These Colombian beans are from the Northern Part of Colombia on the coast of the Carribean Sea nestled in the Sierra Nevada. The Sierra Nevada being the world’s highest coastal range creating the fertile valleys in which to grow the Cienaga beans. The Sierra Nevada region is also home to the Arhuacos, an indigenous community who have been harvesting cocoa for over 2000 years. Unlike many other cocoa producing countries, Colombia eat a large proportion of their cocoa crop internally and so as an origin it has only just begun to emerge and develop its fine flavour cacao for export.
Having tried Hotel Chocolat’s Aracataca from Colombia not long before this, I’m somewhat aware of what to expect from this region of cacao, only the Aracataca was a 75% bar and the Cienaga is a 95% bar. Where before under the Aracataca there was a good degree of acidity and some light, but developed sweetness, I have a feeling these won’t be as well represented here. I’ve enjoyed many 85% bars before, but I can’t say I’ve been a fan of any of the bars that come in a higher percentage than that, it’s not that there’s anything inherently wrong in a bar over 85%, but I feel this is the point where the acidity and sweetness of a bar recedes, taking with it any distinguishable flavours beyond cocoa and that baker’s chocolate feel. It would be unfair to say I don’t enjoy or appreciate these bars, only that I enjoy them less than say an 80% bar. I feel like there is a reason why a lot of high quality chocolate bars are manufactured at 70% and that is because the cocoa is opened up by and improved by the sugar, but also why there’s not a lot of worthy 33% bars because at this point the sugar overtakes any of the individual qualities the cocoa beans might have had. To express myself more simply I think, for my enjoyment at least, the addition of sugar in cocoa is best represented in a bell curve, where too much sugar ruins the bar and not enough yields less favourable results than adding the optimum amount for flavour. The optimum for each bar changing with the nature of the beans and the processing and that being the job of the chocolatier to work out. With this somewhat biased mindset I approached this bar with hope and trepidation. Opening the bar it had a great appearance and refined aroma that encouraged the hope side of me, if there wasn’t going to be bright acidity, I was hopeful at this point for complexity and dimension. To taste the bar leads with a dark bitter flavour that reminds me of dark roasts, but is more representative of the high percentage, it continues to develop a background acidity of flame raisins, which hands off to some malted dairy flavours. The flavour set here is representative of dark intense cocoa flavours, but there is a refinement to the processing and manufacture of this bar, that provides fairly smooth sailing through these dark waters. The flavours have a lot of depth, but aren’t overpowering and there’s only a light astringency here, not a full blown moisture sapping quality, which is common in the higher percentages. I won’t lie I still wouldn’t choose to eat a 95% chocolate bar for enjoyments sake, but as an expression of high percentage chocolate this bar does a good job in representing flavours and qualities that go beyond burnt rubber and tar sands. This bar would be best enjoyed by those who consider themselves purists, or at least with a sharp cheese if you need to take the edge off.
Ingredients: Cocoa solids (cocoa mass, cocoa butter), sugar
Colour: Darker brown, medium to heavy purpling
Texture: Very smooth
Mould: Hotel Chocolat Rabot 1745 tablet mould
Snap: Very crisp, thick
Notes: Intense cocoa, tobacco, balsamic reduction, violets, raisin
Quality: Refined, acidic, deep
Length: Very Long, heavy
Texture: Lightly cloying, smooth, heavy cream
Quality: Light astringency, full, dense
Notes: Flame raisin
Quality: Short, enveloped
Notes: Chocolate cake mix, raisin
Type: Bitter, sweet, salt
Notes: Dark bitter roast, dark cocoa, flame raisin, malt, brewer’s yeast, single cream
Quality: Robust yet mellow, deep, developed
Flavours are deep and long and carry for an age, developing acidic tones help heighten the round
Notes: Single cream, malt
Quality: Touches of single cream push through on the finish to leave a mouth coated in malt
Acidity and sweetness are dwarfed by the full and heavy flavours of the high percentage cocoa, but refined and malted dairy tones to the bar portray a dense structure with balance. Bar is not unbalanced, it is just lacking certain attributes to be added to the balance
Bar has plenty of depth and in amongst its cocoa and malted flavours is a degree of dimension and complexity, which are firmly rooted in the dense structure, balance is portrayed and expression of origin is clearly represented just at its darkest
Hotel Chocolat’s Tasting Notes: Smooth build with a sharp right hook. With a bark that is worse than its bite, surprisingly malty, these beans are only available for a short time.