Although I’ve been lucky enough to have travelled to about thirty-six countries in my life, chocolate seems to be medium which allows me to live vicariously given the ties I have to this country. Many of the chocolate lovers I know appreciate natural history of the various countries in which cacao trees now grow and the toils of those that grow them, harvest the beans and subsequently manufacturer the chocolate. I’m very fortunate to be good friends with a number of absolute “chocolate nuts” and one of them is Geert Vercruysse who owns a chocolate shop in Kortrikj, Belgium and was kind enough to send over these chocolate bars produced in Guatemala from local cocoa beans.
I’ve been fortunate to review some outstanding chocolate from the neighbouring nations of Mexico, Belize and Honduras, but this is my first taste of Guatemalan chocolate. For those that don’t know, Guatemala only produces around 10,000 tonnes, although this has seen some significant recent growth. In the pre-Columbian era production, if we are to give it a more formalised description than it deservers, was mainly focused on the modern-day Suchitepéquez department. What isn’t certain is when cacao found its way to the region, given that much of the migration to Guatemala by the Pipil people took place between A.D. 700 to 1350 we can safely say that Guatemala does have a very long traditional cocoa farming – to whatever level of sophistication.
If you can contrast the length of time chocolate has been produced to the age of the Danta chocolate making company, which was formed relatively recently by Carlos Eichenberger in 2008, who only got certification of Maitre Chocolatier from Valrhona’s Ecole du Grand Chocolat and it wasn’t until December of 2009 that the first Danta opened its first boutique in Guatemala City.
It’s always interesting to find out why people name their chocolate companies as they do. Carlos named his Danta after the largest pyramid of the Mesoamerican period and which can be found in the northern part of the country in the El Mirador National Park which, at the time, consumed a great deal of the original form of chocolatl beverage. Even today it’s consumed more as beverage than a bar.
Geert was very kind to send over from Belgium three bars: 60% dark, 70% dark and a 75% dark which all weigh a modest 50g. Starting off with the sweeter of the three I found this to have a flavour that was very forcefully of raisin, and perhaps a touch of fig. The texture is sublime, despite using rudimentary, artisanal equipment and without a great deal of investment capital available you should really marvel at what has been achieved. There is a very long melt and the flavour delivery is consistent throughout. You won’t get any flavour variation of changing notes and tones, it’s direct, sweet raisin all the way through. What is interesting is that this bar actually isn’t made with Guatemalan cocoa but comes from Sambirano Valley, Madagasca, which is responsible for some of my favourite bars, including Menakao, Åkesson and others.
The 70% as much more of astringent aroma and much more complex flavour profile. The cider vinegar gives way to strange combination of flat mushroom, brandy and Christmas pudding. In itself there’s nothing striking, but it offers a unique profile that I’m sure you won’t find anywhere else. Subsequent bites give more of a sweet cherry experience. Even though I like the directness of the 60%, the 70% is much more complex and interesting. The texture is less ‘moist’ but that is completely expected given the lower cocoa butter content. The cocoa used here is of mixed origins and hybrids but does originate from the single estate of Finca Los Ujuxtes in Guatemala.
The 75% from Finca Las Acacias, Guatemala is even more floral. The thick chunks of chocolate have heavy payload. It’s certainly a full-flavour bar. Although it has a ‘typical’ chocolaty undercurrent, above that there are very direct citrus fruit flavours that provide some sort of titillating dalliance at the tip of the tongue. For me though, there wasn’t as much of ‘story’ here. Just as with the 60% the flavour was more direct, but I did prefer the mouth-feel of this 75% bar. It was more solid, definitely longer-lasting and more satisfying. Although, I’d happily consuming any of the three at any time.
It’s also worth noting the thickness of the metal foil that encases every bar. Just as cocoa beans were used in the region, this bar replicates today’s gold bar. The foil is bright golden, incredibly thick and gives some resistance as you tear into it. The mould the chocolate is formed into has Mayan style insignia although I’m confused as it appears to be the same as the Madre Chocolate bars.
What I did notice is that Geert didn’t send me the Danta Chuao bar – but I understand why.