H is for Hemp Seeds

Are you trying to eat healthy and include “super foods” in your diet? Well, here is a chocolate bar that includes three different super foods: goji berries, cacao nibs and hemp seeds (since it’s “H” week on Eating the Chocolate Alphabet)!

Don’t worry, I won’t go into the health benefits or discuss super foods here since you can conduct your own research on the topic. I just want to introduce you to one of the most photogenic chocolate bars that I’ve seen in a while (and I’ve seen quite a few as part of this inclusion project)!

I don’t know about you, but my eye is immediately drawn to the lightly shriveled elongated reddish orange goji berries and the generous sprinkling of tiny white and greenish hemp seeds. The cracked cacao nibs almost blend into the 72% Dominican Republic dark chocolate base that you might forget they are there until you take that first crunchy bite!

But, let’s start from the beginning of the tasting process! If you’ve been following along for a while, you’ll know that I like using an “EAT” approach: E for exterior (which refers to the packaging), A for aroma and appearance and T for taste 🙂

Chequessett Chocolate is the third bean-to-bar chocolate maker in Massachusetts (Taza was the first & Rogue was the second). Self-taught co-founders, Katherine Reed and Josiah Mayo, handcraft their minimally processed chocolate bars in small batches in a workshop on Cape Cod, at a shop location that once stood abandoned for two years, but now thrives as a café, production room and office. From what I’ve seen on their website, each of the small button and string tie dark blue envelopes sport a distinctive map motif with silver lines and numbers.

After reading that Josiah had 20+ years’ experience working in commercial fishing, I figured that these were topographical maps of some sort, but couldn’t for the life of me figure out the “proper” term to describe them. After several fruitless Google image searches, I finally broke down and called Chequessett to get the information “from the source.” Thanks for confirming my hunch that these were bathymetric maps that show the shape, size and distribution of underwater features as well as the terrain and contours of the ocean floor.

Removing the foil wrapped bar from the outer packaging & peeling back the folds, the inclusion side of the bar “greeted” me with a nutty, roasted aroma. I was almost afraid to turn the bar over for fear of dropping ingredients everywhere, but amazingly everything stayed pretty well-adhered to the 20-rectangle chocolate bar (I’d love to learn the technique that was used to achieve this)!

The “top” side of the bar was a reddish brown color and only had some slight scuffing from the transit to Southern California (I had purchased this bar after Thanksgiving last year to take advantage of their free shipping “Black Friday” deal & also indulged myself in an order of caramel cashew turtles with Wellfleet sea salt…which were DELICIOUS, by the way! Still kicking myself for not buying more than one container!)

When segmenting rectangles from the main bar, there was a soft snap since the chewy, lightly sweet goji berries would hang on to their spot tenaciously and then tear to reveal the tiny seeds hidden inside.

The shelled hemp seeds (sometimes called hemp “hearts”) are softer and nutty, though I’m not sure why some have a greenish tinge to them. With all this texture to the bar, it was pretty much impossible for me to “melt” a piece in my mouth…I made several valiant attempts to do so, but always succumbed to “chomping” after 15-20 seconds 😉 I wanted to isolate the chocolate by itself, so I tried slicing off the raised “hump” from the top side of several rectangles. Even though it was very messy to do so (wish I knew a better way of doing this), now I could taste the citrusy notes of the evaporated cane juice sweetened chocolate.

It will come as no surprise that this bar is almost gone now, so I’ll leave you with this one parting photo:

You can bet that the Blueberry Ginger or Cranberry bars will be next on my wish list!! Or maybe the Farrago confection, though the Mexican hot chocolate mix is calling to me too 🙂

To learn more about Chequessett Chocolate & their Cape Cod products, please visit: http://www.chequessettchocolate.com/

50 States Collaboration – Arizona / Stone Grindz Chocolate

Partnering with Time to Eat Chocolate on this collaboration project has provided me with the opportunity to expand my horizons! Since Lori posted about a chocolate maker from her home state yesterday, I thought it would be fun to write about a company that I only recently discovered was near my home state! Honestly, it never occurred to me that there could be a chocolate maker in Scottsdale, Arizona since their summer temperatures are consistently in the triple digits!! It surprised me to discover that there are actually quite a few companies in other parts of Arizona as well (see the bottom of this post for a full list of makers).

