Tag Archives: Chocolate review

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.

Omnom Papua New Guinea 70% Dark Chocolate

Omnom Papua New Guinea

Single-origin organic dark chocolate made in Iceland

Holy crap.  This is the most ridiculously funky chocolate I have ever tasted.  Picture this: you’ve pitched an army-surplus canvas tent and then you break open several hundred cigarettes and spread the tobacco over the ground inside the tent.  Zipper the tent closed.  Now lie down on the bed of tobacco.  Breath in deep.  Got that aroma?  Now you’re starting to understand the experience of this dark chocolate.

Before I go any further, let’s back up a bit.  Omnom is a relatively new chocolate brand from Iceland. They’re possibly the only bean-to-bar maker in Iceland.  Omnom is using organic beans from a handful of tropical origins – some as single-origin bars and some apparently as blends.  They’re distinguishing themselves with eye-catching package artwork and unique flavor profiles.

WHAT: Omnom Papua New Guinea 70% Cacao. 60 g (2.1 oz). Ingredients: Organic cacao beans, raw cane sugar, cocoa butter.

Where to buy Omnom Papua New Guinea.

WHEN: November 30, 2014

OVERALL RATING: 82.

AROMA:  Potent tobacco, canvas, burnt grass, smoke, leather.

INITIAL IMPRESSIONS: Not just tobacco, but cigar wrapper leaf and smoke.

MIDDLE TASTE: Now the fruit appears from behind a curtain of smoke: banana, prune, kiwi, melon and molasses.

FINISH: Kiwi moves into citrus, walnuts then turns earthy and a bit astringent.

TEXTURE: These are thick bars with a little chew to them. Smooth, but not creamy.

Omnom Papua New Guinea Open bar

Wow – this bar has an over the top smoky tobacco and leather aroma that will knock you over.

LAST BITE:  I won’t pretend. There’s no doubt some of you will hate this bar. Those of you with open minds should really try it. Look, stop thinking of chocolate making as striving to a singular point of perfection. How interesting would it be if everyone on the planet looked more or less the same? Not very. Just like diversity in people makes life interesting, so it goes with food – even chocolate.

This is to chocolate what uni is to sushi.  If you’re a sushi neophyte, you don’t start with uni and it’s green-grey formless meat and pungent marine flavors.  Perhaps you start with California roll or maguro and then build your way up to the pleasure of uni, if you ever get there.

Still, all the masculine notes of tobacco, leather and smoke in the Omnom Papua New Guinea dark chocolate are really over the top. I really don’t know if this is intentional or by accident. For instance if the farmers in Papua New Guinea are drying the cacao beans under the heat of a fire of some rather than on terraces under the sun, that would explain a lot. On the other hand, if this is a true expression of the terroir of the bean, that’s real cool. If it can be controlled, I say back off a bit, but don’t try to make it taste like some bland and overworked “drugstore chocolate.” That would be throwing the baby out with the bath water. Keep the funkiness and stay true to the bean.

Sure, this stuff is not for everyone.  But, if you’re the type that shuns what everyone else is eating, especially tired, bland Swiss chocolate and want a unique experience, eat this bar and laugh.  I did.

Notes:

[1] The chocolate was provided to me for free by the distributor not knowing what I would do with it.