The Chocolate Life

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First Blush: New Lindt 70%, Good Cacao, Zokoko, and Amano

One of the things I really love about what I do is that people send me chocolate to taste.

Sometimes they call me up in advance and ask me if it's okay - but sometimes I show up at the post office and there are boxes waiting for me.

What's not to love?

Lindt Excellence 70%

I got an e-mail from Lindt's PR agency asking me if I wanted to taste three new products in the Lindt Excellence line - a new recipe 70%, 70% with almond brittle, and 70% with nut crunch (caramelized walnuts and hazelnuts). Me not want to taste chocolate?

Irrespective of what you may think about some Lindt products (I personally am not a fan of Lindor "truffles") they are one of the three largest players in the gourmet chocolate segment. They've done a phenomenal job in distribution and, overall, the Excellence stands tall among the brands with broad distribution.

The package I received did not include a bar of the old recipe 70% so I did make a direct comparison against the two. The new 70% has a faint, pleasant note of bright fruit on the front that gives way to a not overly assertive pleasant chocolate flavor. The long finish is long with a hint of the up front fruitiness returning before fading away. 

There's no indication if the 70% almond brittle is made with the same new formula 70% - but the chocolate is branded differently (the new 70% is "smooth dark" and the chocolate in the almond brittle (and the nut crunch) is "intense dark." Whatever recipe is used, the upfront fruitiness is a more assertive and lasts longer and the finish contains a touch of (not unpleasant) astringency. Personally, I like chocolate with my inclusions in a bar like this, not inclusions with my chocolate and I wanted there to be more there, there with the brittle. That said, there is a very lovely toasted almond note on the long finish.

The fruitiness and astringency are both more obvious in the nut crunch bar, as is the flavor profile of roasted nuts in the long finish - especially the walnut which, like the pecan, is very much underused, in my opinion, in high end chocolates.

I think part of my issue might be the relative thinness of the bars. If they were thicker the inclusions could be bigger and they would be more to my preference.

That said, like all Lindt chocolates this trio is impeccably made and bears all the textural hallmarks we've come to expect (and demand) from a Swiss-brand chocolate (even when it's made in New Hampshire). The new 70% in particular makes a pleasing, affordable addition to the list of "everyday eating chocolates" for people looking to make a step up from mass-market domestically produced options to something more sophisticated.

Good Cocoa

I met the founder of Good Cocoa, Paul Frantellizi, over on LinkedIn where we participated in discussions about "healthy" chocolate (X**ai) and other issues. Paul sent me samples of two bars that are labeled as Superfood Chocolate.

Those of you who know me know that I am not a fan of turning chocolate into a nutraceutical delivery vehicle for the simple reason that I want to feel good eating chocolate, not feel good about eating chocolate. Most "enhanced" chocolates might enhance the nutritional value of chocolate but tend to do so at the expense of flavor and texture. 

What I can say about Good Cacao is that if I blind tasted it the first time I would not have put it into the category of either raw chocolate (which the label says it contains) or nutritionally-enhanced chocolate. 

And nutritionally enhanced it is. In addition to Maca, the bars contain about a half-dozen nutrient blends and additions including a blend of marine phytoplanktons.  In addition, the outer wrap is made from a recycled paper wade with FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certified components and Green Power offsets are used to power the factory. So you can feel really good about eating this chocolate.

But, not only were the bars not bad, they were actually quite good. The lemon version had small pieces of Meyer lemon zest in it that provided nice bright bursts of flavor and the earthy funk common to most bars that contain raw cacao was missing entirely. The coconut bar had visible flakes of coconut that added a nice texture, too.

However, I do have some issues with the wording of the labels, specifically around the use of the word raw, which, in the absence of any standard on the subject I will construe to mean "not subjected to temperatures above 118F."

The ingredients list on both bars mention Organic Rainforest Alliance Single Origin Ecuadorian Cacao Paste AND Organic Raw Fair Trade Single Origin Ecuadorian Arriba Nacional-Fino de Aroma Cacao Powder. 

Actually this is kind of interesting, suggesting that the paste is made from roasted beans and that the powder is used to add some oomph to the antioxidant rating. It makes sense in a way, but it's potentially confusing to someone who sees on the front that the bar contains raw cacao but raw cacao is not the main ingredient. 

I know that vanilla needs to be fermented and I am also pretty sure that the fermentations are above 118F - I've never heard of "raw vanilla" before. On the same note, I've never heard the term raw applied to cinnamon before, and it's on this label. 

I also have a problem with the "no trans-fats" label on the front. All cacao is free of trans fats so making the claim this way is misleading. I would prefer "naturally trans-fat free" or nothing.