As any marketing person will tell you, vibrant packaging sells! When trying to select which Arizona maker to feature, I was captivated by the colorful/eye-catching rustic artwork of the Stone Grindz bars as shown on their website. Seeing that they also carried a Bolivia bar (one of my favorite origins at the moment) “sealed the deal” – now to try to locate it! Luckily their bars are sold by Chocolate Covered San Francisco, so I quickly placed an order and received the bar within two days.

To me, it looks like both a llama and a donkey are depicted on the front of this C1S (coated one side) notched cardboard sleeve since these “beasts of burden” are perfect for transporting supplies in the Bolivian Andes.

Removing the bar from the outer packaging, the clear heat-sealed plastic bag allows you to immediately see the matte finish of the 18-square mold, despite some minor chocolate “dust” marring the overall finish.

Cutting open the plastic wrapper released a deep, rich, chocolatey aroma. Taking a closer look at the bar, I noticed tiny air bubbles at the corners of most of the squares and some slight “ghosting” swirls. I’m always mesmerized by the natural beauty of minor imperfections, if you take time to notice them. FYI, I enhanced the photo below a bit to make it “pop.”

Breaking off a row of squares to make tasting morsels, I noticed that the mold had not been evenly filled since each of the pieces varied in width.

There was a slightly brittle snap to the bar and I detected a nutty aroma at the break. The mouthfeel is smooth and creamy – something I didn’t really expect from a name like Stone Grindz. After melting several pieces in my mouth, I noticed a malty aftertaste; however, the overall flavor of this Wild Bolivia bar was mild to me, rather than the distinct earthy flavor profile I have come to expect from other Bolivian beans (Alto Beni, in particular). To my surprise, I tasted mostly green apple rather than the cashew and plum from the tasting notes. Based on my experience, green apple is generally considered to be an “off flavor” in beer, so I’m wondering about the amount of acetic acid produced when fermenting this particular batch of beans which, according to the packaging, grew wild along the Amazon River Basin. [As a side note, I sampled this bar twice with the same results: once in the morning as a “first taste” before having anything to eat & a second time after eating a spicy meal.]

Taste is definitely subjective! Just recently, the Choocolate Journalist published an interesting article about some of the reasons why people taste things differently than others. So, don’t take my word for it…try it for yourself & let me know your thoughts & experiences!!

If you’d like to learn more about the different bars available from Stone Grindz, check out: http://www.stonegrindz.com/

To be sure not to miss any story from this “50 States” project, I recommend that you also follow the Time to Eat Chocolate blog!

Other chocolate makers in Arizona:

Brazen Chocolate https://www.newfangledlabs.com/

Chocofin http://www.chocofin.com/

Desert Indulgence http://www.difinechocolates.com/

Lulu’s Chocolate http://www.luluschocolate.com/

Zak’s Chocolate http://zakschocolate.com/

NOTE: If you know of any other bean-to-bar makers in Arizona that aren’t mentioned above, please leave a comment or send an email so that we can keep this list as up-to-date as possible!

Bonus G – Goat Milk

So far I’ve tried camel milk and donkey milk, so when fellow blogger and chocophile Estelle Tracy from 37 Chocolates suggested a cross-country swap, I jumped at the opportunity to try a goat milk bar from Philly’s own Chocolate Alchemist!

I had heard that Robert Campbell (aka the “Chocolate Alchemist”) uses hand-stitched wrappers made from re-usable Nepalese lokta paper, so I took the time to carefully unstitch one side of the packaging…

only to later realize that I merely needed to lift the round sticker from the back of the packaging to release the foil wrapped bar from the envelope enclosure…DOH! Face palm! :0

The bar had broken in half during transit to California, but that made it easier for me to compare “back” and “front” at the same time:

The “back” looks a little mottled, full of swirls and tiny dots; while the “front” is shinier despite a slightly grainy/flecked appearance with some “ghosting” marring the finish.

Segmenting the rectangles to create tasting morsels, there is a soft/dull snap and the pieces are a little crumbly. I really shouldn’t have been surprised by the amount of nooks and crannies at the break, since that’s the texture you get when cacao beans are minimally processed.

Robert strongly believes in creating blends instead of single origins, using only all-natural, unrefined sweeteners and eschewing the “standard” 70% bar; so this 65% bar is a blend of Dominican and Peruvian beans, sweetened with local maple sugar.

