I is for Izard Craft Chocolate

Some letters provide more of a challenge than others (“Q” & “Y” have been particularly elusive, so far)! So, when I noticed Izard Craft Chocolate on the feed of a fellow Instagrammer, I jumped at the opportunity. The company was unfamiliar to me + I was intrigued by both the name and the fact that they were located in Little Rock, Arkansas. (I’m sure that there is chocolate made in every state in the Union, but this was the first time I had heard of a bean-to-bar maker in that state.) That elation turned to concern when I visited their website & saw “sold out” on most of their products. 0767 Undeterred (you will never know if you don’t ask), I sent off an email inquiring if there might be 1 or 2 remaining bars that I could purchase. I was thrilled to quickly receive a note back from owner Nathaniel Izard asking which of their 4 flavors I would like to purchase. Below are the two that caught my eye the most.

First off is Chimelb Microlot Guatemala (72%)


The motif of the outer wrapper makes me think of cacao beans that have been split in two for a “cut test” – though, as far as I know, beans don’t come in turquoise/aquamarine! 😉 The paper that was used is luxuriously thick, reminiscent of the packaging used for Mast Brothers Chocolates. The informational “sticker” keeping the flaps closed in the back also has great woven texture…my only complaint is that it’s hard to unwrap the bar without destroying either the sticker or the outer wrapper. Upon opening the wrapper, I noticed that this paper is double sided/reversible! Is it wrong for me to want to keep this wrapper to use as a background for future photos?! It’s as if the gold foil wrapped bar is wearing a kimono, though the pattern calls to mind India or the American Southwest.



Finca Chimelb Microlot is a private farm located in Lanquin, Alta Verapaz, Guatemala (“Finca” means ranch or estate. “Chimelb” seems to be a word in the K’iche Maya language of Guatemala; though try as I might, I wasn’t able to find a translation).

Upon opening the wrapper, I encountered an earthy, almost leathery, aroma. It was also a bit wood-like, reminding me of a barrel or cask. I was surprised to see a lighter brown color, since this is a 72% dark chocolate.


The Izard label says that they roast the beans more lightly, so maybe that accounts for the particular hue of reddish brown. There were no imperfections to be seen on this matte finish 24 rectangle bar.


This 3 ingredient bar (cacao, sugar & vanilla) was easy to segment, though there was a dull snap & it didn’t really break apart evenly along the “score” lines – but that makes for abstract art in its own way.


The mouthfeel was extremely smooth, likely due to the longer conching time. The flavor started off woody, was sweet/fruity in the middle and then ended on a slightly astringent note. Definitely a unique taste, one that grows on you over time.

Next was the Icelandic Sea Salt (70%)


This outer wrapper reminded me of a 1900s era men’s bathing costume or a sailor’s striped shirt (it’s too bad this wrapper wasn’t double sided too). It was a nice “nautical” touch given that the flake sea salt is hand harvested from the icy waters of the Norwegian Sea and then evaporated using the heat from nearby geysers in Reykjavik, Iceland. This type of salt grain seems to dissolve very quickly while enhancing the flavor of the chocolate without overwhelming it. I think it also provided a nice crunch element and a hint of briny aroma.


This 24 rectangle bar also had a dull snap, but was easier to segment evenly along the “score” lines. There was a pleasant grassy, almost hay or grain-like scent. Although neither the packaging nor the website lists the country of origin for the cacao used, another source indicated that the beans came from the Maya Mountain Co-op in Belize. Belizean beans are known for their naturally fruity taste. It was hard for me to pinpoint a particular flavor, though peaches, plums or cherries came to mind while savoring this chocolate. I was pleased that it was less astringent than the Guatemala one and had a smooth, creamy mouthfeel despite this being a vegan/dairy-free chocolate.

Izard started out in 2014, so I can’t wait to see what is in store for the future based on my initial experience with them. Check out their website for more details:  http://www.izardchocolate.com/

H is for Hummingbird Chocolate Maker

When I was first telling friends about the Eating the Chocolate Alphabet project, I was a little appalled when they asked: “You’re not going to feature Hershey’s for ‘H,’ are you?” That was the perfect opportunity to explain that my goal was to try chocolates that were new to me + I wanted to focus on non-mass produced chocolates (besides, my tastes evolved beyond Hershey’s YEARS ago!)

