Do you remember the days when all you needed to satisfy a chocolate craving was a few Hershey's Kisses, a Twix candy bar or maybe if you were treating yourself to the good stuff, a Dove chocolate piece? What about when chocolate was simply broken down into three categories; dark, milk and white? Well we've evolved quite a bit as a species since then and thankfully our days of "chocolate" consumption can now be satiated by real chocolate, those finely crafted bars with a true punch of healthy antioxidants (cacao is rich in flavonoids), offering a quick blood flow boost for the heart and brain.
So you might ask what is real chocolate anyways and who is making it? Would you be shocked to hear that chocolate can be sourced from Vietnam? Yes, that beautiful rice paddy and pho soup paradise. During the 19th century cacao was introduced to Indochina, then sadly left and forgotten during the years of the war, only to be rediscovered within the last decade. The Marou farms are family owned along and throughout the Mekong Delta and Central Highlands. All of their dark chocolate is crafted using the highest quality local Vietnamese ingredients, created in the Marou workshop in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh),Vietnam.
Marou single origin chocolate is the self-proclaimed dream child of two "unusual Frenchmen" Samuel and Vincent, and is a pioneer in the modern chocolate world (similar to the profile I wrote on Dandelion in San Francisco). They are bean to bar chocolate makers - meaning that they produce and regulate the entire process from farm and bean selection, to roasting, to tempering and finally wrapping. It's an exciting time in the industry. We consumers are no longer solely concerned with eating chocolate, but knowing where the cacao beans come from, what other ingredients were used to create it and if the raw materials were fairly traded* or not.
I surmise that many of you will quickly turn to believers when you hear the glorious snap of their chocolate bars.
Marou Faiseurs de Chocolat; Produit du Vietnam. Made and sourced in Vietnam. There are only 3 ingredients; cacao beans and their naturally created cocoa butter, and sugar cane.
Samuel and Vincent of Marou Faiseurs de Chocolat with cacao farmers in Vietnam.
As I carefully unwrapped the divine Marou packaging, childhood sensations of glee and later awe, as the last detail of their creativity and branding came to life.
This year the Academy of Chocolate has awarded them the following:
Best Dark Chocolate, bean to bar: SILVER Marou Faiseurs de Chocolat Tien Giang 70%
- Is described as "A full bodied chocolate with spicy, fruity notes, made from cacao organically grown by farmers of the Cho Gao Co-op in the Mekong Delta."
- In my tasting I noted a bit more acidity in the initial bite, then it warmed and sweetened the longer it was left in the mouth. A great bar for those converting to real chocolate.
Best Dark Chocolate, bean to bar: BRONZE Marou Faiseurs de Chocolat Ben Tre 78%
- Is described as "An intense yet balanced chocolate, from Ben Tre province in the Mekong Delta, where cacao trees are planted among coconut groves."
- I personally tasted some bitterness of green bananas or coffee, and found a tart red fruit aftertaste. A really unique chocolate!
Where to purchase, here.
Facebook Marou Chocolate
Twitter Marou Chocolate
Their packaging is also something to spark a coffee table discussion. The imagery based on nature and history, eloquently describes the southern Vietnam that Samuel and Vincent call home.
MORE TIPS ON BUYING AND ENJOYING REAL CHOCOLATE
1. Read the ingredients. Much of the quality control can be understood from the back of the package. If the ingredient list starts with sugar, put it down. Same for milk power, soy products or vanilla. A truly good chocolate bar won't require additional additives for the palate. Chocolate mass, natural cocoa butter and sugar (roughly 30%) is tested make-up for letting the flavors speak for themselves.
2. Chocolate percentage is not such an important part of the equation. It's a bit of personal preference as well as the influence of marketing. It's also about what the chocolate maker has deemed as the appropriate blend for a particular bean. Again, the key factor is more about where it was cultivated and how it was manufactured. However I think that most dark chocolate lovers tend to enjoy between 68-78%. White chocolate does not have any pure chocolate (chocolate liquor) whatsoever, often containing less than 20% cocoa butter, making the rest of the composition heavy in sugar, other (vegetable) fats and milk products.
3. Seeing a "Fair Trade*" sticker is often not enough to guarantee ethics and business dealings. The price and futures of chocolate are generally based on Euronext, a commodity exchange system in Amsterdam, much like that of the coffee industry. See the documentary Black Gold for more on that. Personal anecdote; The other day I saw a Kit Kat bar at the checkout with a Fairtrade sticker - this blew my mind - it seems to be another marketing tactic to sell and control our spending habits with false charity. I would much rather know that my chocolate producer actually has a relationship with their cacao producers, and that the chocolate bar was indeed created from 100% of the labeled beans (where in the cases of Nestle and other conglomerates, the beans could have been mixed - legally).
4. Single Origin. The does not mean to say that it comes from one grower. It refers to the region or place of origin. Much like wine, the cacao beans lend to their place of origin, to the terroir. When buying fine chocolate, "exotic" areas such as Central and South America, Asia and Madagascar are highly coveted - for their lush, tropical environments and growing conditions. Quite commonly West Africa, particularly The Ivory Coast is known for producing a mass product - they produced 40% of the world's chocolate in 2012. Where going back to the Fairtrade comment, you can surely bet that if it came from this region, it was more likely commissioned by a multinational CPG company, that it was not harvested in the prime conditions; i.e. health and respect to the workers, land and final product.
5. Price. Fine chocolate bars run anywhere from $7-10 for a 70 gram or 100 gram bar. Comparing it to standard chocolate, it generally is the case of higher price = higher quality - you get what you pay for - but remember to read the ingredients thoroughly and research the chocolate company regarding their practices and social responsibilities. As mentioned earlier in this post, the $.85 bars of yore were and are priced that way for a reason.