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Battle of 7 Hotel Chocolat Rare & Vintage Bars

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I've sat on these bars for too long (not literately) and now Hotel Chocolat has rebranded their Rare & Vintage range into their Single Origin Chocolate° collection.

But while the packaging has changed from a Selector style pack to a sleek white number (and morphing from 50g slabs to 35g and 70g bars in the process), the chocolate largely remains the same.

7 Hotel Chocolat Rare & Vintage Bars
Seven Rare & Vintage bars from 60% Supermilk to 100% dark chocolate

Over several chocolate lock-ins I had built up a collection of Rare & Vintage bars and thought it opportune to compare them to find out which is my favourite.

What is a Rare & Vintage bar?

The Rare & Vintage range was born out of the Rabot brand of chocolate bars. The name indicated the single-origin chocolate was made from the best of the best cacao. Rare indicated it was made with the world's top 10% best cacao, and vintage indicated it was unadulterated and unblended, meaning there were nuanced tasting differences between each harvest. Single origin means the beans were sourced from a single region, allowing the qualities of the terroir to shine through in the final product.

This is a vastly different proposition to Hotel Chocolat's house blend of dark chocolate, which is designed to harmonise the differences between harvests and beans leading to a consistent tasting product.

The Rare & Vintage range was designed to showcase vastly different tasting chocolates under the Hotel Chocolat umbrella. Other chocolate aficionados may disagree, but I think this range is a great way to introduce the mass market to the exciting and diverse flavours of chocolate from around the world, inspiring them to then seek out craft bean-to-bar chocolatiers here in the UK.

Rare & Vintage chocolate lock-in
Six samples of Rare & Vintage chocolate, starting from 100% cocoa content

Earlier this year I attended a Rare & Vintage chocolate lock-in in Hotel Chocolat's former Cardiff store. I got to try six diverse bars from a variety of origins and in a variety of cocoa percentages, starting with the most intense and working up to the more creamier bars.

For some on the experience, it was all too intense, but for others - myself included - it was very interesting to see such diversity between several similar looking bars. I began collecting the bars until I had amassed seven varied examples.

I perhaps left it to late to compare, as the range has since been rebranded. However, I've included links to the next best alternative should you fancy creating your own chocolate tasting adventure at home using Hotel Chocolat bars.


Bar Presentation

At the time I bought these, the bars formed part of Hotel Chocolat's Selector range° - or at least that's where the bars were displayed instore. They could normally be found on the end of the wall crammed full of the small chocolate sampler packs in any of the Hotel Chocolat stores.

The packaging followed the same design brief as the chocolate slabs in the Selectors range, with a thick white and clear plastic wrapper sheathing the bar.

Some bars benefited from a white and silver card sleeve too, which distinguished the Rare & Vintage range as a more premium affair. Silver foiled print together with a silver-foiled band at the base of the sleeve added an elegant, quality touch.

Hotel Chocolate Rare & Vintage St Lucia 100% Chocolate
Sleek white board sleeves differentiated the Rare & Vintage range from the rest of the Selectors product range

Inside, the bars were all cast with the same mould. The wavy shape was similar to the slabs in the Selector range, but the Rare & Vintage bars were cast with undulating grooves. The Hotel Chocolat sat on the right hand side of the bar, almost apologetically.

Hotel Chocolate Rare & Vintage chocolate bar
All Rare & Vintage bars followed the same design

Each of the bars had a beautiful, glossy, mirrored finish, although they all were covered in tiny chocolate flecks. A couple of the bars had minor scuff marks on them too. Each bar exhibited a strong, crisp snap as I segmented the bar up into uniquely-shaped shards.


1 Hotel Chocolat Rare & Vintage 100% Dark Ecuador Review

Hotel Chocolat Rare & Vintage 100% Dark Ecuador
Hotel Chocolat Rare & Vintage 100% Dark Ecuador

Hotel Chocolat Rare & Vintage 100% Dark Ecuador ingredients:
Cocoa mass. Dark chocolate contains minimum 100% cocoa solids.

