This review comes with great regret. Great regret that I bought something this expensive without some background information and great regret that I was let down by it when it comes from a chocolate maker with huge respect in the industry. Maybe it's a fluke, maybe it's a one off with my bar, maybe it's just me because I find Chuao to be largely overrated. But regardless of the reasoning, this was a major disappointment for technical marks.
Francois Pralus has a very long standing history in the chocolate industry as being one of the best chocolate makers in the world. I have been meaning to get more reviews on to this blog of their products. Consistently they have been making world class chocolate and have been leaders in the single origin lines of chocolate. This is one of the few times I have felt actually duped by a brand name of chocolate. That's saying a lot with Pralus' reputation.
I think chocolate makers are really pushing the limits of "rarity," regions, and packaging. These prices are just unreal and the quality simply doesn't match the price. Sometimes I don't care how far you had to trek into the wild jungles to forage for that rare bean/genetic varietal that no one else is using. I just want it to taste good and not cost me my first born child.
Chuao beans of Venezuela, porcelana beans, criollo beans, cut-the-head-off-6000-snakes-in-the-jugle-to-get-to-these-beans..... Most of it is bullshit, and I think we're really wearing out Chuao beans and holding them up in high regards that it may not necessarily deserve. I am not saying it's all for naught and that we should throw in a towel for this region. There are people who have done the region justice with some amazing bars. But overall, I just think it's over done now and 100% overrated and over priced. Maybe it's just me, but I haven't been that impressed. I think there are other regions of Venezuela that deserve much deeper exploration and attention. I am sure many chocolate makers will dismiss this with convoluted facts about the Chuao region, but as a consumer I am here to tell you that so far, I think it's overrated.
Via their website:
To the west of Caracas, Venezuela, accessible only by boat, and after several miles of winding road and uncertain is a mythical place: Chuao.
This small village is famous for generations for the purity and quality of the cocoa growing there.Bordered on the north by dense tropical forests to the south by the Caribbean Sea, this isolation ensures a pure criollo hybrids and some unique. An exceptional, ancestral knowledge, a traditional drying ground before the front of the church have made this the most sought after cocoa in the world and the best. The tiny production makes it a rare product that we are proud to present.
This chocolate is balanced by acidity and bitterness, woody, robust.
I rolled my eyes at, "accessible only by boat," part. While I am sure that's true, I bring back my orginial point. Who bloody cares if it's not all that?
Click to enlarge images.
Type: Bittersweet, 75%
Bean Varietal: Criollo hybrids.
Ingredients: 75% cocoa, sugar, pure cocoa butter, GMO-free soya lecithin.
Sample Size: 50g or 1.476oz
Appearance: Lighter brown color, rich and orange-ish hues, square tablet with monogrammed molding. Very scratched and scuffed surface with no indication why. The package was not damaged and it was flawless wrapping inside the package. It would have had a nice shiny surface if not for the major scuffing. Also, very sloppy manufacturing marks on the underside of the bar.
Snap: Good, deep firm snap. Excellent snapping sound. Crumbly break lines.
Aroma: Virtually no aroma whatsoever. Nothing but dried raisins and a slight bit of dried wood that barely hangs on as soon as it's exposed to air. There was literally nothing else.
Taste: Sweet sugars, very bitter, berries, astringent, tart, lemony, bold and dominating wood flavors, slight hints of lingering passion fruit. Longer lingering finises of tar and roasted cacao.
Texture: Very smooth texture, medium melt time, creamy texture.
I know why people revere this region. It's flavors are immensely bold and complex. But everything else about the total package with Chuao beans is a total let down. Especially with this bar.
The appearance is simply unacceptable. There is no visible reason for those scuffs. They pretty much packaged it like that. It's beat up and it totally takes away from it's gorgeous color and what would have been a shiny surface. Not to mention the very sloppy fill lines on the back of the bar. It's just not good quality for the price, reputation, and the excessive packaging.
The snap quality was great. Good sound, and very firm snap. Just some crumbling with the break lines but a very minor issue there.
I am really surprised at the absence of an aroma. Too bold to too faint, it's not a good thing for me. I want to smell it's richness. This smelled like an old wooden box that had dried raisins in it for the last 5 years. Two notes and that was it. Nothing else came through and I was disappointed.
Flavor wise it's huge but it's all over the place. It had some complicated notes to it, most intriguingly were the passion fruit notes. But all of it is completely dominated by wood flavors. Anything remotely interesting that comes up is dominated by tree and wood flavors. While it's hugely rich on it's flavor, it's not very well balanced. It's also astringent and deeply bitter. The bitterness and sugars seem more like they're fighting. Good berry flavors get annihilated very quickly as well. You're left with lingering char flavors and very little nuanced retro-olfaction flavors.
The last remaining factor was it's texture, which I found to be great. Really nice and smooth. Creamy with a nice medium melt time that allowed the flavors to hang on and not quickly melt away or disapate. Texture and flavor are the only thing holding up this particular bar. And while some may say that's the only thing that matter, it's not in this case. This bar suffered from so many technical flaws it's a little embarrassing.
Again, it's with great regret to write so strongly against a major chocolatier. But this bar was truly absurd. The boasting of the rare region, the gorgeous albeit gratuitous packaging, the horrible scuffing, the complete lack of aroma, the almost single note flavor..... It's time to stop touting Chuao as this coveted region and really work these flavors to find a better balance. Otherwise, I will just go take a tree branch and chew on that for free instead of paying $12.95 for 50 measly grams of overrated chocolate.
The price, however, is something to talk about. It's not Pralus' fault how retailers mark up their products. One store in particular is notorious for putting an outrageous mark up on their products. I am sorry Formaggio Kitchen. This isn't about railing you guys, but you know $12.95 is absurd pricing. Other retailers are charging $8.95. Even that is excessive for only 50g. Now you see why I am being extremely critical of the conditions this bar of chocolate. For $13 or $9, this thing should have been covered in gold or made to look like it was. Having said that, no one twisted my arm into buying this bar. I bought it based on Pralus' name alone. I should have done more research for a blind purchase. But with an excellent track record, how could I have known this bar would have been so grossly overrated?
Final Score: 77.8