Saturday, April 28, 2012

Madécasse Exotic Pepper


2.64oz (75g) bar
Ingredients: Cocoa beans, sugar, cocoa butter, soy lecithin, vanilla, tsiperifery pepper, pink pepper, black pepper
10g sugar/37.5g serving (26.7% by wt.)

Corporate Info: (Altered from 4/21/12) Madécasse has one of those interesting progressive-chocolate-company stories: The American founders met as Peace Corps volunteers in Madagascar and decided to not only grow their cacao there (not unusual) but also process and package the chocolate there to benefit the local community. The company claims to be paying good wages and using sustainable farming practices, and has impressed The New York Times and Fast Company (among others) with its commitment and innovation. The bars are not officially labeled fair trade or organic, but from what I read, the process is essentially a variation on both of those complicated labels. Madécasse—the name is apparently old French for Madagascar—produces a relatively small selection of plain chocolate and bars flavored with Madagascar-sourced inclusions like coffee and spices.

This Bar: Today I'm following last week's pink peppercorn and combava bar with another pepper combination, this time in 70% cacao: black pepper, pink pepper again, and tsiperifery pepper (or, from what I'm seeing online, Voatsiperifery). The last seems to be a Madagascar native, and I'm mostly just finding it on commercial sites, described by one as “pungent . . . earthy and woody . . . a wee bit sweet . . . distinct fragrance . . . citrus notes . . . long lasting and without rage.” Neat.

Appearance: Glossy, vivid chestnut brown.

Smell: Not strong, beany, with a hint of black pepper

Taste: Waxy texture followed by low- to mid-volume, integrated, very complex pepper flavor, from classic black pepper to more tingly, herby, “green” flavors to dried, woodsy, “brown” flavors. The flavor of the chocolate itself is raw and beany (as opposed to smooth, creamy, roasted, etc), which makes the whole experience very earthy. The flavor is a bit of a contrast with the waxy texture, and now that I think of it, I think that the texture, along with the low-medium volume of the pepper, keeps this bar from being overwhelmingly earthy (it un-grounds it, heh).

Often I eat a bar and struggle to figure out what to say about it—“it tastes like chocolate”—so it's always a fun to encounter one that gives me food for thought, as it were. Do I absolutely love this? I dunno. But I like the thought behind it, and the thoughts that arise when I eat it.

Conclusion: Madécasse Exotic Pepper is earthy and complex but not overwhelming, and it offers a lot to ponder.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Madécasse Pink Pepper & Citrus


2.64oz (75g) bar
Ingredients: Cocoa beans, sugar, cocoa butter, soy lecithin, vanilla, pink pepper, combava
13g sugar/37.5g serving (34.7% by wt.)

Corporate Info: (Altered from 12/3/11) Madécasse has one of those interesting progressive-chocolate-company stories: The American founders met as Peace Corps volunteers in Madagascar and decided to not only grow their cacao there (not unusual) but also process and package the chocolate there to benefit the local community. The company claims to be paying good wages and using sustainable farming practices, and has impressed The New York Times and Fast Company (among others) with its commitment and innovation. The bars are not officially labeled fair trade or organic, but from what I read, the process is essentially a variation on both of those complicated labels. Madécasse produces a relatively small selection of plain and flavored bars. As Emma pointed out after my last Madécasse review, the company has changed its labels since then—though I should note that, even a few months later, I'm still seeing some of the old bars on store shelves among the new ones, so you might find the old labels out there.

Today I'm trying a really fun bar, a 63% cacao Pink Pepper & Citrus. I've tried herby pink pepper before, in two bars I brought back from Germany, but while those peppercorns were pressed into the chocolate these are incorporated, so I'm curious if they will impart a different experience. What's totally unfamiliar to me is the combava, which turns out to be another name for kaffir lime, a fruit I only know through the leaves (and apparently rind?) used in southeast Asian cooking. I suspect Madécasse used “combava” because it seems to be the preferred term in French, one of Madagascar's official languages. (Similarly, Madécasse is apparently the old French name for Madagascar, I'm assuming having to do with its being a one-time French colony.)

Appearance: Like a normal chocolate bar, though I'm reviewing a 70% cacao Madécasse bar next week and they actually have very different finishes. Today's is fairly matte, with only a little gloss after I wipe it a little, and the brown is quite light, almost washed-out looking, whereas next week's only-somewhat-higher-cacao bar is a significantly deeper, richer color. Hm.

Smell: Not strong, though I'm getting a hint of the pink pepper's prickly spice. No obvious citrus.

