Diamond in the rough
Bisou, a relatively new bean-to-bar maker in Berkeley (est. 2012), makes organic, small-batch, single-origin and blended bars in 3 strengths: 64%, 78% and 88%. So far, that doesn’t sound very different from other artisanal chocolate makers, but when we 4 CBTB chocolateers tried a sampling of their bars, we discovered 2 unique characteristics to their bars: one we liked, one not so much.
Bisou keeps it simple. Their chocolate contains cocoa beans, cocoa butter, whole cane sugar and vanilla. All organic and of the highest quality. When you taste any of their bars, you can tell that it’s really good chocolate.
Sugar that adds flavor, not just sweetness
The unique characteristic of their bars that we liked was the organic whole cane sugar. It gives the chocolate a malted or molasses flavor because the molasses hasn’t been refined out of it like in other sugars. I don’t think I’ve tasted another bar yet that has that dimension to it. It’s most pronounced in the Sweet, or 64%, bars, of course, but it is a flavor profile that carries throughout the line of bars we tasted.
Of the Sweet bars, the Familia, which is a blend of Venezuelan beans, is an earthy bar with a pronounced molasses or malted flavor. The other 64% we tried, the Paloma Del Lago blend, was lighter (more chocolate-y, less malty).
Solid with cacao solids
The other unique characteristic of Bisou bars was their chewiness. These bars don’t really melt in your mouth. To get the flavor, you have to chew them a bit first.
I’m sure this is a deliberate decision on their part, maintaining the integrity of the beans (or maybe reducing the problem of bars melting in your pocket when you’re out and about), but it shifted the chocolate eating experience for us from sensual to more academic (these beans are amazingly high quality!) or healthy (these beans have been minimally processed and have a high cacao mass, so I am getting all of their nutritional benefits).
As one of us chocolateers described it at our tasting, it’s the “chocolate equivalent of going to the gym.”
The minimal processing also means the bars are more grainy. So for us, there is a disconnect. We paid $8 per 50-gram bar (that’s a small bar), the chocolate tastes amazing (as expected at that price), but it’s hard and grainy. When we got to the highest cacao content bars, the 88’s, we felt like they would be better used in cooking than eating straight out of the wrapper.
Of course, our bias is toward dark chocolates in the 60-75% range, so we are probably not the market for Bisou’s 78% & 88% bars. Of the two 78’s we tried, we found Ocumare somewhat acidic with a liqueur or licorice note. Isla y Lago was not bitter, instead it was more complex and finished a little smoky.
Of the 88’s, we preferred the Madagascar, which we found less bitter (and with a nice chocolate-y aftertaste) than the Paloma Caribe, which was so bitter, it seemed medicinal to us and had a grain-y taste (not to be confused with the grainy texture).
We found the chocolate level names a little confusing. The 64% level is called Sweet, which to us implies a milk chocolate level bar. 78% is called Silk, which to us would imply a texture, not a cacao level, so it wasn’t helpful. And 88% is called Dark, which we see used more often to describe the lowest level of cacao, not the highest.
A good gift idea for health mavens
There are a lot of things we liked about Bisou Chocolate, including the packaging. The bars are wrapped in color-coded foil (pink, blue or gold depending on the cacao level), then wrapped in the pretty Art Nouveau-inspired chocolate brown and gold wrapper featuring a cacao tree flower. The packaging does a good job of creating anticipation. They’d make a pretty present for the more health-conscious chocolate lovers on your gift list.
A writer/designer, Nancy lives in Oakland with Ronnie (AKA cacaopod), her husband of many years & fellow chocolate enthusiast.
Date posted: November 27, 2013. This entry was posted in East Bay chocolate, Local chocolate, Review and tagged bean to bar, Berkeley, Bisou, dark chocolate, gifts, Madegascar, molasses, organic whole cane sugar, Venezuela. Bookmark the permalink.