While few would argue that London chocolatiers such as Paul A. Young, Marc Demarquette, and William Curley have done much to put the UK on the map in recent years with their innovative chocolate making, there's no doubt that some provincial producers, out there in the sticks, are catching up. Amongst their number is the Pump Street Bakery in Suffolk.
Far from being the laidback country bumpkin cousin, Pump Street Bakery has been busy developing its own chocolate bars that are fast gaining an impressive reputation. And now, in an extension of the company's quest for excellence, it's working with four single estates around the world, of which the Grenada Crayfish Bay Estate is one.
That Pump Street Bakery has gone down this route demonstrates a healthy measure of confidence. While there's increasing interest in single estate chocolate, along with greater realisation that chocolate can be appreciated much like fine wine, it's early days yet - and only time will tell whether there's a place for it in the wider market, rather than simply amongst chocolate connoisseurs and food trend followers in pursuit of The Next Big Thing.
By joining up with Crayfish Bay, Pump Street Bakery also has a claim to exclusivity, producing as it does the 'only Crayfish Bay single estate bar in the world'. The only other chocolatier with an interest in the Crayfish Bay beans (mostly Criollo), is the Grenada Chocolate Company, who blend them with others to make their own outstanding bars on the island. It's an indication of just how special these beans are.
So far, so much promise. But how do these precious Grenadian beans fare when sent across the globe to the UK, to end up in the hands of a chocolatier in Orford?
Before getting down to the main business of the chocolate, I should quickly mention the packaging. For those who like to get at their chocolate in a hurry (not just me, surely?), the ziplocking pouch that the bar comes in - instant access, no fiddly peeling back of paper and foil to deal with - is a stroke of utter genius. And in the unlikely event that you don't eat all the bar at once, the resealable packet is also brilliant for keeping it fresh after opening. It's such a simple idea, but so natty and practical.
Design reverie over, it's time for the chocolate.
If, like me, you can't resist sticking your nose into the bag and inhaling before you start eating, you might get a bit of a surprise. Expecting a big whiff of cocoa? Think again. Sniff hard, and it's possible to detect apricot, perhaps tangerine, and only the faintest hint of chocolate. That's because Pump Street Bakery holds back - compared to some other bean-to-bar producers - on its roasting of the beans, and instead gives them longer conching. The result is a more subtle aroma than you might anticipate. It's gently fragrant, not slap-you-round-the-chops stuff.
The bar looks every inch the part of a quality production - it's improbably lustrous, with the all the glorious sheen of well-polished mahogany. And when I break a piece off, to a whipcrack-like snap, I get an immaculate square, with the cleanest of edges on all sides. There is, it seems, some serious tempering expertise at work in the Pump Street Bakery kitchens.
That's confirmed still further in the melt. The little square dissolves slowly and steadily over my tongue until it acquires the viscosity of a really good, proper chocolate caliente of the type that I remember fondly from Spanish holidays. It's very, very smooth indeed.
And then there's such a terrific whoosh of flavours, it's almost difficult to keep up. Toffee and black treacle appear first, slowly evolving to reveal honey and rich but rounded blackcurrant - kirsch, even. Floating around, too, are traces of bitter citrus, cream cheese, and even a little smokiness. Finally, there's a generous dose of fruity cocoa on the long finish. It's hugely enjoyable, from beginning to end, and speaks of highly accomplished processing.
But what does this mean, if anything, for the prospects of provincial chocolate making and single estate origin chocolate? To make a general market prediction on the basis of one chocolatier and one estate is obviously ludicrous and pointless. But I am happy to report that this particular bar is a real pleasure to eat, and so for Pump Street Bakery and its Crayfish Bay beans, specifically, I'd like to think that the future looks as bright as the Caribbean sunshine.
Grenada - Crayfish Bay Estate 70%, 70g, £6.95
Available from Pump St Bakery website