This bar was supposed to be featured at a recent tasting event Dom & I were invited to, but Duffy Sheardown wasn’t able to make it, so he very kindly posted out samples to everyone after the event. That isn’t all he posted out though – I also received four little ziplock bags containing cocoa in various stages of refinement, from roasted nibs through 100% cocoa that had been conched for 16 hours, to a 64 hour conched 72% chocolate. Duffy sent these little extras out so we could ‘see’ how the flavours develop during the conching process – something that takes over 50 hours before Duffy considers the cocoa ready.
Red Star Chocolate is one of only two independent UK chocolate makers that produce chocolate from bean to bar. This bar uses single origin Ecuadorean Calceta beans, and this 72% bar contains only added organic sugar and cocoa butter, so the true flavour of the beans really does come through. Being single origin, the flavours of each batch will always vary slightly, but the tasting notes on the back of each bar are a pretty good guide as to what to expect.
The toasted cocoa nibs exhibit very light, slightly alcoholic, citrussy notes, with an underlying semi-sweet woodiness. Some of the flavours are very similar to those found in chocolate stouts or other dark beers – remarkable stuff!
The second ‘stage’ of tasting was 100% cocoa after 16 hours grinding, and the changes in flavour were quite marked. The initial ‘high’ notes were less pronounced, and the cocoa takes on a much more bittersweet character with a longer finish in which the top notes of woody citrus were still very much apparent. The fruity character of the beans is beginning to emerge at this point.
After 26 hours of grinding, the cocoa content is down to the final 72%, and with the addition of sugar and cocoa butter comes an immediate sweetness not tasted before. The sugars completely change the overall flavour, with the cocoa butter radically altering the mouthfeel as well as rounding off the flavour. The difference between this and the 100% is amazing.
After 64 hours of conching, there’s still an initial sweetness, but it has mellowed down a little – more molasses-like than sugary, with a richness that lends itself well to the cocoa flavours.
Which brings me to the finished product. The notes on the packet tell the consumer to look out for “Deep, warm flavours with hints of citrus, soft fruit and bananas” and they’re pretty much spot on. The first taste is no longer bittersweet or sugary – what you have in the finished bar is a semi-sweet softness which carries a real mixture of fruity top notes in a deep, warm, superbly soft and subtle undercurrent of cocoa. The fruit flavours are hints of ripe soft fruit (apricot and peach sprang to mind) and yes, there really is an element of banana in there as well.
If you want to really get your taste buds around some serious ‘proper’ chocolate I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this bar. It’s my first Duffy’s experience and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Sending out samples of the chocolate in various stages of production was a stroke of genius, sending my taste buds on a little journey before I arrived at the finished product was a neat way of illustrating just how much change cocoa goes through before the chocolate maker decides it’s ready to be poured into bars.