  • What they say: Savoury and mellow, with accents of leather and smoke that is ideal for serving alongside a cheeseboard, for pairing with a full-bodied red wine, or for serving after red meat.
  • What I say: The flavour of the smokey, leathery cocoa is placed front and centre in this vegan-friendly chocolate bar.
  • Taste: The initial aroma was lively and bright, and offered up hints of toasted sesame seed and coconut. It was very dry on the palate and exhibited a slow melt. Bitterness lead in the precession, closely followed by buttery, leathery notes. The bitterness intensified mid-way, but was softened by the creamy, buttery characteristic. There was a gentle smokiness but it wasn't front and centre in this bar. The flavour harmonised in the aftertaste, with the bitterness almost vanishing completely to leave a smooth, balanced flavour, with a slight leathery edge to it.
  • Verdict: At 100% cocoa content, this was always going to be strong and punchy - and it may be far too intense for some. It was not as smokey as I anticipated, and I liked it more because of that quality. This was not a bar I'd easily chomp down quickly, but it is one I'd look forward to picking at over several sittings.
  • Can I buy it? Yes, this is available in the new Single Origin packaging on the Hotel Chocolat website as a 35g taster here° or as a 70g bar here°.

2 Hotel Chocolat Rare & Vintage 100% Dark Saint Lucia Review

Hotel Chocolat Rare & Vintage 100% Dark Saint Lucia
Hotel Chocolat Rare & Vintage 100% Dark Saint Lucia

Hotel Chocolat Rare & Vintage 100% Dark Saint Lucia ingredients:
Cocoa mass. Dark chocolate contains minimum 100% cocoa solids.

  • What they say: Like a handful of nibs. Pure cocoa power.
  • What I say: This cocoa comes from Hotel Chocolat's own Rabot Estate on the Caribbean island of St. Lucia, so is a chance to taste their own chocolate made with their own beans. The of this vegan-friendly chocolate bar recipe is pure chocolate with nothing else, so the flavour has nowhere to hide.
  • Taste: The initial aroma from this bar was massively different to the 100% Ecuador bar above. Almost aggressive in nature, it was more forceful in bitter smokey and leathery notes. The aroma veered slightly towards red fruits too, with a gentle nuttiness in the fray too. Another slow melter, this dry chocolate released smokey and leathery flavours early on, with the smokey quality intensifying throughout the melt. Hints of berry swooped in half way through, just as the bitterness tried to take a grip. A Brazil nut-like quality danced in towards the end, along with a burst of silken butter. The aftertaste was dry, with the smokey aspect lingering most of all. A slight woodiness shone through here as the flavour dissipated.
  • Verdict: I was really looking forward to tasting this one as it's quite possibly the closest I'll get to Hotel Chocolat's tropical Boucan resort and plantation any time soon. This one was intensely smokey with a pronounced bitterness. As such, I preferred the Ecuadorian 100% over this one.
  • Can I buy it? I couldn't find this listed on the Hotel Chocolat website so it appears this one is no longer available.

3 Hotel Chocolat Rare & Vintage 95% Dark Aracataca, Columbia Review

Hotel Chocolat Rare & Vintage 95% Dark Aracataca, Columbia
Hotel Chocolat Rare & Vintage 95% Dark Aracataca, Columbia

Hotel Chocolat Rare & Vintage 95% Dark Aracataca (Columbia) ingredients:
Cocoa solids (cocoa mass, cocoa butter), organic sugar, emulsifier (sunflower lecithin). Dark chocolate contains minimum 95% cocoa solids.

