By Vera Hofman, 2015-12-30
Last year I wrote: ‘Every year it’s getting better and better’. This year I should say: ‘It becomes more and more…but unfortunately not necessarily better’. Especially starting chocolate makers do not allow themselves enough time to practice and do sell their creations too quickly. Several times I paid about 8-10 Euros or Dollars (sometimes even more) for stuff that turned out to be not good (to say it nicely). In my opinion you should not sell poor “artisan” chocolate and certainly not at those prices. It is also wrong to force upon innocent people that this is good chocolate. So be careful what you are doing. Next year when I taste something inappropriate, I will ask my money back. So watch out!
I should stop complaining now. Life is too short to focus on the bad stuff, let’s go to the amazing, wonderful, delicious and gorgeous chocolates.
The best new bean-to-bar brands I have tasted this year:
- Sirene (Madagascar 73%, Ecuador 73% and 100%)
- Franceschi (Canoabo, Choroni and Ocumare)
- Manufaktura Czekolady (Porcelana, Dominican Republic, Ecuador and an excellent Ghana!)
Other bars I liked very much (in a random order):
- Soma: Porcelana 75% and CBS Chama 70%
- Dick Taylor: Bolivia Alto Beni 70%
- Chocolate Tree: Peru Marañón 69%
- Luisa Abram: Wild Cocoa Brazilian Amazon 70%
- Lonohana: The Néné 71%
- Bar au Chocolat: Montserrat Hills Trinidad 80%
- Parliament: Guatemalan Q'Eqchi 70% and Dominican Republic Öko Caribe 70%
- Dandelion: San Francisco de Macoris DR 70%
- Catronovo Chocolate: Colombia Sierra Nevada 72%
- Fresco: Madagascar 89% and Five 70%
- A. Morin: Cuba, Panama and Toumi
- Cacao Hunters: Arhuaco 72%
- Rogue: Jamaica 75% and Porcelana 80%
- Georgia Ramon: Ghana 70% and 90%
- Oialla: Bolivia Beniano 78% and 100%
- Chocablog (now Damson): Madagascar Menakao 70% and Akesson 70%
- Middlebury: Dominican Republic Eden O 70%
- The new recipes of Hoja Verde
Have I forgotten to mention something?
Oh yes, a lot of good chocolate made of Belizean cocoa: TAZA, Choco del Sol, Belyzium, Videri, Charm School, Georgia Ramon…
Who creates more new bars in a year other than Tibor Szántó? His Santo Domingo Heima, Sao Tomé, Cuba 88%, Chuno, Nicaliso, Tumbes, Arriba Amazonas, are all great. And his chocolate covered Hispaniola beans are marvellous.
What a fantastic year! Thank you so much for pleasing my taste buds J
You make my life delicious! Happy new chocolate year!
PS 1: Looking forward to meet you at Chocoa, February 4-7th in Amsterdam. http://www.chocoa.nl/
PS 2: Original Beans just launched their web shop: http://shop.originalbeans.com/en/
Original Beans will definitely introduce new products in 2016. Hopefully these will make your life delicious too J
By Vera Hofman, 2014-12-28
I tasted amazing new stuff in 2014!
My favourite new-coming chocolate makers:
- Pump Street Bakery (especially: Grenada 70% and Ecuador 75%)
- It’s Chocolate (especially: Chuao and Belize). New name: Brasstown Chocolate.
- Cacao Hunters (everything!)
Other new ones that I like: Metiisto, Doble & Bignall, Erithaj, Solstice and Cacaosuyo.
New bars from existing chocolate makers that are really awesome:
- Idilio: Trinchera 74%
- Soma: La Dalia, Blend 82%, Peru Nacional, Little Big Man, Dancing in your head, Old School Nicaragua
- Tibor Szántó: Carenero Superior, Ben Tre, Ambolikapiky, Cuba
- Bar au Chocolat: Maranon
- Marou: Dak Lak
- French Broad: Matagalpa
- Ritual: Belize and Maranon
My most memorable experience was the production of the new Original Beans bars at Felchlin in July. I will never forget that. It was very exciting to create new recipes together with Felchlin and the Original Beans team. I’m so happy with the results! And I heard I’m not the only one May I say that these bars are my 2014’s favourites? Or will I be disqualified? Although it’s not weird to be in love with your own babies, right?
