I think I owe Angus Thirlwell an apology. When I originally wrote about Rabot Estate, I am ashamed to admit I let others influences cloud my judgement about their products. Others with opinions I respect greatly, but whom do not share the same palate as me. Whatever their dealings are and/or snobbery's are, I shouldn't have let that impact my point of view in such a way. I am afraid I wrote with a bias and an attitude about their company before ever having spoken with Angus. And I was partially caught up in the lack of understanding about the Chuao region and what is happening to the region itself vs. the famed Chuao farm where the most prized beans come from. I will stand by the previous reviews by taste, but I didn't give nearly enough credit or time to Rabot Estate. This is what my site is all about. Learning, growing, and possibly having to amend myself.
I met with Angus a few weeks ago while he was briefly in town. I demanded his time and took him to my favorite bar for some beers and chocolate talk. Not only is Angus the nicest man on the planet, but he was deeply knowledgeable, warm, and patient with my lack of understanding on various topics with chocolate growing and genetics. I could have easily talked chocolate all night. Sadly he had a plane to catch to NY. It's not every day chocolate lovers with a deep passion like this get to meet and sit and chat. He taught me a lot in our brief meeting and I owe him a bit of gratitude and respect for my previous reviews. I look forward to getting back to London one day and meeting with him again to talk chocolate.
Thank you for meeting with me that day Mr. Thirlwell. Your generosity and knowledge really made for a fantastic meeting. I will look forward to meeting with you again and hopefully traveling to St. Lucia for further explorations into chocolate.
Rabot Estate is a small cacao plantation in St. Lucia that has been revived and restored back to production by Angus Thirlwell and Peter Harris.
Via their website:
The Rabot Estate is Saint Lucia’s oldest cocoa estate, and was first established as an agricultural estate around 1745.
It was bought 5 years ago by two UK based entrepreneurs, Angus Thirlwell and Peter Harris, the original founders of Hotel Chocolat . At that stage cacao growing on Saint Lucia was on its knees; no future, no investment, no pride and no quality.
Angus grew up in the Caribbean and always wanted to connect chocolate and cacao. A customer sent him an old book published in 1920 about cacao growing, which he read while he was visiting his father who lives in Barbados. This was a moment of serendipity which inspired him to get into cacao growing. Peter always wanted to have a farm, so although he is a Chartered Accountant and naturally quite cautious, he was game on too!
Since then, Angus and Peter have invested heavily, re-planting thousands of new cacao trees, raising the quality of the fermentation to get a fantastic quality bean and putting together a team of local talent led by Phil Buckley – a resourceful cacao tree hugging eco-engineer. His wife Judy is an expert on team building and quality control. They have reached out to the other cacao growers on the island to stimulate a Cocoa Renaissance as part of their Engaged Ethics programme.
There are now 80 growers who have formally joined the scheme.
They get a commitment
- all the beans they grow will be bought, giving a secure and guaranteed market
- they will be paid about 30% above world cocoa prices
- will be paid 1 week after delivery
- free technical help
- subsidised cocoa tree seedlings to plant out
Now there is a thriving cocoa growing sector and an estimated 300 new jobs have been created amongst these growers. Sustainable benefits brought about by making investments of time, money and passion.
Generally Rabot Estate is about the cacao grown on the island. But this is a Venezuelan bar using the famed Chuao beans from the famed Chuao Hacienda. It is my understanding that they have expanded the region of Chuao past this small farm and into a much larger region. The beans are blends and hybrids and can be very different than what is grown and cultivated on the small estate in Venezuela. Now anyone can call their bars Chuao but it's not necessarily from the specific farm where the beans have been genetically tested as Criollo or similarly close genetic varieties. I am not an expert on how to taste or spot those differences. However, there is a lack of transparency with producers these days about what kind of cacao is being used. This is where my frustrations began with Hotel Chocolat because I was under the impression that they were another company just using buzz words to sell more chocolate. I was wrong about that.
It's easy to be confused these days however. The rules of cacao are changing daily, each chocolate maker I talk to has a very different set of rules and understanding about regions and definitions. Expanding the region really changes a lot for fans of Chuao. And not mentioning it on packaging really makes it difficult to know what is going on with the chocolate.
Consider it like beer. The water where the beer is brewed has a direct impact on it's flavor. Although water can be treated and is often treated, it impacts the beer. The different kinds of hops definitely has an impact on flavor. Malts and grains too. You can test this with Budweiser brewed around the world. In the US, it's ultra controlled and tastes the same everywhere you buy it. But it's different in China, London, and Russia. That's because the factories have different waters and different grain sources. The recipes are the same and they do a lot scientifically to make it taste generally the same, but these factors do change it. Chocolate is the same when it comes to it's beans, terroir, and genetics. I am not even close to understanding taste variances with genetic varieties. Mostly because there is too much going on. 10 new genetic varieties from Forastero were identified in 2008, and there is still unknown hybrids and new discoveries being made all the time.
Not every person buying chocolate needs to know these kinds of specifics. But I don't see why mentions of these beans can't be made on packaging about what kind of chocolate it is. Or designing websites to further explain like Taza Chocolate's website.
This cacao was obtained from the famed hacienda in Chuao. It is labeled as Criollo, but I think it's safe to say it's a Criollo hybrid and not true Criollo. Most of what is consumed is a form of a hybrid. But the quality is still incredible which is why these beans are prized. I am sure I am missing a lot more detail here, but I think you get the drift.
Rabot Estate Chuao Venezuela 70%
Type: Bittersweet, 70%
Bean Varietal: Criollo
Ingredients: Cocoa solids, sugar, soya lecithin.
Sample Size: 35g or 1.2oz
Lot #: 12166
Appearance: Flat, unlined tablet, monogrammed, Slight waviness on the top surface with fill lines and particles on the back surface. Deep dark brown color, shiny, but with a matted molded surface.
Snap: Big hard snap. Nice and loud, very firm and crisp snap with clean break lines.
Aroma: Coconuts, smoky, sugary, slightly acidic, fudgy, dried fruits, deep inky aromas, malty and slight cereal grains (as described on the package, but only upfront right out of the package and didn't hang on for long).
Taste: Raisins, slight whiskey tastes up front but very faint, complex flowery note up front, sugary, slightly bitter up front but not acidic or astringent, cereal grains, and pen ink. Raisin-y lingering after taste.
Texture: A little hard at first, medium-slow melt time, smooth, a little chewy.
Just a little bit of some surface issues. This happens with loosely packaged bars of chocolate. Still, not a lot of surface blemishes. No molding lines, just a straight monogrammed tablet. Fantastic snap.
Nice full aroma too. Coconuts and smoke right out of the package, and then it becomes very fudgy and cocoa-y.
Very nice taste. Raisins and dried fruits right up front. An interesting tiny hint of whiskey on the first taste. It's so small and nearly undetectable though. A lovely soft floral taste in the beginning and some bitterness. No astringency or acidity. Cereal grains and ink flavors. But it was really sugary. Very sweet. I find sugars tend to bring out great fruit flavors in chocolate and it helps round out some of the bitterness. This probably didn't need to be that sweet though. However, it's not overbearing. Just a tiny bit cloying. I can see nibbling this bar with a hot cup of coffee in the morning. A very decadent way to start out your morning, but still, like beer, there is a time and a place for every chocolate.
Final Score: 92.2