Since hummingbirds are one of my favorite birds to watch as they hover at a feeder, just the company name and the simplicity of the packaging design drew me to Hummingbird Chocolate Maker. But, then, I discovered that their chocolates were only available in New York or in Canada! Thanks Josh Rubin from Chocexchange for being my hero and expertly shipping the bar to California!


This particular bar is made with just two ingredients! Trinitario cacao beans + local maple syrup from Fulton’s Sugar Shack. I like that Hummingbird Chocolate’s packaging even features a photo from the 5th generation Fulton descendant running the maple production facility as a way to both honor their partner and provide transparency about the ingredient source.


What started out as a casual hobby, making the best chocolate possible in small batches has become a passion for husband-and-wife team Drew & Erica Gilmour in the Ottawa Valley of Ontario, Canada. They are industrious (like their namesake), without being industrial.

The inside of the outer label lists the 10 steps they take in the bean-to-bar process (this information is also shown in greater detail and with more photos on their website). My favorite part was seeing an illustration of a vintage melangeur (conching machine), the one used as part of a recent bean-to-bar class was tiny (and modern) in comparison!


The hummingbird graphic on the front of the outer packaging reminds me of Maori tattoo art, so I’m not sure what I was expecting the mold to look like.


What a surprise to peel back the gold foil wrapping to see a bar comprised of 8 squares of different heights and images imprinted on them. It reminded me of a childhood block puzzle that still needed to be re-arranged into a final cohesive image.


In a happy twist of fate, the chocolate bar had broken in such a way that if re-positioned, it almost looked like a bird with outstretched wings or a stealth bomber, depending on how you look at it! 😉


As I was taking photos, I enjoyed the enticing chocolate aroma. So, it surprised me that the first couple of bites produced a slightly bitter, fruity taste (like unripe raspberries). Though it doesn’t say so on the packaging itself, their website indicates that the Trinitario beans used for this bar come from Northern Dominican Republic, so that would explain the fruity notes. The bitterness faded and evolved into a fairly mild maple syrup flavor. As I continued to sample more squares, this time letting the chocolate melt in my mouth, it seemed like the maple sweetness was “cumulative” and it certainly seemed like it was heightened toward the end of my tasting. Surprisingly intense and complex for just two ingredients!

To read about all the awards they won this year (2016) from the UK-based Academy of Chocolate, go to: http://hummingbirdchocolate.com/press/

G is for Gracias Chocolate

What does one do when faced with the challenge of choosing between three unusual inclusion bars? Use the “eenie meenie miney moe” or “rock paper scissors” method? Well, after some consultation with friends, I did what any sane person would do: tried ALL three!! (OK, you caught me! I really just wanted an excuse to try all of them since I’m doing this research for all of you! 🙂 )


I’m not sure what led me to discover Gracias Chocolate. It must have been photos on either Facebook or Instagram showing off their array of uniquely flavored inclusion bars.

Originally I was hoping to avoid summertime shipping costs & planned on asking visiting relatives from the San Francisco area to transport the bars to me. When that didn’t work out last month, I tried coordinating with a Sacramento friend to visit a local farmers’ market to obtain the bars for me – but then 100+ degree weather messed up those plans! In the end, I think it worked out just fine to buy directly from Jessica at Gracias Chocolate since the delicate bars were expertly cushioned with multiple layers of bubble wrap & sent along with an ice pack to keep things cool (we also waited to ship until the weather cooperated more!)

It’s great that Gracias Chocolate is so transparent about the ingredients they use for their bars. Each bar has a page dedicated to it on their website. There are thumbnail photos of the ingredients, along with a short paragraph about the health benefits about them. I learned so much about maca (a root that grows in the South American Andes) and coconut sugar (made from dried sap of a palm tree) from reading those blurbs. Another great thing is that they acknowledge the sources of the ingredients, right down to the farm or co-op. I wish all chocolate makers disclosed that amount of information.

Gracias Chocolate started in 2014 with the purpose to “create a powerfully great taste experience using high-quality and conscionable ingredients that are healthy & kind to our bodies and the Earth.” This is why they are committed to making chocolate treats that are soy-free, dairy-free, gluten-free, vegan + free from refined sugar. Additionally, they use non-GMO, organic, fair trade or responsibly farmed ingredients, as well as biodegradable packaging (a bonus is that the packaging is clear + re-sealable).