Other chocolate highlights:
- Chocoa Trade Fair and Festival, March in Amsterdam
- Origin Chocolate Event, October in Amsterdam
What will happen in 2015? I’m looking forward to:
- The bean (or tree?) -to-bars by Alexandre!
- The start of a Chocolate Academy in The Netherlands!
- Chocoa Trade Fair, Conferences and Festival 5-9th March in Amsterdam. Be there!
- Georg Bernardini’s new chocolate book September 2015
- And maybe some gorgeous new Original Beans products?
Wish you all a delicious new chocolate year!
By Vera Hofman, 2014-12-24
Georg's current book "Der Schokoladentester" (The Chocolate Tester) appeared in
2012. This book contains more than 700 pages with reviews and information about
chocolate. He won a Gourmand Award for best chocolate book in the world!
Now he is working on a new version (also in English!) that will be even better!
550 brands from 70 countries with almost 5.000 product reviews!
(I think he eats more chocolate at the moment than I do).
And many, many other informations will give a huge overview about chocolate and
Support him and make reservations for the book:
By Vera Hofman, 2013-12-16
I tasted a lot of excellent dark bars this year!
So I'm happy!
Heres a list of my favourites.
Depending on my mood, the order can change.
- Sznt Tibor: San Cristobal Crudo (and more bars of his collection)
- Dandelion: Maya Mountain Belize
- Soma: Old School, Bachelors Hall and El Vigia
- Felchlins new couverture Costa Rica
- Bar Au Chocolat: Sambirano, Chiapas and Duarte Province
- Wilkies: Tumbes and Amazonas
- Marou: Treasure Island
- Tejas: Capistrano, Valero and Presidio
- Rogue: Balao
- Valrhona: Loma Sotavento
Maybe I forgot one...or two...
By Vera Hofman, 2013-10-21
Definitely my favourites are the Original Beans Esmeraldas-Truffles of Toot Sweets! They are not covered with chocolate, its just ganache andcocoa powder. So you must pick them up carefully, because they are very soft. They melt lightly and creamy, like silk on your tongue. Incredibly delicious!!
Second: the hand-made chocolates by Rococo. The ones I tasted were all extremely delicate: Kalamansi Lime Caramel, Passion Fruit & Rosemary Caramel, Salted Chocolate Toffee & Hazelnut Praline, Apricot & Lavender Ganache, Red Berry Madagascar and Autumn Spiced Apple. Need I say more?
Third: the water based ganaches of The Chocolatier Aneesh Popat. You surely can taste his passion in the chocolates. Unique combinations of ingredients. All fresh and bright. My favourite is the Rose & Cinnamon. Royalty stuff indeed.
By Vera Hofman, 2012-11-18
Last year the Origin Chocolate Event started as a little event: one evening, four speakers and about forty visitors. This year it was much bigger: two days, ten speakers and a lot more visitors. Location was the very beautiful Royal Tropical Institute in Amsterdam. The first day was for professionals and the second day for the real chocolate lovers.
Purpose of the event is to promote fine flavour and sustainable chocolate in The Netherlands. Organized by Erik Saur (El Sauco, distributor of origin chocolate), Caroline Lubbers and me (Vera Hofman), all with a passion for good chocolate.
The international speakers were the most important part of the program. Award winning chocolate makers and experts were doing presentations in parallel sessions in the afternoon and evening. An overview:
Sepp Schnbchler, R&D Manager at Felchlin
Sepp told us the story of Felchlin. Most important are the people, in Switzerland and in the cacao growing countries. Felchlin works with the best quality beans and the challenge is how to get the specific characteristics of the beans into the chocolate. The process from bean to chocolate, with special attention for conching, is Sepps specialty. He rediscovered the old traditional Lindt conches from 1879 and brought them back into production. A lot of people in the chocolate industry followed him. Moisture and remaining acids evaporate and all small particles are covered with cacao butter. This results in a very smooth texture, sublime melting and all the flavours of the beans are beautiful expressed. We tasted an unconched chocolate and a chocolate that has been conched for 48 and 60 hours. It shows major difference in texture and flavour development. Sepps eyes gleam whenever the word chocolate is used.
