R is for Río Tambo

Learning experiences can manifest themselves from even the most casual conversations! Let me explain…

As I was leaving my parents’ house tonight, I noticed that the TV station was showing Pope Francis’ visit to Peru, so I mentioned to my dad that I was going home to write about a chocolate made from Peruvian beans and took out my phone to show him the pictures that I had taken earlier in the morning. I zoomed in to the front of the packaging and said, “See…Río Tambo, Peru.” My dad loves quizzing me on esoteric words, so I shouldn’t have been surprised when he asked, “Do you know what ‘tambo’ means?” I didn’t. By his definition, it refers to a place where you can get milk from cows, which left me a little perplexed, so I did some research once I got home. According to online dictionaries, there are various meanings depending on which country you come from! In Paraguay (and apparently Argentina), it means a dairy farm or a milking yard (ah, NOW my dad’s explanation made sense!) In Bolivia or Ecuador, it means a wayside inn (for reference, the entry said that a tambo was an Incan structure that could be found along the roadside to store supplies or serve as lodging for itinerant military personnel). In Mexico, it’s the slang term for “jail”! I cannot begin to tell you how excited I am to discover alternate meanings of the word; I plan to “challenge” my dad to a rematch the next time I see him! 😉

When my dad looked at the packaging a second time and said, “What does Parliament have to do with this?” it was MY turn to teach him something new! Remember from last week? A group of owls is called a parliament!!

Unfortunately I didn’t find much information on the Río Tambo area. Aside from a map, a photo and some statistics, the one sentence Wikipedia entry lists that it is one of eight districts in the province of Satipo in the Junín region of Peru. Other Google searches indicate that it’s also the name of a Peruvian river on the eastern slopes of the Andes (though the name refers to only a 159 kilometer stretch!)

Information was more plentiful about the producers of the cacao beans: CAC Pangoa (aka La Cooperativa Agraria Cafetelera Pangoa) and especially the General Manager for the past 20 years: Doña Esperanza Dionisio Castillo. After reading this article, I’m left thinking if a name can shape a person’s destiny. Esperanza means “hope” and she definitely lives up to her name, working tirelessly to ensure a better future for her 700+ member farmers who often have diversified crops of both coffee and cacao (cacao in the lower altitudes and coffee in the higher altitudes). Now I wonder whether there will be coffee notes in the chocolate bar I’m about to taste…let’s see!

Parliament Chocolate – Peru: Río Tambo 70% Dark Chocolate

As usual, the artwork on the front of the packaging is exquisitely rendered and frame-worthy! Seriously, I’m thinking about creating a collage of all the different owl illustrations!

The medium brown-colored bar made up of 24 tiny rectangles with a matte finish and some air bubbles at the corners might look unassuming, but one whiff of the deep, fruity/earthy aroma lets you know that the flavor will be unique and nuanced.

With a sharp snap, I was easily able to segment 2 rows of three rectangles; really I only wanted just one row, but fate intervened 😉 I’m still at a loss as to how to accurately describe the texture since it was not completely smooth, nor gritty either. I’m sure there a term I need to learn, maybe I should ask my dad! 😉

Melting a rectangle on my tongue was like going on a roller coaster: raisin/dessert wine sweetness; flashes of citrus, acidic/buttermilk tang; bursts of juicy red fruit, like cherries or summer berries. At the end of that ride of flavors, there was some mild astringency + a long lasting (yet pleasant) aftertaste.

If you’ve been following me for a while, you know it wouldn’t be a complete post without me showing you the back of the bar and this one reminds me of a Picasso painting or a mosaic! It also looks like letters are popping out.

Please leave me a comment to let me know what YOU see!

Would you like to experience this bar for yourself? Please visit Parliament Chocolate’s website for details: http://www.parliamentchocolate.com/

And if there are esoteric words you think could stump my dad…bring it on!

Q is for Q’eqchî

Looks like I’m “bending the rules” a bit with my definition of “origin” again this week. Honestly, I saw Guatemala: Q’eqchi on the packaging and thought “DONE!” This round of the Alphabet has been such a learning experience, making me realize that there is generally more than meets the eye when it comes to labeling!