Each of the three bars that I tried had some common “base” ingredients like 10% maca and different percentages of unroasted Ecuadorian Arriba Nacional cacao powder (follow the link to see more information about the 6-8 ingredients that were used in each bar). Building on that base, each bar then had “inclusion” ingredients to make them truly stand out.

All of the bars lacked a sharp “snap” when broken – I blame the summer heat/humidity for making them more bendable than they should be. Not surprisingly, they all had a slightly gritty/coarse texture…but, I didn’t mind the mouthfeel since it made me more aware that unrefined coconut and maple sugars were used.

Below is a brief description of each bar, in the order that I tasted them.

Sour Cherries and Pistachios (64% cacao)



Even after being careful with these delicately thin bars, I still managed to crack this bar before opening the package 🙁 One of the very first flavors that I detected when biting into this bar was anise! I was sure I was imagining things since it wasn’t listed on the front of the package, but indeed there it was listed on the back! The tart, chewy, unsweetened dried sour cherries paired nicely with the salty smashed pistachios and crunchy nibs. This combination produced an overall “earthy” flavor for me.


Olive, Date & Thyme (65% cacao)


This is the bar that originally drew my attention to Gracias Chocolate. Where else can you find a chocolate that sounds like a Mediterranean feast or an Algerian/Moroccan tagine?! This is the epitome of sweet & savory: generously chopped dates for the sweetness and sun-cured olive morsels for the savory. My only complaint is that the dates (I think they were Medjools) stuck to the packaging & that made it harder to remove the bar. To me, overall the bar was more savory than sweet, plus the combination of olives and chocolate is definitely an acquired taste.


Citrus Habanero & Hazelnuts (63% cacao)



Habanero peppers are known to have a kick, so I wanted to make sure to leave this for last in order not to ruin my palate. This one certainly didn’t disappoint in terms of heat! The combination of habanero-infused olive oil and cayenne pepper produced a short-lived, but noticeable “back of the throat” burn…however, it was my favorite bar of the bunch (and it was “juicy” too)! What you see is primarily Oregonian hazelnuts from Freddy Guys Family Farm, but the aromatics are orange oil. I can only imagine this combo as a hot chocolate…maybe I need to experiment a little?!


To see all their flavors and even sign up for a chocolate bar subscription plan, go to:  http://www.graciaschocolate.com/ – you’ll thank me for it 😉

Bonus “F” bar – Fine & Raw Chocolate

Woke up this morning to discover that it’s “World Chocolate Day”! Originally, I wasn’t going to post this bar until tomorrow, but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to celebrate alongside other chocophiles. Made in Brooklyn, NY by a chocolate maker originally from South Africa, shipped from Canada, using lúcuma (a subtropical fruit from South America) as a flavoring…yeah, I think that qualifies as “world” chocolate, don’t you?! 🙂

It’s funny that once you hear about something new, you discover it popping up all over. Was it hiding before then or do I now have a heightened awareness for the word?! That’s what it’s been like for me with lúcuma. Thanks to Josh Rubin from Chocexchange for suggesting this intriguing and unique bar! Since purchasing the bar, I’ve seen people in both the UK and Peru mentioning this fruit, but having a hard time describing the taste. One person said to me…you’ll have to taste it for yourself. Well, today is that day! You’re probably saying to yourself, “Tell us what it tastes like already!” Sorry, you’ll just have to wait in suspense for a little while longer, so continue reading! 😉


In keeping with the “raw” aspect, the bars are wrapped in recycled brown Kraft paper printed with non-toxic, vegetable based ink. Fully unwrapping the outer packaging, you see a leaf + flower designs as a nod to nature.


Fine & Raw uses low heat to keep the raw vitality and nutritional value of chocolate as a superfood. They also use coconut (palm) sugar instead of refined sweeteners. Using alternate sugars lets the true flavor of cacao to shine through without masking the taste.

I almost felt guilty opening the gold foil wrapper, since I knew I could never reproduce the precise origami-like folds.


This is when I first encountered the enticing and exotic aroma of this bar. There was a soft (almost powdery) vanilla scent. They use whole ground vanilla, which I assume means the pod in addition to the seeds; that seems to add a new depth of flavor than I’ve experienced before.

The bar was comprised of 10 fairly thick (~10mm) rectangles that were almost square (about an inch in length). When I broke off a couple of pieces, it was then that I discovered that the bar wasn’t completely even. Instead of flat rectangles, these reminded me of trapezoids! Not sure if these pictures will show you what I mean, but I tried to capture it as best as possible.