There is a musty, earthy aroma to the bar; but I was completely unprepared for the intense sour, tangy goat cheese flavor. This was sharp, almost like a blue or Roquefort cheese or a yogurt on the edge of going past the expiration date! Honestly, a little goes a long way & this is not a bar that I would recommend eating all in one sitting!

As you might know, if you follow the Chocolate Alchemist on Instagram, he is fiercely outspoken and un-apologetically direct when speaking his mind about subjects near and dear to his heart. While I’ve not had the opportunity to meet him, based on what I’ve seen of his interactions with others online, he is very generous and supportive of his friends and family. Where other chocolate makers might try to tone down or tame the “wild” flavors of cacao to be more universally palatable or accessible to everyone, he unabashedly embraces the brash tastes for what they are.

Melting a piece on my tongue (yes, I was “brave” enough to do so), I felt the abrasiveness from tiny errant pieces of cacao nibs; though, overall, it wasn’t as grainy or gritty as some stone ground chocolate bars that I’ve tried in the past.

Is this chocolate for everyone?! No…but I think that’s OK. If everything was homogeneous, then how could you appreciate or realize when something stands out as being different or unique?

You’ll also enjoy reading Estelle’s article from Edible Philly where she dedicates several paragraphs to describe Chocolate Alchemist chocolate bars, as well as Robert himself…you’ll need to scroll down toward the bottom of that article for the section called “Bean-to-Bar Chocolate in Philadelphia.” Make sure you don’t miss the lead-in photo at the top of the webpage since it shows what a block of un-tempered, aged goat maple chocolate looks like when it is dappled with fat “bloom.”

In the spirit of blending, I just sampled a piece of the goat milk bar with last week’s foie gras bar and discovered it’s a surprisingly well-balanced combination! Dare to be different & stay curious! ;-p

For more information about the Chocolate Alchemist and to order his products online, check out: https://www.chocolatephilly.com/

G is for Gold

Yes, I’m still eating Christmas chocolates at the end of February…don’t judge me 😉 What you may not realize is that this has been the most highly anticipated bar (so far) during “round 2” of Eating the Chocolate Alphabet! Also, based on the unique inclusion ingredients, I could have potentially used it for not one, but three different letters: F, G or M! The story about how I came to acquire this bar (spoiler alert: I actually had 4 bars in my possession at one time!) is long, convoluted and funny…but, I won’t bore you with the details here. However, if you find me in person + are curious, ask me about it! 🙂

As you may have guessed…this is a Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh bar by Rococo Chocolates. This holiday favorite was first created by founder Chantal Coady in 1996 & Christmas wouldn’t be the same without it!

While the “Three Wise Men” are not named in the New Testament, other traditions have given them names, different ages, countries of origin and attributed special significance to each of their gifts.

This particular package art depicts the “Three Kings” as being from the same age group, but below is a compilation of information I found:

  • Caspar (or sometimes listed as Gaspar) was said to be the king of modern-day Turkey. He represented an “older” man in his 60s and his gift was gold. Gold was (and still is) a valuable possession, but this item is also thought to embody kingship on earth and virtue.
  • Melchior represented a “middle aged” man (in his 40s) and gave frankincense from his native Arabia. This aromatic resin has been used in perfume and incense and is considered a symbol of deity & prayer.
  • Balthazar (a “young” man, aged 20) was said to come from modern-day South Yemen (though other traditions list his country of origin as Ethiopia or other parts of Africa). His gift was myrrh, which has often been used as an anointing or embalming oil and is a symbol of death or suffering.

Until this project, I never really thought about frankincense and myrrh, so I was surprised to learn that they are both obtained from the sap of trees and that Somalia is the biggest exporter of frankincense. While it might have been interesting for Rococo to have used these ingredients in their solid state, their chocolate was actually infused with trace amounts of oil that were obtained by steam distillation of the dry resins. Frankincense is said to be woody in flavor, while myrrh (a natural gum that is waxy and coagulates quickly) is considered bitter & spicy by Chinese medicine.

Upon opening the cardboard packaging, I noticed that the bar was wrapped in festive thick gold foil.

