Thursday, February 15, 2018

Fresco 100% Dark Chocolate Line-Up: An Eye-Opening Cacao Experience

Although many of us have already abandoned our New Year's resolutions and are regularly skipping the gym in February, one thing we can try to maintain (because it takes no extra time), is to reduce the amount of sugar in our diets. Especially after a sweet Valentine's Day, it is a good time to adjust our palettes and get used to bitter flavours, and even start to like them.

So as I mentioned in one of my last posts, I like to push myself to taste only extra bitter, and completely unsweetened chocolate in the winter months. The newest line-up, which I was excited to see at the Northwest Chocolate Festival, was a full range of 100% bars by Fresco Chocolate.  Most chocolate makers just make one 100% dark bar, but Fresco had at least three, if not more, at their booth at the festival. And knowing that Fresco always offers me an interesting taste experience, along with great learning experiences because they print the length that the chocolate was 'conched' (aerated and heated and cooled to reduce volatile flavours), as well as the roast length on the package, I bought them all. 

I was not disappointed. All three bars offered a taste experience like no other for 100% dark chocolates. A long conche was applied to each chocolate, reducing acidity levels and volatile flavours, making the chocolate more palatable than baking chocolate and many other unsweetened chocolates that I have tasted over the years. My favourite was certainly the Guatemala, because I think it made 100% dark chocolate palatable for any taster. The most potent of the three was the Maranon, because of all that wonderful acidity that makes a 70% Maranon so interesting and tasty, but very intense when no sugar is included.

Below is a quick description of my tasting notes on each bar, and where you can find more information about each one on the Fresco website.

Oko-Caribe 100% Pure Chocolate, Limited Release, Medium Roast, Long Conche, 50 g
Oko-Caribe is a cacao farming co-operative in the Dominican Republic, known for producing good-quality cocoa beans. The aroma of this 100% chocolate, made from Oko-Caribe beans, is wonderful; full of berries and floral elements. And the upfront flavour in the chocolate is very 'roasty'. The packaging lists a 'medium roast', but there really is a heavy roast taste to the chocolate (not burnt, just the flavour of roasted cocoa beans, or perhaps roasted walnuts or pecans). That is the upfront favour to me, but also there is some floral, some berry, some bitterness and a bit of earthiness and grass to the taste. A long conche was applied, which may have been a good thing. I could see how the raw cacao might have been too bitter for a 100% dark chocolate without the use of a long conche. For more information on this bar, visit:

Polochic Valley 100%, Guatemala, Light Roast, Long Conche, 50 g
This chocolate is very interesting, with a lot of upfront fruit flavours. In fact, it is almost shocking that fruit flavour was not infused or added to the chocolate. In addition, it has extremely low acidity. The fruit is like grapes, real juicy purple grapes. And sometimes it reminds me of a merlot, other times a 'fruit & nut' chocolate bar. And even more surprising is the bitterness level: there is none. It is sweet in comparison to every other 100% dark chocolate that I have ever tasted. Overall, this bar was both surprising and fascinating for a 100%, taking unsweetened chocolate to a new level. I highly recommend tasting this chocolate bar.  Learn more about it here:

Fresco Maranon 100%, Recipe 231, Medium Roast, Long Conche, 50 g 
This chocolate was the most acidic of the three, a real punch of bitterness and roast flavours. The acidity in the Maranon cocoa bean is what makes a sweeter chocolate taste so darn good, but yet at 100% it offers nearly a shocking punch. I wrote about this one before, which I had nearly forgotten about (about the same time of year in 2016), and looking at the post, I see my tasting notes are very similar. The difference now is that I have more experience with making chocolate. And I've learned that the most acidic 100% chocolates often make the best 70% bars. A Madagascar unsweetened chocolate, this Maranon chocolate, and the newly popular Peru Ucayali cocoa bean that I have been experimenting with at 100% versus 90%, versus a 70% chocolate. The best flavours can be brought out with a little sugar to offset the acidity levels. To learn more about this punchy chocolate, visit Fresco's website at:

This chocolate-tasting exercise was a real eye opener. I enjoyed trying three 100% dark chocolates with long conches. The long conche brought out the good flavours of the beans while offering a palatable unsweetened experience. The higher roast on the Maranon and Oko-Caribe subdued some of the acidity, while the lighter roast on the Guatemala helped maintain all the wonderful fruitiness in the cacao beans. Fresco is certainly becoming a leader in the 100% category.

