Tag Archives: fine chocolate

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.

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10 Tips for Keeping Chocolate Fresh

HOW TO STORE FINE CHOCOLATE

We finished with Valentine’s not long ago and although most of you have polished off the last bits of your bounty by now, I know there are few of you out there that want to savor your chocolate over weeks or even months.  Or maybe you are building yourself a fine chocolate collection in the way that some people collect wine.  Either way, you’re in luck because chocolate bars can last several years when stored properly.  Years?  I know, I know, chocolate doesn’t last but a couple of days in your home, but keep in mind that chocolate can become a mess in a matter  of days if kept poorly.

So what do you need to know to preserve the best flavor and texture of your bars?  There are three main enemies of chocolate:

  • Heat
  • Humidity
  • Strong odors

You could add sunlight, but this is rarely an issue.  If you want to defeat the enemies of chocolate, just follow these ten tips:

Melted chocolate bars

Some completely abused and bloomed bars. My wife bought these on a summer road trip as a surprise for me and accidently left them in the hot car. Although these bars were beyond edible (I tried), your chocolate won’t even come close to this disaster state if you follow a few simple rules.

1.  Store your chocolate bars between about 60 and 65°F (about 16 – 18ºC).  Heat will slowly drive away aroma and then flavor.  In the extreme, you’ll get melting which can wreck the texture besides disturbing any art that’s molded into the bar.  A fat bloom can also develop as a whitish haze on the surface of the bar that, while unpleasant looking, won’t hurt you at all.  Bloomed chocolate may have poor texture, but more importantly, bloom is an indicator of poor storage.  What to do with a hazy bloomed bar?  Just taste it and see.  Rarely will you want to throw it away.  If it seems sub-par, but still edible, it can be used for baking, put into your oatmeal or crumbled on dessert.

Storing chocolate under too cold conditions may disturb the crystalline structure of the chocolate and affect texture, cause bloom, or both.  Chocolate makers take great care to create a bar where the cocoa butter and cocoa solids are intimately mixed.  Extremes of temperature can undo this hard work.  Still, I would worry less about cold than heat.

Now these are ideal conditions.  Your chocolate is not going to suddenly turn to junk at 66ºF, so don’t stress out.  Choose one of the storage methods in Tips 7 – 10 and your chocolate will stay smooth and potent.

2.   Store chocolate in a dry place.   Ideally, the relative humidity should be below 50%.  Excess moisture can condense on the bar and draw out the sugar onto the surface.  A sugar bloom, like a fat bloom, won’t hurt you and simply disturbs the texture.  Again, give it a taste to decide its fate – eat it, mix it or toss it.

3.   Keep chocolate out of direct sunlight.  Not only will it heat up the chocolate, but sunlight will also degrade flavors.

4.  Avoid strong odors.  Thou shalt not keep chocolate in your refrigerator next to the garlic and kimchee.  Chocolate absorbs strong odors like sponge.  Also keep flavored bars such as mint, coffee or Theo’s Chai Tea chocolate in a separate box away from your plain chocolate and everything will taste as it should.

5.  Have no fear of the “best by” date.  Here’s a confusing little secret of the chocolate industry:  they put “best by” dates on the bars because packaging laws say they have to, but the dates are somewhat arbitrary.  Some chocolate makers are at a loss as to what date to use, so they basically copy the other guy.  Food needs moisture to grow bacteria and go bad.  Chocolate contains very little moisture and most of the moisture it has is bound up with sugar.  So, chocolate doesn’t really go “bad” in the sense that it can make you sick when it gets old.  Does the sugar in your sugar bowl ever go bad? No.  What does happen is that the fats in the cocoa butter break down under the influence of heat, light and oxygen causing off flavors to develop [3].

With properly stored chocolate bars, nothing much happens except some flavor and aroma slowly, very slowly, go away.  Even milk chocolate bars are very stable since they contain milk solids with very low moisture [1].  Yes, the fresher, the better, but if you discover something that’s out of date, your tongue will tell you if it’s worth eating or not.  Give it a taste test.

6.  Keep chocolate out of reach of dogs.  For some dogs, chocolate acts as a powerful stimulant and they can have a heart attack.  The reaction will depend upon the dog and how much they eat.  If your Chocolate Lab eats a chocolate bar, call your vet and ask what to do next.  Don’t panic.  They may be just fine – it depends upon the dog.

Old Theo Jane Dark in Good Condition

I discovered this Theo dark chocolate bar hiding in my stash. Although it’s now 18 months out of date, with proper storage, it’s in good condition with no bloom. The flavor, while not the same as a new bar, is still enjoyable with floral notes and honey. I’ll be keeping these.

7.  Store your chocolate in tightly sealed bags in a cooler in a dry basement.  This is how I keep most of my personal chocolate stash. Put the bars into good quality freezer bags and squeeze the air out before sealing.  Then put it all into a clean cooler or insulated box.  You should put mint and other strongly favored chocolates in their own sealed box or a separate cooler altogether.  Make sure there are no odors in the cooler or buy a new cooler for the purpose.   The basement should be reasonably dry – use a dehumidifier if needed and keep the chocolate well sealed.   No basement?  The bottom of a closet is the next best option as long as it doesn’t get too hot.  Your closet is too hot? Consider Tips 8 – 10 below.

8.  Invest in a wine cooler – This is a more expensive option, but allows you to control temperature best.  Most wine coolers  will have a temperature adjustment, so you can get it up into the 60-65°F range.  You can store wine and chocolate together, but be  sure the unit is clean and dry [2].  Wrap the bars as in Tip 7.

9.  Invest in a mini fridge and dedicate it to chocolate –  You know, the kind you find in dorm rooms.  Set it on the warmest temperature (you can check with a refrigerator thermometer).  Keep it clean and wrap the bars as in Tip 7.

10.  Wrap it up well for the fridge.  If you’ve come this far and you really must insist on putting chocolate in your refrigerator along with the rest of your food, I’m going to say OK, with a few conditions.  Put the bars into freezer bags, include a paper towel and squeeze out all the air.  Put the bags into tightly sealed food storage bins (A.K.A. “tupperware”).  As before, separate the strongly flavored bars such as mint with their own bin.  When it’s time to eat some chocolate, take out only the bag you need and allow it to warm up for 1 hour or more before opening the bag. This will prevent moisture from condensing on the chocolate [2].

ENJOYING WELL-KEPT CHOCOLATE

No matter how you store the chocolate, give it about 1 hour to warm up to room temperature before opening the bag and serving.  This will bring the flavors to life.  If you just can’t bear to wait that long, then take a square of chocolate and press it against the roof of your mouth with your tongue until it starts to melt.  Enjoy the release of flavors that ensues.  Repeat until satisfied.

Should you have any questions on keeping your chocolate well, just leave a comment.

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Notes and References:

[1] We’re talking about solid bars here – not truffles or bars filled with some fruit or dairy product.  Depending upon the filling, truffles can go bad quite quickly and are capable of growing mold and all sorts of maladies.    We’ll discuss storing truffles in another post.

[2] Credit goes to Clay Gordon for the wine cooler idea.  See C. Gordon, Discover Chocolate:  The Ultimate Guide to Buying, Tasting, and Enjoying Fine Chocolate.  Gotham, 2007.

[3] Greweling, Peter ., CMB, Chocolates and Confections, Formula, Theory, and Technique for the Artisan Confectioner, 2007, Wiley.