So I’ve never had a 100% cocoa bar before that I’ve actually liked. I wasn’t fond of the Hotel Chocolat Hacienda Iara, or the Patrick Roger 100% and the 99% Noir Infini from Michel Cluziel was also too bitter for me. Thankfully I’ve got nothing to prove in life so I don’t have to pretend to be a “real man” and falsely rave about it to look cool. I generally don’t like extremely bitter chocolate, but as a chocolate reviewer I need to look deeper than my own preferences and find a story behind the chocolate. And Menakao certainly have that if you read my review of their brilliant 72% bar then you’ll find out more about their very interesting background.
Some might say that 100% means that there’s only cocoa solids. Traditionally when you’ve seen a percentage mark on a bar of either milk or dark chocolate that signifies the level of cocoa solids – cocoa butter, another part of the cocoa bean, may have it’s own level indicated. The solids are the bitter, acidic parts of the bean whilst the butter, as you would expect is the creamy, rich part. When you play around with these ratios, add sugar, emulsifiers such as soya or sunflower lecithin, and vanilla or other ingredients then you will get a completely different bar of chocolate.
Many chocolate reviewers rave out chocolate that doesn’t use vanilla or soya lecithin, add stone grounding and then it becomes positively pornographic. But leave out sugar? The most ancient of food stuffs, where there was even a Sanskrit name for it: शर्करा – never. Most human beings love sugar, it can turn the turgid into the drool-worthy and to me it is a vital ingredient in chocolate. It’s like having Tom without Jerry, Morcambe without Wise, Laurel without Hardy and Ant without Dec.
Truth be told though, I absolutely adore the aroma. It’s rich, punchy, aggressive, domineering and just simply divine. It is astringent and as dry as the desert. The snap is equally just as excellent and has incredibly tight texture within. There are hardly any air bubbles and visually it is absolutely perfect apart from the production marks on the bar. If we’re not talking a fine chocolate maker with a reputation at stake I’d say this is fine. It adds to the rusticity of the bar, and perhaps even its uniquenes. If Hotel Chocolat can sell packets of purposefully broken chocolate, why can’t Menakao sell chocolate that looks like it’s been through an Instagram filter?
And then we come to the flavour. Chocolate up to the 85% level and just beyond I can easily quicken it’s disappearance by masticating. But to do that with this Menakao 100% wouldn’t be doing it justice. This chocolate is best left to slowly melt, unaided in your mouth. As it does, whisps of bitter flavour will slowly be released and blend with the sugars in the saliva present in your mouth to mute the acidity and bitterness. If you restrain yourself you’ll actually be met with some wondrous tones and hues. They’re still bitter, and incredibly so, but you’ll get a delightful smokey, BBQ-like flavour.
It’s the texture too that I do greatly appreciate. You’ll find it’s a soft and velvety blanket between your teeth and your gums. You’ll push the last remnants from the cavity with your tongue over onto your taste buds for another blast of flavour. It’s taken me far too long to work out how to enjoy very bitter dark chocolate. But I think I’ve cracked it. Perhaps age has brought on some patience, but letting the chocolate do the work is key here. The problem is that it’s very hard to get hold of. In Ireland you can buy it for far too low a price from The Chocolate Shop in Cork, from Shop Quintessenz in Germany and now, from my own chocolate shop: chocolatiers.co.uk.
NB: I need to thank Geert for arranging the Menakao bars to be sent over direct.