I’ve long been an ardent admirer of Hotel Chocolat, and have lost many a minute over the past decade scanning the shelves of the stores for notable new products amongst the ever-changing and extensive selection of Selectors. Although oft-quirky, the flavours work; and there’s not a whiff of novelty for novelty’s sake. Innovation may be important to the team, but quality is king.
One only has to regard the Rabot range to see the seriousness with which this company considers cocoa, showing it as every inch of the R.E.S.P.E.C.T that Aretha demanded. Tasting notes and product information is explicit – hardcore stuff for those turned on by nice firm facts. Each bar’s tobacco-pouch-shaped, colour-coded cardboard cover unfolds to reveal a technical tasteometer, presented both in prose and diagramatically, along with the tale of the cocoa trees and type.
Never mind chocolate; Hotel Chocolat takes a bit of a ‘bean to bar’ approach when it comes to its workforce, too – or, rather, a ‘store-floor-to-master-maker’ one. Browsing the ‘Meet the Chocolatiers’ booklet that arrives with my edibles, I’m introduced to a committed cocoa collective amongst whose number are many former shop assistants. Perhaps I should start as a Saturday girl.
Or perhaps I should just kick back and relish a range of Rabot’s superior specimens….
Saint Lucia, Rabot Estate – Single Côte, Marcial, 70% Dark
Those with a passion for local produce will love this product – created with cocoa not only from a single named origin, plantation, or even estate; but a specific area within the already-small space of the latter in that list. Hotel Chocolat calls it ‘Single Côte’, and also opines that it’s a world first.
Were the selected cocoa pods Trip-Advising holidaymakers, they would no doubt highly rate their spell spent growing in close proximity to the Rabot Lake in the ‘Marcial’ area of an estate that falls within a UNESCO site. Like celebrity travellers, the pampered pods have been kept carefully segregated from the masses during harvesting and fermenting, in order to ensure untainted purity of the single côte chocolate they are destined to become.
It’s an elegant eat, hewn from the harvest of 2012, given a 40 minute roast at 130C, and sloshed about for a full three days to palate-pleasing smoothness. It brightly acidic but with a mellow undertone; oh-so full-flavoured, winey with dark, tart fruits, ending on a warmly woody cocoa note.
Vietnam, Mekong Delta & Dong Nai 80% Dark
Nowadays, Vietnam’s soils yields a lot of choc that’s well-worth exploring. Granted, it wasn’t always, or indeed, historically thus, and the nascent industry has endured its fair share of false starts – but examples like this mixed region bar from the 2012 harvest showcase just how far the admirable adolescent has come.
How did it all start? When one considers the noted French love for chocolate and the time Vietnam spent under colonial rule, it doesn’t seem so surprising that cocoa was a crop that the rulers tried hard, and with limited success, to establish, finally conceding defeat – in terms of cocoa cultivation, at least – in 1907. But today, the plantations have progressed to such an extent that thy’re yielding the type of Trinitario that’s turned into top choc: oft-smoky, fruity beauties.
This one is a case in point: roasted at 125C for just under half an hour and refined’n’conched for 40 hours – in man-hours, a full working week. It opens on a buttery-briney, iodine-y olive note, then moves to ripe red fruit. The finish dries the tongue and gums and tastes tobacco-y. Demonstrating the accuracy of Hotel Chocolat’s tasting notes; this bar does precisely what it says on the box.
Trinidad, Cocoa Association 75% Dark
HCHQ claims this choc blooms into a ‘surprising floral flourish’ – but I was surprised to find it tasted as if I’d taken it into an Indian temple to eat it. I was intrigued more than incensed by the inimitable incense-like flavour. It bursts forth, big and bold, then goes all leathery-like, continuing with the camphor that calls to mind shrines and puja ceremonies. It’s not so much full of character as characterS – not as many different flavour notes as there are Indian gods, admittedly; but certainly a fair few.
The Trinitario cocoa comes from the Trinidad Cocoa Association; the association between the bean variety’s name and the island due to the latter hosting a whole host of chocolate research a century back. The result? A cocoa crop that was high-quality yet hardy, unlike the delectably yet deicate Criollo strain. In this bar, the beans are from the 2012 harvest, and have spent just over half an hour at a toasty 135C before being conched to a silken smoothness for 52 hours.
- To read about some of Hotel Chocolat’s Great Taste Award-winning items, click here.
- To read about Hotel Chocolat’s cocoa beer and other beer-and-chocolate products, click here.
- To read about some beautifully fruity Hotel Chocolat truffles, click here.
- To read about some thoroughly grown up pralines from Hotel Chocolat, click here.