Bar after bar pass through my reviews studio. A large number are roughly the same size and encased in a metal foil and then a thin cardboard wrapper. Sometimes I get something different – sometimes I get cellophane. Unfortunately getting chocolate that approaches the chocolate world in remarkably different world comes along all too infrequently. Today is one of those days where a brand dares to be different.
Blyss chocolate may have come with more marketing messages than most I’ve witnessed – but I did get the message. From what I can gather they’re a collection of chocolate lovers across six countries who work with cacao farmers in Ecuador to bring you some dark and mysterious chocolate created in a less intense manner.
Arriba Nacional is exclusively used in the Blyss bars which gives it a more intense, earthy flavour than say Triniatio and most definitely less subtle than Criollo. It’s still open to debate whether Nacional is a strain of Forrestero or a completely different subgroup of cacao, but what this bar does exemplify is the commonly held view that this is a sweeter, more flowery offering than the punchy Forrestero that most ‘bog-standard’ chocolate is made from.
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Blyss do make a big play of this “Arriba Nacional” label in their marketing messages so it’s worth looking at what it actually means. From my understanding, the “Arriba” aspect doesn’t signify any specific genetic stock but a flavour-characteristic of the Nacional bean which is present in cacao grown around certain parts of Ecuador around the Guayas river. Thankfully, from my research I can see that the cacao used in these bars comes from three regions that fall into this area – and each has a distinct geography: the mountainous Manabi , the coastal Esmeraldas and the Los Rios area. What you will note from this is that the bar isn’t necessarily single estate, but single bean. What’s more, there has been much talk of the CCN51 bean and that’s it’s supposed to be an inferior offering than other cacao. But there’s nothing I can find to indicate that the beans used in this bar are actually CCN51. Even if they were, as Clay Gordon says – it doesn’t necessarily mean they’d produce poor quality chocolate.
The proof in the pudding, as they say, is in the eating. But as we initially eat with our eyes, I must say that I gorged myself at this preliminary stage. The bars are presented within a wonderful metal tin that is wrapped within a luxurious cardboard sheaf which provides some useful information about the origin of the cacao. Here it also describes what the ishpingo flower is – and for those interested its a relative of cinnamon which can only be found in certain parts of the Amazon within Ecuador and Colombia. How Blyss have tried to tie in the Ecuador theme and the specificity of the ingredients is fantastic. For true chocolate lovers this should offer some degree of excitement and interest.
What I also love about the Blyss brand is that they take their ethical stance to a similar pointed degree as do Askinosie in that they “go beyond” fair-trade and don’t wish to pay lip-service to the standards of the farmers and of the quality of the raw ingredients. They state that they don’t wish to offer a meaningless, PR-driven ‘corporate responsibility’ initiative, and this is music to my ears. Too often I see chocolate companies claim to be ethical when they only exhibit those tendencies in a tiny fraction of their operation.
So visually its stunning, ethically its progressive and honest. But what about the important senses? Well aromatically its incredibly flowery but with a very significant earthiness. Perhaps it’s even too scented? Flavourwise that perfume tone is passed through in spades. But as you take each additional bite and actually let it melt slowly then you’re met with a radically different experience. Under that garden meadowness there is a well-rounded, acidic flavour that bubbles to the surface. It may not be as prominent as perhaps I’d like, but it certainly offered a delightful roundness. However, as this is just one bar out of a range, I’ll have to try those to see if the true chocolate flavour is allowed to take centre-stage at all.
But there is one thing that has stumped me, and that is how they manage to produce chocolate that offers so much flavour and a relatively fine texture if they’re only effectively roasting the cacao (via cold-grinding) at 50°c when most chocolatiers roast their cacao at between 120°c and 130°c? Perhaps its due to a longer conching process? Who knows?
I found this bar as interesting as it is confusing. There’s a juxtaposition between the unadulterated and unsullied by human hands nature of the ‘virgin’ cacao that exists within the bar and the expert and professional marketing that presents it externally. You could see it as a wholesome and ethically balanced lady dressed in Dior to attract the man of her dreams. With so much competition and faux conscientiousness, Blyss do have to try harder than I feel they would like. I do feel there’s still a large market that will lap the experience up in seemingly unending quantities. I just look forward to trying the Peppermint Innocence and Tangerine Romance bars and see if they’re essentially the same.
I do apologise for going into a degree of detail about the origins of the bean, but I feel if a brand actively promotes the qualities of a bean, we’re free to explore what that bean actually offers. And also it looks like this bar bloomed a fair bit as it was sent over from Germany.