Christmas is coming and as a committed chocolate-lover you’ll no doubt be in the market for something sensational to sustain you through the festivities – and even perhaps pass on as presents to all the other chocoholics in your life. Never fear, for the following edit is sure to see you right.
October’s Chocolate Show always throws loads of terrific new chocolate-makers, movers and shakers into the spotlight, and the 2016 edition was no exception. Although it might seem somewhat sneaky, I’ve held back on revealing the most exceptional chocolates and the characters behind them, lest they become lost in the mists of my archive and fall from your festive wish list.
Without further ado, I present 10 treats perfect for presents – or simply an ultra-indulgent bout of festive feasting…
1. Land Chocolate’s Honduran malt dark 65%
Bethnal Green-based Phil Landers is fast revealing himself to be the enfant terrible of Britain’s bean-to-bar arena. Land’s slickly-minimal packaging holds real appeal to hipsters and aesthetes alike, and this is one example where you can absolutely judge a bar by its wrapper. From a capsule collection where every single star shines bright, the Malt Dark is my pick of the pops. An extended roast makes for the most intense flavour from the Honduran beans, whilst the addition of malt lends a bittersweet umami quality.
If you like this, try… Pump Street’s Honduras bread & butter 58%
- Land Chocolate’s Honduran Malt Dark chocolate costs £5.50. For more information and to order, click here
2. J. Cocoa’s Tenor 66%
Tenor has had its praises sung loudly by both the International Chocolate Awards and the Academy of Chocolate for good reason. At 66%, it’s a fruity beauty with a caramel quality whose Nicaraguan beans are sourced in the La Dalia region of Matagalpa and roasted, cracked, winnowed, stone-ground, conched and set into shiny square slabs in young maker James‘s West Sussex workshop. Take heed – if you’re in need of a serious fix, the small slab size means you’d be wise to order more than one.
If you like this, try… Matthieu de Gottal’s Penderyn Sherry cask & honey white chocolate ganache
- J. Cocoa’s Tenor 66% costs £2.50. For more information and to order, click here
3. Solkiki’s Tahitian nougat
Not only are Bob and Iris delightful individuals, they also come up with some ingenious creations – such as this quirky little number. Salty, sweet, and with a praline-like melt, it gets its sensational swavoury flavour from the addition of Tahitian vanilla, roasted peanuts, and a good sprinkling of
magic Himalayan pink salt. It’s definitely my personal pick, but if you’re in the market for something that shouts ‘Christmas’ a little more loudly, then give Solkiki’s (alcohol-absent) Eggnog Spiced Mandarin bar a whirl.
If you like this, try… Peanut nougat – or indeed, Reece’s Peanut butter cups
- Solkiki’s Tahitian Nougat bar costs £3.95. For more information and to order, click here
4. Dormouse Chocolates’ Brasil 60% milk with smoked sea salt
Eating even a single square of this treat will make you feel like a million dollars. Made with Brazilian Forastero beans sourced in Fazenda Sempre Firme, its Manchester makers conch this high-cocoa dark milk chocolate over 66 hours for a super-silky finish – indeed, it’s so rich you’d be forgiven for thinking the milk came not from a cow but a buffalo. The locally-oak-smoked sea salt adds something quite exceptional to the entire experience, yielding a bar with a luscious, voluptuous mouthfeel and a haunting tobacco-and-tea finish.
If you like this, try… Damson Chocolate’s Brazil 50% buffalo milk chocolate
- Dormouse Chocolates’ Brasil 60% milk with smoked sea salt costs £6. For more information and to order, click here
5. The Chocolate Tree’s Whisky nibs
As a proud Scotsman, The Chocolate Tree’s main man Ali has a vested interest when it comes to superior single malts. It’s little wonder, then, that this dark South American chocolate bar is such a wonderful thing. Whisky doesn’t pervade the entire bar; rather, bursts of peat and sea air erupt every time you bite down on one of the nibs that have languished in a bath of fine liquor. This technique serves to preserve the spirit of the spirit the nibs are soaked in – the resulting shebang is a complete triumph of both texture and taste.