However, after unwrapping the bar from the foil, I noticed that the chocolate had sustained some damage in transit: it was broken in 2 pieces & some of the edible 22 carat gold leaf had become detached from one of the rectangles.

Since I had a bar in “reserve,” I decided to open that one as well…only to discover that the inner packaging was the same patterned white & blue one that I had seen on the Earl Grey Tea bar from a couple of weeks ago.

As I alluded to earlier, 3 bars were brought back directly from England after the Christmas holidays + I acquired another bar at Chocolate Covered in San Francisco on Christmas Eve day. Turns out that the UK version had the gold foil inner wrapper + more gold leaf decorations while the US version had the “standard” inner packaging, less gold leaf & more chocolate “dust” + scuffing marring the surface (as well as a minor crack along the entire length of the bar where the first “C” of Rococo was imprinted on each of the rectangles).

For tasting purposes, I chose to stick with the UK bar despite the less-than-pristine appearance of the cracked bar (in case you were curious, BOTH bars tasted the same!)

Gold is a malleable and pliable chemical element, so “gold leaf” is created by hammering pieces of gold into thin sheets. It is odorless and tasteless, but it adds a certain “bling” to the chocolate…don’t you agree?!

Here is a close up of the gold leaf:

Overall, the chocolate smells and tastes primarily of citrusy orange oil. There was a sharp snap to the bar, though I also noticed an air bubble along the breaking point.

Melting a piece, I noticed that the texture was not completely smooth, but the morsel melted evenly. During the melt, I experienced a prickly, tingling sensation on my tongue that was vaguely effervescent. This reminded me of prior experiences with tasting pine resin and it left some astringency behind.

This was definitely a fun and unique Christmas-inspired bar & I’d love to get the Chocolarder version next year for comparison purposes!!

To learn more about Rococo Chocolates and their range of artisan bars, check out: https://www.rococochocolates.com/

50 States Collaboration – Ohio / Maverick Chocolate

Little did I know when I selected Ohio for this week’s blog post that there would be a tangential connection to Lori’s Missouri post from yesterday…read on for more details!

I always find it fascinating to hear stories about what leads people to become involved with chocolate. When Paul Picton would travel internationally as an aviation engineer and executive for Comair (a subsidiary of Delta Airlines), he would seek out chocolates to bring back to his wife Marlene. When that job ended in 2013, their stash of fine chocolate quickly became depleted. Paul & Marlene were looking for a business venture in which they could both contribute equally; so, after a visit to the Askinosie Chocolate factory in Missouri, the Pictons decided that entering the craft chocolate movement was a viable option. It’s become a family affair, since their sons Scott and Benjamin are also involved in the company’s operations.

One thing that you will notice when you access Maverick’s website is that each of their bar labels depicts a different 20th Century “flying machine” which pays homage to Paul’s former aviation career. The vintage/historic theme continues at their Findlay Market storefront in Cincinnati, Ohio since that space once housed the Hong Kong Tea & Coffee Company in the 1800s. A “maverick” is defined as an unorthodox or independent person and this bean-to-bar chocolate maker seeks to emulate its namesake by pushing the envelope and trying new things to please those with an adventurous palate.

63% Morropón Dark Chocolate

Immediately upon opening the tab keeping the outer textured cardboard packaging closed, you see a list of things to consider when tasting chocolate (which I try to touch upon in each of my posts).

To feel more connected to the people behind the chocolate, be sure to read the inner middle panel of the packaging which provides the details of Paul & Marlene’s chocolate journey.

Upon removing the reddish brown bar from the clear plastic pouch, my first smell was of roasted coffee. Sadly, many of the shiny faceted squares were marred by chocolate “dust” due to transit to California.

It took me a little bit of effort to split off a rectangle (2 squares) from the thick bar. There was a slightly brittle snap to the chocolate when segmenting the two squares from each other and I noticed several air bubbles at the breaking point, which yielded a nutty aroma.

Each of the 10 squares of their mold comes to a raised point in the center & this extra thickness made it a little difficult to bite into or segment into smaller tasting morsels. Chomping a piece, the initial flavor I experienced was sweet raisins. Then, while slowly melting a piece on my tongue, I could taste tart cherry and citrus (Peruvian chocolate is known to have natural citrus notes). I’m not sure if the additional cocoa butter contributes to the thick (but smooth) mouthfeel; personally, I would have liked the flavors to last longer and for the chocolate to melt more easily.

