Spotlight: New Reviews of European Makers
As in the US, craft chocolate makers are springing up all over Europe. Some are building on centuries-old chocolate-making traditions; others are breaking them and experimenting with new approaches and unique inclusions. Some are producing amazing chocolate while others are still finding their footing.
Flavor: Starts out mild, flavor evolves very nicely, offering raisin, brownie, floral, apricot, mellow and interesting.
Bolivia Beni 75%
Flavor: Nutty, sunflower seeds, light roast? Slightly biscuity note, macadamia nut, halva (Middle Eastern sesame candy). Mostly nutty and mild, virtually no bitterness, astringency, or acidity.
Heinde & Verre (The Netherlands)
Aged Noble Bali 71%
Aroma: green wood, spices, dry leaves
Flavor: Dry wood and black tea to start, but the melt reveals some pleasant flavors and complexity: a little caramel and a hint of dried blueberry; a faint hint of smoke that intensifies as it lingers. Some dryness, not out of balance but noticeable. Not too much bitterness.
Recommended: Recommended with reservations. Some tasters didn’t like it as much, and there was something slightly odd about it – maybe a little cardboard flavor defect, but not a major issue. Some of our tasters really enjoyed it, and it’s clearly a well-made bar, showcasing a hard-to-find origin.
Batch info: Best by February 1, 2022
Heinde & Verre (The Netherlands)
Bold Brazil 71%
Flavor: Good complex, satisfying, pleasant flavor. Slight starchiness, vanilla, dried blueberries,
some earthy (soil) notes but not detrimental. A little wood and cranberry emerge as it melts. Very little bitterness and light in color – maybe some Catongo germplasm. There is some nice acidity. Honey, nougat, bold flavors but well balanced. Almond butter - sweet, like peanut butter cups. Bold chocolate, but then delicate tropical fruit. Slight powderiness like powdered sugar in chocolate buttercream frosting.
Recommended: Highly recommended. One of my favorite examples of Brazilian cacao thus far. I’m really impressed with their whole approach. Some of the most detailed origin and process information on their website that I’ve seen anywhere – even a QR code on the box that takes you right there. I also appreciate the two separate sealed packages that allow optimal storage for the remaining half!
Batch info: Best by March 1, 2022
Svenska Kakao 72% (Sweden)
Flavor: Pleasant, lively acidity – cherry, lemon. Also some flavors that I often notice in Peruvian cacao – green banana, black tea, somewhat astringent – but some slightly odd flavors too. There was a faint smoked note and sort of a dry leaves/dusty/starchy quality.
Recommendation: Recommended with reservations. This was sort of an odd bar. I enjoyed the acidity, otherwise I didn’t really like this origin’s flavor profile. It doesn’t seem like an issue with the maker though, I like their style and really enjoyed their Tanzania bar.
Svenska Kakao (Sweden)
Tanzania Kokoa Kamili 74%
Flavor: The flavor starts with a nice burst of acidity as it melts, tart cherry and cranberry. There is some complexity including dried fruit, cocoa powder, and nut skins, but not particularly astringent. There is sort of an earthy, dusty flavor that I don’t love, but it’s also not too distracting. I think it is inherent in the beans rather than any issue with the maker – I’ve noticed that flavor in some other recent lots of Kokoa Kamili bars. The aftertaste is quite pleasant, very clean with floral notes of violet and vanilla.
Recommendation: Recommended. The package says that they “roast at low temperatures, process minimally, and add no unnecessary ingredients.” They’ve done it well! It's also a beautifully-molded bar; I love the pattern.
Madagascar Bejofo 75%
Flavor: Good. Creamy with a distinct tanginess, but less so than some other Madagascar bars. Interestingly, it’s not really a fruity tang, more of a yogurt like tang given the creamy background. A slight astringency/wood note.
Recommendation: Recommended. Overall, a good bar!
