Day 2 of #meetthemakerweek is about inspiration for the product. I’ve always loved having an advent calendar. First, of course there were the cheap supermarket ones with tiny milk chocolate shapes, this was the standard for many many years. ✨
Then, especially since I was in a relationship, we created custom-made calendars for each other with my (now) husband. I remember one year, I got a calendar with origami folded pockets, each with a short quote from the Game of Thrones books and a chocolate from Thornton’s. ✨
Later I had one with only Niederegger marzipan squares. I also created calendars for him, sometimes with chocolate, sometimes with fun activities. ✨ This red-white-green crochet calendar was also handmade by me in 2014. I wanted something that we can keep and refill each year with whatever we come up with. ✨
And in 2015, I quite frankly fell down the craft chocolate rabbit-hole 😄. Starting in Belgium, where we spent 9 months, then coming back to the UK and attending as many chocolate fairs as possible, plus a short trip to Switzerland, and my stash just got to an unmanageable size (still happening 🙄). And it was just so natural to dig into it and fill up the calendar with some of those bars. I loved it! Every evening we sat down, opened the little foiled pieces and tried to guess what they were. I posted them here on IG and many people loved the idea, some started their own versions too. And since then, I just kept doing this each year. ✨
I was browsing to see if any bigger company had done something like this, but I couldn’t find any. So after launching my little retail business I took a big step by starting to work on this dream project in January 2018.
Collecting lots of chocolate bars from around the world, my stash sometimes often grows to an unmanageable size. To help reduce this amount, I decided to do comparative tasting sessions based on various criteria. Instead of just reviewing one bar by one maker, I will post about chocolates made from the same origin (by different makers), or the same maker (different origins), or made in the same country (made in Belgium, South Korea etc. – different makers, different origins).
This post is compiling tasting reviews of bars made with Indian cacao which is a relatively new origin among craft chocolate makers. Although cacao has been cultivated in Southern India for about 200 years, it was mainly used by big industrials, and from the 20th century mainly by Cadbury. The originally planted criollo varieties have been swapped for higher yield forastero varieties serving the bulk market (producing less than 1% of the world’s cacao). Small-batch bean-to-bar producers have only started to discover Indian cacao in the last 4-5 years. The interest for this origin is constantly growing, so I thought it would be worth comparing different bars to see whether there are some unique flavour notes specific to this cacao growing area. Nowadays you can even find tree-to-bar chocolates, Soklet is one of the most well-known brand to make chocolate from their own beans.
To organise this horizontal tasting, I created a randomised list of the chocolates in my stash to try each day for one week. The list is as follows:
DAY 1 : Earth Loaf 72% Kerala – made in India
This Earth Loaf bar is wrapped in a thick craft paper that almost feels like a fabric. Could the small brown flecks be cacao husk pieces? That’s my bet. (Update: David, one of the makers confirmed that they use traditional Indian handcrafted paper enriched with cocoa husk!) Underneath, there’s a thin, vacuum-sealed silver foil. The chocolate bar has a warm, dark-brown colour with some dullness on the top side (it’s probably my fault that I left it out in a relatively warm room). Very easy to segment into squares, it is not too thick. It has a slightly soft snap (again, could be due to being in a warmer room), but the breaking line shows a perfect temper. The aroma is predominantly rich chocolatey. Upon melting, it becomes thick and creamy like a rich hot chocolate. The overall flavour is like an intense chocolate brownie, very mellow, no bitterness or astringency at all. This base note is accompanied by hints of sweet red fruit notes, like cherries. Very pleasant, like a dessert.
DAY 2 : Chocolatoa 70% Kerala – made in Belgium
Not all Belgian chocolate is created equal. Thankfully, there’s a growing bunch of artisan makers who are working hard on putting the craft back into chocolate and showing people the real flavours of chocolate. Mario Vandeneede is one of these makers using cocoa beans from Madagascar, Costa Rica, Tanzania, Dominican Republic, Ecuador or in this case India. The packaging is simple and practical. Personally I really like these resealable pouches because they protect the opened bar from odours and heat, and they are not making a mess in your bag 🙂 The name Chocolatoa refers to an Inca princess, Toa who we can see in the round logo. She represents the philosophy of joined forces for success, which Mario shows by working closely and in an ethical way with the cocoa farmers to create his high quality chocolate bars. The back label is mainly in Flemish, which I only understand partially thanks to my faint German knowledge (and thanks to Google Translate :D).
As I opened the pouch, there was already a strong aroma escaping, which is a very good sign. Sniffing inside (not very professional, I know, as the packaging imparts some of the aroma) the aroma of freshly roasted fruity cocoa beans made me want to jump right inside. The 40g slim rectangular bar is segmented in an interesting way resulting in strips rather than squares. The colour is medium dark brown with a nice sheen. Perfect snap and texture. During the very creamy melt the chocolate releases intense fruity notes, sweet and slightly tart bouquet of red berries like raspberry and sour cherry. Still quite mellow and has an undernote of a rich chocolate cake, but that comes out only towards the end and in the finish. A very bright and pleasant bar.
Interestingly, this bar is also a two-ingredient bar like the previous one, yet the flavour and texture are completely different. This really shows how the choice of ingredients (coconut sugar versus regular sugar), roasting (or not roasting), and some other factors like length of refining can add to the final flavour even if the cocoa comes from the same origin. That’s also the reason behind this series of tastings where I will show chocolates from the same region made by different makers, as we can’t really generalise the flavour notes of a certain origin. There are of course tendencies (fruity, earthy, nutty, spicy), but in the end, all chocolates will come out unique due to all these variables.