While researching Maverick Chocolate online, I enjoyed reading this 2015 article and was especially pleased to see a picture of a jute bag stamped with Morropón, Peru, the exact origin of the beans from the bar that I just sampled above! Additionally, from the bar’s packaging: “The Norandino Co-Op in Morropón, Peru unites small farmers with a common goal – to preserve the Piura White Criollo Cacao and to improve the quality of life for their farming community.”

Even though I’m generally a dark chocolate fan, I’d love to try their “Prohibition” milk chocolate with Kentucky bourbon, which won a silver medal from the International Chocolate Awards in 2015. Additionally, within a few months of opening Maverick Chocolate in 2014, they submitted their spicy Fahrenheit 513 bar and won a Good Foods Awards in 2015 (FYI, “513” is the area code of Cincinnati).

To check out the rest of their product line, which also includes nibs and a drinking chocolate mix, visit: http://maverickchocolate.com/

Remember to follow the Time to Eat Chocolate blog to hear about the next stop in the “50 States” project!

Other chocolate makers in Ohio:

fincaChocolate grows their own cacao in Puerto Rico & then makes small batch chocolate in Central Ohio. While their website doesn’t have too many details, they also have a Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/fincachocolate/

Ohiyo

NOTE: If you know of any other bean-to-bar makers in Ohio that aren’t mentioned above, please leave a comment or send an email so that we can keep this list as up-to-date as possible!

F is for Foie Gras

Last year, after trying a couple of David Briggs’ Xocolatl de David caramel bars, I really wanted to get my hands on his unconventional foie gras bar which had been seen on Bizarre Foods America with Andrew Zimmern. Lucky for me, I was able to find one on a recent trip out of town.

Before you turn up your nose at the idea of combining fatty duck liver with chocolate, hear me out! It’s completely understandable that this bar isn’t for everyone; but if you give it a chance, the taste might very much surprise you (in a good way!)

Removing the bar from the cardboard outer packaging and the thin aluminum foil, I noticed some slight scuffing marring the overall near mirror shine of the bar. I had to handle the bar carefully since it was very easy to leave fingerprints everywhere on the room temperature chocolate.

The aroma of the bar is sweet and fruity, making me think of a dessert wine or even plum sauce. Honestly, I was a little surprised that there was a very dull, soft snap to the bar. The first couple of tasting morsels were fairly salty to me and there was even a slight crunch from the fleur de sel.

Letting a section of chocolate melt on my tongue, the mouthfeel was umami, creamy and velvety despite the slightly grainy look to the pieces.

There is an earthy, mushroom-like flavor to the bar, which I assume comes mostly from the unusual inclusion ingredient; though from my experience, Bolivian chocolate tends to inherently have buttery and earthy notes. When I’ve eaten pan seared foie gras in the past, the taste was bit oily to me, so this was a much more pleasant experience!

Based on the other Xocolatl de David bars that I tasted last year, I was expecting this bar to be filled with their “Foietella” spread rather than having the foie gras infused and tempered into the chocolate itself. Based on other online sources (since neither the packaging nor the company website really describes these products in great detail), the trademarked “Foietella” spread is made with cream, Hudson Valley foie gras, 68% cacao from Bolivia, Valhrona natural cocoa powder, fleur de sel, Sherry wine vinegar and local piment d’Espelette for a little heat. Researching things a little further, I learned that Hudson Valley Foie Gras in Ferndale, New York in the Catskill Mountains is the premier producer of foie gras, Moulard duck and organic chicken in the United States. Their website has several short documentary videos about their production process and how they care for their animals.

On a whim this morning, I added a chunk of chocolate to a piece of freshly toasted Boudin Bakery San Francisco sourdough bread. It melted evenly, but unfortunately the tang of the bread overpowered the chocolate. It was an interesting experiment nonetheless, though I wonder if French bread would have been better.

I’ve also been wanting to try pairing this chocolate with a cheese, so if you have any suggestions, please let me know!

As a side note, I served a piece of this chocolate to my boyfriend without telling him about the unusual ingredient and he only thought this was a salty and nutty chocolate, so hopefully you will be daring enough to give this chocolate a chance for yourself!

