E is for Ethereal Confections

From Merriam-Webster – Ethereal (adj.):  resembling heaven; seeming to belong to another world.

About three months ago, I purchased this handcrafted inclusion bar at a local natural foods store that strives to sell only pure, ethical and sustainable products.


While I realize that the “best by” date expired already (Ethereal recommends consuming the bar within a month of purchase), I was willing to take a risk and wait to consume it as part of the Eating the Chocolate Alphabet series. Even though the chocolate did experience some temperature fluctuations, it did not disappoint in terms of taste and overall appearance.

The foil wrapped bar bulged within its paper outer wrapper, giving me an indication of the generous amount of premium ingredients that were just bursting to be tasted.



The two sisters who run Ethereal use their own unique recipes and craft each bar by hand to create the perfect balance of chocolate and nuanced fusion flavor combinations. This 66% dark chocolate paired with Macadamia nuts, dried raspberries and Kaffir lime leaves takes you on a multi-sensory journey. First you see & smell the nuts and berries; then you sink your teeth into those two crunchy main ingredients and lastly you taste the citrusy lime leaves that must have infused the chocolate itself.



Can’t wait to try the rest of their heavenly flavor combinations, though (to be honest) I’m afraid that their scorpion chile/bourbon/sea salt/pecan bar might pack a little too much heat to be considered “ethereal” for me 😉

Check out their website for all the details about their quaint Victorian storefront café in the heart of the bucolic/serene town of Woodstock, IL (better known as the setting for the “Groundhog Day” movie):  https://www.etherealconfections.com/

D is for Dandelion Chocolate

Next time I visit San Francisco, I’m going straight to the Dandelion Chocolate Factory & Café in the Mission District to get my own single-origin chef’s tasting menu or a brownie bite flight paired with European drinking chocolate! I’m envious of all the photos I’ve seen posted on Instagram recently!

When I was putting together the list of bars that I wanted to try for the Eating the Chocolate Alphabet series, I knew that I had to include Dandelion based on all the information I had read about them. As an added bonus, they are located in my home state of California!

As is the case with many small-batch bean-to-bar chocolate makers, Dandelion had to be inventive with the machinery and equipment that they would be using. Fortunate for us, the two founders are “technology nerds” who seem to have a talent for re-tooling electronics. What started as a garage or basement experiment for the fun of it has turned into a booming business where sometimes they simply can’t produce enough chocolate bars to satisfy the demand. To learn more, check out this article from Chocolate Noise: http://www.chocolatenoise.com/dandelion-chocolate/

So, until I have the chance to visit them in person, I’ll just have to make do with this 2014 harvest 70% bar from San Francisco de Macorís in the Dominican Republic which only has 2 ingredients: cocoa beans & cane sugar. Dandelion avoids extraneous ingredients so that the unique flavors and characteristics of the bean can be highlighted.


I love the thick and rustic cream colored hand-made paper from India that they use for the outer wrapper, which I believe are also hand silk-screened with gold colored accents. My only wish is that the pasted on labels were easier to remove so that the wrapper could be recycled in a creative way…it’s just too pretty to throw out!


One thing that caught my eye is that the wrapper featured the names of two employees who helped with this particular bar: Kaleb was recognized for writing the roast profile description and Greg received kudos for directly sourcing the organic beans. I was fascinated with the unique fermentation and drying technique used for these beans: http://www.dandelionchocolate.com/our-beans/oko/

Am I alone in feeling like a klutz when opening the carefully hand-folded foil wrappers? If only I could re-create the crisp, neat origami-esque folds after sampling the bar. Maybe the solution is to eat the entire bar in one sitting so that I don’t need to worry about wrapping the leftovers?! 😉

The simplicity in design is also evident in the mold that they use, which produces a bar with 18 rectangles, each with 5 squiggly lines that make me think of ocean waves.



The squares were easy to break apart (I blame the current heatwave for the lack of sharp snap). This released a pleasant roasty aroma that gave me a hint of what the chocolate would taste like. To me, the chocolate had tart, fruity notes (like cranberries) in addition to an earthy flavor. While it wasn’t gritty, there was definitely a thicker (less smooth) mouthfeel.

I just had to laugh when I read a recent post from the Dandelion blog about the challenges of chocolate “fatigue” when tasting chocolate day in and day out…but someone has to do it & I’m glad they are “sacrificing” themselves to ensure continued quality 🙂

If you’re like me & want to plan your San Francisco culinary “wish list” in advance, check out: https://www.dandelionchocolate.com/

Bonus “C” bar – Cacao Atlanta Chocolate Company

Before you judge me too harshly for still eating Christmas chocolate in June…in my defense, I only received this Cacao Atlanta Limited Edition 60% dark chocolate crushed peppermint bar when Projet Chocolat stopped by during a visit in early May. It’s only been in my stash for just a little over a month, I think I should be applauded for my restraint! 😉


Love the classic copper foil stamped & embossed label + logo as well as the mouth-watering peppermint candy photo from the outside of the box.


