Based in Vietnam, Belvie makes a range of award-winning Belgian-style bars with single-origin Trinitario beans. They offer a unique opportunity to try not just beans from Vietnam, but beans from specific regions within the country, each with its own terroir, all produced locally in Saigon.
Marou makes exclusively Vietnamese chocolate, with fine beans sourced from around the country and local sugar. Founded by two Frenchmen and based in Saigon, Marou was part of the early wave of in-country production for international markets. I love their emphasis on regional, rather than national terroir. There are many different soil types, cacao varieties, and microclimates throughout Vietnam, and Marou highlights the variation by careful sourcing and gentle roasts to maintain the original character of the beans.
Vietnam Dong Nai 70%
Aroma: a soft grassy aroma, like dried hay or sweetgrass, along with some sweetness – figs, raisins, anise. Fresh grains, like a flour mill, but not dusty, a tiny bit soapy. Silage.
Flavor: Complex brown sweetness: sorghum molasses, figs, raisins, anise, caramel, toffee, grapes, with a mild base flavor that includes notes of fresh grains, cookies, and raw hazelnuts and peanuts. Very low acidity - just a hint of red fruit, no bitterness, astringency is very slight.
Recommendation: Recommended. This bar has a unique, distinct flavor profile with good complexity.
Batch info: Lot no. 70304, Best before December 24, 2020
Black Pearl of the Mekong 85%
Aroma: dry leaves, earth, leather, soy, tobacco, sweet hay, slight tang
Flavor: Dried cherries, cranberry, raisin, spices, coffee grounds, dry earthy. Molasses, graham cracker, very dry. Dusty astringency.
Recommendation: Not recommended. It’s not bad per se - there's no burned notes, no mold, not much bitterness, but it has a lot of dusty/dry earth flavors
Batch info: Best before June 30, 2022
Bà Ria 76%
Aroma: soft raisin, port, vanilla, a little wood/earthiness, bread crust, pipe tobacco, leather
Flavor: Raisin, bread, chocolate bread, dark toast, dark chocolate covered cherries, éclair – pastry and rich cream, cocoa powder, tea – some mild tannins, coffee grounds, chocolate ice cream, a slight starchiness, and a little fruitiness coming through – dried cherries.
Recommendation: Recommended. An overall pleasant bar, mild and mellow, if not thrilling.
Batch info: Batch no. 4275; Best before June 15, 2020
Lam Dong 74%
Aroma: leather, port, smoky, cocoa, spices, orange
Flavor: grass, some fruit tang, wood, grapes, sour yellow fruit, honey, beeswax, some floral? A creaminess and tanginess like lemon ice cream, a hint of smokiness/meatiness, delicate and pleasant, a nice creaminess, earthy and slightly sour.
Batch info: Batch no. 4220, Best before March 18, 2020
Recommendation: Recommended. Pleasant subtle flavors and a smooth texture.
Dong Nai 72%
Aroma: lilacs, lilies, very floral, honey, beeswax, honeysuckle, delicate fruit
Flavor: nutty, toasted flavors, cocoa powder, rich chocolate flavor, brownies, with light honey, fruity (peach) and floral notes. Pleasant acidity at finish. Long lingering flavor.
Batch info: Batch no. 4070, Best before June 6, 2019
Recommendation: Highly recommended. Lovely delicate floral and nutty chocolate flavors. The texture was slightly grainy - most of the other bars I have had from Marou were perfectly tempered, so I suspect there may have been poor handling somewhere along the way. Either way, the flavor was lovely and I would still highly recommend it.
Tien Giang 70%
Aroma: little bit of a hammy odor
Flavor: Some acidity, more pronounced fruitiness, hint of tannins, gentle spicy/woody complexity, very slight back-of-the-throat bite. Prune, molasses, honey, floral, spices. A little grassiness, smoky pine. Smoky, cured meat undertones.
Batch info: Batch no. 4072, Best before June 8, 2019
Recommendation: Recommended with reservations. Some nice flavors, but I didn’t like this one as much as some of their other bars.
Ben Tre 78%
Aroma: smoked meat (kind of overwhelms the other aromas), smoke, soil, ash, earthy, rich soil, cocoa powder
Flavor: dark, wood, dried cherries, black licorice, pepper, tannins, coffee, black tea. Starts out a little bitter/tanniny, bitterness fades to cocoa powder, a little sour – starfruit. Earthy, cocoa powder, yellow fruit tang.
Batch info: Batch no. 4226, Best before March 13, 2020
Recommendation: Recommended with reservations. Not very complex and the smoky flavors are a little strong, but also not too bitter for 78%.
Dak Lak 70%
Flavor: cocoa powder, woodiness, cedar, spice. Nice mild cocoa powder flavor with some fruit/spice/earthiness at the end. Pleasant light acidity at end.
Batch info: Batch no. 4040, Best before June 4, 2019
Recommendation: Recommended with reservations. The flavor was pleasant but it has a slightly grainy texture, I assume due to poor handling which isn’t necessarily their fault. Tasted old and a little stale but the expiration date was six months away when I tasted it. I have had a couple lovely bars from them and a couple not so great so I need to try more to figure out what’s going on.