Q’eqchî (sometimes written as Kekchi) refers to both the indigenous Maya peoples of Guatemala and Belize, as well as their Mayan language.

Since Q’eqchî isn’t a point on the map, I wanted to know more about where the cacao was grown. Luckily, the farmer (Hector A. Ruiz Chub), is quoted on the back of the Parliament Chocolate packaging: “Cacao is a valuable tradition that comes from our Mayan ancestors and has been passed from generation to generation. Q’eqchi families from the eco-region of Lachua dedicate themselves to the cultivation of cacao to produce the highest quality product, to better the economy of our families and helping at the same time to preserve the environment for our future generations.”

OK, so now I had Lachuá as a starting point for additional investigation! Flipping through the PDF version of Uncommon Cacao’s 2016 Transparency Report provided further information about the area:

“Laguna Lachuá is a large pristine cenote lake deemed a national park in 1976 and a Ramsar site in 2006.”

Wow…just one seemingly simple sentence and there were already 2 terms that I wasn’t familiar with! Cenote describes a deep natural well or sinkhole that was formed by the collapse of limestone and generally means that groundwater can be found there. The Ramsar Convention is an intergovernmental treaty which designates wetland sites of international importance, works to conserve those areas, and ensures their sustainable use. It never ceases to amaze me that a whole new world can be discovered, one chocolate bar at a time 🙂

Based on information found on Uncommon Cacao’s website, these Lachuá farmers also grow cardamom and corn in addition to cacao. Ooh, now doesn’t that sound like an awesome combination of ingredients for a chocolate bar?! Hint, hint to anyone out there reading this 😉

After all that preamble, I’m getting hungry to taste the chocolate!!

Parliament Chocolate – Guatemala: Q’eqchi 70%

One of the things that I love most about Parliament Chocolate’s thick, textured, paper outer wrapper sleeves is that they generally have a detailed and whimsical illustration of a black & white owl on the front; this one is wearing what might be the traditional dress of the Q’eqchî?!

In case you’re curious, a group of owls is called a parliament, hence this is the perfect logo for this company!

Removing the nearly 2 ounce bar, made up of 24 tiny conjoined rectangles, from the wax lined foil inner wrapper, I noticed that the top surface was lightly frosted. Not sure what caused this, maybe the chocolate was too cold or beginning to bloom?

For contrast/perspective, I used my fingertip to lightly buff the rectangle on the bottom right corner. See the difference in color/finish?

The back of the bar was also visually interesting. Is it only me, or does it look like a lunar landscape?! I used a “dramatic cool” filter for the photo.

There was a dry/brittle snap when breaking off tasting morsels from the full bar, but a sharp snap when segmenting individual rectangles.

Honey and nutty notes wafted to my nose at the break point and there was a light yogurt-like tang during the smooth, slow/even melt which ended with an astringent finish. Subsequent toothy bites, which crumbled when chewed, reminded me of juicy berries, jam or a creamy parfait!

Next time YOU pick up a bar of chocolate…just remember that hidden beneath each humble label, there are stories just waiting to be told!

For more information about bean-to-bar maker Parliament Chocolate based in Redlands, California, please visit their website: http://www.parliamentchocolate.com/

P is for Papaikou

Maybe it’s the post-holiday blues or that I’ve been trying not to succumb to the cold/flu bug that’s been going around…but I just haven’t been motivated to write my featured “P” post this week 😢 That and mid-week I abruptly changed my mind about which bar to post! 😲

Whenever I feel less-than-enthusiastic, the thing that keeps me going is the fascinating information that I learn each time I research a new origin!

Did you know that in the eyes of the U.S. Census Bureau, there are no incorporated areas in the state of Hawaii below the county level (as in the county of Hawaii)? This means that even large cities like Honolulu or Hilo are considered a Census Designated Place (CDP) for statistical data purposes only! According to Wikipedia, there were 1,314 people in Papaikou in 2010, down from 1,414 during the 2000 census. To put that number into perspective for me, there were about 1,200 students in my high school; which must mean that Papaikou is a close-knit community!