To learn more about their other chocolates, confections and more, please visit: http://www.xocolatldedavid.com/#main

50 States Collaboration – South Carolina / Batch

When two life-long artists team up together and begin crafting small batch chocolates which reflect and highlight local flavors, ingredients and fellow artisans, you know the final result will be something special and unique! In December, fellow chocophiles were posting pictures on Instagram about their latest shipment of Batch trios (I’m still bummed that I missed out on “Batch 8”); to avoid future disappointments, I signed up for Tamara & Zan’s newsletter so that I would be among the first to hear about upcoming releases. As soon as I received notification about “Batch 9,” I immediately ordered and the shipment arrived just last week!

On the back label of the rustic packaging, the makers describe that their chocolates are “handcrafted with love & OCD in their Rock Hill, South Carolina kitchen,” so this is the perfect companion piece to Lori’s post from yesterday featuring two North Carolina makers.

Below I’ll be telling you about the two inclusion bars that I received in the trio that features Ecuador’s Camino Verde cacao bean which has naturally nutty and floral notes.

First up is the 70% Maple Pecan bar:

I love that Batch includes a double sided card with the chocolate bar to help you learn more about the origin of the beans and also guide you through the steps of exploring aroma, texture and taste.

Immediately you can see the generous inclusion of Carolina pecans that were toasted in pure vanilla maple syrup and sprinkled with a dash of cinnamon and ginger.

Unwrapping the bar from the plastic inner pouch, the aroma reminded me of coconut granola. There was a shiny, almost mirror-like shine to the top surface of the bar & I was sad to break off a piece since that meant leaving fingerprints everywhere 🙁 There was a sharp snap, though the bar didn’t segment exactly where I was applying pressure.

The morsel was smooth & creamy, but I didn’t really taste the subtle ginger or cinnamon until near the end of the even melt. Overall, the flavor was fudgy, nutty, earthy and reminded me of a streusel-topped muffin.

Next up is the 75% Cherry Rosé bar:

The plain brown craft paper envelope doesn’t prepare you for the “anything-but-ordinary” bar that awaits inside. While this probably won’t impress you, I was thrilled that this bar was number 2 out of the 240 bars that were made in this batch!

Upon opening the re-sealable plastic inner pouch, the aroma was quite unusual (some might say “funky”) and made me think of an aged balsamic vinegar. While the outer packaging only mentions the company names of the other makers, I decided to do a little more research on the ingredients since I’m a fan of “sour” beers and fruity wild ales. Batch’s website mentioned that the cherries were soaked in a reduction of Dover Vineyards Rosé wine and Free Range Brewing’s Hee-Haw House Got Musty wild ale. From a mobile app called Untappd, the beer is listed as a barrel aged muscadine wild ale with must and further described as being fermented on a house strain of brettanomyces with fresh muscadine grapes, aged for a year in wine barrels with a mixed culture of bacteria and yeast and then re-fermented on fresh must of Chambourcin and Villard Blanc grapes. In case you were curious, “must” is freshly pressed fruit juice that contains the skins, seeds, and stems of the fruit; this probably explains why the jewel-like, chewy cherries taste more like grapes to me.

Handcrafted items generally have a touch of character, some minor imperfection that proves that they were not mass-produced with exacting perfection. I noticed some “ghosting” on the front of the bar, which reminded me of a pebble dropped into water and the resulting concentric ripples that appear.

There was a sharp snap to the bar and a floral, earthy, grassy aroma. I enjoyed the smooth, creamy, even melt of the chocolate and noticed some citrusy notes when sampling pieces without the cherries. Overall, I preferred the chocolate without the cherries and might have preferred the cherries if they were more tart than sweet.

I’ll be saving the plain 80% bar for another opportunity and can’t wait to see the flavors for Batch 10!

As of right now, “Batch 9” is still available for order. To learn more about Batch and to ensure that you don’t miss out either, visit their website: https://www.batchcraft.com/

Remember to follow the Time to Eat Chocolate blog to hear about the next stop in the “50 States” project!

Other chocolate makers in South Carolina:

Night Owl Chocolate

NOTE: If you know of any other bean-to-bar makers in South Carolina that aren’t mentioned above, please leave a comment or send an email so that we can keep this list as up-to-date as possible!

