In the bleak midwinter, and especially in the run-up to Valentine’s Day, nothing beats a chocolate binge. But doing it classily will make you feel much better about indulging. Wales resembles a vast selection box when it comes to innovative chocolatiers: the sort of box where you keep discovering unexpected surprises. Besides being extremely scrumptious, the pick of these also showcase Wales’ impressive repertoire of produce and culinary heritage. And if you choose your chocs wisely, there are few sweeter ways to get a real taste of the country’s flavours.
We whittled down a long list of more than 20 chocolate-makers across the country to a shortlist of those we felt are trying to do something really different and exciting with their chocolate, those that strive to use wonderful Welsh ingredients and those representing different regions of Wales. All, it goes without saying, had to be absolute highest quality, backed up by very good (4*+) reviews online.
Taking the above into account, making our final selection were superlative sweet-makers Ty Siocled from Caernarfon in North Wales, tantalising truffle virtuosos Trwffl from Milford Haven in Pembrokeshire and classy confectioners The Little Welsh Chocolate Company from Cwmbran in the South Wales Valleys.
The rules of the taste-off…
In this tasting we judged each chocolatier on eight of their top truffles or ganaches and one of their finest bars, to ensure we were appraising each on an equal footing. All three supplied dark and white chocs, and so it quickly became apparent we would be picking winners in several categories: best white chocolate, best dark chocolate, best chocolate bar and best overall chocolatier.
Three fine contestants, then, but which chocolatier will become Undiscovered Wales’ wonderbar winner?
Stepping up first to the tasting table were Ty Siocled (translation: chocolate house!) with their sweet shop and cafe cwtched on a little cobbled street by Caernarfon Castle. Chocolate-concocter Gavin Owen is a former Masterchef contestant with an all-round flair for fine cooking, and if first appearances of his chocolate boxes are anything to go by must know a few things about presentation too. Ty Siocled’s packaging is made with fragments of cacao shells, which wins them high marks for originality and sustainability even before we taste the first chocolate. The overall look of the selection is delightful, too. These are big chocolates both in size (why, they make ping-pong balls look small!) and in character, being fairly festooned with nuts, snowflaked in coconut and scattered with other flourishes of confectionary goodness that make them bounce out of the box at you with larger-than-life allure.
The nut-adorned Praline & Hazelnut and Peanut & Caramel immediately make their presence felt. Both were aesthetically charming crowd-pleasers: the former a milk chocolate and the latter a white, resembling irresistibly edible curled-up hedgehogs in the tray. All four tasters concurred the creaminess-caramelliness-nuttiness ratio of the Peanut & Caramel was very special indeed: there is nothing like tasting a chocolate that does not merely live up to the back-of-box description in flavour but actually confounds your expectations. The simply-titled Coconut meanwhile, looking like a wild, snow-blasted planet from a distant solar system, is texturally excellent, dealing a lingering smack of coconut to the back of the mouth. The Amaretto is another of their successes, hitting you up with alcohol at the beginning but with the almond making a subtle late entrance. There is an element of the old-school about Ty Siocled which makes us feel all nostalgic, like when you are three and still small enough to only reach up to your grandmother’s knees, and she produces a treat from her treat box for you because you have come to visit her and that is what grandmothers do. We did feel one or two chocolates, such as the Champagne, did not quite convey the flavours they were attempting, though, with only sweetness coming across in these cases. There is a lot of flavours out there at Ty Siocled, however, and some of the most tempting-looking, such as the Praline & Walnut, are not available on the day to try.
As for the bars, Ty Siocled’s are full of mighty clouts of flavour, as their Aromatic Ginger is only too happy to demonstrate. This dark chocolate wedge lets the striking, spot-on gingerness rush in through moonrock-like hunks of stem ginger. ‘A treat to always ensure you keep in your store cupboard,’ opines one taster who elaborates that this is a compliment: that there are flamboyant one-offs and comforting everyday treats where chocolate bars are concerned and that this belongs to the latter group, as that dependable something you just want to get out on a so-so Sunday to munch upon and feel better about the world.
Trwffl is the Welsh word for truffle, which is important to note because the next chocolatier up to the sampling stage, based down at the flashy marina in Pembrokeshire’s Milford Haven, have specialised up to now in truffles. They are only just moving into the bar market… and we at Undiscovered Wales were lucky enough to sample one of their very first! Trwffl are pretty slick, that much is instantly clear. Their sleek rectangular boxes of eight or sixteen two-by-two chocolates are glam night in, injecting-a-splash of fun and playfulness into the mix. They glitter out of the box at you, those sweet spheres…
Trwffl’s chocs are smaller than Ty Siocled’s but roll with a 40% chocolate make-up and so have a very cocoa-rich flavour. The beauty in the box is their Cafe Mocha, a triumphant upper cut to the tastebuds that will leave chocolate-lovers and coffee-lovers alike in raptures. It is Saturday morning, you have the whole weekend ahead of you and a cup of java to set you on the way when wham, you decide that what the hell, you are going to dunk some dark chocolate right into the middle of your cuppa, it melts in sweet blackness in front of you, you are in the mood to love the result and you do. The crunchy textural pièce de résistance of the coffee bean on top helps to achieve a little piece of chocolate heaven. The Praline is another highlight, crisp on the hazelnut and very agreeable in the mouth. The white-striped Sea Salt & Vanilla is too, made using Pembrokeshire sea salt although the vanilla does not really show itself. The Wild Rose invites parallels with Turkish Delight, albeit on a more sophisticated level, though we would have preferred more of a powerful citrus kick in their Luscious Lemon and Zesty Orange chocs.
