Let’s say you return home from the market with a big Yukon Gold potato to go with your steak. You’re ready to bake the potato when you notice some fine print on a small sticker. It reads: “Contains salt, milk substitutes, artificial sour cream, onion, bacon and cheddar cheese flavor; 7% real potato.” Although you might like the sound of those add-ons, you certainly wouldn’t think you were holding a potato in your hand, would you? Of course not. A potato is 100% potato. Those other things might go great on your spud, but you want to start with an actual potato, don’t you? Of course.
And yet, this potato scenario exactly mirrors what happens when you buy any mass produced chocolate bar. All of them have around 7% cocoa and cocoa butter, and fill in the other 93% with sugar, milk substitutes, vegetable oils, soy lecithin and fake vanilla (called “vanillan”). Yes, you read correctly. Ninety percent or more of your supposed chocolate bar has nothing to do with chocolate, and yet it’s called chocolate!
Why is that, you ask? You won’t be surprised to learn that it’s due to history, greed and a disregard for quality. The cocoa in a nominal chocolate bar is by far the costliest ingredient, so makers want as little of it as possible. And we’ve called this food chocolate for so long that we associate the name with something very far from the cocoa bean.
Enter good chocolate, which has only been around since 1987, when chocolatiers figured out a way to bring out the distinct flavors of the cocoa bean in high percentage formulas without the high acidity and bitterness overwhelming the taste. (Why you don’t want any more than 70-75% cocoa; sugar, cocoa butter and vanilla round out the cocoa bean flavor best.) These artisan chocolates have a concern for quality and flavor. You’ve seen all those dark chocolate bars with percentages on the front, right? That comes from wishing to trumpet the fact that these bars have more cocoa credibility, and it’s a great trend. Except for one thing.
There’s more to a good chocolate bar then cocoa percentage. Most crucial is the bean you use. To cut to the chase, inferior chocolate uses inferior beans (“Forastero”) because they’re easiest and cheapest to grow. This lousy bean accounts for well over 90% of all cocoa grown, and its bought by all the mass producers. And the good stuff? “Criollo” and “Trinitario.”
Like fine wine, these beans have distinct, complex flavors that reflect the soil and climate of where they’re grown. Artisan chocolate of amazing flavor is exclusively made from these beans. (Mass produced, high percentage cocoa bars like Lindt Dark Chocolate contain Forastero beans, so they taste nowhere as good as the chocolate I’m talking about now. Hence, a merely high percentage of cocoa does not guarantee anything in the flavor department.)
El Rey chocolates use only Venezuelan Criolo and Trinitario beans. Let’s taste three of their bars from a very attractive metal tin of 5g squares.
The El Rey Cariaco Dark Chocolate “Rio Caribe” bar is 60.5% cocoa, a single bean (that is, unblended) cocoa variety of Venezuelan origin. It’s a Trinitario bean from the famed north eastern growing region of the country.
It has a great snap and earthy flavor, mildly fruity, but a bit too much vanilla flavor for my taste. If you’re new to real chocolate, however, this bar is a really good one to try because all of us normally associate vanilla with chocolate, so this makes for a good transition. This bar also has a well-rounded flavor with a few high distinct notes.
The 70% version of this El Rey bar shows more clearly why beans matter. Now that there’s less sugar and vanilla, I can taste the nice flavor of this delicious chocolate. The earthiness has some subtle peat or chalkiness to it, and the dark berry notes are more prominent. Wow, this is good. With this bar you really begin to taste chocolate as the complex plant that it is.
And now, the El Rey “Apamate” 73.5% Dark Chocolate bar. Made from the Carenero variety of Trinitario beans, this chocolate is amazing. Although I wouldn’t recommend that you go from Hershey’s to this chocolate (just like you can’t go from diet Coke to well-rounded Bordeaux and compare them very well), it’s great to start tasting real chocolate so you can see what’s going on with this bar.
First, it has a strong rich chocolate flavor that’s earthy and deep. Second, and unlike the Rio Caribe, this bar presents a more harmonious combination of flavors, including berry and an almost spicy taste. There’s also a hint of nuttiness and, most impressively, a long sustaining flavor of them all together that lingers on the tongue well after the chocolate is gone. This chocolate has its own personality. You may like artisan bars with a different character, but that’s what’s great about real chocolate: there are genuine differences to notice and enjoy.
So, all three of these El Rey chocolates have great mouth feel and rich, distinct flavors. These are great chocolates, made to the high standards that great cocoa beans deserve and reward. Although I prefer Amano single-bean chocolate (which I hope to review here in future), El Rey has a real winner here, especially with the Apamate. This Venezuelan company knows what it’s doing.
It’s been twenty minutes since I had a piece of Apamate and I can still feel its presence on my palate. Wow. Go buy this excellent chocolate if you already know about real chocolate. If you don’t, try these three bars in order and enjoy a journey of taste discovery.
You might even want to start with the Caoba 41% Dark Milk chocolate bar (delicious!) and work your way up the flavor ladder. All of these bars and an excellent white chocolate can be had in a great sampler. I highly recommend this gift for you and anyone else you like. Now that’s a present worth unwrapping.
And hey, take that 7% potato back to the store for a real one.
Candy Addict received this product as a sample from the manufacturer. No payment was received for this review and all opinions represent an unbiased view of the product.