I’m still alive! After not posting in almost two months, some of you might have started to wonder what happened to me. My unintentional hiatus was caused by a combination of being busy with travel, work, and my wedding planning business. But I’m back now, with a new post about chocolate!
I previously mentioned Amadei chocolates and The Chocolate House here in DC when I wrote about the 1st Annual DC Chocolate Festival. As a result of attending the festival, I ended up on the mailing list for Amadei—not a bad list to be on, for sure. They emailed to let me know that they would be hosting a special Amadei-only chocolate-tasting event at the Chocolate House and offered me 50% off the usual price. That was an offer too good to refuse, so off we trundled on a very rainy Friday night to learn about and taste chocolate.
The Chocolate House has a classroom behind their chocolate showroom, where they regularly hold classes and tastings. It was my first visit to the shop, and I recognized most of the brands from the festival. We were a small group of seven for the tasting, plus our instructor, Marisol (one of the owners of The Chocolate House), and the U.S. sales rep for Amadei, Aaron (their only U.S. employee, and one of the few male employees).
We started with an interesting presentation on the history of chocolate cultivation, how consumption evolved from a beverage to a solid form, the stages of production, and the guidelines for tasting. When Marisol first started talking about visiting a chocolate plantation, I thought that might be something I wanted to add to my list of potential travel destinations. But then she mentioned the ultra-high humidity and the fact that cacao trees are pollinated by midges, and I changed my mind pretty quickly. Two of my least favorite things ever are humidity and bugs. So, no thanks!
Cacao pods on a tree. Photo by Flickr user jclor. Used under CC license BY-NC-ND 2.0.
Cacao trees can only grow within about 20 degrees of latitude from the equator, making Mexico, Central America, and South America prime cacao-growing regions. The tree is native to South America, but cacao is also widely grown in West Africa, Indonesia, and Malaysia. The vast majority of African cacao beans is bought by candy conglomerates like Nestlé and Hershey’s, in bulk, through middlemen, with little to no attention paid to quality. (That’s why their chocolate isn’t very good. Sorry, not sorry.)
Inside a cacao pod.
Photo by Flickr user J HC. Used under CC license BY-NC-ND 2.0.
Artisanal chocolate makers (or chocolatiers), like Amadei, on the other hand, buy their cacao beans directly from cacao farmers, and they inspect every pod and bean carefully to ensure that they are using only the highest quality. Some of Amadei’s bars are single-origin, meaning all the beans came from a particular country. It really gives you a sense of place to eat a single-origin chocolate bar, much like drinking good French wine gives you a feeling for the terroir.
Tasting chocolate has a lot in common with tasting wine or whisky. Aroma is important, as is mouthfeel, texture, and taste. Chocolate can also taste different on the finish than it did at first, much like wine and spirits.
Photo by Flickr user Bex Walton. Used under CC license BY-NC-ND 2.0.
When tasting chocolate, as opposed to eating chocolate, it’s important to not chew. Instead, you break off a small piece, place it in your mouth, and let it melt on your tongue. Only this way can you attempt to tease out the different flavors of the chocolate. We tasted eight different Amadei bars in all. My individual tasting notes are below, but keep in mind that everyone’s palate is different, and what one person tastes, another may not necessarily find. Also, keep in mind that when I mention bitterness, I mean it as a compliment. Dark chocolate should have a bit of bitterness.
Amadei 9: 75% cacao, blended from nine different sources. Early notes of bitterness, almost smoky in flavor. Middle notes of pure cocoa. Very smooth and creamy texture. My favorite of the tasting, and the darkest (highest cacao percentage) bar made by Amadei.
Chuao: 70% cacao single-origin bar from Chuao (chew-wow), Venezuela. Opens with dark fruit flavors, but transitions into roasted coffee on the finish. Very rich and thick texture and taste. My second favorite of the tasting. (For more on the highly sought-after beans of Chuao, see this article from The Guardian.)
Blanco de Criollo: 70% cacao; Criollo is the rarest and highest-quality of the three types of cacao bean. This tastes like hot chocolate at first, with a hint of blueberries on the finish. Rich and creamy, but less creamy than the 9 and less rich than the Chuao.
Porcelana: 70% cacao from Porcelana, Venezuela. Texture similar to Blanco de Criollo. Starts with a sweet, sugary taste that mellows into fudgey bitterness.
Toscano Black: 66% cacao blend. Mild taste with a warm, but not spicy, finish. Reminiscent of caramel flavors. Very creamy texture. Amadei also produces the Toscano Black in 70% and 63% versions.
Toscano Red: 70% cacao blend with freeze-dried raspberries, cherries, and strawberries. Freeze-drying the fruits gives the bar a crispy/crunchy texture. The first flavor is raspberries, followed by a more general fruitiness, and finally finishing with a hint of bitterness.
Gianduja: also called the Nut Brown bar. Milk chocolate with hazelnuts. Super soft and creamy—almost too creamy for me. Tastes like really high-end Nutella. Pure hazelnut flavor.
Al Latte Bianco con Pistacchi: translates to “white chocolate with pistachios.” Tastes very much like pistachios, and leaves an aftertaste of pistachios. The chocolate is very creamy, but the overall texture is crunchy due to the nuts.
You might be wondering why the title of this post is “Amadei: The World’s Best Chocolate.” Well, it’s because Amadei has, in fact, been proclaimed the world’s best chocolate on more than one occasion (also the world’s most expensive chocolate, but you get what you pay for, and Amadei is worth the high price). They’ve won numerous Golden Bean Awards from the Academy of Chocolate (you didn’t know that was a thing, did you?), including six in 2016.
Chuao bar from Amadei’s website.
Founded in 1990 by Celilia Tessieri, one of the world’s few women chocolatiers, Amadei is based in Florence, Italy and employs mostly women. It’s a small operation, with fewer than 35 employees in total. They produce both bars and confections (the term used for molded and filled chocolates), a rarity in the artisanal chocolate business—usually producers focus on one or the other. With a limited production capacity, Amadei is not available just anywhere. If you live in DC, The Chocolate House is your best bet. If you live in NYC, you’re lucky enough to have access to one of Amadei’s rare stores at 15 East 18th Street. For everyone else, there’s always the Internet!
Amadei is, without a doubt, special occasion chocolate. Prices range from about $8 a bar for the blends to more than $16 for the Porcelana. This is not chocolate to snack on while you’re out running errands. A small square is your reward at the end of a long day, preferably with a glass of red wine.
My first taste of Amadei was about four years ago when my husband read about it, tracked it down on the Internet, and bought me some for my birthday. It was a revelatory experience. Truly the greatest chocolate I had ever tasted. If you want to treat the chocolate-lover in your life (or yourself!), you cannot go wrong with Amadei.