Amano Cuyagua – Best Chocolate Bar Period (With Interview)

The local media likes to report that a chocolate movement has developed in the Bay Area but the most important story might be taking place in Utah. There, Art Pollard is creating the best chocolate in the United States, if not the world. That’s a bold statement that I can’t make with absolute authority, having not tried every chocolate bar out there, but the new limited edition Amano Cuyagua bar is that good.

Amano Cuyagua

Cuyagua is a small region in Venezuala that is known to have great Criollo and Trinitario beans. It’s located near Ocumare, the site of the previous Amano Ocumare bar. From the Amano web site:

If you follow birds in Venezuela in their annual migrations, they flock to a series of cloud-forest covered coastal mountains. At their base is a small-secluded valley known as Cuyagua — home to cocoa plantations dating to the early 1700′s and some of Venezuela’s finest cocoa.

(Image taken from ParksWatch.Org)

Amano Cuyagua

After my favorable Amano Ocumare review, I was allocated a few Cuyagua bars to try (yes, I still paid for them) before their general release to the public (with no expectation of reviewing them.) I got very excited when I learned there was a new bar, especially when Art told me it might be his best yet. I still have not developed, or mastered, a chocolate bar tasting lexicon but these were my impressions as I tasted a few squares:

Sharp but not acidic, deep earthy chocolate flavors throughout, strawberry and plums in the middle, with a ting of orange and/or apricot near the finish, excellent mouth-feel, and a chewy rich chocolate finish, deeply complex – excellent.

Amano Cuyagua

I had a few questions so I fired off an email to Art. The brief exchange is below – if you have further questions, feel free to ask them in the comments and maybe Art can respond.

It’s a single origin bar (all beans are from the same area) but what varietals (different beans) make up the Cuyagua bar?

The beans are from the Cuyagua valley in Venezuela. In general, they
would be considered to be mainly Criollo and Trinitario. I find these
terms too limiting however to describe the complex genetics found in
cocoa growing regions. Instead, I simply like to think of what a
particular farm or region produces. This approach has its shortcomings
as well however.

You’ve expressed an interest in representing time and place in your products. What environmental factors give the Cuyagua bar its distinct taste? What did you try to capture?

Every area produces cocoa with its own unique genetics and
environmental factors such as soil and climate conditions play a huge
role in how productive the trees are. The combination of genetics and
soil and climate conditions give each area its own unique flavor
profile. When I work with a bean, I try to capture that uniqueness
and bring it to the forefront.

How do these differ from your Ocumare bar, which is a nearby region?

The Cuyagua bean is on its surface quite similar to to Ocumare.
However it has additional spicey notes whereas the Ocumare has more
fruity notes. I tried to bring this out through how we roast the
beans as well as how we treat the chocolate in several stages most
importantly, in the final conching process.

If asked to rank your three bars, which bar accomplishes your stated goal best? And why?

It is a tough call. Each of our bars, I believe, represent well their
unique origins. I am very pleased though with our Cuyagua bar and it
is my current favorite. It has wonderful character to it.

You state on the web site you work directly with the growers to produce beans to your specifications. Without revealing any trade secrets, could you give us some examples of what you might ask them to change?

There are several ways in which we will work with growers. One is
impressing on them the need for absolute quality both during the
growing season but especially during the fermentation of the beans. In
many cocoa growing countries, cocoa is not fermented when it is used
locally. Because of this, many growers do not fully understand the
huge importance this plays when the cocoa is used to make chocolate.
The farmers ferment the beans simply because that is what the market
demands. To show them what we are making and how it differs from
local cocoa products really drives home to them the importance of this
final step.

In many cases the farmer is using inferior methods to ferment their
cocoa as well as drying it. I will do what I can to assist depending
on what their needs are. I’ve also spent time working on the farms
both during the growing season and harvest and so I know what it is
like to open literally tons of cocoa pods with a machete.

What might be next?

We are working on a Ghana bar right now. I would imagine it will be
out sometime in the next month or two. We also are working on
obtaining some beans from some new origins that should prove to be
exceptional. I am really excited about some of our plans. I can’t
say too much other than “Wait and see!” Once you see what we are
working on, I am sure you will be equally as excited.

Amano Cuyagua

For now, the Amano Cuyagua is my benchmark for chocolate bars. The depth of flavor and complexity is unequaled. While doing research for this post, I ran across an ice cream recipe using Amano chocolate – great food for thought – I will have to make a batch for myself.

The Amano Cuyagua is a limited edition bar that’s only available on Amano’s web site – you can order it here.

- chuck

Other Amano reviews of the Ocumare and Madagascar bars:

  • John

    Have you tried the Amedei Porcelana and how does it compare to this?

  • ChuckEats

    John, in my previous review for the Ocumare, I said the Ocumare was 2nd only to the Amedei Porcelana. This Cuyagua bar is better. My top 4 bars would be Amano Cuyagua, Amedei Procelana, Amano Ocumare, and Amedei Chuao.

    (BTW, I edited your comment b/c I don’t want to get involved in that stuff.)

  • D. Gordon

    We got some Cuyagua bars after reading your post… I don’t get it. It seems totally one-dimensional to us, lacking in complexity. Not at all bad, just thoroughly unimpressive. Perhaps, being single origin chocolate, there’s a great deal of variation in quality?

  • ChuckEats

    Hmm… i did buy some through mail order on a brutally hot week here and it destroyed the bar – both texture & taste. Did you buy through mail (to where? how was the temperature?) I did buy 2 more today at our local chocolate store, Fog City News – they are as excellent as the first 2 I had.

  • D. Gordon

    Interesting… I did indeed buy it mail order, to Philadelphia, from Amano directly. They packed it in a styrofoam container, with ice packs; by the time it arrived the ice packs weren’t particularly cool, but the chocolate didn’t seem warm either. The texture seems fine. Oh well, it was worth a shot.