Upon opening the inner wrapper, I was instantly transported back to the time that I toured Celestial Seasonings’ tea factory in Colorado and we visited the peppermint oil storage room…ah, what a brisk and refreshing aroma! It was all I could do to maintain concentration while taking photos & not immediately bite into the bar!

What a pleasant surprise to find that the crushed peppermint candy pieces were mixed in with their signature Cacao Blend 29 (made from 2 different bean varietals).


I could have eaten the entire 1.5 oz. bar in one sitting! The combination of the dark chocolate and the crunchy mint was heavenly…so, maybe, those are angel wings on the four mini cacao pods on the front of their epiphany bars?!


Along with chocolate bars, Cacao Atlanta also creates truffles, confections and more.  Check out http://cacaoatlanta.com/ for details!

C is for Charm School Chocolate

Pinkies up 😉 It’s time to be playfully refined, yet chic at the same time…I do believe these are the perfect adjectives to describe Charm School Chocolate!

Some experts say that Belize is the “cradle of chocolate” – meaning it was first used there by the ancient Mayans. Mayan kings once used the cacao seeds both as currency as well as part of a spicy/sacred beverage. Since the cacao was revered as the drink of the gods, only the elite in the Maya society could afford to drink it. Things have certainly changed and evolved over the years. To learn more about the growing popularity of using beans from this small Central American country, check out this article: https://thechocolatejournalist.com/belize-is-the-new-black-for-chocolate-makers/

Charm School Chocolate from Maryland uses beans from the Maya Mountain region for this 3-ingredient 70% Dark bar. The beans are stone ground in small batches; but since they are roasted and refined for up to 5 days, this bar has only a hint of the gritty texture normally associated with stone-ground beans. This polished vegan chocolate is nattily dressed in a colorful argyle pattern outer wrapper.


Upon removing the outer wrapper, I could feel from the outside that the bar itself wasn’t completely flat. When removing the silver foil outer wrapper, I was surprised by their unique mold: one side is textured, while the other is smooth…meeting at a raised point on a bias.


The argyle pattern is repeated as part of their imprinted logo on the smooth side:


This chocolate reminds me of tart, sour cherries with hints of grapes (the label says that it’s reminiscent of raisins…so I’m not too far off 🙂 ). Though it may be “uncharming” to say so, there were two minor detractions for me: a slightly astringent aftertaste and the mold’s lack of scored lines to help break off pieces into manageable Miss Manners-approved morsels.

One day, I’ll aspire to describe chocolate as precisely as Chocolate Codex…in the meantime, here is a link to their very thorough review of this bar: http://chocolatecodex.com/portfolio/charm-school-chocolate-belize-70-cx65478/

To further your Charm School “education,” go to: http://www.charmschoolchocolate.com/

Bonus “B” Bar – Black Mountain Chocolate

When you worry that the “B” of your dreams might actually be a “C” (and aren’t sure you can acquire said “B” in time), you hedge your bets and buy a backup “B” (as if I *really* need an excuse to buy more chocolates!) 😉


Black Mountain Chocolates from the Southern Appalachians was the first bean-to-bar chocolate maker in the Carolinas and has been around since 2007, but I was unfamiliar with them here in California since they seem to be sold mostly on the East Coast and primarily in North Carolina.

IMG_2478I love that when they wrapped the bar in gold foil, they opted to position the bar with the logo facing up, so that this is the first thing that you see instead of the back of the bar with the sea salt inclusion.


The logo of the bear climbing a tree to reach cacao pods is so cute!IMG_2468

Though the chocolate’s country of origin isn’t listed on this 70% Sea Salt Bar packaging or on their website, many other sources point to them using Hispaniola beans from the Dominican Republic, which to me has bright red fruit or berry notes. The delicate fleur de sel Celtic Sea Salt melts quickly and provides a savory counterbalance to the sweetness of the chocolate.

My favorite quote from the short video on their website was owner Brent Peters’ comment that the chocolate factory is his “little red sports car” (referring to what other men purchase when they have a mid-life crisis). I think he made the right choice buying this chocolate company instead…don’t you?! 🙂

If you are ever in the Arts District in downtown Winston-Salem, be sure to stop by the Old Winston Tobacco Warehouse on Trade Street to see BMC’s visible factory or take a guided tour!

For more information, go to: http://www.blackmountainchocolate.com/

B is for Bonnat

“If it is good for your palate, it cannot be bad for your soul.” – Bonnat Chocolatier’s motto since 1884! Now that’s a motto I can fully embrace!


I first heard about Bonnat through Chloé Doutre-Roussel’s 2005 book entitled “The Chocolate Connoisseur” and it has taken me a decade to finally try this chocolate for myself! Was Bonnat the forefather of the single-origin & single-estate concepts? It certainly seems so; since in 1902, Bonnat’s first dark chocolate bars were made with beans from specific countries (Venezuela and Madagascar) and they were the first to propose a range of 75% cacao bars, each made with beans from a specific country. In 1983, they also introduced a single-estate bar, which has since been adopted by others.

