Category Archives: Tastings

Tastings and ratings of premium chocolate bars, confections and cacao-base products.

Bonnat Chuao vs. Bonnat Chuao – Does Origin Matter for Dark Chocolate?

My French friend, Gilbert, arrived with a gift in hand of not one, but eight Bonnat dark chocolate bars!  You see, he lives a stone’s-throw from Bonnat Chocolatier’s shop and laboratory.  Set among the Douphiné mountains in Voiron France, Bonnat opened shop in 1884 only one year after Rodolphe Lindt invented the conching machine to refine chocolate.  In the more than 100 years since then, they’ve been making a prolific range of bars and confections in a classic style and now distribute globally.  Gilbert brought me two of Bonnant’s best bars – Chuao and the tighter appellation – Chuao Village.

Bonnat Chuao two bars_9005a

Is the Chuao Villages bar with its more specific single-origin beans really better than the more diffused Chuao origin?

In my last post on Chuao, among the most read ever, I compared Chuao chocolate bars from five different chocolatiers.  Each bar uses cacao beans from Chuao, a village in coastal Venezuela accessible only by boat. What I didn’t explain then was that Bonnat makes two such bars – one from a wider region around Chuao and the other made only from beans harvested from Chuao proper.  At least this is the common understanding between chocolate experts.

The true origin of the beans is not perfectly well understood and the Bonnat website only offers this description of the more specific origin and more expensive Chuao Village bar (translated from the French):

“Very homogeneous, this chocolate offers a tasting and olfactory symphony that can only satisfy lovers of delicate sensations.”

I’ll revisit “delicate sensations” at the end of this post; let’s just say they have a point.  In the meantime, I organized a double-blind tasting of the two Bonnat bars side by side. I wanted to see if there was much difference between the bars and if, in fact, the more expensive bar prevailed as the superior chocolate.  To add to the certainty, or perhaps confusion depending upon the results, I asked my Wife, Genevieve, to also do a blind tasting of the two bars.  To keep things fresh, I did not refer back to my previous post, now 5 years old.

MY TASTING NOTES

BONNAT CHUAO VILLAGE “VENEZUELA” 75% DARK CHOCOLATE

OVERALL RATING:  91

AROMA:  Light overall.  Butter, toast, apricot light floral notes.  You will need focus to find this aroma. It won’t jump out at you.

INITIAL IMPRESSIONS: Light and slow to start.  Apricot and dried fruits.

MIDDLE TASTE:  Butterscotch, crème brûlée, whipped cream.  Moves towards nuts and butter.

FINISH:  Tropical fruits, cherry, some nuts.  Incredibly well balanced and never unpleasant.  One of the longest finishes I’ve experienced in any chocolate. It’s as if the bar was made for the finish.  A long, delicate, serene and charming ride.

TEXTURE: At first it collapses into brittle crumbles before melting and releasing its flavors.

BONNAT CHUAO “VENEZUELA” 75% DARK CHOCOLATE

OVERALL RATING:  85.

AROMA: Like its sister above, this bar has a very delicate aroma.  Floral, honey, almost perfume-like.  This is the one area that I scored this bar higher than Chuao Villages due to a more pronounced nose.

INITIAL IMPRESSIONS: Cherry, butter.  Slow to develop perhaps due to the thick bar.

MIDDLE TASTE: Butter, roasted meat, honey ham, very ripe banana, cashews.

FINISH:  Grapes, wine with some metallic astringency at end mixed with olive oil.

TEXTURE: Very similar to Chuao Village.

GENEVIEVE’S TASTING NOTES (blind tasting)

Chuao Villages:  A lot of fruit in this one – like dates and figs.  “It’s nice (shrug).”

Chuao: Slow approach. A little more acidic. Coffee.  Less perception of sweet.  Very slow to start, then sets in suddenly.

In the end, she decidedly preferred the Chuao Villages more for its fruitiness.  Consensus!

Bonnat Chuao Bare bars_9017

The color of the bars is very similar with the Chuao bar (L) being slightly more red than the Chuao Village (R).  The flaky bits on the bars are due to my handling as I continued to enjoy these over a stretch of days.

Last Bite

When I had tasted Bonnat beside the other five in 2013, it wasn’t my favorite.  Awesome, incredible chocolate, but not number one among the greatest of Chuao.  But then I like bold, intense flavors and the Bonnat bars are more subtle and subdued.

I might dare say that Bonnat’s style is classically French with some similarity to patterns in the wine industry.   New world wine makers, such as those in California, while expressing a range of styles, have done very well with big, sometimes lively reds like Zinfandel and Syrah that are often drunk young. On the other hand, the French, stereotypically prefer to age their wines longer to develop more subtly and elegance.  Could it be the same with chocolate – not the aging part, but the elegance and delicacy?

This theory would hold water if it weren’t for other French chocolate makers like Francois Pralus and Valrhona making bolder bars.  Is there a classical European style embodied by producers like Bonnat, most Belgian and Swiss chocolatiers as compared to a contemporary style like that of Valrhona and the new world?  While I have an unfortunate tendency to look for patterns where there may be none, I have to admit that such geo-cultural generalization in chocolate are dangerous.  The good news is that there is something for everyone with each chocolate maker applying their own unique style.  If you prefer delicate, subtle and silky chocolate, this is the one for you.

We had fun savoring these chocolates and are feeling pretty smug that we could pick the best of the two of the best ever.

End Notes

[1] I was given these bars from a friend who has no connection to Bonnat Chocolatiers.

