When it comes to food, my wife describes me as "discerning but not picky", I will eat just about anything: from junk food to burnt food. I know when I'm eating bad food, but that usually doesn't stop me from eating it (and enjoying it). But when it comes to good food, boy, do I get excited. I can't shut up about a chef who executes a perfect "medium rare" or a restaurant where you can tell they make their own pasta.
So when it comes to "high quality" and "artisinal" items, I am sometimes incredulous. If I can be satisfied by simple chocolates, I need a chocolate to really impress me in order for it to earn its badge of quality. Too often a "premium" chocolate is only better than standard by a small margin. I have to question if it really worth the premium title. I enjoy Lindt immensely, but it doesn't really get me excited. It's good, high quality chocolate but it doesn't really break out of the "average" bracket.
Since I started working at the Boutique, I've encountered more thrilling chocolates than I'd have ever imagined, but there are a handful of specific chocolates that absolutely live up to their reputation. These are chocolates that my wife ha become very familiar with, because I will not stop talking about them.
They are all high quality dark chocolates, but if you're not a dark chocolate fan, don't stop reading, these are the chocolates that will change your mind.
Domori Puerto Fino
The Puerto Fino is a 70%, but it lacks a certain amount of bitterness that makes it taste lighter without the use of cream or sugar. The flavor is almost refreshing, like a cross breeze on a hot day. It uses Criollo Cacao beans, known as the lightest, rarest, and most delicate of Cacao beans, known as Porcelana. I've tried too little Criollo to make an informed decision on how different it actually is, but if any bar would convince me, it would be Domori. I have a feeling that they use a higher percentage of cacao butter to cacao solids, which would emphasize the lightness of the cacao as well. It melted so pleasantly and so evenly, that I was astounded that the flavor could be so pure and so vivid.
Askinosie Del Tambo
Askinosie is a fantastic company, creating quality chocolate with sustainable and incredibly fair practices. The Del Tambo bar uses beans from a farm owned by Vitaliano Saravia in Del Tambo, Ecuador. If you want to know if Askinosie is treating it's trade partners fairly, you can simply ask them.
The Del Tambo bar is another 70%, but also has cocoa nibs embeded into the side. Cocoa nibs are the roasted and shelled cocoa beans that are used to make chocolate liquor. The chocolate itself is very robust, with a strong flavor. The nibs offset some of the bitterness by maintaining a nutty flavor. The texture is certainly unique. The nibs break up the smooth chocolate, giving you rolling waves of flavor in your mouth. The roasted taste of the nib gives way to the smooth dark chocolate, that crests on a note that tastes at once both oaky and fruity. The flavor expands into a rainbow of sensations, and the combination is very robust and dense. In many ways it feels like it unlocks the door to a cacao bean, and releases a flood of dark chocolate taste that you had never encountered before.
I had tried a variety of Amedei bars before, they have a very stiff dry temper: not like a cracker is dry, but like a white wine is dry. I felt that I could taste all the flavors very clearly, but personally I preferred a moister chocolate. When I was confronted with the Amedei Chuao bar, I expected more of the same, well-executed chocolate that wasn't for me. The Amedei Chuao came with an incredible pedigree, but like I've said, that doesn't always matter to me. I fully anticipated to scoff at this bar.
I was dead wrong.
This is a circumstance where the pedigree made a huge difference. Amedei uses beans from a region of Venezuela well known for the quality of it's cacao. Additionally, they ferment the beans for nearly a month where many high quality beans are fermented only a week, and common chocolates are fermented a few days, if at all. It's then mixed into a 70% bar, and becomes the chocolate that taught me what chocolate could be.
The first bite has that traditional Amedei dry bite, but in this instance you are immediately met by a warm cacao flavor, something like walnut. For a moment, there is no other taste, no cacao bitterness, no milk creaminess, no sugar flavor, just that warm walnut flavor. The softens and sweetens slightly and it begins to taste almost fruity.
Not just fruity, specifically a raspberry flavor, hanging over the chocolate like mist in your mouth. In the store, we taste a raspberry flavored chocolate for tours on weekends, and the flavor has become unmistakable to me. But in the case of the Amedei bar, that is just the flavor of cacao beans, and as the chocolate melts the flavor intensifies until it melts away and you are left with a mild aftertaste like tobacco. Where this bar is absolutely brilliant though, is that the flavors were so incredibly distinct and isolated, that you wouldn't need a guide to help you identify them.
In Red Wine and Chocolate, it takes an experienced palate to distinguish a "woody" flavor from a "fruity" flavor. In order to understand a complex chocolate or wine, you have to really work at discerning the flavors. It takes effort. Not so with the Amedei, I believe that if you go into it with an open mind, the chocolate will explain itself to you, it will present you its flavors one by one, give you a moment to appreciate each one, and then slowly fade away.
If you normally think dark chocolate is bitter, taste a higher quality dark chocolate, and you'll see that "bitterness" is just a collection of fantastic flavors bundled together too tightly and tasted all at once. Chocolate makers who treat their career as an art, pull that bundle apart and unravel the flavors for you.
Taste ye this chocolate and be amazed.