Pāpa’ikou is located on the east side of the “Big Island” of Hawaii, north of the county seat of Hilo. In addition to seeing the small cacao farms and the Tropical Botanical Garden, I’d love to visit the Hawaii Plantation Museum to learn more about the area’s sugar plantation era from its beginning in the early 1860s until the last mill closed in 1996.

Now for the chocolate itself!

In November, when I visited the month-old Romeo Chocolates shop on Historic Pine Avenue in Long Beach, California, I was surprised that, in addition to their own chocolate confections, they were selling co-branded chocolate bars made by Mānoa in Hawaii.

Though it doesn’t say so on the packaging itself, I found additional information about this 50% milk chocolate bar on Mānoa’s website:

“These beans were sourced from Tom Sharkey of Hilo Sharks Coffee and Colin Hart-whom we have sourced since 2015. Sharkey and Colin harvest pods from 6 farms in the Hilo Paliku area, which spans from Wailuku River to Hakalau and the Puna District. They return to Sharkey’s farm to crack and extract wet seed before loading the fermentation boxes. Sharkey and Colin maintain the orchards and manage the post-harvest handling, which is paramount for quality.”

Unclasping the gold foil stamped and embossed outer cardboard packaging, I could immediately see that the plastic inner wrapper had become stuck to the light brown bar and knew that the visual finish would be shiny and marred in spots.

Despite this, the bar sported an intricate mold design on the front with the company name encircled in the center and stylized cacao pods and/or leaves at the top and bottom sections.

At first whiff, the aroma reminded me of peanut butter, but then became more grassy/herbal…which made me wonder if this smell came from the beans themselves, the post-fermentation process or the milk that was used?! If anyone has additional information, I’d love to hear about it!

The bar broke apart easily with a sharp snap, revealing a cross section that was completely smooth in places and looked like Swiss cheese, dotted with air bubbles, in others.

At the break point, there were subtle toasted milk/caramel notes. This aroma carried over to the overall taste during the slow/even, creamy melt. Rather than change or evolve, the flavor remained consistent during the entire tasting and lasted well after the chocolate was gone from my mouth. Honestly, if you told me that this bar was made with camel’s milk (or a non-cow’s milk), I would believe you! Have YOU tried this bar? If so, please leave a comment below with your thoughts/impressions!

To learn more about Mānoa, please visit their website: https://manoachocolate.com/

O is for O’Payo

In a completely unintended coincidence, this week’s featured bar is also NOT an origin, but another trademarked name from Ingemann Cacao Fino (Fine Cacao), as I discovered last week while researching my “N” bar. Who would have predicted that finding appropriate origins would be so challenging?! However, even if I resorted to choosing chocolates from countries whose name starts with a given letter, did you know that only Oman starts with “O”?! (besides, I don’t think they grow cacao there!)

SIDEBAR NOTE: While I love Brasstown’s re-designed colorful packaging accented with gold foil stamping and featuring a silhouette of the Managua, Nicaragua skyline at the bottom, I was really hoping to receive one of their older packaging bars since that is what was listed on Amazon.com as being stocked by Caputo’s Market & Deli in Utah.

According to the inside of the box, “O’Payo cacao beans are sourced from Waslala, from the Bosawás Nature Preserve in the northern mountains of Nicaragua. This area was declared a biosphere reserve by UNESCO in 1997. These fruity cacao beans are produced by a cooperative of about 150 farmers located in the largest rainforest in Central America.”

It was interesting to learn that this Western Hemisphere rainforest is second only to Brazil’s Amazon! Want to know more about this area? Here is the link from the UNESCO website.

Removing the thin rectangular bar from the slightly too large plastic inner pouch, my nose was greeted with a strong roasted coffee aroma.

The glossy dark brown color/finish was marred by a multitude of tiny burst air bubbles (often in a straight line running down the length of the bar) amongst the detailed mold design of repeating diamonds and compasses.

As always, I’m fascinated with the images that I find on the backs of bars. By tweaking the photo below with a “noir” filter, the image “pops” more visibly. I see a platypus swimming next to the Muppet character “Beaker” – leave me a comment of what YOU see!

Segmenting tasting morsels with a medium snap (which sent tiny fragments of chocolate flying everywhere), there was an apricot and mango smell at the breaking point.