E is for Earl Grey Tea

While in college and shortly after graduation, my ideal weekend would include a “high tea” outing with friends. For years, it was a hobby (and almost an obsession) of mine to visit every tea shop in Southern California…sadly, I didn’t succeed in my quest, but I had a delicious time trying! 😉 In the beginning, I wasn’t very familiar with different types of teas, so I relied on the recommendation of others. Not surprisingly, Earl Grey tea was generally what people would suggest to me (did you know it’s second only to English Breakfast as the world’s best-selling blend of tea?) While no one really knows why this flavor of tea was named after the former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland (Charles Grey, the second Earl Grey, Viscount Howick) who was best known for abolishing slavery in the British Empire and was one of the leading British statesmen of the late 18th Century and 19th Century, there are several myths and legends surrounding the origin.

Sitting there chatting with friends and daintily nibbling on finger sandwiches, I always felt so “posh” drinking my Earl Grey tea with milk and sugar. It wasn’t until years later that I discovered that bergamot oil gives Earl Grey its distinctive flavor and aroma. The bergamot orange, grown primarily in the Calabrian region of Italy, is probably a hybrid of a sweet lime and a bitter orange. The fruit is the size of an orange, with the color of a lemon, is less sour than a lemon, but more bitter than a grapefruit. The rind from 100 bergamot oranges (both ripe and unripe) yields about 3 ounces of the fragrant essential oil.

But enough about that and on to the CHOCOLATE!

The graphics used on the box remind me of a Moorish palace floor. According to a Wall Street Journal article from 2011, planted behind the Belgravia Rococo shop, there is a Moroccan garden that has geometrical-design tiles which inspired the packaging.

Opening the box, I enjoyed reading about the history behind the company and the source of the cocoa that was used. One feature that I especially liked (and hope that other chocolate companies adopt) is that there are 4 small tabs at each corner that help keep the wrapped chocolate bar securely in place, preventing it from sliding around in the box.

Cutting open the top of the foil lined inner packaging, the citrus aroma immediately transported me back to my favorite afternoon tea outings. There is a rich dark color and matte finish to the bar which has seven narrow rectangles imprinted with the company name in block letters.

Segmenting one of the rectangles from the rest of the bar produced a dull snap, while breaking the rectangle in half produced a medium snap (possibly due to the air bubbles in the chocolate, see below for a photo). As I’m wont to do, I usually munch the first piece of any chocolate bar I try. This rewarded me with a satisfying crunch from the ground Earl Grey tea (3% of the ingredients) that was mixed into the chocolate itself – you can see black flecks of the tea throughout the chocolate.

There is a slow, even melt to the morsel and of course the mouthfeel is not smooth due to the tea. I was curious to see what a partially melted piece might look like…so here it is:

When a friend traveled to England to visit family for the holidays, I specifically requested that he bring back a different Rococo chocolate bar, which you will hear about in just a few weeks! Serendipity must have led him to also bring back this Earl Grey bar that I didn’t realize that I *needed* – such an unexpected pleasure to stroll down memory lane 🙂

It’s no wonder that founder Chantal Coady received the very first OBE (Order of the British Empire) for “services to chocolate making” as part of the Queen’s Birthday Honours List in June 2014.

To learn more about Rococo Chocolates and their range of artisan bars, check out: https://www.rococochocolates.com/

50 States Collaboration – Colorado / Cultura Craft Chocolate

My 5th grade choir learned the lyrics to the song “Fifty Nifty United States” and to this day I can still recite the states in alphabetical order…at least until where the soloists took over! Though, now that I’m thinking about it, I can’t decide if remembering 35 out of 50 states (70%) decades later is a point of pride or a quirk that I shouldn’t admit to?! Regardless, I’m thrilled to be asked to collaborate with Lori from Time to Eat Chocolate on this project to feature bean-to-bar makers from as many states as have them. We’ll be trading off sharing stories and featuring 1 to 2 makers per state, so be sure to also follow her blog so that you won’t miss a thing! 🙂

In fact, Lori started off the project yesterday by featuring a state near her: Maryland – here is a link to her post: https://timetoeatchocolate.com/2017/02/05/spagnvola/

The state I selected is close to me both geographically and alphabetically: Colorado

Cultura Craft Chocolate (established 2016) is the collaboration of two experienced chocolate makers: Damaris Ronkanen (formerly of Dead Dog Chocolate) and Matthew Armstrong (formerly of Mutari Chocolate). From their website: “Their shared values of always being curious, never compromising, pushing boundaries, and having fun are reflected in every aspect of Cultura – from the name, to the packaging and the origins they source their beans from, to how they make their chocolate and share their story.” This new brand is a tribute to the events that led them to chocolate.