Madagascar Bejofo 75%
Flavor: This bar has some noticeable astringency that distracts from pleasant flavors of graham crackers, green apple, green wood, and chocolate hazelnut wafer cookies. There is a slight acidity, and a starchy biscuit quality possibly due to over-refining. Some bitterness, not excessive. Odd aftertaste – flat flavor and continuing astringency.
Recommendation: Not recommended. I liked the beautiful packaging more than the bar itself, unfortunately. Overall, it seems relatively well made, but the quality was perhaps limited by the beans themselves. Possibly some slight over-refining as well, judging by the biscuity notes.
Mexico Soconusco 73%
Aroma: dusty, astringent, lumber
Flavor: A nice amount of acidity with fruit notes: dry apricot, fig, red fruit; A slight pleasant bitterness - orange rind, coffee.
Recommendation: Recommended. Overall, an interesting bar with some good complexity; worth trying.
Madagascar Sambirano 76%
Aroma: Vinegar, soy sauce, mole, sundried tomato
Flavor: Overall a flat character, with a little pleasant acidity but not in a particularly dynamic way. Notes of vanilla, wood. No major defects but lacking complexity.
Recommendation: Not unpleasant, but not particularly complex or interesting, either. Unfortunately I can’t recommend this company yet; both this and the Kokoa Kamili Tanzania bar we tried from them did not offer a lot of complexity or interest. Madagascar offers some truly stunning beans and this is not the best iteration of them.
Batch info: Lot no. L22/12/20; Best by December 21, 2022
Tanzania Kokoa Kamili 84%
Aroma: red wine, vinegar, savory
Flavor: Overall mellow. Peaty, woody, coffee grounds, kind of a muddy earthy flavor. A little bit of nut shells/skin, coconut, almond, biscuit, water cracker. A flat note that might be approaching a cardboard-type flavor defect. Very faint hints of red fruit. A lingering bitterness with slight astringency.
Recommendation: Recommended with reservations. This received a lukewarm response from our tasters. Overall not bad, great texture, but slightly odd flavors. I’ve noticed a fair amount of variability in bars with Kokoa Kamili beans and maybe this just happened to be an off lot. I’ve had other fantastic Tanzania bars with their beans though, and I’d be curious to try another bar from Puchero.
Batch info: Lot no. L14/01/21; Best before January 13, 2023
Cacao Sampaka (Spain)
Mahali, Kasai, Congo 70% Light Roast
Aroma: darker, stronger, cinnamon, more earthy?
Flavor: Fairly complex flavor: Vanilla. Grains: chocolate cookies, granola, wheaty, Yogurt-covered raisins, light funky ripe fruitiness: grape, juicy red fruit, fig newtons, cinnamon. Semi-sweet chocolate chips, minerally soil. The light roast is evident as it is delicate in flavor without many roasted notes, but with some complexity.
Recommendation: Recommended with reservations. something tastes artificial, like candy coating – a very refined character.
Chocolate Bonnat (France)
Aroma: raw sugar, hint of grassiness, sorghum molasses, hint of spice
Flavor: peaty, a little green like flax, , dried apricot, hazelnut, slightly vegetal notes like nut skins, heavy cream richness, clean finish, some astringency, citrus zest, criollo like flavor but that could also come from a lot of cocoa butter mellowing everything out. A little dried fruit acidity emerges as it melts.
Recommendation: Highly recommended. Super smooth texture - Bonnat’s signature creamy, rich mouthfeel comes from a very high cocoa butter content.
Batch info: Lot A; Best by December 2021
Aroma: cocoa shells, red wine
Flavor: Smooth, nutty, and tangy fruit: Coconut, walnut, cocoa butter, craisins, vanilla, some earthy (soil/mineral) undertones. Also warm buttery flavors with a little zip. Hint of red wine, citrus zest, and ginger. Some bitter dryness, not excessive but noticeable - dry leaf, cocoa shell notes.
Recommendation: Recommended. A complex, flavorful, and satisfying bar; and at $8, a great deal.