  • What they say: Notes of real ale and malt in a chocolate made using cocoa from a river town only accessible by donkey.
  • What I say: Columbian chocolate has a reputation for being lively and flavourful, and in this recipe, the cacao is given centre stage to shine, with just a drop of cocoa butter and sugar to round the flavour. This is also a vegan-friendly chocolate bar.
  • Taste: Similar to the 100% Saint Lucia bar, the aroma was dominated by smokey, leathery qualities, although this one had a slight citrus fruit edge to it. I picked up nutty notes but also found a hint of red wine in its profile. The fruitiness was the first quality to shine through in the taste, slowly followed by a sweet buttery flavour. The smokey leathery notes arrived but were tamed by the sugar. Hints of malt, tobacco, and coffee edged their way in briefly. Into the aftertaste, the sugar took over and nicely rounded off the flavour, leaving a slight sour fruit twang behind. The smokey property was the one that stood out most of all, but the sugar cut through the bitterness to leave a clean taste.
  • Verdict: Intense but characterful, this bar was full of flavour with the added satisfaction of a hit of sweetness. In many ways the bar exhibited the same type of qualities as the 100% Saint Lucian bar, but the added sugar together with the fruity notes make this one more rounded. I preferred this over the 100% St Lucia, but preferred the 100% Ecuador over this one. It was a close one to call though as the overall flavours and characteristics were so different, even though the trio were 95%/100% bars.
  • Can I buy it? I couldn't find this listed on the Hotel Chocolat website so it appears this one is no longer available. There is a new 75% Columbia dark chocolate - albeit with a different flavour profile - available in the new Single Origin packaging on the Hotel Chocolat website as a 35g taster here° or as a 70g bar here°. There's also a version of the 75% bar blended with Colombian Arabica coffee as a 35g taster here° or as a 70g bar here°.

4 Hotel Chocolat Rare & Vintage 85% Dark Ghana Review

Hotel Chocolat Rare & Vintage 85% Dark Ghana
Hotel Chocolat Rare & Vintage 85% Dark Ghana

Hotel Chocolat Rare & Vintage 85% Dark Ghana ingredients:
Cocoa solids (cocoa mass, cocoa butter), organic sugar, emulsifier (sunflower lecithin). Dark chocolate contains minimum 85% cocoa solids.

  • What they say: Like warm sourdough.
  • What I say: According to Hotel Chocolat, the Ghanaian beans used in this bar aren't on the International Cocoa Organisation's fine flavour list, but they wanted to showcase this West African cacao in the range. It's blended with sugar and cocoa butter to soften the intense flavour. A vegan-friendly chocolate bar.
  • Taste: The aroma of this one reminded me of a handful of freshly husked cacao nibs, alongside hints of coconut, apricot, and cashew nuts. It was a sweet aroma with a hint of liveliness and fruitiness to it. Upon tasting, it was slow to yield any flavours but when it did, I could instantly understand why Hotel Chocolat referred to this one as like warm sourdough. There was a bread-like quality to it, but with a nutty undertone, much like a sourdough loaf. I picked up a hint of slight vegetal notes in the taste that flickered in and out. There was a distinct sweetness which ran right through from start to finish, making this very moreish. The aftertaste was sweet with hints of Brazil nut and yeast developing slightly.
  • Verdict: The flavour of this one was very interesting, and one I enjoyed very much. The sourdough properties in the flavour were interesting, and the bar benefited from just enough sugar to steer its direction.
  • Can I buy it? Yes, this is still available as a 50g bar in the old style packaging on the Hotel Chocolat website here°.

5 Hotel Chocolat Rare & Vintage 85% Dark Saint Lucia Review

Hotel Chocolat Rare & Vintage 85% Dark Saint Lucia
Hotel Chocolat Rare & Vintage 85% Dark Saint Lucia

Hotel Chocolat Rare & Vintage 85% Dark Saint Lucia ingredients:
Cocoa solids (cocoa mass, cocoa butter), organic sugar, emulsifier (sunflower lecithin). Dark chocolate contains minimum 85% cocoa solids.

  • What they say: Accents of single malt whisky, in a chocolate influenced by Saint Lucia's unique volcanic terroir.
  • What I say: Slightly less intense than the 100% Saint Lucian bar above, I expect this to showcase similar proprieties. It too is a vegan-friendly chocolate bar.
  • Taste: The initial aroma from this bar was largely similar to that of the 100% St Lucia bar above. It too boasted forceful bitter, smokey, leathery notes without any hint of sweetness. The taste was still quite dry, although this time the sugar helped to temper the bitterness. The smokey and leathery flavours developed early in the taste, with the sugar and the bitterness battling out throughout the melt to claim supremacy. I also detected a fruity edge, although I couldn't quite place it. I couldn't pick out the flavour of single malt whisky but I did detect hints of oak - seasoned whiskey barrels, perhaps? The aftertaste was earthy and woody, without a trace of bitterness.
  • Verdict: I bought this one to see whether the intensity difference had much of an impact, if any, on the flavour profile. It had an effect in my tasting of the Chocolataria Equador bars recently, so suspected a similar effect here too. Indeed, that was true, with the 85% bar slightly more gentle in approach than the 100% bar.
  • Can I buy it? No, I can't see the 85% available online. However, an 84% St Lucia is available in the new Single Origin packaging on the Hotel Chocolat website as a 35g taster here° or as a 70g bar here°.