The rare, coveted and expensive Porcelana is the purest form of the Criollo bean (one of the three main types of beans in the world) and grows in an ancestral planation located South of Lake Maracaibo in Venezuela. Immature Porcelana cacao pods are said to be pale, translucent, smooth and enamel-like in color and the unripe beans are also pure white. Here is a link to an article with photos of the pod & bean: http://www.somachocolate.com/blogs/news/18222553-porcelana-finally-after-a-decade-of-waiting

As you may have noticed, in addition to learning about different chocolates, I wanted this project to be an opportunity to delve into details that might otherwise be overlooked. One thing usually leads to another & it is easy to lose track of time, falling through the “rabbit hole” of research. Today I was able to satisfy my curiosity on most things, but some remain elusive mysteries…like this coat of arms:


The top reminds me of a rook chess piece or castle wall, there is also a deer-like animal featured with what appear to be two gold rings on the shield surrounded by a wreath of leaves. Hopefully further research will answer the burning questions I still have and provide a back story to the family’s history.

What I did learn was that the Bonnat family comes from a long line of liqueur makers, confectioners and pastry chefs (ancient professions working with sugar and plants). Being unfamiliar with Latin, I was curious about “vis mea in labore” and didn’t really trust Google’s “my business is in trouble” translation…so I turned to a couple of my friends for their assistance. It seems that the translation is closer to “my strength in effort” or “my strength is in work.” Since chocolate making is very much an art, it makes sense that their coat of arms motto would refer to the labor needed in their craft.



Unwrapping the bar from the shiny inner silver foil you see 32 nearly perfect rectangles and the imprinted logo where the center 4 rectangles would have been. “Voiron” caught my eye as an unfamiliar name/term. A Google Maps search led me to a 2012 photo of Ėglise Saint-Bruno de Voiron – a cathedral built in 1864-1873 that just happens to be 0.1 miles away from the Bonnat Chocolatier shop in the village of Cours Senozan in France. I can only imagine what it must be like to daily see the gorgeous gothic architectural gem that is featured at the top left corner of each bar’s outer wrapper.

There was a delicate aroma along with the uniform visual appearance. Separating the rectangles from each other produced a nice snap. Overall the mouthfeel was silky, buttery and smooth probably due to the cocoa butter that was used. Initially, there were earthy and almost coffee-like flavors (maybe based on how the beans were roasted?) Secondarily, there was a subtle fruity, but not overly sweet taste. Despite all these positives, I was a little underwhelmed by the hype of the Porcelana bar and feel guilty, thinking that I should like this more than I did.


As the outer wrapper says, these chocolates are “to be enjoyed” – so follow me on Instagram as I sample seven other Bonnat flavors over the next few weeks (or maybe months?)

To learn more, check out: http://bonnat-chocolatier.com/en

Bonus “A” Bar – Apotheker’s Bee Sweetened Goods

Thanks to Sophia from Projet Chocolat (http://projetchocolat.com/) for introducing me to this unique confection since there are so few places where this is available on the West Coast! I was immediately impressed with the gold foil stamped & embossed outer wrapper and the vintage Victorian era looking font that was used. My only disappointment was that the gold inner foil wrapper was taped to the inside of the outer paper label, making it impossible to slide the bar out. 🙁


What makes this company unique is that they use no refined sugars, sweetening their chocolate only with organic wildflower honey (I was pleased that the wildflower flavor was not as overwhelming as I have experienced with other bars). This Classic Dark 76% Dominican bar is thin, easily bent, has a dull snap and melts quickly when touched. I love that the mold they use has a honeycomb pattern to it, echoing and honoring the bees that helped produce the sweetener.


There is a slightly thick, but pleasant, mouthfeel that reminds me of gritty stone-ground cacao, though I think this comes from the honey crystals rather than the chocolate itself. I’m a “chomper” when it comes to eating chocolate (rather than letting it melt on my tongue), so eating this chocolate was almost a juicy experience (not something I’ve ever experienced before!) I wonder if it has to do with the sunflower lecithin that was used?!

Here is a cross-section of a square showing the honey crystals shining almost like mica.


Aside from the chocolate itself, I always enjoy knowing about the “back story” of the chocolatiers. Apotheker’s has a fascinating story… Russ and Shari Apotheker are an artistic husband and wife team that started the company in 2013 to share their passion for simple, healthy living with small-batch, handcrafted goods made from all-natural ingredients. Russ comes from a long line of herbalists and pharmacists dating back to ancient Jerusalem. In fact, after the family immigrated to Austria and Poland in the 17th Century, they changed their name to Apotheker, which means “pharmacist.”

Check out http://apothekerskitchen.com/ for more information + their other products (chocolate topped marshmallows & hot cocoa).

I’m personally looking forward to finding more of their offerings, especially the Cashew and Red Sea Salt bar!