I assume this anomaly was unintentional. Maybe they were using a different mold than usual, since other pictures on their website show a bar with 5-6 elongated rectangles. That might explain the interesting swirl on the front of the bar.


I also experienced that phenomenon when I removed my chocolates from the mold too soon.

Anyway, this is the moment you have been waiting for…

Upon biting into the chocolate morsel, I was so surprised to taste TOASTED MARSHMALLOW! Other sources say that lúcuma tastes like maple syrup or butterscotch, but it was definitely marshmallow for me! The chocolate didn’t melt easily in my mouth (I wonder if this was from the cacao butter), had a slightly gritty mouthfeel (I suppose they didn’t conch/refine this for long to keep things “raw”) and had a slight aftertaste (I wasn’t able to discover the country of origin for the cacao beans, so maybe this was the natural characteristic coming through).


Overall, I really enjoyed this 67% dark chocolate; but don’t take my word for it, taste it for yourselves!

Happy World Chocolate day! How will YOU celebrate it?

To learn more about Fine & Raw’s mission to save the world through silliness and chocolate, go to: http://fineandraw.com/

F is for French Broad Chocolates

Why is it that some great bean-to-bar chocolates never make it west of the Mississippi River?! Southern California/Los Angeles might seem like the “wild west” to some, but we deserve to experience all the craft chocolates that are out there too! Fellow Angelenos, please talk to your local purveyors of fine chocolate & urge them to carry more diverse brands…who’s with me on this?!

One of those brands that I’d love to see out here on the West Coast is French Broad Chocolates run by husband and wife team, Dan & Jael Rattigan. Their Instagram feed is full of delectable goodies: truffles, ice cream, baked goods – not to mention their chocolate bars. Just look at their new packaging!  Everything about it is so photogenic (and sustainable too)!


The outer box looks like a fancy cloth-bound / gold-leaf tooled hardcover book…similar to the kind that people once would buy to show off as an indication that they had “arrived” in terms of wealth & status. I love the detailed gold accents of berries, leaves and cacao pods, as well as the textured weave pattern. They thought about every detail in designing this box, since even the “spine” looks like something you would want to display on your library bookshelf. It’s hard to believe that this was made from 100% recycled paper. As you open the box, five more elements of the “story” are revealed on the inside panels as well as the folded insert. My favorite parts were learning about how Dan & Jael met and started their business, as well as the origin of the cacao beans that were used in the bar itself.



Personally, I like being able to see the bar upon opening the outer packaging. An added bonus is that the cellophane used is plant-based and compostable. The 20-rectangle bar has a rich/deep color and feels dense/substantial in your hands. Each of the rectangles have the company logo embossed into them and appear virtually imperfection free.



The aroma was so enticing as I was taking photos, I almost didn’t see the unique swirls on the back of the bar.


After looking more closely at this photo, I could almost see faces in the swirls (the phenomenon of seeing images where none actually exist is called pareidolia). I assume these were an unintentional, happy accident… but they have a natural beauty, nonetheless.


I’m always amazed when just two ingredients (cacao & sugar) can produce such a complex result. This is a 70% dark chocolate bar made by blending beans from 3 different partner cooperatives from Norandino, Peru. Norandino is in the upper Amazon basin, where it is believed that the Theobroma cacao originates from. This blend, which is greater than the sum of its individual parts, honors the unique characteristics of both the genetics of the beans themselves, as well as the post-harvest practices/techniques of the farmers.

Try as I might, I can never fully melt a piece of chocolate in my mouth – the urge to “chomp” always wins. For me, “chomping” is when the true essence/flavor of the chocolate comes through. What started as bright red berries, evolved into a pleasant tart cherry flavor for me. The texture was smooth and the flavor was rich and long-lasting.

With this introduction to French Broad Chocolates, I can’t wait to try more of their flavors! My mission now is to convince some of my local shops to try this wholesome and delicious chocolate so that it is more accessible to me than shipping from North Carolina 😉 As a side note, they seem to be experts at shipping to warm weather climates. My chocolates arrived in a “cocoon of coolness” (packed with multiple forms of insulated materials).

To learn more about French Broad Chocolates (including their commitment to the natural habitat of the French Broad River near them), check out: https://frenchbroadchocolates.com/