6 Hotel Chocolat Rare & Vintage 80% Supermilk Pure Ecuador Review

Hotel Chocolat Rare & Vintage 80% Supermilk Pure Ecuador
Hotel Chocolat Rare & Vintage 80% Supermilk Pure Ecuador

Hotel Chocolat Rare & Vintage 80% Supermilk Pure Ecuador ingredients:
Organic cocoa solids (cocoa mass, cocoa butter), organic whole milk powder, emulsifier (sunflower lecithin). Milk chocolate contains minimum 80% cocoa solids; minimum 17% milk solids.

  • What they say: A fast-melting milk chocolate with no added sugar or added sweeteners, offering a creamy, deep-yet-mellow flavour.
  • What I say: A high intensity milk chocolate made with 80% organic cocoa and 20% organic milk. Will the sugar content be missed?
  • Taste: The initial aroma wasn't as lively as with the 100% bar, but it still exhibited hints of toasted sesame seed and coconut. There was a slightly creamy edge to it, but this was not as pronounced as I expected. The flavours of coconut and macadamia landed first, followed with a burst of buttery creaminess tinged with leathery notes. This wave of richness steered the direction along the fringes of bitterness without straying too far either side. The aftertaste was dominated by the buttery flavours with a slight woody edge to it.
  • Verdict: While similar to the 100% Ecuador bar in flavour, the added milk delivered a richness and creaminess while retaining the same characteristics. There was no sugar in this recipe and although I craved a small amount of it, the milk was enough to keep the bitterness at bay. I preferred this to the 85% St Lucia bar, but liked the 85% Ghana bar more.
  • Can I buy it? Yes, this is still available as a 50g bar in the old style packaging on the Hotel Chocolat website here°.

7 Hotel Chocolat Rare & Vintage 60% Supermilk Vietnam Review

Hotel Chocolat Rare & Vintage 60% Supermilk Vietnam
Hotel Chocolat Rare & Vintage 60% Supermilk Vietnam

Hotel Chocolat Rare & Vintage 60% Supermilk Vietnam ingredients:
Cocoa solids (cocoa mass, cocoa butter), organic sugar, organic whole milk powder, emulsifier (sunflower lecithin). Milk chocolate contains minimum 60% cocoa solids; minimum 15% milk solids.

  • What they say: Like a bowlful of cherries smothered in cream in a chocolate that highlights the tang of the Vietnamese beans. The chocolate also draws on the terroir of the Mekong Delta.
  • What I say: I picked this one up on the recommendation of the Cardiff store manager who said the bar was exceptionally good, drawing in flavour from nearby cherry trees.
  • Taste: The aroma was delicate, with smokey and leathery tones peeking through. The slightest hint of balsamic came through, as did the faintest scent of raisins. By contrast, the flavour came alive fast and furiously. Dried cherries and rose lead the taste front and centre, with glimmers of citrus fruits beneath. There was a jammy quality to it, with traces of berries that become more pronounced toward the end. The aftertaste was sweet and fruity, with the cherry flavour dominating. There was a slight sweetness but this sat at the back throughout the melt and into the aftertaste.
  • Verdict: This was completely different to the others and indeed lived up to my expectations of tasting cherries through the chocolate. Its recipe added milk and sugar to help create a softer and more rounded flavour, and I think this one struck the right balance. The risk with this one is that it was very tasty and easy to polish off quickly.
  • Can I buy it? I couldn't find this listed on the Hotel Chocolat website so it appears this one is no longer available.