We are honoured to be among the first to try Trwffl’s bars, though, and when we see the cream-and-red oblong of their highly original White Chocolate Eton Mess undressed before our devouring eyes we know we are in for a good night. It really is a chunky brick of a slab but finally we manage to crack it and, appetites whetted by the insane abstract canvas of white chocolate splattered generously with eye-catching raspberry, we dive in. The white chocolate is of a fine standard and the raspberry contributes a welcome top-of-mouth-tingling zing. The crushed meringue cowers all bashful at the back but even so, this is a step of intent into the chocolate bar business exhibiting an intuitive command of flavours.
The Little Welsh Chocolate Company…
Little in name, perhaps, are the final of our three contestants but not in nature: their mouth-watering chocolates are known for their pronounced flavours across South Wales and far beyond. We love that they have taken care to come at their chocolatiering responsibly and sustainably (their Belgian-made couverture is made with beans sourced fairly and ethically in the Dominican Republic). They do vegan chocolates too: another considerate touch. We also dig their sense of humour: chocolates arrive with fun gift cards emblazoned with definitions of cheeky phrases like ‘gincident’ (something that happens after one too many gins, obviously). And finally we applaud the fact that their chocolates make a point of harnessing Welsh-made products such as Merlyn Cream Liqueur from the Brecon Beacons’ Penderyn Distillery and Barti Ddu spiced rum from Pembrokeshire, itself infused with seaweed.
We begin with the astonishing and so-intense achievement of the Barra Brith Gin, a 72% cacao milk chocolate ganache (with a dark chocolate shell) laced with enough of the Snowdonia Spirit Co’s Barra Brith gin to get tipsy (or was it just the euphoric rush that a chocolate-tasting can bring?) with just one of these big dusky balls. The flavour does not fade away after the final morsel either but stays stamped on your mouth with sweet, boozy authority. Big scoops of cream have gone into this which help to coat your palate in ganache goodness. Another mad thwack on the tastebuds arrives with their Spiced Rum & Raisin dark chocolate ganache (with a milk chocolate shell). There is a Pirates-of-the-Caribbean cacophony of tastes in the seaweedy rum alone, the pieces of dried fruit are fat and enriching and the dark chocolate innards encased in a milk chocolate shell just exudes too much flavour to do justice to in a paragraph. Let us say that, if this one were a song, it would be a lengthy, poignant ballad, imbued with hidden meanings and sung after a few drinks at that phase of inebriation where you get all reflective and reminiscing – about past travels, past encounters, past experiences. Ah. There is not really a negative thing to say except to say that some flavours may be too strong for those accustomed to milder, less punchy chocolates. Or is that criticism another compliment in disguise?
Bar-wise, inventiveness and potent tastes are still very much the theme. We will start with the words of one of our tasters when sampling their first helping of Milk Chocolate & Barra Brith Gin: ‘not like travelling to Wales but like moving permanently to Wales and having its tastes surrounding you, always’. Barra brith, we should say, is the tea-soaked fruit cake that many consider Wales’ iconic sweet treat and the creamy gin-laced centre is rich with dried fruit, a sozzled ambassador for Welsh flavours. In many ways it is less like a chocolate bar and more like a complex dessert, but it’s one you want to have ready for when those guests to impress come round for a visit.
And the winner is…
We have totted up the tastes and compared and contrasted and critiqued these chocs over several enjoyable hours and can now reveal…
Best white chocolate: Peanut & Caramel, Ty Siocled. A big ball of nutty, caramelly love.
Best dark chocolate: Cafe Mocha, Trwffl (dark chocolate), Spiced Rum & Raisin, The Little Welsh Chocolate Company (dark chocolate ganache)
Best bar: Milk Chocolate & Barra Brith Gin, The Little Welsh Chocolate Company. A hearty, boozy ballad of a bar.
Best overall chocolatier: The Little Welsh Chocolate Company
Buy the chocolate
At Ty Siocled, Trwffl and The Little Welsh Chocolate Company online. But when you get the chance, the great thing about some of these three is that they have that experiential element to get fans of fine chocolate all excited. So Ty Siocled have an old-fashioned sweet shop, chocolate shop and little cafe serving their very own hot chocolate right by the magnificent Caernarfon Castle while Trwffl have a chocolate shop right on the balmy waterfront at Milford Haven marina. The Little Welsh Chocolate Company are primarily online only – for now.
NEXT ON THE JOURNEY: Finding out how to make your own chocolate with Brecon Breacons confectioners The Mallow Tailor.