Nibs & Salt

by El Ceibo
Info Details
Country Bolivia   
Type Flavored   (77%; Nibs, Salt)
Strain Beniano   
Source Bolivia   (Alto Bení; Agua Clara)
Flavor Earthen   
Style Old School      
Nibs & Salt... quite the simulator for El Camino de la Muerte aka the Bolivian Highway of Death, known locally as the North Yungas Road. Generally acclaimed as the most treacherous route in the world. (Bobsledding around perilous ‘Shady’s Corner’ at “Lake Placid”, NY on the old upper track -- a gnarly hairpin bend of ancient creaking, built before computer models solved all mathematical equations related to engineering physics -- amounts to a cheap thrill & quick amusement park trick by comparison).

Back on N Yungas Rd... fathomless drops, infinite climbs, & high winds along a single mud-surface lane supporting 2-way traffic (forget brakes; practice your sliding technique). The only guardrail is la cumbre or the summit statue of Jesucristo! (highway-code for ‘send the ambulance’ except there’s no way to get there in time) ... add rain, fog, falling boulders & canyon ledges (oh, & waterfalls create landslides)... makes for the ultimate game of chicken & a biker’s dream chute (soft-tail rear suspension mandatory lest your bottom feel more sore than a night at a max-security pen).

A deathline & literally a rite-of-passage, natives pray to bless the journey prior to venturing forth & some even perform a challa or offering: ritual effigies of cars & trucks + a horrifically desiccated chicken; sprinkle cocoa leaves on the pile, then build a fire to burn the lot. Finally, break out some chibcha (beer) & get drunk before attempting the crossing... where crucifixes & makeshift shrines dot the artery, marking the spots of those who careened & were discarded, despite most of them hemmed-in by the false-security of wearing a seatbelt.

"If you go over the edge," one truck driver says, "jumping out the door or window is sometimes the only chance."

Might as well be driving on thin air.

Also, along the way wild dogs watch people pass with “hunger-bred intensity”. As a precaution, locals customarily carry maraqueta bread crumbs to ensure safe passage.

But the awe-inspired scenery makes it all worthwhile, so many ooohs ‘n ahhhhhs, OMGs + wows, the non-stop beauty almost becomes boring, if you can calm the panic for a second or two to enjoy it.

Heed the warnings; wear a crash helmet.

(Thanks to Jonathan Derksen & DLJ for sharing in the experience.)
Appearance   3 / 5
Color: magenta-brown
Surface: well-trod airside (littered with debris in defiance of the ‘Registro Sanitario’ code on the wrapper); the back basically Nestlé’s crunch – bubbles, grease spatter, & pock marks
Temper: dim
Snap: chips away; wall studded with oxide Nibs
Aroma   8.5 / 10
back on track... after El Ceibo’s disastrous 75%, this a reversion of type to the superior 85%: tannic panic-control... densely cutting cocoa (almost of an unsweetened powder mix) with leather back -> plantain moves onto light camu-camu + fuchsia (the combined F/X a lo-sweet kiwi / pepino melon) -> ichu grass steeped in coffee -> flint stone (yaba daba doo)
Mouthfeel   11.8 / 15
Texture: vortextural with a constellation of salt crystals & dagger-fang Nibs...
Melt: ... eventually squirm thru cacáo butter as velvet worms
Flavor   40.6 / 50
kick-starts beautiful honey & abiu fruit right on the heels of chocolate -> mocha-toffee brittle (sensational) -> hits a bump... ‘shrooming on black truffles & oyster mushrooms, then a pothole... smokes up chicharrón (fried meat) dipped in caramel sauce -> shifts into a raw beef outlet (iron oxides, some blood, & muscle) after frantically stomping on the burning brakes -> spins into a ditch of underlying bitter vines & topsoil -> dug out with the help of salt to conjurate popcorn, then cured chorizo jerky (a backcross of sorts to that chicharrón) -> spice twist (coriander, cardamom, & black pepper) restores chocolate order -> signature Boliviano blackcurrant cleaves thru like a butcher's knife -> hydroplanes into a fudge slide
Quality   15.1 / 20
Nothing faint-hearted about this; precious little finesse as it nearly careens out of control while displaying utter contempt & disregard for those onboard. Basically smash-mouth.

After sampling this release in several different bars / iterations, one pattern emerges: it’s highly erratic. Such are the ways of in-country plays to make Domori look incredibly consistent. In some, the salt, from Salar de Uyuni – the world’s largest salt flat -- hardly matters (did they forget & omit it?); in others, it triggers it to go all popcorn. The Nibs, however, never fail, always grinding away to the bottom.

Rather than discuss any technique (there's usually none), which seems as variable as a micro-climate weather report, just bite in & expect the unpredictable.

ING: cocoa mass, sugar, cacáo butter, soy lecithin, nibs, salt

Reviewed January 2011


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