[2] I rated the Chuao Villages bar slightly higher at 92 in the previous tasting and called out somewhat different flavors.  I don’t feel that this is any contradiction.  Cacao is an agricultural product after all and we can expect variations in flavor from year to year not to mention changes in my own perceptions.

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Askanya Haitian Chocolate Review

Askanya three chocolate bars

Askanya single-origin bars from Haiti – (L to R) Paradis Milk Chocolate, Minuit Dark Chocolate and Wanga Neges Milk Chocolate

I know some of you have done it too – chosen an obscure and completely unfamiliar bottle of wine only for its label.  This happens to me sometimes, as if some subconscious emotional response is triggered – “if they are clever enough to dazzle me with their art, they may be smart enough to make good wine.”  And so it was when Les Chocolateries Askayna sent me some samples of their milk and dark chocolate bars.  I get a decent number of chocolate samples sent to me throughout the year and while I eventually taste them all, I don’t have the time to do a proper thoughtful tasting and review of everything.

But the label art on Askanya’s bars moved me with its striking, intricate patterns which are apparently inspired by the local flora and fauna of Haiti.  Besides, this is Haiti’s only premium bean-to-bar chocolate.  How cool is that?  It’s a good thing that the wrapper opens from the back since I aggressively tore it apart, preserved the artwork and began my tasting.

Askanya Minuit Dark Chocolate Review

Askanya Minuit CorrWHAT: Askanya Chocolates Minuit 60% Cacao. 55 g. Ingredients: Haitian Cacao, Sugar, Vanilla Bean.

Where to buy Askanya Minuit Dark Chocolate.

WHEN: January 3, 2016  OVERALL RATING: 85.

AROMA:  Prune, raisin, fig, melon, ham.  A bit meek and delicate. Its aroma reminds me of Costa Rican chocolate with its warm tropical softness.

INITIAL IMPRESSIONS: Wine and the first hints of licorice.  It takes time for the flavor to develop on your tongue.

MIDDLE TASTE: Red fruit runs all the way to the finish floating on a wave of pleasing sugar.  Strawberry notes turn into blueberry turn into apple.

FINISH: Creamy. Pudding, marshmallow.   I normally choose chocolate with a higher cacao content, so the sweetness left me looking for something to drink.  Fortunately I do my tastings with copious amounts of sparkling water on hand and sometimes green tea. Still, This is a happy way to end a good ride – nothing bitter.

TEXTURE: Yields to the bite slightly rather than being completely snappy.  No fatal flaws.  There’s a pudding texture at the end the heightens the pudding taste in the finish.

The bright fruitiness is the star of this show for the Minuit bar. I don’t know which bean variety they are using, possibly a mix, but the flavor is characteristic of high quality Trinitario with somewhat less biting acidity.  Even better, the chocolate expresses several other completely different notes such as licorice and pudding.  In other words, some balance and complexity.

Askanya Wanga Nègès Milk Chocolate Review

Askanya Wanga Neges Close CropWHAT: Askanya Wanga Nègès Milk Chocolate 50% Cacao. 55 g. Ingredients: Haitian Cacao, Rapadou (Artisan Cane Sugar), Milk, Cacao Butter.

Where to buy Askanya Wanga Nègès Milk Chocolate.

WHEN: January 3, 2016    OVERALL RATING: 85.

AROMA:  Floral notes, butter, pistachio, molasses, lavender, yogurt, apricot.  More forward in the nose than Minuit.

INITIAL IMPRESSIONS: Rum, tequila, anise. Slightly tart.

MIDDLE TASTE: Tea, tartness, and tons of licorice.

FINISH: Nuts, dairy, cashew, walnuts, banana, all ending in licorice.

TEXTURE: Smooth and creamy.

I don’t normally eat milk chocolate, so it’s always a bit of a challenge for me to review it.  The Wanga Nègès bar was much easier. With its high cacao content, it almost had me fooled as a dark chocolate bar.  The milk acts more as a flavoring than a base for the chocolate so that the cacao itself is still the main event.  The licorice notes, although absent at the start, were dominant once they got going.  The bar had a very interesting flavor profile and an impressive amount of complexity for a milk chocolate bar – definitely worth trying.

Last Bite:  Like Art for Chocolate

Askanya is buying their beans from an organization of nine cooperatives called Federation des Coopératives Cacaoyères du Nord drawing on cacao farms from the north of Haiti. Each of the nine cooperatives does their own drying and fermentation which may explain the somewhat complex range of flavors found in the chocolate. I like that they are making the chocolate in country, visit the farms where the cacao is grown and establish “local” relationships.

Askanya Paradis Close Crop

Among the most beautiful package art in the chocolate world, Askanya Paradis (not reviewed this time)

Equally exciting is the artwork by Artist Marlie Decopain.  I would put this package art among the best in the chocolate world.  It’s fresh, vibrant and stands apart from some of the other work that has caught my eye in the bean to bar field such as the hipster wallpaper motif of Mast Brothers and Raaka Chocolate.  And, while I’m certainly impressed by the prolific Andreas H. Gratze with his complicated, playful and occasionally seductive characters adorning pretty much all Zotter’s bars, Ms. Decopain’s art seems somehow more relevant to the cacao origin and more moving.  This is not an art contest and I’m no judge, but Askanya’s art rises to the top for me.

How is visual art relevant to chocolate? When you experience chocolate, you should use all of your senses – the art is part of the visual experience of enjoying premium chocolate.  Besides, people give chocolate as gifts and the face of the unopened bar makes the first impression.  Sure, most important is how the chocolate tastes and these bars delighted.