L is for Lavender

Looking back, there are so many different “L” inclusions in chocolate: lemongrass, licorice, lilac, lilikoi and lucuma – for example. So, in retrospect, I probably shouldn’t have chosen lavender since that flavor and aroma is generally overpowering and overwhelming. I’m not sure exactly why I settled on lavender, though it was easy to find two bars for “compare and contrast” purposes. Bear with me on this post…

First off is Cowgirl Chocolates Mild Dark Chocolate Lavender (55%) made in Idaho. Love the silhouette of the cowgirl mounted on her horse.

Cowgirl Chocolates color coordinates their wrappers with the flavor of the chocolate bar. They use a yellow for their Lemonade White Chocolate, a rust color for their spicy dark orange espresso and, of course, a light purple for the lavender bar I’m about to taste.

Try as I might, I wasn’t able to slip this small bar out easily since the silver foil was attached to the inside of the paper sleeve.

Once I managed to unwrap the bar, I was fascinated by the unique way the foil had been folded, though I’m reminded of my failed origami attempts!

Each of the 6 small rectangles is imprinted with the word “Dream” in cursive, as well as a star and sliver of crescent moon, unfortunately the matte finish surface exhibited some signs of “transit wear.”

There is a sharp snap when segmenting pieces and looking at the cross section, I knew that I would have a silky smooth mouthfeel while melting a morsel on my tongue.

As a rule, I don’t like to post negative comments about chocolates, but this bar has a very strong floral perfume that reminded me of bath soap. I experienced an almost “cooling sensation” while tasting this bar, which I suspect comes from the lavender oil that was used.

While this chocolate sadly wasn’t appealing to me, there are several other mild and spicy chocolate bars available, as well as chipotle or habanero caramels. Visit their website for more details: https://www.cowgirlchocolates.com/

Next up is Dolfin Lavande fine (60% dark chocolate with lavender) made in Belgium. Love that the label has descriptions in 4 languages.

Like Cowgirl, they chose a light purple paper wrapper; though in this case, there is an illustration of a small bouquet of lavender flowers on the front.

There are two unique features of their outer packaging. The first thing you’ll notice is that the informational paper wrapper (portrait/vertical on the first panel and landscape/horizontal on all the remaining panels) is completely encased in plastic. The second is that the packaging opens like a tri-fold wallet or tobacco pouch.

Inside, the chocolate bar is wrapped tightly in a crimp sealed plastic wrapper adorned with small illustrations that, I assume, depict their other flavors (see if you can spot cinnamon, tea, star anise, mint, ginger and so much more!)

Cutting open the packaging with scissors, I could already smell a more subtle, delicate and natural aroma. Amidst the swirls on the back of the bar, I could see the bumpy outlines of the small lavender flowers (1% of the overall ingredients) that generously dotted the matte finish surface.

The bar is comprised of 6 long rectangles, each etched with symmetrical lines that radiated away from a small square at the center of the rectangle. Despite the tightly fitting inner packaging, there was still some scuffing and chocolate dust marring the surface.

There is a sharp, yet slightly crumbly snap to the bar. Clearly, the mouthfeel would not be smooth due to the lavender flower inclusion.

As you rub a tasting morsel against your tongue, you feel little pieces of the tubular bud (calyx) come away from the chocolate, like separating chaff from seeds, which then adds a crunch to each bite.

Here is a close up of two ridged lavender buds; I’m surprised that they still retain such a deep purple hue and that they look a little like fennel seeds.

There is definitely an herbal and floral taste to the chocolate, though it seems to be less pronounced when chomped rather than melted. Initially, the flavor was quite intense and overwhelmed the chocolate itself; though after several tastings I started to enjoy it and pictured myself walking through a lush field in Provence, France 😉

To discover Dolfin’s extensive product line, check out their website: http://www.dolfin.be/en/

Did you know that lavender is part of the mint family of flowering plants?! It’s said that inhaling the scent of lavender has calming and soothing effects. So, whenever I feel stressed in the future, all I need to do is sniff this chocolate…though, of course, I’ll be tempted to nibble at it too! 🙂

50 States Collaboration – Louisiana / Acalli Chocolate

Remember the adage “don’t judge a book by its cover”? Well, that definitely applies in this case! While you might be tempted to dismiss the plain packaging with a mishmash of typefaces and fonts; if you did, you would be missing out on the anything but simple two-ingredient chocolate that awaits you inside.

I first learned about this bean-to-bar maker from Louisiana through fellow blogger and chocophile “37 Chocolates.” In October 2016, Estelle Tracy (aka 37 Chocolates) posted an interview with Carol Morse, the founder and maker of Acalli Chocolates in New Orleans. In that interview you’ll learn about the meaning behind the company’s name, how Carol got started down her chocolate path and the challenges she faces producing award-winning chocolates due to the heat and humidity in New Orleans. Lucky for me, through Instagram, I was able to discover that Honeycreeper Chocolate, who generally sells only through local to Birmingham (Alabama) pop-ups, was willing to sell and ship me a bar to California so that I could feature it here!

El Platanal Chulucanas, Peru 70%

One thing you don’t notice, until you start taking photos and zooming in, is that the light aqua/turquoise background color of the outer box is made up of tiny pixels/dots, such that it creates a sort of moiré pattern depending on the angle of the camera shot. This picture below, gives you an example of what I mean by a moiré pattern (start at the top left hand corner of the box and you should be able to see some yellowish wavy lines cascading down at a diagonal until about the Good Food Awards sticker):

While, the pattern has seemingly disappeared in this photo, when placed side-by-side the 15-rectangle unwrapped bar:

Unwrapping the bar from the thick heat crimped plastic pouch, the matte finish is marred by some chocolate dust and a single “ghosting” dot at the exact center of the bar.