Placing a piece in my mouth, I experienced an immediate tropical flavor that reminded me of feijoa (pineapple guava), which then evolved to floral jasmine tea notes. Initially the slow/even melt felt cooling and refreshing on my tongue, but then became cumulatively more astringent during the finish. Chewing a piece (rather than melting it) intensified the acidic taste at the back of the throat. Seems like a little of this chocolate goes a long way since subsequent tastings during the same sitting were less pleasant than earlier ones. What causes this to happen and have you ever experienced anything like that before?! Please let me know!

For additional information on this Winston-Salem, NC craft chocolate maker, please visit their website: http://www.brasstownchocolate.com/

Can you believe that this is the last post of 2017! My Alphabet adventures will continue in a few days once we ring in the NEW YEAR! Wishing everyone a chocolate-filled 2018!

N is for Nicalizo

Every day affords us the chance to learn something new if we maintain an open mind and embrace the opportunities that are placed on our paths!

As I was putting together a list of bars to feature for this round of the Alphabet, Nicalizo kept popping into my mind, probably because I’ve tried this “origin” a couple of times already this year. What I didn’t realize until today was that Nicalizo is NOT an origin, but the trademarked name of a Trinitario-Acriollado variety of cacao that grows in the northern mountains of Nicaragua near the Honduras border which was identified/propagated by Ingemann Cacao Fino (Fine Cacao) located outside the capital city of Managua. Also, Nicalizo® was the first Nicaraguan cacao to be awarded Heirloom Cacao Preservation status; they are number 8 of 13, so far.

For a while now, I’ve been envious of my fellow chocolate bloggers who have been posting about Lithuanian Chocolate Naive’s nano-lot bars, so (of course) I had to get one for myself. When you hear the term “nano-lot,” what comes to mind? That the maker produced a very small number of bars? That the grower’s yield was limited? Both of these are certainly plausible! According to the packaging, it sounds like the “nano” designation comes from the fact that chocolate maker, Domantas Uzpalis, was able to “secure the very last 60kg [approx. 132 lbs.] of this special lot that was supervised and preserved by mad cocoa fermentation scientist Zoi Papalexandratou PhD. in mid-2015.” A quick look on LinkedIn shows that Dr. Zoi is the former Head of Research & Development + Post-Harvest Management for Ingemann Fine Cacao and that she specializes in cocoa fermentation as it relates to flavor development.

Are you sufficiently intrigued?! Well, then let’s get to tasting the chocolate!!

The plain black and white cardboard box with the embossed logo of a man riding a unicycle (which will be repeated on the chocolate bar itself) is in stark contrast to the vibrant packaging that I’ve seen from Chocolate Naive recently! The only pop of color comes from the double-sided informational insert that holds the wrapped bar in place within the box.

Taking a closer look at the insert, you learn what makes these beans special:

As you might expect, the bar is a light brown, almost like a mocha or café au lait. It surprised me to discover milk powder as an ingredient since I was expecting this to be a dark chocolate bar (though I wasn’t able to find any cacao percentage listed either on the packaging or the company website).

Even though the front of the bar sports a near flawless, textured, matte finish, the back of the bar looks a bit lumpy by comparison.

In the photo below, I’ve used a silver tone filter and zoomed in to what appears to me as a friendly dragon or partially decorated Christmas tree. What do YOU see?! 🤔

Earthy and freshly-ground coffee bean smells greeted my nose upon removing the bar from the sealed pouch. Breaking off a morsel with a sharp snap, there was a dairy/milky aroma at the break point.

While there were initial quick bursts of fruit flavors as the chocolate melted on my tongue, those evolved to honey/caramel/nutty notes and ended with what I can only describe as a “dusty” finish (imagine papery walnut skins). Subsequent tastes brought out lightly smoky notes. The texture seemed a little crumbly when chewed, resulting in a thick mouthfeel which coated the tongue + palate. There was certainly a long lasting chocolate aftertaste, though I didn’t use a stopwatch to confirm if it matched the 9 minutes quoted on the packaging insert!