So, what's the verdict?

In this flight, I tasted two 100% bars, a 95% bar, two 85% bars, an 80% bar, and a 60% bar, with beans from Ecuador, Colombia, Vietnam, and spiritual home of Hotel Chocolat, Saint Lucia.

Out of the 95%-100% bars, the 100% Ecuador won it for me. I liked the lively, intense flavour, bitter taste, and smooth finish.

Out of the 80% to 85% bars, the Ghana bar, with its sourdough-like properties, stole the show for me, with the 80% Ecuador in a very close second.

In the 60% category, the Vietnam bar had to be my favourite - from a choice of one! But it was a delightful bar. So much so, this was my favourite bar from the selection. The sweet and pronounced cherry flavour was as intriguing as it was unexpected. Sure, I expected hints of cherry but not the clear, crisp flavours that came through. It was absolutely delicious - and such a shame it appears to be unavailable (for the time being at least).


Hotel Chocolat Rare & Vintage Bars Review

RRP: £3.95 | Hotel Chocolat | Shop now°

Intense, flavourful, and very different to the House milk and dark blends used in many Hotel Chocolat products. As an introduction to the world of diverse tasting chocolate, this is a good value way begin. It's an accessible, affordable means to begin exploring the exciting world of craft bean-to-bar manufacturing in the UK. Buy a few bars to conduct your own tasting flight to see the differences in flavour for yourself.

Packaging
Appearance
Ingredients
Taste
Creativity
Score: 4.4

Why should I try the Rare & Vintage bars?

Most people are accustomed to chocolate tasting a particular way. Dark chocolate is normally bitter, with a more intense flavour than milk chocolate, which is typically more creamier and sweeter. White chocolate is usually incredibly sweet with a creamy edge to it.

Most of us start by eating blended chocolate and we develop a love for it, be that a certain type of chocolate or a certain brand. But the vast majority of what we consume is blended chocolate - beans from various regions of the world mixed together to create a standardised, harmonised flavour. It's a remarkably similar to the way the tea industry works.

To begin to appreciate the unique flavours from cacao growing regions around the world, you need to look at single origin chocolate bars. These best showcase the intricacies of flavours of particular regions, and it's only when tasting these bars can you begin to appreciate the finer qualities in the cacao.

These Rare & Vintage bars are a great way to dip your toes into the world of single origin bars, from a brand you're already familiar with. Don't be fooled - these won't taste like the house milk and house dark chocolates you love at Hotel Chocolat. They are different - but In a really good way. Different as in more unusual. Different as in more characterful. Different as in eye-opening.

If you have consumed as much of the Hotel Chocolat range as I have and are looking for something similar but on the next level, take a gander at their Rare & Vintage / Single Origin range.

The Rare & Vintage range is now known as Single Origin range of chocolate, which perhaps better indicates what the product is all about. Be aware that a couple of the bars now feature extra additions (such as coffee or caramelised sugar) to better tickle out the intricate flavours of the cacao. Find out more here°.

Rare & Vintage chocolate - on tap!

Fancy a box of Rare & Vintage chocolate slipped through your letterbox each month?

Hotel Chocolat Rare & Vintage Tasting Box
A subscription box featuring Rare & Vintage chocolates. Photo credit to Hotel Chocolat

It's worth mentioning in an article about single origin chocolate that Hotel Chocolat runs one of the most popular chocolate subscription services in the UK, with one option being a Rare & Vintage Tasting Box (Purist) subscription. This monthly delivery focuses on un-blended single-origin fine flavour cocoa that preserves the nuanced character of each harvest. Each box normally contains a selection of slabs, but some also include other treats such as Rare & Vintage chocolate covered nuts or even Rare & Vintage cacao beans. Take a look here°.

Have you tried any of the Rare & Vintage / Single Origin range by Hotel Chocolat? What did you think of it? Let me know in the comments below.

Disclosure: I purchased seven 50g Rare & Vintage bars from Hotel Chocolate, either as part of the 3 for £10 offer or for £3.95 each, over several visits. I was not asked to write a review. My opinions are my own.

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