DAY 3 : Amazing Cacao 70% India – made in Russia
Love the colourful packaging of Amazing Cacao that is full of interesting information about the origin and the direct trade ethics. The front is decorated with indian fabric motifs and the image of a couple eating chocolate. The entire packaging is bilingual (Russian – English). Inside, we can read about the local cacao farms and their circumstances (no electricity, everything relies on solar energy), a detailed map of the region and a photo of a farmer couple with buckets of fresh cocoa beans. The packaging is recloseable (always a plus!) and the bar is protected within its own plastic box. The custom mould is segmented in various 3D triangles with the logo in the middle.
The dark brown bar has a perfect appearance and sharp snap. It has a creamy melt that brings out woody flavour notes like fresh wood shavings (timber is suggested on the back of the bar) with some minor acidity.
This one is the mellowest of the three bars I tasted so far. Very approachable for people new to craft chocolates.
DAY 4 : Trinity 70% India – made in Belgium
This bar is special because it was made by not one but three Belgian chocolate makers, hence the name Trinity. A collaboration of six hands to create a chocolate made from South-Indian cacao beans. The bar was exclusively available at the Salon du Chocolat in Brussels in Spring 2018, and I received it from my Belgian chocolate friend Céline as part of our chocswap. The packaging is colourful on the front and monochrome inside. They crammed as much text as possible on the inner three sides to give plenty of information about the growing region and the chocolate making process. They included a map and an “identity card” listing the main characteristics such as detailed origin, type of cacao, harvest year, recipe, roasting and conching. Although, unless you have some knowledge about the chocolate making processes, it won’t tell you much knowing that the cocoa was roasted for 1 hour at 120°C. While I like geek info like that, I think “light roast”, “medium roast” might be easier to understand for enthusiastic amateurs.
The colour of the bar is medium brown, it could almost be mistaken for a milk chocolate. Smooth, glossy surface with a few air bubbles on the edges. Perfect snap and very creamy melt (note the +10% added cacao butter). Lightly sweet aroma followed by an extremely mellow flavour profile. Notes of raisin and wood, well-balanced acidity and a bright but relatively short finish. Based on the previous three bars this one might have lost a bit too much of its fruitiness. Pleasant but not very memorable.
DAY 5 : Earth Loaf 72% Malabar Forest – made in India
Another single-origin bar from Earth Loaf made with cocoa beans from Malabar region, more precisely from two villages situated in protected forest land. According to the makers, they use the same beans as the Amazing Cacao bar I tasted on Day 3.
The packaging is the same as the Kerala bar, with a different illustration and sticker. The bar has a dark brown colour and a faint citrus aroma. The slow melt results in a thick, creamy mouthfeel, but it’s less “sticky” than the Kerala bar was. Light citrus notes mix with a woody undernote (unlike the fresh wood shavings note in the previous bars, here it is more an old oak note, or something more mature), low acidity. The finish tastes like a lime caramel in dark chocolate.
DAY 6: Frederic Blondeel 70% India – made in Belgium
I bought this bar by Frederic Blondeel specifically for my Ecole Chocolat Mastering Chocolate Flavour course as we had a tasting assignment dedicated to cacao varieties, so I had to find bars made with Forastero cacao. Unfortunately there’s not much information about the bar itself due to the very basic packaging. The 45g bar is segmented into 5 strips with the maker’s name engraved into each of these. The thin cellophane bag has a transparent sticker showing the origin and percentage and some basic info in French and Flemish.
“100% Forastero: All my childhood” was a motto intriguing enough for me to buy this bar. Our childhood memories of chocolate, our first taste of it, our favourites, chocolates that we were gifted at our birthday, or that we secretly received from our grandparents, these are important flavour memories. This bar has a nice, shiny appearance, warm dark brown tone and it has a perfect snap. It is quite thin so melts easily on the tongue. The added cocoa butter and soya lecithin create a super smooth and creamy mouthfeel. The aroma is sweet and fruity. Upon melting, it is surprisingly sweet and chocolatey, I would probably guess that it is around 55% rather than 72%. Mellow, rich and pleasant chocolate flavour but without any other particularly strong note. Very light acidity, no bitterness.
DAY 7 : ChocXo 70% Anamalai – made in USA
I received this ChocXo bar from Patricia (@myic2016) in our third chocswap along with more products from this brand as she visited their factory-store. The packaging is modern and simplistic with only the most important information. I like the way they used a bit of colour to imitate colourful Indian fabrics. Inside the resealable pouch the bar is wrapped in thin silver foil. The bar has a smooth dark brown surface and perfect snap. It has a very faint chocolate aroma. Quite slow to melt, the mouthfeel is creamy and smooth. The melt releases mild notes of roasted coffee, rich chocolate cake and hints of tart fruits in the finish. Moderate acidity and pleasant clean finish.
Final thoughts about Indian chocolates
First of all, thank you for reading so far. After an entire week of chocolates made with Indian cacao my general impression is that all of these bars were mellow and very approachable. They don’t have bitter or astringent notes, so they are perfect for people who are just starting to discover craft chocolates or higher percentage dark chocolates in general. The flavour notes are mostly familiar, like a rich chocolate dessert, in some cases with a nice fruity or woody note that balances very well. Overall, all of the above-mentioned bars were pleasant, but for a more experienced taster like me, some of them were lacking a bit of character. For this reason, I preferred the ones that presented bolder, sharper fruity or woody notes, like the bars from Amazing Cacao, Chocolatoa and Earth Loaf. It was also very interesting to see, that even though almost all 7 bars were the same percentage (70-73%) and either using 2 or 3 ingredients only (added cacao butter), the mouthfeel and texture of each bar was so different.
In a follow-up article I will show you a few bars that are also made with Indian cacao but with some added flavours to see if the added ingredients make any difference.
Thanks for reading, have a chocolatey day!
Lilla / Little Beetle Chocolates
Dom Ramsay: Chocolate, DK, London, 2016, p 94.