Around Halloween last year, the colorful and decorative sugar skull designs featured prominently on the packaging caught my eye on Instagram; so when I discovered that they would be at the Northwest Chocolate Festival in Seattle, I knew I had to visit their booth and try them for myself.

While Cultura also sells larger (1.75 oz.) single origin, two ingredient bars, I was drawn to their mini bars (0.8 oz.) that either highlight a single origin (with varying percentages of cacao) or are made with inclusion ingredients. A fellow blogger recently posted about the trend of mini bars, so check out this article for more details.

First up was the 70% Haiti (“PISA” 2015 harvest). By the way, “PISA” stands for Produits Des Iles SA, a new cacao processor and exporter in Northern Haiti.

After unwrapping this single origin, two ingredient mini chocolate from the black foil, I noticed some “ghosting” marring the top surface of the bar. I believe this type of “blemish” appears when there are problems removing the chocolate from the mold.

Segmenting a tasting morsel, there was a brittle snap and the chocolate appeared a little dry with some air bubbles along the edge of the break.

Since I had noticed a fruity, sweet, raisin-like aroma upon opening the foil, I was surprised by the initial bitter and roasted flavor that I encountered. The chocolate melted evenly on my tongue, but was not completely smooth in texture and left an astringent feel to my mouth. This cacao is said to taste like fig, tart cherry and lightly roasted nuts + the tasting notes on the box mentions biscuit, raisin and malt, unfortunately none of those came across strongly to me and instead I tasted red berry.

Next was the 70% Mexican Spice (made with Dominican Republic Oko Caribe 2015 beans)

Peeling back the black inner foil wrapping, I could immediately smell pepper, though I wouldn’t have known they were guajillo chiles, a staple in Mexican cuisine, that impart a pleasant back-of-the-throat heat (personally a “4” on a scale of 1 to 10 in terms of heat intensity). What you see is a generous (though uneven) sprinkling of toasted almonds.

The almonds looked a little dry/powdery, so that when segmenting the bar, the almonds tended to fly everywhere and there was a woody/dull snap (possibly due to some air bubbles in the bar).

Overall, the slow and even melt of this Ceylon cinnamon and chile infused dark chocolate reminded me of a hearty, savory mole dish or a “warming from the inside out” Mexican hot chocolate beverage. The inherent sweetness of the chocolate itself helped to tone down the peppery heat.

Last, but not least, the 70% Peppermint-Nibs (also made with Dominican Republic Oko Caribe 2015)

There was a light (not overpowering) and refreshing aroma of peppermint oil upon opening the packaging and a generous sprinkling of cacao nibs. One of the things that surprised me was seeing bits of cacao husk near one corner of the bar.

While I had heard that tea could be made from the papery shells, I had usually avoided tasting them before. This errant piece of husk was pleasantly nutty and crunchy, so I’ll definitely have to investigate this chocolate making by-product more in the future!

Another thing that caught my eye was a slightly purple nib (see top left in the foreground of this photo), since the rest of the nibs were dark or light brown in color.

Overall, this bar had a sharper snap, a smoother melt and a creamier mouthfeel than the other two bars. Also, it seemed easier for me to appreciate the chocolate itself aside from the inclusion ingredients than the previous bar, as I was able to get hints of citrus that is inherent in beans from the Dominican Republic. While peppermint makes me think of winter and Christmas, this bar is sure to be a perennial favorite.

To learn more about Cultura and their different bars, check out their website: http://www.culturachocolate.com/

Also, remember to follow Lori’s “Time to Eat Chocolate” blog to read about future installments of our joint 50 States project!

Other chocolate makers in Colorado:

Beehive Chocolates

Dar Chocolate

Fortuna Chocolate

Nuance Chocolate

WKND Chocolate

While not bean-to-bar, Nova Chocolate is a craft chocolate company.

NOTE: If you know of any other bean-to-bar makers in Colorado that aren’t mentioned above, please leave a comment or send an email so that we can keep this list as up-to-date as possible!