Ara El Salvador Usulutan 70% 91/100

 

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This bar is made with trinitario cocoa beans from Usulutan in the south east of El Salvador. Once harvested they’re shipped to Paris, where husband and wife team Andres and Sabrina help to turn cacao beans into their colourfully packaged Ara chocolate bars. Bringing with them a wealth of fine dining experience and a stint with Chocolates Franceschi in Venezuela they’re well prepared to make small batch bean to bar chocolate, while putting their own individual stamp on it. Ara’s philosophy revolves around Andres and Sabrina’s commitment to the environment and their desire to use cacao that is grown in harmony with the local ecosystem, furthermore they’re vegan, encouraging a simple approach to cacao production in which only cacao products and cane sugar are used.

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This is the first cocoa I’ve tried from El Salvador, I’ve had coffee from this country a number of times, but cocoa seems to be a lot rarer. In terms of my experience it’s pretty limited to the coffee, often with golden and citrus flavours, such as honey, oranges or marzipan, although this is indicative of the general flavours of coffee from El Salvador and I’ve experienced some different flavours from different processing techniques. My expectations here are therefore limited, I wouldn’t be surprised to find sunny, sweet citrus flavours in this chocolate, but at the same time I’m open minded about what to expect. My hope is that this chocolate represents some of the better qualities of coffee from this country, qualities such as balance and light accessibility offering something that’s approachable and easy going. Opening the packaging I’m presented with a simpler looking 5 x 2 mould with a mostly matte finish. Breaking off a piece reveals some acetic and raw style aromas of hazelnuts and deep cocoa with acidic plum notes and some flashes of nectarine and leather in the finish. Placing a piece in my mouth the chocolate has the texture of melting cocoa butter, before becoming juicy and lightly astringent with a glossy like feel. To taste this bar features a predominant display of bittersweet flavours, much like citrus where the fruit is sweet, but the rind is bitter. These are bitter flavours, as opposed to perceived bitterness, much like with a real grapefruit, but these bitter flavours are underpinned by sunny sweetness and a subtly complexity that draws you in. There’s flavours of plums and grapefruit with a touch of black liquorice that lead into a marmalade like feel to the bar that jammy bittersweet citrus with a sunny expression that encourages you to notice the flavours that weave in and out of each other as the melt proceeds. This is the kind of bar that tricks you into wanting more, just to remember or try and figure out what it tasted of, it’s distinctly individual, offering an expression uncommon in other cocoa. My favourite bit of this bar though, is the clarity, it’s easy to access the flavour, it’s transparent and clearly derived from the beans, more than from the processing, a truer expression of flavour. This is one for those who like complexity, or for those with a love of marmalade and it’s naturally confusing bittersweet qualities. Best enjoyed with golden sponge, baked apples, cognac or Madeira.

Ingredients: Cacao, unrefined cane sugar, cocoa butter

Appearance 8.5/10

Colour: Medium to darker brown
Texture: Soft sandstone
Mould: 5 x 2 segments
Snap: Crisp
Temp/Shine: Matte gloss

Aroma 9/10

Intensity(0-10): 8
Notes: Hazelnuts, cocoa, plum, nectarine, leather
Quality: Acetic, deep, rich

Melt/Mouthfeel 9/10

Length: Long
Evenness: Even
Texture: Cocoa butter, juicy, glossy
Quality: Buttery, rich, lightly astringent, full

Acidity 9/10

Intensity(0-10): 5
Notes: Grapefruit, plum
Quality: Lightly tart, hard, balancing

Sweetness 9/10

Intensity(0-10): 8
Notes: Marmalade, light muscovado, honey
Quality: Developed, bittersweet, sunny

Flavour 9.5/10

Intensity(0-10): 8
Type: Bitter, sweet
Notes: Purple plum, plum skins, grapefruit, black liquorice, lotus biscuit, marmalade, honey
Quality: Subtly complex, distinctively individual, lightly astringent, variable

Length 9.5/10

Flavours weave in and out of each other but with individually good lengths leaving a lasting impression, rounds come unevenly from peaks of bitterfruit acidity

Finish 9/10

Notes: Marmalade, honey
Quality: Flavours become slightly bitter and astringent coming into the finish, but they’re still sweet and fruity resulting in a marmalade like impression with a touch of honey, leaving a citrusy juicy astringent quality to linger

Balance 9/10

Bar is pretty variable, but attributes and flavours have great contrast creating a curated balance, firmer structure provides good anchoring and sufficient boundaries for flavour

Overall 9.5/10

Bar has good depth and good dimension, complexities are well balanced and structure is consistent, expression feels especially honest with processing encouraging clear expression of the bean’s natural flavours


Ara’s Tasting Notes: Citrus fruits, liquorice and coffee

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