Philipp Kauffmann, founder of Original Beans
Philipp has a background in nature conservation. Five years ago he started Original Beans with the mission: making the World better through chocolate. The company focuses on the bio diversity hotspots, the most important areas for our eco-system. Places where nature conservation is an urgent matter and where also rare cacao varieties are growing. One of these areas is the Virunga National Park in DR Congo where the last mountain gorillas live. Due to Original Beans 13.000 farmers are now organic certified, they have doubled their income and over 3 million trees are planted. For every bar sold a tree is planted in the country of origin. Besides the chocolate from the Virunga we also tasted the Piura Porcelana from Peru, a wild bean from Bolivia and for dessert a creamy milk chocolate with fleur de sel from Ecuador.
Clay Gordon, founder of thechocolatelife.com
How chocolate gets its taste is his subject. Every step in the process from bean to bar is the most important step. The bean variety, terroir, fermentation, drying, roasting and conching, everything influences the final taste of the chocolate. He summarizes this into a very complicated mathematical formula. The conclusion however is not that theoretical: chocolate is there to enjoy!
Mott Green, founder Grenada Chocolate Company
In 1999 Mott founded the worlds first tree-to-bar company in Grenada. He started making chocolate with very creative self-made machines. Today his equipment is much more modern. The company is owned by the farmers and all employees earn the same salary. Sustainability is very important: all machines run on solar power and the latest transport from Grenada to Europe was by sailboat, completely CO2- neutral. Mott told us a passionate story en showed us pictures of his newest construction for drying the beans. Half an hour is not enough for Mott, we also have to taste all his bars. Favourite is the Nib-a-Licious!
Santiago Peralta, founder of Pacari
Last weekend he won 10 of The International Chocolate Awards. Proudly he told us about his company in Ecuador: Pacari. He processes the best Arriba beans from different areas in Ecuador to beautiful chocolates like Esmeraldas, Manabi and Los Rios. Leader in making raw chocolate: fresh and fruity! Not only organic certified but also bio-dynamic Demeter. Besides the plain dark bars he makes also a large collection of bars with additions like lemongrass, Andean blueberry and spirulina.
Martin Christy, founder of Seventy% Club and Direct Cacao, head of the jury of the International Chocolate Awards
How do you become a chocolate connoisseur? Taste! And do this very slowly! Martin did an experiment with us. First we took a piece of chocolate and brought it very slowly with outstretched arm to our nose. Smell all the aromas. Then we put it slowly in our mouth and let the chocolate melt on our tongue. Texture, how it melts and all the stadia in flavour development you become consciously aware. As a contrast we tasted, or rather ate, a piece of chocolate very quickly. It had to be gone in 6 seconds. It is obvious you taste almost nothing. All flavours completely pass by you and there is no after taste either. The conclusion: enjoy it slowly!
Bertil Akesson, founder Akessons
Where as the other speakers held a presentation, Bertils session was an interactive one. He told us about his family who owned cacao plantations on Madagascar for years. The most fruity Criollo and Trinitario beans grow there. Akesson supplies these first class beans to several chocolate makers all over the world. Bertil makes his chocolate in a factory in France. We tasted his Madagascar bar with tasting notes of the pepper that grows in the neighbourhood and he adds to some of his other chocolate bars. We also tasted chocolate from his plantation in Brazil. The main tasting note of this one is hazelnut. His latest creation is a chocolate made with beans from Bali. Besides a plain dark chocolate he also makes a milk chocolate with sea salt from those beans.
Maricel Presilla, founder of Gran Cacao, chef and writer
Maricel was born on Cuba between cacao trees. She is owner of Gran Cacao, two restaurants and she writes culinary books. In 2001 she wrote the legendary book The new taste of chocolate in which several cacao varieties are described. Recently she is named best chef in the Mid-Atlantic region. Her new book Gran Cocina Latina has just been launched. Maricel told us about her love for chocolate and cooking. She only works with chocolate she knows the background of. The beans, the farmers and the producer, the whole story has to be fair. She brought a big shopping bag full of all kinds of chocolate. We tasted chocolate made with beans from Venezuela: Guasare, Chuao and Cuyagua. And last but not least water-based ganache chocolates by chocolatier Damian Allsop from Londen.
