/ Doug's Chocolate Republic /
Review: Valrhona Guanaja
Posted: 22 June 2011
At first glance at the front of the bar, you're told it's bitter and elegant. And it is. Valrhona doesn't try to hide the bitterness. They show it off!
price/gram: USD 0.10
Cocoa %: 70
Wan Hyuk Park, Korean citizen
resident in Thailand, a young man smelling of garlic and
chilis who, nonetheless, fancies himself (mistakenly) as an
object for the ladies, returned to Thailand from Australia
with several bars of chocolate for me to review. Wan
Hyuk knows as much about chocolate as I do about Korean
movie stars. When I left the matter in his hands, I
got a Peppermint
Crisp. I did have to mention for him to
bring back at least one premium brand. "You mean Cadbury?"
he asked. "No, something like Valrhona," I
answered off the top of my head.
Wan Hyuk didn't do any
further research. To him, something like
Valrhona meant Valrhona. I actually wanted
something premium indigenous to Australia, as long as it
wasn't overrated Haigh's. But I cannot
complain. Valrhona is a well regarded French brand I'd
heard a lot about. Back in my California days, I used
to buy Valrhona's unsweetened ground cocoa powder to make
hot chocolates, and it turned out quite well in those
concoctions. I was eager to try the real deal and see
if it deserved its glorious reputation and state as such, or
not, on the Chocolate Republic.
Luckily, the chocolate bars
are well sealed in foil because Wan Hyuk left these bars in
the same bag he was carrying back three tupperware loads of
this funky Australian kimchi he wanted his Ma to try.
The wrappers still smelled like cabbage though.
Three Valrhonas were brought
to my sampling table. The Guanaja was the smallest and
the darkest, and I selected this to sample first in order to
get a pulse on Valrhona's standards. In my
opinion, it's harder to create a balanced dark than a
balanced milk; there's more cocoa flavor in the darks and if
the bitterness isn't dealt with creatively then darks in the 70%
cocoa solid range can be very unpleasant tasting
The bar is made from a combination of Criollo and Trinatario
beans. 85% of all the cacao beans cultivated are Forastero. Forastero has
the best yields, and it's the bean of choice for mass
production. That Hershey and Cadbury bar you just wolfed down is Forastero. Less than 5% of all cocoa
is the rare Criollo, leaving around 10% of the beans as Trinatario, a natural hybrid of Forastero and Criollo originating in
Trindidad. The inclusion of the relatively rare
Criollo could be some justification for the high price tag.
At first glance at the front
of the bar, you're told it's bitter and elegant. And
it is. Valrhona doesn't try to hide the bitterness.
They show it off! They sell this 70% guanaja
blend as couverture in Europe and describe it as a "palette
of bitterness," as something to be desired. Gotta slap
Valrhona on the back for this one. It reminds me of
the marketing behind one of the world's most expensive
Coffee Luwak. Valrhona isn't dodging the bitterness issue. They're telling you to embrace it.
The new fashion in chocolate
tasting nowadays is to embellish one's reviews with such
flowery language that readers might mistake you as a fine
wine critic. "The [wine/chocolate] tasted of tobacco
and wormwood, with hints of lingon, lime, and chili and back
notes of tobasco." This bar is well known for the
intensity of its flavors, and as a lark, I read three other
reviews on this bar just to see if there was any consensus
exactly what this bar tastes like. Nope.
Depending on who you believe, the bar tastes like melon and
sour cream or cherry with hints of flowers. Let's
agree to disagree and just say that there's a lot of
different flavors moving around your palette as you bite in.
Don't count on a boring uniform dark chocolate taste.
You can get boring for a lot less cash.
I couldn't dig up any solid
facts on the exact country from which Valrhona sources the
beans for this. Some mistakenly believe the
beans come from Honduras because Guanaja is an island off
the coast of Honduras. Well, Freddie "Boom Boom"
Washington in Welcome Back, Kotter hailed from
Brooklyn, not Washington, DC or Washington state. It's
just a name, folks! The Guanaja beans come from South America, and
I assume some of the crop come from Ecuador, the same place
the beans are sourced for the
The Valrhona Guanaja is like
a fine, fine wine, best appreciated in small amounts and on
special occasions. Too much would be a very bitter