Up until now there hasn’t been an opportunity for me to taste chocolates made from Vietnamese cacao beans, I had to content myself with drooling over photos posted on other people’s Instagram feeds and reading articles about them. So, imagine my delight when I found a nice selection of Marou bars at a local chocolate shop!
It was so hard to choose just one, so these are the two that ended up following me home (two is better than one for comparing & contrasting…at least that’s my story & I’m sticking to it!) 🙂 It finally “clicked” this morning that the company name is a combination of the last names of the owners (Sam Maruta and Vincent Mourou) rather than a foreign word that needed to be translated!
Cacao trees were first introduced to Vietnam in the late 1800s by the French during their colonial rule, however less than 20 years later they rescinded paying the farmers to grow the crops since they felt that the cacao was “completely useless” and had “not yielded any satisfying result.” Many of those trees are still in the Mekong Delta provinces. About a decade ago, cacao covered less than 2,000 hectares (equivalent to about 5,000 acres); now that quantity has increased by almost 1000% to more than 54,000 acres. Marou was founded in 2011 by two expatriate Frenchmen from non-food backgrounds who had the ambition to create the first bean-to-bar and single-origin chocolate company in Vietnam, using only local ingredients from that country. This article provides more information about Marou’s beginnings.
In addition to the attention to detail in terms of ingredients, each one of the labels is stunning and eye-catching. In this 5-6 minute video you can see the multi-step, labor intensive process to silk-screen the hand-drawn images onto the hand-printed outer wrappers and then emboss each label individually (packaging design by Rice Creative). Additionally, the main color of the wrapper pays homage to the color of the cacao pods that the chocolate was made from.
74% Lâm Đong
This turquoise/teal outer wrapper has images of clouds, a cacao pod, flowers and leaves among a golden trellis/lattice background. From the label, this is a rare and delicate chocolate made in micro batches from beans cultivated in hilly woodlands at the edge of the Vietnamese Central Highlands between Madagui and Bao Loc. I’ve seen the picture of the cacao pod rainbow, but I still can’t believe that there is a pod that is naturally a light blue.
Unwrapping this chocolate from the gold foil inner wrapper sealed with the Marou label, was a beautifully shiny, deep brown bar with only a few air bubbles marring the surface.
The aroma was earthy and woody and reminded me a little of leather. Although some might consider it “cheating,” I like to refer to tasting notes before, during and after tasting. This is partly to know what to expect, as well as to see how close I could get to the description. Some tasting notes that I’ve seen refer to this bar as “intense” and “roasted”…I didn’t get that. The taste, to me, was more mild and subtle: starting buttery (like caramel), continuing as light sweet fruit (like raisins) and ending with a wine or tannic note. While I know that taste is subjective, I’m a little disappointed that my palate & the tasting notes didn’t match.
For another person’s perspective, check out these tasting notes.
80% Tien Giang
Maybe it’s because I went to a baseball game last night, but the lines on this light green outer packaging remind me of the lawnmower patterns that can be seen in the outfield. However, the true story is that these stripes are extensions of the asterisk logo from the lifestyle, travel and design magazine Wallpaper*.
Don’t blink or you might miss the asterisk that appears on the “spine” of the chocolate bar.
First impressions are important, so I really like that Marou packages their bars with the logo facing up so that this is the first thing you see after unwrapping the outer layers. Their logo reminds me the molten candle wax seal and stamp that have been used on important documents since the Middle Ages. It almost looks like the M is wearing a tiara, so I’m curious about the significance of the small emblem that looks like a truncated fleur de lis.
Generally the Tien Giang bar is made of 70% cacao from the Cho Gao & Mekong Delta, but since this is a special edition bar for Wallpaper*: The Handmade Issue, the percentage was increased to 80% – the darkest of the Marou bars in terms of percentage of cacao. Surprisingly, though, the color of the chocolate itself is slightly lighter than the 74% bar that I tasted earlier (in the picture below, the top is the 80% bar & the partially consumed one on the bottom is the 74%).
From the tasting notes, this is full-bodied with notes of spices, fruits and honey. It certainly was the more complex of the two bars, with a scent that wavered between a delicate sandalwood perfume and a freshly made gourmet hot chocolate. What I tasted was tangy, tart and acidic (while also a little metallic), with cherries and apples coming to mind. Maybe as I continue with my sensory experiences, one day I too can detect the earthy, grassy, woody, banana and citrus fruit notes mentioned in other reviews.
If you’ve tried Marou’s chocolates, I’d love to hear your impressions!
In the meantime, please visit the company’s website to learn more about the rest of their product line: http://marouchocolate.com/