The homeland of cocoa, Venezuela, lies in the north-west of South America and is to cocoa what Bordeaux is to wine -- the most famous growing region. Venezuela's plantations produce highly regarded Criollos such as the Chuao and the very pure Porcelana, and numerous single-origin chocolatiers have snapped up their harvest to produce some very good bars. Among them are the celebrated Chuao and Porcelana bars by Amedei and Domori. But Venezuela has much more to offer than just these famous and rare Criollo varieties. From here we also get some of the finest Trinitarios, such as the Carenero Superior and Rio Caribe, as well as less pure, but still outstanding Criollos such as the Ocumare 61 and 67 varieties. Domori features probably the widest range of Venezuelan single-origin chocolate, but other manufacturers also provide excellent Venezuelan bars, such as the Hacienda "El Rosario" by Bonnat or the Concepcion by Michel Cluizel. However, while you can expect a wonderfully rich tasting experience from these Venezuelan varieties, there are many exciting flavours and textures which you can only find elsewhere.
Most other countries in South America produce Trinitario, and some of it is very good. Trinidad, the home of this variety, is still a prominent producer. But the most interesting South American origin after Venezuela is probably Ecuador, with its Nacional (or "Arriba") Forastero. Not for the faint-hearted is the 82% Equateur bar from Richart, combining Nacional and Criollo, with its flavours of earth, burnt wood and tannin.
The Carribean also offers a variety of single-origin producers, such as Jamaica and Grenada as well as the Dominican Republic, which is an important souce of fair-trade cocoa. Carribean bars such as the Dominican Republic by New Yorker chocolatier Jacques Torres and the Jamaique from Pralus tend to feature strong and dry flavours of wood, earth, spice and tobacco.
Africa has several of the biggest cocoa producers in the world, such as the Ivory Coast and Ghana. However these produce mostly the Forastero for bulk chocolate rather than the Trinitario and Criollo of single-origin bars. There are however interesting exceptions, for instance the Forastero bar Cote d'Ivoire by Richart which reveals distinct notes of apples and nuts. Or the little island nation of Sao Tome & Principe (near the equator, off the west coast of Africa) which has given us bars such as the excellent Tamarina of Michel Cluizel.
The island of Madagascar, off the south-east coast of Africa is a highly interesting origin. Most of the cocoa is grown in the Ambanja region in the North of the country, from where Criollo and Trinitario cocoa finds its way into some remarkable chocolate, such as the Madagascar bars from Pralus, Bonnat, Jean-Paul Hevin, Chapon, Richart and Pierre Marcolini. Chocolate from here tends to carry strong citrus fruit notes, and has a slightly oily -- but by no means unpleasant -- texture. The Madagascan Criollo bars also provide particularly good examples of the distinct Criollo cocoa flavour, much more so than the better-known Venezuelan Criollos.
Another very exciting origin is Indonesia, north of Australia. Cocoa has a long history here, especially on the island of Java where Criollo trees were planted as early as 1560, barely half a century after Europeans first discovered cocoa in South America. Although none of those plantations survived for very long, Indonesia once again produces Criollo, and now also Trinitario. For perhaps the most striking Criollo flavour try the highly unusual Indonesian Melissa dark milk chocolate (45%) bar from Pralus, which features strong Criollo flavours paired with vanilla and caramel. This contrasts nicely with the darker Indonesie bar from Pralus, in which the Criollo flavour is accompanied by those of of liquorice and black treacle. Another bar from Indonesia is the Indonesie bar from Patrick Roger. A more intense experience than its Pralus cousin, this Criollo bar features a rich and complex array of flavours including berry fruits, wood, spice, smoke and tobacco.
We remain in South-East Asia and move only a little eastwards to Papua New Guinea, where the Maralumi plantation provides the raw material for the eponymous Maralumi bars of Michel Cluizel and Jean-Paul Hevin, both of which offer a very fruity, full-bodied taste with subtler undertones of spice and smoke. These excellent bars are interesting to contrast also because, while being from the same plantation, the Michel Cluizel bar is 64% while the Jean-Paul Hevin is 75%, making the former taste more like raisin while the latter leans more towards the sourness of citrus fruit. Richart also produces a notable bar from this origin, the Papouasie.