As a parting thought, I wanted to share that prior to tasting the bar this morning, last night I listened to episode 17 of the “Unwrapped: A conversation about chocolate” podcast which discussed microlots, exclusives, scarcity and rarity. While Sunita & Brian’s 50 minute chat was rambling at times, it certainly made me consider whether terms like “nano-lot” are just clever marketing tools to hook those of us with a FOMO (fear of missing out). I’d like to think that wasn’t my (subconcious) motivation! 😲

Although this bar is sold out on Chocolate Naive’s website, you can still find it on Cacao Review’s website (at least at the time of this post).

If you’ve tried this bar or have an opinion on the term “nano-lot,” I’d love to hear from you. Send me a message or leave a comment below.

Stay open to new learning experiences each day & early Merry Christmas!

M is for Matasawalevu

One of my most favorite things about this round of the Eating the Chocolate Alphabet project (aside from tasting the bars themselves, of course) has been discovering interesting tidbits about where the cacao for those chocolate bars was grown. One esoteric piece of information can easily transport me down more than one “rabbit hole” of research. I have to say that this origin was a little more challenging than most since I found various spellings online (sometimes within the same source document): Matasawalevu, Mataswalevu or even Matacawalevu! I’m a stickler for accuracy, so hopefully someone out there who has personally visited the area can tell me how it SHOULD be spelled!!

Although I’ve seen friends’ beach and surfing vacation photos taken in Fiji, it wasn’t until today that I took time to learn more about the island country that is 1,100 nautical miles northeast of New Zealand. The Republic of Fiji (as it is officially known) is an archipelago consisting of more than 330 islands, though only 110 of those islands are inhabited and just the two largest ones make up almost ninety percent of the total population.

While it might seem that cacao is a recent agricultural commodity for the country, its history dates back to when the British colonized the area in the 1880s. In fact, it surprised me to learn that there is a cacao pod depicted on the country’s flag. Here is a close up of the coat of arms and you can see the pod being held in the lion’s paws!

Source: Wikipedia

The cacao industry dwindled during the country’s political unrest of the late-1980s, but has seen a resurgence recently thanks in part by the efforts of Mr. Arif Khan who returned to his native homeland after working as a realtor in California for almost 20 years. You can read more about that story through this link. Mr. Khan’s cacao farming, processing and trading company, Cacao Fiji, has been working closely with the Matasawalevu/Mataswalevu Cocoa Farm located in the foothills, overlooking the Dreketi River in the Macuata Province of Vanua Levu (the second largest island of Fiji, which was formerly known as Sandalwood Island). So far, I’ve only seen this origin used by a few craft chocolate makers: one in California, one in Canada and another in New Zealand.

I happen to have two makers’ bars in my stash, but I’m featuring the one from New Zealand: Hogarth’s Early Harvest 2016 Fiji 73% dark chocolate.

This is personally one of the most highly anticipated bars of the series after seeing fellow chocolate bloggers post pictures of this brand’s other bars. The 3D relief artwork on the textured outer wrapper is both evocative and elegant in its simplicity.

Upon unfolding the lined metallic gold paper inner wrapper from the bar, there was a super intense dried fruit aroma. Sadly that smell faded shortly after the bar was exposed to the air. It was breathtaking to finally see the stunningly detailed mold: the rolling waves from the packaging echoed again on the bar itself with a monogrammed “H” taking center stage.

The relatively thick bar felt substantial in my hand and it seemed to require a bit of effort to break off a tasting morsel without marring the overall aesthetic integrity of the bar. With a somewhat dry/brittle snap, I was able to segment a fairly even rectangle. Splitting that in half with a sharp snap, when I placed the pieces together for a “cross section” photo, it almost looked like a pair of little clogs or low-heeled dancing slippers!

All my tongue could detect during the slow, smooth, even melt were the ridges from the intricate mold design. Overall, the flavor reminded me of a bittersweet dense flourless chocolate cake or a velvety dessert wine. Chewing a piece brought out nutty/roasted notes which finished with a light citrus/acidic aftertaste at the back of the throat & upper palate.

Now that I’ve tried this bar, I’m intrigued to taste other chocolates made from Forastero Amelonado cacao. Do YOU have any recommendations?!

