D is for Đắk Lắk

A few weekends ago, we took a short trip up to Berkeley, CA to celebrate a family birthday. It wasn’t planned, but we stopped at a “tried and true” shop hoping to source bars for this project. You should have seen me…I was so giddy to have found bars C, D and E all in one fell swoop! I usually travel around with a mini ice cooler and/or ice packs whenever I shop for chocolates; however, temperatures were mild, so I wasn’t too worried about the bars without my usual “equipment.” Rather than leave the bars in the car while we walked back and forth on San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge, I carried them carefully in an insulated lunch bag. On the flight home, I nestled the bars in my carry-on luggage to keep them safe from harm until I could get them in my wine fridge for storage.

Once I was home, I tried my “C” bar – it was bloomed 🙁 I thought it was a fluke since that was the 2nd to last bar on the store’s shelf. Then, a week later, I opened my “D” bar – it was ALSO bloomed. I mentally blamed the shop for not taking better care of the bars. THEN, I opened a 3rd bar, which was sourced from a different location, but cared for in the same manner as my other bars and discovered…it was bloomed TOO! It suddenly dawned on me that I was to blame for the bars’ condition. Here I thought I had taken every precaution, only to realize that I had inadvertently exposed the bars to temperature fluctuations 🙁 Can you say PANIC?!

I couldn’t, in good conscience, post pictures of the bloomed bar (*) since that wouldn’t be indicative of the maker’s talents. So, I visited at least 4 of my usual local “go to” Greater Los Angeles area shops only to find that their selection of craft chocolates had been decimated. Buyers were either waiting out the last heat waves of the summer and/or weren’t re-stocking their shelves due to slow sales. NOW, what do I do?! Never a dull moment here at Eating the Chocolate Alphabet! :0

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Bar & Cocoa to the rescue!!! I ordered a replacement bar on Monday (which was a Post Office holiday) & received the shipment by Thursday. Chris & Pashmina…you are my HEROS! So, that’s the long story behind Marou Faiseurs de Chocolat’s Đak Lak Vietnam bar!

It wasn’t until after I had purchased the chocolate in Berkeley that I discovered that this particular bar was featured on the Slow Melt Makers Series, episode 5. You can hear Sam Maruta (one of the co-owners of Marou) and host, Simran Sethi, tasting this bar right around the 19:20 mark in the podcast. This origin is one of the most recent additions to Marou’s portfolio and the furthest from their Ho Chi Minh City headquarters, in terms of sourcing distance.

Earlier in the podcast, you’ll hear that Đak Lak is located in the Central Highlands of Vietnam and shares a western border with Cambodia. Using Wikipedia, I also learned that resistance to French rule was strong in that province and that considerable action was seen during the Vietnam War. Đak Lak, which is mostly mountainous with rich red soil, is known for growing coffee; though rubber, tea and pepper are also major parts of their economy. In fact, the cacao that Marou sources is fruited among the climbing tendrils of Đak Lak’s renowned black pepper vines.

The gorgeous hand silk screened paper has a gold lattice motif with stylized cocoa pods, flowers and clouds.

Depending on where you buy this bar, the packaging will reflect the language of that country (for example: French, Vietnamese or English). This particular bar was imported by A Priori Specialty Foods in Utah, so all the information is listed in English.

The elegance continues with the gold foil wrapped bar, kept closed like a letter, with a scalloped-edge logo sticker (almost like a wax seal).

Unwrapping the chocolate, you can see that the lattice theme is continued on the bar itself. There is a matte (rather than glossy) and slightly scuffed finish, probably due to the long distance that this bar has traveled.

Notice an interesting “swirl” on the back of the bar, near one of the sides.

There wasn’t much of an aroma straight out of the packaging. I detected some lightly earthy or floral notes, but mainly it was classically fudge-like in smell. The bar breaks apart easily with a dry/crumbly snap, sending tiny shard flying every which way. Some pieces look closed textured (not many bubbles) at the break, while others are full of nooks and crannies.

The mouthfeel was smooth and the chocolate was slow to melt on the tongue. There were some nutty + spice aroma notes at the breaking point, as well as those flavors during the melt. A bit crumbly when “chomped,” chewing seemed to bring out a wine-like flavor. It was fascinating to hear Sam Maruta mention that this bar might not be as distinctive as other bars in their portfolio; that it is “too well behaved” / “a bit shy” with subtle flavors. He recommends tasting this bar at warmer temperatures (which would mimic the tropical heat in Vietnam that tends to make the chocolate bendy). My tasting took place in a 71 degree F room, so I experimented with putting the chocolate in the microwave for 10-15 seconds per side. This made the chocolate creamy in terms of mouthfeel + brought out vibrant fruity notes and a long lasting spice note at the back of the throat. I’m not sure that I would recommend this experiment on all chocolates, but it was a revelation in this case.

(*) Remember I mentioned that my first bar was bloomed. Here is a picture of the 2 bars side by side, in case you were curious. On the bloomed bar, I “buffed” the center rectangle with my finger to bring out the more lustrous brown color. What a difference between the 2 bars!

Don’t worry, the bloomed bar will make for delicious drinking chocolate during winter 🙂 No chocolate ever goes to waste in my house!

To learn more about Marou and their various Vietnam origins, please visit their website: http://marouchocolate.com/chocolate-range/single-origin/

Bonus “M” bar – Marou Faiseurs De Chocolat

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/