Of all the meetings I had at the foodie show in London last year, it was my discussion with Alastair Gower of Scotland's Chocolate Tree that had the most impact.
His enthusiasm for fine chocolate was infectious, and his attitude to the world of chocolate was refreshing. There's no pulling the wool over Alastair's eyes. Here was a man that was truly passionate about not only his work and his ingredients but the lives of his suppliers - the cacao farmers who he works with to track down the very best quality beans he can source.
Small batch craft chocolate is made from bean to bar in the East Lothian chocolate factory using premium heirloom cacao from around the world. As you'd expect from someone with so much passion, the process of converting beans into chocolate bars is meticulously precise to tease out the finest of textures and flavours.
Alastair kindly sent me away with a couple of examples of Chocolate Tree's handiwork, the first being the 85% Porcelana extra dark chocolate bar.
The front of the box featured a colourful piece of artwork, with a geometric pattern made up of pink, yellow, green, and blue birds. A chocolate brown-coloured strip sliced through the middle, with the product name in the centre. A gold-foiled logo and strapline added a touch of glamour. It's also impossible to ignore the Gold International Chocolate Awards badge at the top too.
The rear of the box contained further information about the Porcelana beans. This is a famous heirloom cacao from Venezuela, and Chocolate Tree uses beans harvested from single estates in the North Western Sur de Lago region. It is a rare variety of cacao that fruits a light pod that yields a nutty flavour in the chocolate.
The ingredients list and nutritional information was presented in English, Swedish, and Dutch.
Chocolate Tree 85% Porcelana Dark Chocolate ingredients:
Cacao beans, cane sugar, Peruvian cocoa butter. Cocoa content: 85% minimum.
Around 15% bar of the bar consisted of sugars, so I expected this chocolate to be intensely bitter. The chocolate was produced in a factory that handled dairy and nuts. Also, while the packaging didn't state one way or the other, I believe this three-ingredient partially-organic bar to be suitable for vegans.
Chocolate Tree 85% Porcelana Chocolate Review
Inside the board box were two 40g bars, individually sealed in a plastic film. It's a good setup, as it means you can save one bar to devour later on. The shelf life of my bar was 18 months - not that it stuck around for long!
Each bar featured a different quirky repeating geometric pattern - one contained unicorns and the other either alpacas or llamas (my animal knowledge isn't particular strong).
The fragrance of the bar was surprisingly mild, especially when considering the cocoa content was so high. The aroma, while gentle, revealed sweet hints of sour cherries and raisins, together with a nuttiness akin to cashews. There was also a gentle smokey quality that edged out alongside creamy notes.
The snap was clean and crisp, although the unusual pattern meant portioning this bar into neat segments was impossible. I'd take a fun and quirky chocolate bar mould over neat square or rectangular segments any day.
Upon tasting, the bar was slow to melt and to release its flavour, but as soon as it did, it made a huge impact. A bitter edge lead the pack, but was closely followed by a smokey sweetness to help tame it. The flavour initially started off revealing hints of smoke and leather, while sweet notes of raisin and plum helped to balance the profile. A mysterious thread of Brazil nut and maple ran down the middle, holding the complex flavours together.
The bitterness vanished in the aftertaste, equalised by the sweetness, leaving a balanced chocolatey flavour. The gentle smokiness lingered, and the nutty quality intensified.
Despite having such a high cocoa percentage, I found this rich bar particularly moreish and a 40g serving did not last long at all. Luckily I have another 40g bar but that's sealed and takes pride of place in my "special chocolate" box. This was an exquisite example of Scottish bean to bar chocolate production.
Chocolate Tree 85% Porcelana Extra Dark Chocolate Bar Review
RRP: £4.95 | Chocolate Tree | Shop now
A well-rounded bar that isn't too sweet nor too bitter. The chocolate has a lovely fruity aroma complimented by hints of nuttiness and smokiness in the taste. This 80g box contains two individual bars, which is great for saving half until later.
Have you tried any of Chocolate Tree's bars? What's your favourite? Let me know in the comments below.