Next time I visit New Zealand, you can be sure that I’ll want to visit Hogarth and stock up on more of their gorgeous bars. Please visit their website for more details: https://www.hogarthchocolate.co.nz/wp/

L is for Loma Quita Espuela

Originally I was going to avoid inclusion bars this round (unless absolutely necessary) since “Round 2” was dedicated to them. However, once I saw this bar as part of Chocswap 2.0 with Lilla from Little Beetle Chocolates, I knew I couldn’t find a better (or more unique sounding) “L” origin!

The highest elevation within the city of San Francisco de Macorís in the North Region of the Dominican Republic is at Loma Quita Espuela. In case you’re curious about the name, here is what I found on Wikipedia:

“This name allegedly comes from the time when the Spaniards were exploring the island, since the hill was too steep to ride their horses, they had to dismount and remove their spurs and undertake the ascent on foot.”

It certainly sounds like an amazing place to experience nature, based on what I’ve seen from this website!

Now for the chocolate itself: Kilian & Close 52% D.R. with Périgord walnuts

Love the simplicity of this sturdy cardboard packaging with interlocking folds that remind me of a modified “dovetail joint” or “tongue and groove” assembly. There is a single triangular notched tab keeping the box closed and the plastic-wrapped bar tightly nestled within. In retrospect, the bar might have been too secure since the inner wrapper clung to the chocolate in places, leaving several shiny spots.

Honestly, I was NOT expecting there to be several candied walnut halves adhered to the back of the bar, though I should have guessed there might be visible inclusions when the package felt thick in my hand.

As if to alleviate my conscience (about only using non-inclusion, single origin bars for this round of the Alphabet), there were several spots sans walnuts so that I could taste the chocolate on its own!! 💕

The bar segmented easily with a sharp snap and there were hardly any air bubbles at the breaking point.

Handling the tasting morsels with my fingers, I noticed that the chocolate had an ultra-smooth, plastic-like texture to the touch. Perhaps this explains why it was difficult to melt on the tongue? Switching to chewing, creamy, nutty, caramel notes emerged. The flavor remained consistent throughout the tasting, until I got to a piece with the candied walnuts. Chomping on a walnut, there were earthy and lightly bitter notes relegating the slow roasted Dominican Republic cocoa beans to “second fiddle.”

Speaking of the walnuts, these come from Périgord (the old name for the former province in southwestern France) which, as of September 30, 2016, has a new name: Nouvelle-Aquitaine. In 2002, these walnuts were awarded PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) status even though they have been in the area since the Middle Ages!

Since Lilla purchased this bar in Germany during her summer road trip, the label is entirely in German.

It wasn’t until AFTER my tasting that I decided to translate the ingredient list. I was surprised to see coconut blossom sugar as the first ingredient and that there was also coconut milk powder at the end of the list! The flavor notes all make much more sense now! Not sure why I didn’t originally make the connection that there would be an alternate milk to retain its vegan certification! 😲

I’m slowly learning to embrace serendipity since not knowing all the information in advance allows you to taste without prejudice and pre-conceptions. 🙂 This was certainly a delicious journey of discovery!

To learn more about Kilian & Close, please visit their website: http://www.kilian-close.com/en.htm

K is for Kafupbo

Let me start off by saying that Kafupbo is technically NOT an origin. It’s a cooperative of about 500 small cacao producers in Petit Bourg de Borgne in northern Haiti.

For Wm. Chocolate’s first collaboration bar, owner & chocolate maker Will Marx teamed up with the Madison, Wisconsin-based non-profit Singing Rooster who has partnered with Kafupbo since 2015. Singing Rooster was established in 2009 to connect Haitian artists and agricultural producers to the U.S. market as a way to combat widespread poverty in Haiti.

While I was researching Kafupbo and Singing Rooster yesterday afternoon, I discovered online articles about other chocolate makers who have also used these beans. In fact, just yesterday morning I tried a dark milk chocolate bar from K’ul that mentioned Petit Bourges, Haiti. Is this coincidence or a case of the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon?! 😲

I love when chocolate makers are creative with their packaging! In this case, Wm. Chocolate used a wraparound photo, taken by Singing Rooster, showing piles of fermented cocoa beans being dried in the sun.