Anna Laven, Royal Tropical Institute
Anna does research and gives advice on sustainable cacao. The definition of sustainable cacao is that it has one of these four certifications: Fair Trade, Rainforest Alliance, UTZ or Organic. There is an agreement that all cacao has to be sustainable produced from 2025 and from this year all Chocolate Letters. The question is if sustainable according to the current definition is enough. One of the biggest problems at this moment is the average age of the cacao farmer. In Ghana it is 50 years with a life expectancy of 60. Young people dont want to take over the farm because of the low earnings. Another problem is that not all farmers are able to get a certification. Only the 10% well organized farmers succeed. And then theres the question: will the extra pay reach the farmer? The big industries are making a move, but there still is a lot that can be done better.
Vincent Mourou, founder of Marou Chocolate
The history of cacao in Vietnam goes back to before 1600. In the past all cacao was sold to big companies like Callebaut, who does not care about quality, and blends the beans. A few years ago US chocolate maker Scharffen Berger made a change by producing the first single origin from Vietnam beans called Ben Tr. Vincent and his business partner Samuel Maruta both ended up in Vietnam and fell in love with the country. They quit their commercial jobs and decided to start making chocolate over there. Almost a year later they are producing five bars, each from a different region. One tastes spicy, another fruity and their latest creation has the flavours of roses. Every weekend they travel through the country searching for new cacao varieties.
Both days the afternoon program ended with a debate session
On the first day of the event the debate was about sustainability. What does sustainability really means? Retailers like Wholefoods require certifications from their suppliers. Small producers that buy the cacao directly from the farmers and pay a much higher price often dont have the means to certify. Direct traded cacao is not considered as sustainable by both retailer and consumer. There are already initiatives to promote this cacao. The message to the public is: tell the story about how chocolate is made en let people taste!
The second day the debate is about quality: how do you recognize good chocolate? Nature has a great influence on taste. The bean variety, terroir and processes in the country of origin like fermentation and drying. The last steps in the factory, particularly roasting and conching, finishes it. Pay attention to the wrapping: does it mention where the beans come from? And the price: you pay more for good quality. In comparison to wine and balsamic you pay a very low price for an excellent chocolate. So what the world needs is a 100 dollar bar!
- Kees Raat of Metropolitan Deli. The first bean-to-bar maker in The Netherlands. He uses beans from Cuba and makes delicious creations with his chocolate: brownies, marshmallows and ice cream!
- Norbert Mergen and Jan-Paul Fros of online chocolate shop Chocoweb. Besides bars of all of the event speakers also Menakao, Paul de Bondt and El Ceibo.
- Leslie VanderLeeuw of Amsterdam chocolate shop Chocoltl presented bars of small US bean-to-bar makers Dandelion and Ritual.
- Geert Vercruysse from Kortrijk, Belgium is the only Belgian chocolatier who doesnt use Belgian chocolate for his pralines. He spotted new tree-to-bar makers from Hawaii, Fiji, Australia and was also the one who introduced Marou from Vietnam. In his gorgeous pralines ganaches from all these origin couvertures.
- Of course the best Dutch coffee and tea stores Golden Coffee Box and Evermore Tea.
Between afternoon and evening session on the first day a plate of vegetables with a dressing of Original Beans Beni Wild Harvest chocolate was presented. The second day a chocolate dinner by NH Krasnapolsky hotel chef Jan Schramowski or chocolate tapas by chef Marilla Erkens.
Two wonderful days! Sharing passion and knowledge about origin chocolate.
We are looking forward to the 2013 event!
By Vera Hofman, 2012-11-04
Three weeks ago I was in London to be at Chocolate Unwrapped for the second year. This year a new location Covent Garden; more stands, talks, demonstrations and visitors! A few years ago this event was set up to promote fine flavour chocolate, artisan chocolatiers and chocolate companies who work in direct partnership with the cocoa farmers. And I must say: they succeeded!
I arrived Friday before the event. Because I was not be able to go to Paris this year I went straight to La Maison Du Chocolats store at Picadilly to get some French stuff. See the first picture below of pastries Dlice and Andalusie and some chocolates.