The packaging says "organic" on it though nowhere does an organic certifiers mark appear on the labels, just on the web site (USDA seal).  Similarly the bars are labeled "Fair Trade Conscious" which is a term (with a "seal" that looks remarkably like their own "Be Good to Yourself logo) I had not run across before, but the web site also specifically refers to Fairtrade (as in FLO) with no explanation of what that means with respect to the Rainforest Alliance certification.

Finally, the cut (sell) sheet I received included the line "USDA Certified Organic & Raw Ingredients" which pretty strongly implies that there is a USDA certification for raw. As there is no such certification (though it's possible to interpret the line differently), for clarity's sake, it would be best to separate the two claims.

So - while I think that Paul and crew have done a very good job of creating a tasty nutraceutical chocolate (it is one of the top two or three best-tasting chocolates in this genre that I have tasted), the labeling and marketing materials are more than a little overwhelming and in the density of information there is the potential for more than a little confusion.

Zokoko

Based in NSW Australia, Zokoko is - to the best of my knowledge - the first new bean to bar producer in Australia working with refurbished European equipment, including a Barth Scirocco roaster and a Lehman melangeur. 

The proprietors (ChocolateLife members Dean and Michelle Morgan) have crafted an award-winning collection of chocolates from different origins that have a lot to recommend them.

One of the challenges I have about writing about a lot of chocolates (including these) is that they're not generally available in the US and I have a general policy of not creating a demand for a chocolate that you can't get easily get your hands on. That said, these chocolates are very well made and very much worth trying to get your hands on in part because there are some very unusual chocolates to be tasted that really do deserve to be tasted this side of the Pacific.

Two of the best examples of this are chocolates made from Bolivian beans. Not the ones from El Ceibo or from the Hacienda Tranquilidad (though there is a chocolate made from those beans) - but two chocolates made from beans that come from the Alto Beni around the town of Palos Blancos. There (and in the area around Chimore west of Santa Cruz), Volker Lehman has been involved in a fascinating project with the Danish chocolate maker TOMS that involves two different fermentation techniques - one using conventional boxes and another involving trays. As to be expected (when you think about it), the two different fermentation techniques yield two different tasting chocolates and, to the best of my knowledge, this is the first time anywhere that there are commercially available chocolates that demonstrate these differences.

From a larger perspective, this demonstrates that the concept of terroir (in cacao) is not just limited to genetics and environment, but also includes post-harvest processing techniques. This conflation is well understood in wine, cheese, and other foods, but not so strikingly and clearly before this in cocoa.

One exception I do take with the marketing presentation is that it's unclear if Zokoko is pressing its own cocoa butter. If they are, then presenting the chocolates as "pure origin" is perfect appropriate. However, if deodorized cocoa butter from another manufacturer is being used, the origin of the beans used to make the cocoa butter is unknown and, rightfully, the chocolate can't be called "pure" origin or "single" origin.

Amano

Art Pollard is generally regarded as one of the better artisan/craft chocolate makers on the planet. That makes me wonder what was he thinking when he produced his new Morobe bar, made from beans from Papua New Guinea.

This one is over the top in your face bright fruity acidic - citrus fruits, too; lime mainly, plus some grapefruit. After tasting it, it's not a chocolate I would knowingly buy for myself to eat, nor choose to buy or gift for someone else. I did not like it at all. I can appreciate how well made it is ... but I do not like it.

My one sincere hope is that this does not signal a trend to see who can outdo the next and produce overly acidic chocolate for ... the shock value? It's definitely niche.

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Did you try the Zokoko PNG chocolate? Any thoughts if you did? I'm in Australia so appreciate your review of products here :-)

Thank you for your honesty and candor.

 

The Morobe is definitely niche, but it has found its place.  The red grapefruit notes are too citrusy for some, but it has become a new favorite for many of our customers.

 

I haven't asked Art what he was thinking when he made this, but I'm guessing he was thinking along the same lines as when he began Amano in the first place.  He wants to create the finest chocolate in the world, from the finest ingredients, and give his customers the ultimate chocolate tasting experience.  Sometimes this means "boldly going" where other chocolate makers dare not.

 

Several chefs have eagerly bought the new Morobe, to incorporate it into desserts, because it tastes quite different from anything else available in the chocolate world.  We'll keep making the Morobe bar as long as our customer keep demanding it.

 

Thanks again for your feedback.

I'll have to come visit next time I'm in Sydney. It's such a shame PNG appears so hard to deal with exports wise. As PNG is so close to Australia is almost criminal we are not mutually taking advantage of PNG's cacao growing potential.

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