Another neat feature of the packaging that will catch your eye is the “spider chart” which denotes the intensity of certain flavor characteristics on a zero to five scale. You can see that this bar is fairly roasty, earthy, spicy and nutty, as well as cocoa flavored and sweet.

Once you become familiar with tasting craft chocolates and take note of the flavor profiles that you most enjoy, this type of chart will help you pinpoint which bars hit that “sweet spot” combination.

Removing the slender bar, made up of 12 unadorned beveled rectangles, from the compostable heat-sealed inner wrapper, the appearance was neither shiny nor flat/dull. I’m guessing the correct term would be a “satin” finish? Please let me know if there is a better way of describing this!!

There was a robust roasted and chocolate aroma and deep dark brown color, which you would expect from an 80% bar. Someone needs to invent “smell-o-vision” for the internet, don’t you think?! 😉

While, I don’t often expect to find designs on the backs of bars, I’m always amused and entertained when I do. Take a look at the picture below & let me know what YOU see. I see a myopic caterpillar wearing glasses or the fictional movie character ET, frowning while stuck in a dryer exhaust tube!

The bar segments easily with a sharp snap, leaving interesting shear patterns behind and what appears to be some unrefined Costa Rican cane sugar crystals at the break point.

Prior to tasting, my nose detected either herbal or honey aromas. Popping a piece in my mouth, I could instantly feel a “cooling” sensation on my tongue during the slow, even and creamy melt. If I remember correctly, this sensation is caused by the added cocoa butter content. Herbal, malty, earthy or spice notes danced in my mouth. At the finish, the flavors reminded me a bit of a bowl of oatmeal, oatmeal cookies or whole wheat bread.

The chocolate is “toothy” and solid when you bite into it and I experienced bursts of vibrant fruit flavor while chewing the tasting morsel. Oddly enough, this method seemed to leave a film on my teeth. While 80% is a bit higher in percentage than I generally enjoy, I’m wondering how this will taste as a hot chocolate beverage…more experiments to follow, for sure! Happy National Chocolates Day! 🍫🎉

To learn more about Wm. Chocolate’s philosophy behind chocolate making, please visit: https://www.wmchocolate.com/

J is for Jangareddygudem

India as an origin for cacao seems to be having a “moment” as this is the third origin I’ve tasted in as many months. Luckily I noticed that Palo Alto’s The Chocolate Garage stocked all three bars before they were officially released by the maker, Areté Fine Chocolate.

Unlike some of the other places I’ve featured so far, I wasn’t able to find much about the town of Jangareddygudem online. However, Wikipedia revealed that the process of electronic auctioning of tobacco was first introduced in India at the Jangareddygudem Tobacco Board. Does this mean that tobacco is a main source of revenue for this upland agency area?!

Thankfully typing “Jangareddygudem chocolate” into the Google search box yielded more information! From a completely different maker’s website, I discovered that the beans for this bar were grown by a collective of 12 farms in the upper west mountain area within a 20 kilometer radius of the town. As you might imagine, small farms like these aren’t able to sell their products widely, so additional crops need to be grown in order to make ends meet. For example, two of the farms grow their cacao under palm (oil) trees while the rest use coconut trees as the shade crop.

Removing this 70%, 3-ingredient bar from the plastic inner pouch, the aroma reminded me of dried fruit like raisins or prunes.

If you’ve been following me for a while, you’ll know that I’m fascinated with the backs of bars. I’ve tweaked the photo below with a “silver tone” filter to showcase what appears to me as an “image within an image.” The larger outline looks like the tilted head and body of a penguin in profile and within that is a bald scrawny buzzard with a rosette boutonnière standing on one leg. Did I mention I have an overactive imagination?! 😲

As usual, the front had a nearly pristine matte finish featuring the company logo of a woman floating in mid-air with an outstretched arm reaching for a star. To me, the “ghosting” circle above her head looks like a full moon.

Surprisingly, this bar had a brittle snap and the breaking point looked a little ashy white at one corner. There were also a few air bubbles visible.