Taste: Fun! The chocolate is foundational, maybe a little chalky and beany, but not strong. Then a hit of citrus, and then the super-complex pepper that's hard to describe, plus the flavors are well blended, in that I don't taste three separate ingredients. There's some medium-volume sourness that I think comes from both the combava and the chocolate, because it's both sharp (like citrus) and beany (like you'll taste in tart chocolates). Then there's that resiny, prickly, herby flavor like cardamom and grass and nutmeg that I'm assuming comes from the pink pepper, but since I don't know combava well, I wonder if it contributes any of the fresh, green elements. As I said, texture is a little chalky, and the pink pepper is totally incorporated, whether finely ground or somehow steeped in the chocolate.

Conclusion: Super interesting, if you like herby-spicy (and not super dark) chocolate.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

World Market Dark Chocolate 72% Cacao


3oz (85g) bar
Ingredients: Chocolate liquor, sugar, cocoa butter, soy lecithin, vanilla
11g sugar/43g serving (25.6% by wt.)

Corporate Info: World Market (a.k.a. Cost Plus World Market) is an American retailer whose large stores sell furniture, housewares, and packaged food and alcohol with a global-imported vibe. For example, it's the only place in Seattle where I've come across Australia's Bundaberg Ginger Beer. World Market carries a particularly wide variety of candies, including store-brand chocolate bars. I've reviewed a couple of flavored bars; what about their plain dark chocolate?

Appearance: Super-dark, with a grey-purple tint rather than red or orange.

Smell: Chocolatey, of the dried-fruit variety. No edges.

Taste: On first bite, I thought “wow, this is really dark for 72%,” and then the sweet came along behind it. I think it's because there really aren't any edges—not really tannic (astringent, mouth-drying), not at all sour, just nothing to balance the sugar even though I don't think it's that sweet. It's kind of like dates, or prunes without the tartness, some simply sweet fruit that's been dried and concentrated. That said, I think there's nuance to what is there, if you're not into sour and don't like bitter chocolate. Think dried persimmons: I've tried them and thought they were dully sweet, but others obviously get more out of that flavor. The chocolate's texture is very slightly waxy, and the aftertaste is caramelized and sweetish.

Conclusion: World Market Dark Chocolate 72% Cacao is sweet, dark, and not much else, though what is there is nuanced. Not for me.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

República del Cacao° Provincia Manabi 75%


1.76oz (50g) bar
Ingredients: Cacao liquor, sugar, cacao butter, soy lecithin
7g sugar/25g serving (28% by wt.)

Corporate Info: Most of the search results I'm finding are commercial or other reviews like mine, so I'll have to rely on República del Cacao's convoluted website. Since it's confusing I'm going to keep it short, and if you really want to learn more, feel free to peruse the site yourself. In brief, República del Cacao is a young company focusing on Ecuadorian cacao, which it claims to be particularly floral and fruity. The website seems to indicate that República del Cacao produces only three products, one from each of three provinces.

Today's bar is the one from Manabi Province. The site offers no photo of the packaging or description of the ingredients, instead providing a “flavor description map,” which gives you a pretty good idea of República del Cacao's approach to its chocolate (or at least its marketing). My questions are pretty obvious, then: Is this chocolate extra floral and fruity, and does the flavor map reflect my experience?

Appearance: A blocky little bar in a pleasant, warm brown with a hint of orange and a very slight gloss.

Smell: Fresh, beany, juicy.

Taste: Texture has some chew, in this case a little chalky, resisting the teeth and breaking down into pieces, then very thick and mouth-coating. Flavor-wise, I totally get floral—not in any weird way, just light and fragrant. I don't taste as much fruit, unless we're talking something tropical, the sort with a perfumey taste. Sweet enough, and with very little sour or bitter taste, and a slightly bitter aftertaste. Also, with the first piece I started chewing, I got a hint of tobacco.

Let's check out the flavor map, which I'm simplifying here:
  • High: “Chocolate” and “chocolate aroma.” These probably correspond to what I thought of as “beany.” 
  • Medium: Sweetness and “chocolate linger.” Sure. 
  • Low: Bitter, fluidness, floral, smoothness, floral linger, fruity, acidity, and “cooling.” While I did consider this fairly floral, otherwise these jibe with my impressions of both flavor and texture. 
  • Very low: Lingering flavors in general (including bitter, which I did taste a little) as well as “roasted” and “astringency.”

Actually, this flavor map does mostly describe my experience in eating the Manabi Province bar, which is kind of a fun exercise. I'm not sure I love the bar itself, but it certainly isn't bad; this is one of those personal preference things.

Conclusion: República del Cacao° Provincia Manabi 75% is beany and, to my mind, floral, but the real fun is seeing to what extent my experience eating it compares to the company's description. I guess the website is helpful after all!