Sometime in early 2011 I found myself in a startling position.
My new all-time favourite chocolate bar hailed from America!
Yes, you heard it right… Stateside… Across The Pond… The U. S. of A.
The land of the sugary-sweet Hershey bar, that I have long mocked as being even worse than our cheap British vegelate, is making such bloody fantastic chocolate that one such bar has leapt into the spot of my most beloved and doesn't look like being usurped any time soon!
With Amano's Dos Rios.
I was convinced that flavours of bergamot and other flower and citrus essential oils had surely been added to the chocolate to achieve the beautifully balanced perfumed aroma and floral taste, and perhaps a hint of warming spices too. But I was shocked to learn that the Dos Rios flavour was pure chocolate, with nothing added!
Amano sourced some very unusual cocoa beans from the Dominican Republic and the flavours that made my mouth come alive were all down to the genetics of the plants, the local terroir and the impressive skills of the cocoa grower (Nazario Rizek) who started experimenting with fermentation techniques. Of course, it also took the skills and innovation of Amano's head chocolate maker, Art Pollard, to process the cocoa in such a way that all the natural glory of these beans was retained in the end product. (Amano are a real bean to bar chocolate maker, unlike many who use that term but buy in courverture chocolate made elsewhere).
Of course, trust me to fall for a chocolate that's not readily found in the UK and isn't on the inexpensive end of the price spectrum either!
At the moment, UK chocolate lovers interested in trying Amano chocolate can purchase online from Chocolate & Love (who stock a range of really superb quality chocolate, including their own branded bars, of which Coffee Affair is my favourite).
I am blessed with some very kind, clever and generous friends and a group of them, with Dom in charge, organised the most amazing gift for my 40th birthday – a box containing 40, yes FORTY, bars of Amano chocolate. Dom wisely decided I should be encouraged to diversify a little so 25 of the bars were a mix of other Amano bars and 15 of the 40 were Dos Rios.
As it happened, I was then in possession of all the bars of Amano Dos Rios in the UK and all of a sudden, there was a bit of a rush on them! Accepting the offer of returning my chocolate with interest, I lent all 15 of my Dos Rios bars out to Richard at Chocolate & Love and Martin Christy. Martin was celebrating Seventy Percent's 10th anniversary and, having played a small role in bringing Dos Rios to Amano, wanted this chocolate to feature in the celebration – the bars I lent him were made into a celebratory cake by none other than Paul A Young. And it was good!
As luck would have it, not long after the party, Martin took a trip to the States, stopping in to visit his friends at Amano, and bought me back a box of what Amano call confections or bonbons.
Here's my review of some of the contents of the box.
Raspberry Ganache with Guayas Chocolate and White Chocolate Shell
At first I'm a bit surprised. The shell is very soft, starting to melt to the touch of my fingers within seconds (and my hands are not particularly warm, either). The bars don't do this at all. So I don't stop long to admire its appearance but dive straight in. What strikes me most about biting into it is the silky softness of the ganache. It feels melting, almost liquid, in the mouth and yet clearly isn't runny at all when you look at it. The filling has a wonderful depth of dark cocoa flavour without any hint of bitterness. This makes it a perfect foil to the raspberries which come through with the wonderful zing of fresh fruit.
Dos Rios Palet d’Or
A soft truffle with the full distinctive flavour of Amano Dos Rios chocolate – a natural chocolate which for all the world tastes like it has bergamot, flowers, spices and herbs mixed with it. Lovely! As with the raspberry ganache, the moisture level in the centre is perfect but the shell is softer than I'd prefer, with little solidity to it.
Caramel Ganache with Guayas Chocolate
This one isn't listed on the identity card inside the box but my internet searches suggest that it too uses Amano's Guayas chocolate.
This chocolate is all about the soft, deeply rich caramel which bursts in the mouth. There is just the right balance of sweet, perhaps a hint of salt. The chocolate enhances the caramel; it doesn't stand out on it's own. Simple and delicious.
Another one that's not listed on the identity card; I've not been able to find much information about it.
I love the pretty stripes on top of this cuboid chocolate. The filling is a much darker caramel, taken to just short of burning, giving a deeper, slightly bitter taste but not overly so – in fact it's perfectly balanced between the bitter and the sweet. Again, it's a very soft, almost liquid-feeling centre, which works superbly well for this chocolate.
Yemeni Sidr Honey Ganache with Guayas Chocolate
Whilst this features the same meltingly soft texture as the other ganaches, to my surprise, I detect not even a hint of honey. There were three of these in my box so I do my best to pick out the flavour, but it just isn't there.
It's said that Sidr honey from Yemen is amongst the world's most expensive, so perhaps very little was used, but then other reviewers have clearly loved the "rich, woodsy" taste and "smoky notes" they've tasted. Maybe mine is a weak batch.
Key Lime Ganache with Guayas Chocolate
This is a visually beautiful chocolate; I love the white splatters over the green, even though another part of me can't help muttering about bird droppings…
Once more, the shell is soft and the inside is slippery smooth. There's a distinctly lime taste, and we're talking about real lime, the zest and juice just as it tastes when you've freshly scraped and squeezed it. The word zingy was invented for this chocolate!
Cinnamon Ganache with Guayas Chocolate and Candied Pecans
This chocolate has a lovely sheen and the large chunk of candied pecan on top is very appealing. On first bite, I think it's too cinnamony, but then the pecan comes through… it's clever layering of flavours. That said, I'd still tone the cinnamon down a touch, personally. There's a pleasant crunch from the pecan which has a light crispy texture rather than the usual solid nuttiness. The bitterness of the chocolate is a nice balance against the cinnamon and the sweet pecan.
Cardamom and Pepper Ganache with Dos Rios Chocolate
As I've come to expect by now, the shell is soft and the inside silky. Although the taste of cardamom is clearly present, it doesn't have the usual depth of flavour of one of my favourite spices and I'd like it to be punchier. For me, the pepper doesn't come through at all, though perhaps it's lost within the spicy side of the Dos Rios flavour profile. Nice but not amazing.
Tangerine Ganache with Ocumare Milk Chocolate
After the refreshingly fresh raspberry and lime tastes in other chocolates, the strangely retro flavour in this ganache is a surprise. It's rather sweet, very subtle and has none of the citrus tang of real fruit. It reminds me of cheap, old-fashioned orange creams and I'm disappointed.
Overall, it's a mixed box with some highlights, a few also-rans and a few disappointments. That said, I'm intrigued enough to want more and keep my fingers crossed that Amano find a way to retail their bonbons in the UK.
In the meantime, I'll continue enjoying my Amano in bar format.