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
WHAT: 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
WHAT: 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.
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.