For more information on Fresco Chocolate, visit the company website links above, or read on of my previous posts about this chocolate maker by clicking these links:

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Unsweetened Chocolate: A winter tradition that keeps getting better

Several years ago, I started an annual tradition of eating only very dark chocolate and 100% dark chocolate in January and February. I look back at those early days trying out Lindt and Michel Cluizel chocolate bars, and I see a person who didn't think she could ever get used to unsweetened chocolate. Now I eat it all the time, testing roasts and batches of unsweetened chocolate after it has been in my refiner for 24 hours or more. I make 100% dark bars to see how the beans hold up as bitter chocolate, to check acidity levels and creaminess, and see what kind of 'cringe factor' it inspires (and by that I mean the instant reaction to a 100% dark chocolate, and whether or not it evokes the cringy-face a baby makes when eating a dill pickle), and I also now eat it because I enjoy it.

Since I first started writing about tasting unsweetened chocolate in 2012, more bean-to-bar chocolate makers have opened their doors (at a rather rapid pace, I might add). This led to more 100% dark chocolates being introduced across North America and the rest of the world. Not every chocolate maker makes a 100% bar, but some do, and it has certainly become easier to find a good selection.

I also think health trends have driven the introduction of more bars, and a lot of good education by bean-to-bar chocolate makers, which is beginning to have an effect on customers, who are becoming more and more curious about the taste of pure cocoa.

In fact, no sugar chocolate has become a bit trendy. Zotter Chocolates of Austria made unsweetened milk chocolate popular a few years back, when they introduced their 'Milk Chocolate Dark Style' bar, where 70% of the ingredients list was cocoa solids (cocoa beans + cocoa butter/fat) and the other 30% of the ingredients was just milk powder. No sugar added. No alternate sugar added. It was - and still is - a melt-in-your mouth combination that takes just a moment to get used to, and soon enough you find yourself craving it. Then in 2016, East Van Roasters in Vancouver created an unsweetened chocolate bar with cashews ground into it, making a smooth combination that took the edge off of the acidic and fruity Madagascar cocoa beans they were using for the chocolate.

And now, I have discovered that Hotel Chocolat in the UK makes an 80% Supermilk Saint Lucia origin chocolate bar, which takes Zotter's no sugar-milk-chocolate creation one step further. So I thought I'd start the annual tradition with this one.

What I discovered is that perhaps this unsweetened milk chocolate trend can only go so dark. Hotel Chocolat's 80% Supermilk bar is more bitter than Zotter's, and unfortunately it is not quite as smooth. I think between it's texture and the bitterness level (and slight taste of earthy/soil/mould), it lacks the potential for me to go back to it again, in the way Zotter's does. Although I have to say the aftertaste that lingers is pure milk, which is a nice effect.

Another new one that I found at the Northwest Chocolate Festival in November, was Zotter's Protein Kick, with 75% cocoa solids and 25% whey protein. 

This too was not as inspiring to me as their original 70% dark-milk chocolate (with 30% milk).  Granted, the texture is lovely, but the taste of the whey protein takes some getting used to. In fact, it took me about a week, and absolutely no sugar in my diet to get used to it. However, I can imagine that people who consume no sugar ever, can learn to like this bar. And although the whey flavour is a bit of a turn-off for me, I do like the idea of protein, and I think that people who lead a Paleo or no-sugar lifestyle, or perhaps weight-lifting-whey-eating folks, might like it as a post-workout snack.

I also tried Zotter's High-End dark chocolate with 96% cocoa solids, and 4% organic coconut blossom sugar.

This was interesting. Since I work with coconut sugar quite often, I know it is less sweet than regular white or organic cane sugar, and it has a detectable flavour. So the 4% coconut sugar offers a bitter-ish taste in this chocolate, and it really might as well be a 100% chocolate. I do like it better than the Protein Kick bar. And I can see a larger customer base enjoying this bar, since the low-acidity cocoa beans chosen for it and the lovely conching work Zotter has done on the chocolate, has made it so palatable. As far tasting the 'terrior' of the chocolate, there is not a lot of that going on. It is really just a straight up Peru, hints of floral flavours and a sweet bean profile. The lingering aftertaste is quite nice and cocoa-y.

In the next post, I will move on to some new pure 100% dark chocolates, including Soma's newest Arcana 100% bar (yup, it's a blend and it changes seasonally with a Venezuela Porcelana as the base cocoa bean), along with Fresco's line-up of three different single origin 100% bars, and Sirene's Tanzania and Ecuador 100% chocolates.

Happy Chocolate Eating!