If you like this, try… Rococo’s Islay whisky nibs-soaked chocolate cigar
- The Chocolate Tree’s Whisky Nibs bar costs £5.50. For more information and to order, click here
6. Svenningsen’s Grated 100%
To call Peter Svenningsen a genius sounds hyperbolic but is simply a statement as factual as ‘Christmas comes once a year’. Showcasing La Dalia Lazy Cocoa Growers’ Blend from fellow artisan Mikkel Friis-Holm, this chocolate has a texture unlike any other: Aero-like, melt-in-the-mouth, and entirely intriguing. Don’t be deterred by the 100% cocoa content, for it’s mellowed not once but twice by a 70% version of the very same chocolate – both blended into the water ganache and used to enrobe that incredible – and very edible – centre.
If you like this, try… Sorry, I’m stumped. There really isn’t anything like it
- Svenningsen’s Grated 100% isn’t currently available online – but you can pressure Peter to make it so. For more information, click here
7. Friis-Holm La Dalia 85% – The Lazy Cocoa Growers’ blend
Mikkel Friis-Holm does things differently – and, almost without exception, the madness in his methods yields eye-opening, tastebud-trembling results (vis. his ‘Bad Fermentation’ bar, which is gooood). La Dalia is another triumph – post-picking, the cacao pods are left unsorted; the various varieties from 10 different growers in Nicaragua’s Matagalpa region all processed together. Technically, it’s a kind of cacao car crash, but Mikkel makes it one of pure beauty – all dark fruits and spicy florals.
If you like this, try… Original Beans’ Cru Virunga
- Friis-Holm’s La Dalia 85% costs £11.95. For more information and to order, click here
8. Akessons Organic’s 75% Trinitario & wild Voatsiperifery pepper
Ah, Bertil Akesson – cacao maestro and the main man when it comes to supplying brilliant beans and couverture to an uncanny number of Britain’s best makers and chocolatiers. His floral, pleasantly prickly Voatsiperifery pepper bar wooed me a long while back; and, during this year’s Chocolate Show, helped me to woo a man whose acquaintance I had only recently made (and who I already knew I wished to know better). For that and for this fabulous creation born of Madagascar’s Ambolikapiky plantation, I have a lot of love for Bertil.
For fans of: Menakao’s Madagascar 63% with combava & pink pepper
- Akesson’s Organic’s 75% Trinitario & wild Voatsiperifery pepper bar costs £5.95. For more information and to order, click here
9. Original Beans’ Cusco Chuncho 100%
This is an interesting character. For starters, there’s none of that dry, paracetamol-like mouthfeel sometimes present in 100% chocolate. Indeed, you’d be forgiven for thinking OB had added extra cacao butter but nope; this is pure bean. Superior cacao from Peru’s Sacred Cusco Valley makes for a bar with little bitterness and bags of flavour – most of it thoroughly surprising. Its creators suggest dried flowers and grass, but I get a beguiling blast of red wine upfront, which evolves into a lengthy bubblegum finish. ‘Juicy Fruit’ might not be the most flattering of tasting notes, but trust me on this, ’cause this one’s a winner.
For fans of: Fruition’s Dark Chocolate 100%
- Original Beans’ Cusco Chuncho 100% costs €5.45. For more information and to order, click here
10. Cocoa Runners’ Subscription boxes
Cocoa Runners’ tiny team eats, breathes and sleeps fine chocolate – and what’s more, they’re all about spreading love for – and knowledge of – the topic. Accordingly, the company has justly earned a reputation for enabling chocoholics to discover rare and unique treats from the world’s finest artisans via talks, tutored tastings, and themed and tailored subscription boxes. Whether you’re a clueless choc fan or a complete connoisseur, you’re sure to learn a whole lot… and taste some damn fine chocolate into the bargain.
For fans of: Fine bean-to-bar chocolate from all over the globe
- Cocoa Runners’ subscription service cost £18.95 per month. For more information and to order, click here
- To read about my top 5 2016 Advent calendars, click here
- To read more about Cocoa Runners, click here
- To read more about Dormouse Chocolates, click here
- To read more about Vanini, click here