For such a tiny isle, Britain boasts an ever-growing wealth of wonderful chocolate, some of which was recently recognised at the Great Taste Awards. But the skinny sliver of products and makers decorated with shiny stars barely scratched the surface of the country’s vibrant and vital cocoa culture.
Feasting on the extensive list of so-called great-tasting award winners did, however, open my eyes to some superior specimens from further afield. And on reading of one European bean-to-bar maker who’d scored a hat-trick with his Hungarian chocolate, I developed a raging appetite to learn more.
Tibor Szántó first went cocoa loco in Northern Italy, where his work dictated he go and his love for food demanded he discover the local culinary culture, including the local village-run chocolate factory. Back home in Hungary, his quest to find chocolate of a similar standard saw him unsated… then the rudimentary grasp of the technical aspects of making he’d acquired in Italy made him think.
His solution? If the chocolate wouldn’t come to Tibor, he would learn to make it himself. His company was founded in 2006, the products going from strength to strength as the start-up chocolatier learned from peers on research trips that took him back to North Italy, France, Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg and the UK.
Exploring the work of the Belgian Chocolate Academy, Tibor became familiar with the concept of terroir. Travelling and tasting taught him how to discern the characteristics of certain origins, and how to both tame and unleash certain attributes of chocolate and cocoa beans from different countries, regions and plantations.
Extensive experimentation has taught Tibor that, post-roast, it’s the traditional method of stone grinding the cracked cocoa nibs that best retains their inherent flavour integrity and preserves volatile aromatics. Translation – the choc’s a bit gritty rather than silk-smooth, but it smells great. Opting to use unrefined raw cane- or coconut blossom sugar only adds to the full-bodied flavours.
His chocolate is for the chronically cocoa-curious, each patterned cardboard sleeve containing two individually-wrapped bars and bearing a label detailing the chocolate’s singular origin, the bean variety, their classification, the percentage, and a few concise tasting notes – take note: not essays. But do they taste as he says on the pretty packets?
Cuba, Baracoa 70%
Tibor says that Cuba is not oft-celebrated for its chocolate, and that the scanty amount of beans yielded by plantations in the South are hard to come by. Keen that the beans became a bar that showcased the characteristics of the country’s cocoa, he turned those Trinitarios into this treat. It starts with a slightly resinous, dried fruit flavour then develops into a spicy woodiness which, to me at least, certainly suggests cinnamon. The finish is long enough to provide one with plenty of time to ponder what’s on the palate.
Carenero Superior 70%
Although Trinitario is officially considered a second-class citizen to ‘king of cocoa’, Criollo, Tibor believes that, with a little TLC and some slick skills, this Cinderella can indeed go to the ball and reign as regally as it’s high-class counterpart. ‘Marzipan’, says the tasting notes, and they’re spot on; first in terms of aroma, then in flavour.
The rough-textured nature of the stone-ground bar further aligns it with quality almond paste. The chocolate might be Venezuelan in origin, but eating it calls to mind a not-too-sweet, choc-enrobed Lubeck number studded with sour cherries.
Porcelana Venezuela 70%
The Porcelana bean is a delicate thing; named for its characteristic white colour when raw, its Criollo categorisation denoting a particularly fine flavour. Criollo-classed beans constitute just a single percent of the global cocoa harvest, and Porcelana accounts for only a small proportion of that. So yeah, it’s rare – and low yield to boot. To Tibor, the bean means nuts and earth; roasted stone fruit and tropical spices; and, crucially, cocoa – in its purest, most chocolate-y form. I could not agree more.
- To read about a superior selection of other Great Taste Award-winning chocolate, click here.
- If you’re interested to learn more about bean-to-bar processes and products, visit bean.bar
- What are your favourite bean-to-bar producers and chocolate examples? Let me know below…