By Benjamin Skipper
Complex chocolates are by far my favorite to taste. Sure, a simple, two-note chocolate could still qualify as good given that the attributes are strong, complementary to each other, and balanced, but with complexity there's more substance to contemplate. You can't derive full enjoyment from such a chocolate just by passively eating it; your intellect and attention is demanded in order to obtain the full experience you can get from such a bar. Today in consideration is a particularly complex bar, Dagoba's 74% Xocolatl. I'm not sure what xocolatl means, so to be clear: This is 74% cacao chocolate with cacao nibs and chilies.
The first thing that struck me right off the bat is how different this bar looked. In contrast to the Beacoup Berries and Superfruit bar I reviewed, this bar is much darker in appearance; has no tone fluctuations, color hues, cracks, or "dust"; and has a pretty decent shine. It much more attractive than those reviewed before it; in fact, it looks pretty much the archetype of what you'd expect a dark chocolate to look like. Obviously this chocolate goes through the conching process for a longer period of time.
Biting in is to enter a world of complexity. For the first time in my tasting I've come across a chocolate that is neither sweet nor bitter: It's savory! It has a definite, mild chocolate note to it, but there's also a woody attribute that makes me think of trees in autumn. Every time you come across a cacao nib these savory notes give away to a burst of delectably sugary sweetness and pure fruit. I was surprised at just how fruity these cacao nibs were, given that I got a nutty impression in Endangered Species' own cacao nibs bar. This constant switching back and forth between foresty savoriness and fruity sweetness made for a novel experience.
After the first few bites I thought that the chilies added nothing -- I ignorantly thought they meant chili with an "i," my current favorite spice blend -- but when the heat caught on I was refuted. After quite a long delay, the heat climbed up to peak spiciness immediately and perched right at the top of my throat and lingered there for several minutes. For my own tolerance, the heat was perfect: no pain or disappointing weakness. I had not the least temptation to get any water or milk. This further adds to the novelty of the experience, as with small enough bites one could be entertained with constant climbs to and falls from warmth.
The mouthfeel gives further evidence that this bar has been conched longer, but not too much towards pleasure. Each bite is soft and yielding without being crumbly or causing messy fissures. It melts at an acceptable rate, but I do wish for something creamier. The nibs add a nice crispiness here and there, but not to the caliber of ES' bar. All in all, dandy and acceptable, but not great.
One thing that entertained me throughout my tasting is the aroma. It too is complex! It's all so subtle, but for once the chocolate doesn't dominate. Playing on stage alongside of it are notes of spiciness, perhaps that of ginger specifically, and a dried bouquet of flowers. All three notes have equal presence and sing in harmony. I daresay this would make a nicely masculine scent for a man to wear. I kept taking in the aroma right down to the last bite.
This bar must be savored. One cannot enjoy it as a simple quick snack. Given the time and patience, I recommend breaking off each rectangle in portions of one or two and taking as small of bites as possible. Given that each bar only comes in two ounce portions, you've got to make it last. I didn't find it particularly hard to distinguish the characteristics, so if you'd like to practice your own chocolate connoisseurship, this is a good place to practice: aromatic, shifting flavors, rising and falling temperatures --.
There are still some improvements that could be made, however. The conching Dagoba did has certainly led to a better looking bar, but the mouthfeel leaves more to be desired. Also, the cacao nibs don't seem to make a dominant enough appearance, so I'd like to see a greater quantity of them incorporated in, or perhaps a another bar dedicated to it if the balance in this one is not to be upset. Otherwise: This chocolate is good.
In conclusion, this bar is assertive and recessive in all the right spots, wonderfully masculine in its aromatics, attractive, and beautifully balanced between all it's players. The savory note of the chocolate is a little off-putting for me, but it's so unique that I can't help but want to try this bar again; it's a true connoisseur's treat. I recommend this variety.