Saturday, April 18, 2020

Raaka: Bourbon Cask Aged 82% Dark

This Bourbon Cask Aged chocolate bar has been aging in my home for about four months. Now is the time to break into it, eh?

That name is an attention-grabber, certainly, as is the little line calling this "unroasted" chocolate and the mention of maple sugar in the ingredients. These are all new things for me. (Well, maybe not so much the maple sugar: I'm sure I must have had some other chocolate with maple sugar. There is still regular cane sugar in here; it isn't sweetened entirely with maple sugar. That would be new.) Cocoa beans are always roasted before all of the grinding and conching steps begin. Except that Raaka Chocolate chooses to skip the roasting in favor of the "brighter, bolder, fruitier side of cacao." Okay.

And the bourbon casks? Yeah, they're real. They age the cocoa in empty bourbon casks to soak up some flavor. It sounds cool and I don't have anything against it--but I also wonder. If the cocoa is good quality processed with expertise, why do you want to cover up its natural flavor with anything else? Especially if you're trying to get a more raw flavor by skipping the roasting. And if the casks don't add enough flavor that they would be covering up anything, is it really worth going through that step? Maybe I'm just not enough of a foodie. And again, I don't mind; it's a fun concept; I just wonder.

The layered land/mountainous look of the outer wrapping reflects back onto the bar. I've never seen a chocolate mold design quite like these soft ripples. The color is good, and the chocolate gives off a semisweet aroma.

The snap is great, too. Then almost immediately after putting a piece in my mouth, I noticed a difference in texture. It's only slight, but it's almost like the difference between regular chocolate and so-called "raw" chocolate. A little softer and rougher in feel. It's definitely noticeable if you're paying close attention, but necessarily immediately apparent otherwise.

The flavor has that rich, blue taste of cocoa nibs. There is strong and dark cocoa flavor with some tang but no bitterness. The tang increases at about three quarters of the way in but is quickly followed by a touch of sweetness. The finish is the closest this chocolate gets to being bitter, maybe because it's accompanied by a slightly dustier feel than usual. Raaka's notes call this bar "oaky and smooth, with a hint of cherry cordial." That sounds about right: I said strong and dark where they said oaky, no bitterness for smoothness, and sweetness for cherry cordial.

There does appear to be a difference in the flavor based on the decision to skip the roasting step--but without an exact comparison (that is, all steps and ingredients being identical except for the roasting) it's hard to tell what is a result of that or not. The same goes for the bourbon cask aging process.

What I can say is that this is a good bar of chocolate. It's organic and fairly traded (they have a great chart on the inside of the wrapper showing the difference between what they pay for the cocoa and what fair trade requirements are--a quick way of showing that "Fair Trade" doesn't mean there are no issues). The chocolate is beautiful and has great flavor and texture. At 82% cocoa, it delivers a full chocolate hit but has enough of a sense of sweetness to it to be welcoming rather than intimidating. A perfect example of why I've often said that chocolate in the 80% range is my favorite: it can taste more than chocolate in the 70% range and yet not have all of the weightiness of 90% chocolate.

This is a plainer, sleeker style dark chocolate bar. But Raaka also makes some interesting flavors, like Oat Milk and Bananas Foster that have more of a frilly sound. I would be quite curious to see how they approach those.

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