While the chocolate had a velvety smooth and even melt, I struggled to put words to that first taste. The only thing I could come up with was malty or woody. Once my palate became acclimated, I experienced short-lived juicy and tangy/bright red fruit notes that seemed to burst quickly and then disappear like a fleeting breeze. Melting a piece on the tongue was preferable to chewing since that seemed to leave a film on my teeth and some astringency on the finish. Honestly, I’m undecided if I like this flavor profile and it would seem that John Nanci from Chocolate Alchemy also had initial reservations. I found this product description a few days AFTER my own tasting.

It’s evening as I write this post and I’m re-tasting the bar a few morsels at a time. My palate and lips still feel cotton-y dry after the chocolate is gone from my mouth, but now I taste mildly smoky (charcoal), walnut or caramel notes. The evolution of this bar is a prime example of why it’s a good idea to taste chocolate multiple times and at different times of the day to see if the flavors change. If you taste this bar, I’d love to hear YOUR impressions!

For more information about Areté Fine Chocolate’s growing portfolio of chocolate bars, please visit their website: http://www.aretefinechocolate.com/

I is for Izabal

These days, I’m constantly on the lookout for new chocolate origins; however, sometimes I get so excited about discovering a new place, that I forget to write down who makes (or sells) the bar 😮 Such was the case with Izabal, Guatemala. Apparently, I dutifully typed the name into my “wish list” spreadsheet at the beginning of October, but neglected to note the maker, foolishly thinking “I’ll remember when it comes time for that letter of the Alphabet.” By late-October, my mind was a blank. EEKS! Now what?!

Instagram Stories to the rescue! For a day, this “plea for help” appeared:

Lucky for me, a fellow chocolate enthusiast reminded me that one of my favorite chocolate makers, Violet Sky, sells a bar made with Izabal beans! Looking back, I was able to trace my first discovery of the origin. Thanks to chocolate maker Hans Westerink’s excellent customer service, he was already holding a bar for me! ❤️  The day after returning from a busy trip to Seattle’s Northwest Chocolate Festival, he shipped me a bar which arrived yesterday, just in time for the end of “I” week!

The coastal Department (what we would call a state) of Izabal surrounds Guatemala’s largest lake and is bordered on the North by Belize and on the East by Honduras. This area has a rich ecosystem and a mixture of Mayan and Garifuna cultures. The Garifuna people (which are found primarily in Belize, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua) are an Afro-Caribbean mixed race, follow this link to read more.

I was fascinated to learn that at Hacienda Rio Dulce, where the beans were grown, hardwood trees like mahogany and rosewood are intercropped with the fine flavor cacao varietals. Here is a short video from the Izabal Agro Forest website which shares the sights and sounds of the plantation/farm.

Just look at rainbow of colorful pods!

Source: Izabal Agro Forest website

Now for the chocolate bar you’ve been waiting to hear about! Two-ingredient 77% Izabal, Guatemala.

I love that the bar looks like a holiday-wrapped present with its thick, textured, silver outer paper and bright green informational band. The folds are kept closed in the back with a similarly colored sticker. Since I like to keep that informational sticker intact, I’ve found an ingenious way of unfolding the outer paper so that I can simply slide the shiny foil wrapped bar out of the top or bottom. Voilà!

There is an elegant simplicity to the glossy shine of the 28-rectangle bar (though I need to be careful since it takes fingerprints easily!)

Sometimes it’s the little, often overlooked, details that make me the happiest, like the “shear pattern” that emerges or the cross section texture after segmenting a tasting morsel with a sharp snap.

The flavor of that first piece reminded me of tart fruit with a yogurt-like tang; sort of like cherries and kefir. The smooth, even, creamy melt had a velvet mouthfeel that coated my tongue. The second piece tasted like hazelnuts during the melt and when chewed, it reminded me of a thick fudge with a roasted/earthy aroma.

And to think that I almost missed the opportunity to sample and feature this bar! I’ve definitely learned my lesson: don’t leave things to chance, TAKE DETAILED NOTES IMMEDIATELY! 🙂

For more information on Violet Sky, please visit their website http://www.violetskychocolate.com/ or Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/Violetskychocolate/