Saturday I was the whole day selling Original Beans bars at Unwrapped. Besides the bars we had also gorgeous macarons made by On Cafe with Cru Virunga ganache (picture 2). There were a lot of exhibitors from last year. New this year: Italian Antica Dolceria Bonajuto and Donna Elvira, Chocolate Nave, Enric Rovira, Menakao and Duane Dove of Tobago Cocoa Estate chocolate. His stand was very colourful with all the different pods he brought with him (picture 3). My favorite chocolatier Damian Allsop had a beautiful box with Cru Virunga water-based ganaches (pictures 4 and 5). Wow, these are taste bombs!
By Vera Hofman, 2012-03-06
My visit to Turin started with a tour in Guido Gobinos factory. In 1985 he took over the company from his father. He optimised the production processes and improved the quality by focussing on excellency and by researching and innovating products. He has succeeded: he is known as one of the best chocolate makers in Italy for years. At this moment there are 27 people working and they produce 900 kg gianduja per day. Of course made with the best hazelnuts from the Piedmont: Tonda Gentile delle Langhe. Unfortunately it was not allowed to make pictures in the production area. To get an impression: I saw the conching process in one of the latest German conches, the refining of gianduja paste and molding and wrapping of Easter eggs. The shop at the factory (the other one is in the city centre) is very beautiful and full of Turins specialities: giandujotti and cremini. My favourites are Gianduja Tourinot Maximo (40% hazelnuts), Coffee Cremini, Cremini with olive oil and sea salt (awarded by AOC) and the very tiny ganaches, sensations for your taste buds!
After this visit I went straight to Piazza Vittorio Veneto, Europeans largest square, where the festival Cioccola-To was located. A wonderful location with a magnificent view over the river Po. On the right side there were stands of the well known Italian brands like Caffarel, Venchi, Leone, Domori, DeBondt, Perugina, Bonajuto, Peyrano and many more. At the left side there were demonstrations and tastings. The event is not international orientated so you have to speak and understand Italian (poor me). Half of the area on this side was sponsored by Milka (too much!). You couldnt avoid the lilac cow. Master chocolatier Silvio Bessone recently started with bean-to-bar production. He brought some of his machines to his stand and you could watch to a part of the production process. The most fascinating machine was the one that wrapped giandujotti very rapidly.
There were less stands than I expected, so there was much time to visit the historical names and the new comers. The history of chocolate in Turin begins in 1559 when one of the Savoys brought some cocoa beans with him. Until 1826 chocolate was served and consumed only as a liquid. Caffarel was the first who start production of solid chocolate. In 1852 cocoa became very expensive, so part of the cocoa was replaced by hazelnuts and gianduja was born. Thirteen years later giandujotti were the first, in gold foil, wrapped chocolates. The following names I have visited: Pfatisch, Baratti & Milano, Ghigo, Giordano, Peyrano, Stratta, Avvignano, Al Bicerin, Gerla, Ciocco & Latta, Guido Gobino (also the shop in the centre with a loungy tasting room), Guido Castagna (opened his stylish shop last year), Piacerie di Cioccolato, Candifrutto bottega del Cioccolato. At all these addresses you can buy giandujotti. But watch out: there is a big difference in quality. The traditional brands are certainly not the best. My favourites are Gobino and Castagna. Both use the best hazelnuts and you can clearly taste that. Castagna even adds Chuao cocoa mass! There is a big difference in drinking (hot) chocolate as well. I tasted the ones of Al Bicerin, Baratti & Milano and again Gobino and Castagna. Although the traditional cafe restaurants of the first two are very beautiful, here again the new comers taste the best. Another typical product well known and loved by Turin is the Bicerin, a drink made of espresso, chocolate and cream, born in 1763 at cafe Al Bicerin.
I ended my visit with a tour in the Choco tram. A fifty minute tram ride through Turin by evening lights. On board chocolatier Guido Castagna, who has won an award for his gianduja, explained us more about chocolate and his creations. We tasted a Sacher Torte with a gorgeous thick layer of ganache on it, giandujotti, filled Easter eggs, hot chocolate and finally we got a goody box with a selection of his chocolates. It turned out an advantage not to speak Italian: I got a private translation by Mr Castagna himself
Viva La Dolce Torino!