I've encountered several new chocolate producers in the last couple of months – some at Chocolate Unwrapped, some in the prizes our team won at the Big Chocolate Quiz, some through chocolate-loving friends and some when the producers or their PRs have contacted me to offer review samples. I thought I'd post a round up of some those I've reviewed recently.
Founded in Spain (by, amongst others, Albert Adrià, brother of Ferran) Cacao Sampaka "control the whole process of manufacturing from the selection of the cocoa beans through to the packaging of the product".
In Spain, they sell a wider range of producs, including an intriguing collection of single origin cocao bars. In the UK, it seems they are pushing their creative products, featuring an "eclectic" range of chocolate products which incorporate such flavours as pepper, coffee, aniseed, saffron, jasmine tea, mandarin and liquorice.
I didn't buy as much chocolate as you might imagine at Chocolate Unwrapped, but one that I did hand over hard cash for was Sampaka's blackberry dark chocolate bar, after tasting samples. Twice.
I also really liked the freeze fried raspberries coated in white and then dark chocolate. The combination of fruity sharpness, white chocolate sweetness and dark chocolate bitterness with the mix of textures was just amazing.
Having had a chat with their UK director, Vipan Bij, I'm hoping to meet with him again soon and bring you more information about this producer.
Hailing from Italy, Go*Do launched into the UK in September of this year, hoping to find a strong market for their organic, 35 gram bars of chocolate, currently available in just 6 flavours. Their website says all the right things about quality, environmental respect, ethical trading and an impressive bean to bar traceability.
My favourite was the 60% Dark Espresso Coffee which has lovely crunchy bits of (presumably) coffee beans in a dark chocolate that's sweet enough to offset the coffee. My friend, Matt, who took part in one of my tasting sessions, also really liked it and declared it "proper coffee" as he smiled and nodded in a spaced out, dreamy way! But husband Pete's reaction was that "someone dropped some ground coffee into some chocolate – this is not a good thing". Ignore him, though because I loved it!
Another one I liked a lot was the 60% Dark Sicilian Almond. The same sweet, dark chocolate with a really generous portion of good quality whole almonds. They gave a lovely crunch and flavour. My only niggle is that I found the bar a little too sweet overall.
The Organic White Chocolate Vanilla bar drew some interesting reactions. It was far too sweet for me but I'm not a fan of white chocolate. But Pete is and he had the following to say: "It's too sweet… has a nice creamy texture… vanilla doesn't come through as much as I expected given the visible flecks in it. It tastes rather like a Milky Bar, which is no bad thing, but I imagine it's probably more expensive!" Matt, who wasn't present when Pete first tasted and commented, came to exactly the same conclusion, happily exclaiming "it's a Milky Bar!" So if you like Milky Bars, but are looking for higher production values and an organic product, this one is for you.
The other bars are milk chocolate, dark chocolate and milk chocolate with hazelnuts.
Devnaa sell "Indian inspired confectionary".
Launched by brother and sister team, Jay and Roopa Rawal, the business puts to use their knowledge of authentic Indian cuisine and combines it with modern chocolate making.
They sell chocolate bars and chocolate truffles in a range of different flavours and kindly sent me two of their bars to review.
The packaging is very pretty and I like the mango-paisley design. I'm also rather taken with the Indian sayings along the sides of the bars, translated into English along the opposite edges.
Their Honey and Almond is far too sweet for me. There are hardly any almonds, especially compared to the Go*Do almond bar above. Certainly, no almond flavour is evident at all. My friend Matt says that his first thought is of Lockets, the honey and lemon throat lozenges. The honey flavour I didn't detect comes through for him as he lets the chocolate melt slowly in his mouth. But he agrees with me that there's very little almond coming through.
I like the Milk Chocolate Chai Masala With a Hint of Ginger much more. The chai masala flavour comes through immediately and clearly. The ginger hits the back of the throat after. Both balance nicely with the milk chocolate. But the spices give the chocolate a gritty texture – they need to be far more finely ground. Matt also likes the flavours and doesn't mind the grainy texture, which he also detects. Pete pronounces that "chai masala tastes like Camden". By which, we eventually discover, he means that it tastes like Camden smells in a hippy incense kind of way. Alright, then!
On this sample of two, it's a hard call to come to a conclusion about Devnaa. You'll have to try for yourself and let me know what you think.
Certainly, Indians have a very sweet tooth indeed (as you'll know if you've tried many Indian sweets and desserts) and this definitely comes through in these chocolates. Perhaps they are formulated for a different target market?
Betty's Handmade Chocolates
This little box of Betty's Chocolates was my share of a prize bag won in a chocolate quiz.
The business was founded over 90 years ago by Frederick Belmont. He left his home in Switzerland for France, where he learned the art of chocolate making, before continuing to England where he ended up in Yorkshire (by accident!) and stayed. At first, he worked for a Swiss confectionery business in Bradford but his skills soon lead to a job as Farrah's continental chocolate advisor. Finally, more than 10 years after he came to England, he opened up his first Betty's Café Tea Rooms and shop. From there he sold his own chocolates and confectionary as well as the normal tea rooms fare.
Three generations later, so the website tells me, the family business continues to make fine quality chocolate, or so they claim…
And rightly so. Fine, it certainly is!
I thoroughly enjoyed my selection, especially the raspberry ganache truffle, which was beautifully balanced. The chocolate and fruit flavours lingered in my mouth for ages afterwards, in a very satisfying way.
Plus, I think the packaging is beautiful, and would make an absolutely lovely stocking filler.
Well, of course, I already knew Rococo and have tried a number of their bars and chocolates over the years. However, a lovely birthday gift box from a dear friend contained a bag of their Chicchi di Caffe, coffee-flavoured dark chocolate beans, which I had not seen before. I absolutely loved these (and just bought myself some more at the recent Taste of Christmas show). They are firmly on my wish list, should any kind person be wanting to treat me to chocolates this Christmas! ;)