested on April 24th by 34 producers. You can see an example of this detail, printed on the Johe package, here:

Detail from the back of Chaleur's Johe Nicaragua origin
chocolate bar (80% cocoa solids).

Why is 'detail' so cool? For starters, when tasting chocolate, it is important to know the harvest years and the dates of the cacao harvest, to understand why chocolate of the same origin might taste different from the last batch that you tried. The bean type will also determine the flavour of the chocolate. And of course, the region where the beans are grown will definitely affect the resulting flavour of the chocolate. With five chocolate bars, this can get confusing, but it is also much appreciated by a chocolate connoisseurs and those studying to become knowledgeable chocolate tasters.

Over the course of a few weeks, I tasted all five bars. Each time, I compared and contrasted the chocolate bars to fully understand the difference in taste between them. Detailed tasting notes are below, but to sum up, I found the Nicalizo easiest on the palate, with Johe coming in second and Chuno a close third (although creamy with a light, lovely colour, Chuno still had a bitter bite to it.

The Rugoso and Tenor were the most bitter, and harshest on the palate, with both leaving a dry feeling in the mouth like a very dry red wine might.  Although it would pair well with a dry red wine, I can see from a chocolate makers perspective, creating this type of line-up is eye opening in that it shows which bars would benefit from a little more sugar or cocoa butter, or perhaps a change of roasting time or conche length, to smooth out the bitter flavours.

I am not sure if Chaleur will be offering the same tasting box again, but I know that the chocolate maker is committed to innovation, and his 'chocolate curiosity' is always a driving force, so I imagine we will see more awesome products coming our way in the future.

Chocolate Tasting Notes and Details on Nicaragua Origin Chocolate Bars by Chaleur B Chocolat:

Johe, 80%

Tasting Notes: Fruity with a roasted nuts and cream flavour and a milk chocolate colour.  Delicate, yet reminds me a little of the robust flavour of a Maranon, yet less fruity.

Beans: Acrillado Cacao primarily from the Matagalpa region, determined by geneticists as an old Criollo variety

Harvest: April 24th, 2015

Number of producers: 34

Tenor La Dalia, 80%

Tasting Notes: Very dark in colour, nearly black, with an upfront bitter cocoa flavour - bitter, earthy, hmmmm don't taste the fruit... need to retaste.

Beans: Blend of several unclassified varieties from one plantation in the Northern Highlands of Nicaragua.

Harvest: April 24, 2015

Number of producers: 10

Nicalizo, 80%

Tasting Notes: Very light in colour like the Johe, licorice taste with a milk chocolate taste and fruity finish. A wee bit acidic. This on is the easiest on the palate, with Johe coming in a close second.

Beans:  Trinitario hybrid, grown primarily in the Northern Highlands of Nicaragua, determined to be possible grandfather to Venezuelan Criollo.

Harvest: February 27th to April 24th, 2015

Number of producers: 50

Chuno, 80%

Tasting Notes: Creamy, yet acidic bite. Very smooth, bitter olive flavour, lightly-burnt nuts with husks on (the bitterness of  hazelnut or almond husk), burnt cream with a slightly bitter bite? The lightest shade of brown among all of the chocolate bars.

Beans: Trinitario hybrid originating of the Northern Highlands of Nicaragua, with analysis by geneticists as the possible grandfather to Criollo trees of Venezuela. This explains the colour, if you have had Venezuelan Criollo you'll understand.

Harvest: March 27 to April 5, 2015

Number of producers: 69

Rugoso, 80%
Tasting Notes: This chocolate bar features a spice, and a harsh bite, and certainly has the most bitter flavour of all five chocolate bars. There is an initial upfront bite that is often experienced with most 100% dark chocolate bars. The cool reddish shade shows a clear difference between it and the other bars, and the little berry fruit and red grape aftertaste remind me a little of a Madagascar criollo.

Beans: This chocolate is made from a Trinitario variety, also thought to be grandfather to the Venezuelan Criollo. The Rugoso cocoa bean was awarded a Cocoa of Excellence award at the International Cocoa Awards in 2015 in Paris. Learn more about it here. Dany Maquis, Chaleur founder and chocolate maker, agrees that this is a great bean, but after making the 80% chocolate for this tasting box and testing the beans in his factory, he feels the bitterness of the cacao is more suitable in a 70% dark chocolate. Without even tasting the 70% chocolate, I still agree with that sentiment.

Harvest: between March 10th and April 22nd, 2015
Number of producers: 49


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