I also noticed an unusual swirl pattern on the back of the bar (ignore the fingerprints, please!)

As I was taking photos, deep fruity aromas kept wafting to my nose and that gave me a good idea of what the bar would ultimately taste like. Segmenting tasting morsels, there was a medium sharp snap to the bar and tiny chocolate “crumbs” tended to fly everywhere in the process.

The smooth and creamy mouthfeel was punctuated with vibrant bursts of tart fruit which mellowed to a raisin-like sweetness and ended with a lightly astringent aftertaste. I’d like to think that my impressions aren’t too far off from the tasting notes that mention plum and tangerine. 😉

From the back of the packaging: Acalli believes that they are the final stewards on cacao’s journey from a tropical fruit to artisan bar. The growers and farmers develop flavor and acidity through fermentation and drying, while the chocolate makers are responsible for highlighting the array of flavors unique to each origin. There is nothing flashy or gimmicky about this bar, but I’d say that Carol accomplished her goal since the natural citrus notes from this Peruvian cacao were able to shine through with the simplicity of only adding organic cane sugar to the beans!

To read more about Acalli and discover their other flavors and drinking chocolate mixes, check out their website: http://www.acallichocolate.com/

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

NOTE: If you know of any other bean-to-bar makers in Louisiana, please leave a comment or send an email…we like to keep our resource lists as up-to-date as possible!

K is for Kale

If you’ve been following along for a while, you’ll know that I enjoy trying unique or unusual inclusion ingredients that you wouldn’t normally associate or pair with chocolate…remember the foie gras from a couple of weeks ago? Well, this is the COMPLETE opposite end of the spectrum since it’s a vegan and “healthy” chocolate bar!

When I was putting together the list of chocolates to feature for each letter of the alphabet, I *knew* I had to include Compartés’ Kale bar for “K” week! I first tried this bar a couple of years ago when it was sold under the name “Vegan Zen.” The ingredients remain the same as before: 75% dark chocolate, kale, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, olive oil, sea salt, sunflower seeds (though those were hiding on this bar?) and spirulina; but I wonder if they had to change the branding/packaging to read “Vegan Kale” because too many people bought a bar without realizing that the main inclusion ingredient was a leafy cruciferous vegetable?! :0

Don’t forget to read the pseudo haiku on the back of the box. While it doesn’t follow the 3 line poem format with 17 syllables (broken down as 5/7/5), it’s still a fun segway to what awaits upon opening the packaging.

Inside the colorful cardboard box, the bar is wrapped in a gold metallic heat sealed/crimped pouch with the distinctive clean lines of the company logo that make me think of the Arts and Crafts Movement of the early 1900s. Did you know that while the Los Angeles-based chocolatier started out as Comparte’s in 1950, it morphed into Compartés when the brand was re-invigorated under current owner Jonathan Grahm, who took over running the company at the age of 21 (he started at the tender age of 15!)

Chevrons and triangles that are evocative of the Art Deco style feature prominently on the front side of the bar.

Though there is a bit of scuffing to the surface of the bar, you can already tell that segmenting tasting morsels will be both easy and fun, since the rows can be either horizontal or at a diagonal. Oh, the possibilities!! 😉

In my mind, the “star of the show” is the inclusion side which is photogenically blanketed with crunchy dehydrated kale chips, pumpkin seeds and white sesame seeds. I’m not really familiar with spirulina, but I imagine that the deep green color is enhanced by the protein-rich algae.

Based on photos that I’ve seen on the company website, I assume that lacinato kale was used. This leafy vegetable is also called dinosaur kale, Tuscan kale or black kale, among a variety of other names. You would think that the flavor of this bar would be bitter, earthy or medicinal, but you’ll be surprised to learn that it’s actually nutty and sweet despite the fact that there is no additional sugar aside from what is included in the base cocoa mass made from South American sourced beans.

It’s difficult to isolate the dark chocolate by itself, so when chomping pieces of this bar (I don’t think it’s possible to “melt” morsels like you’re *supposed* to), the flavor reminds me a bit of coconut or marzipan. Overall, there is just a slight vegetal hint. Truly, if you were to try this bar without knowing the ingredients, you would not be able to guess kale!

Jonathan Grahm, a self-taught chocolatier, was named of one Forbes “30 under 30” in 2011 when he was just 27. He has no formal culinary or business training, but since buying the company from his parents at age 24 the brand has grown internationally with several popular shops in Japan. You can read more about that here. The Brentwood, CA shop has attracted Hollywood celebrities, both back in the 1950s as well as today. From the outside, the shop looks almost like a high-end jewelry store rather than a purveyor of sweet treats; which ties in to Jonathan’s vision of fusing chocolate with art, style, design and fashion.

You’ve probably been wanting to up your “5 a day” and leafy greens consumption, right?! Well, here is your chance to feel virtuous and daring at the same time!! This is one of my favorites & I encourage you to try this unique chocolate bar for yourself! I think you’ll be happy you did & please keep me posted on your thoughts!

In addition to walls of colorfully packaged chocolate bars, their bonbons and chocolate dipped fruit are not to be missed. Check out their website for more details: https://compartes.com/

50 States Collaboration – Washington DC / Harper Macaw & Chocotenango

The cross-country chocolate swap and collaboration project continues! Sometimes you can get complacent about things that are familiar to you; so, from the start, Lori & I thought it would be fun for each of us to review chocolates from the other’s hometown to get a “fresh perspective” on them. She reviewed three chocolate makers from the Southern California area yesterday, so today I’m writing about two chocolate makers from the Washington, D.C. area.

Harper Macaw Chocolate Makers has been on my “wish list” for a while now, so I’m very grateful to Lori for choosing these 3 bars from the Rainforest Origin series for me. Check out this link from their website to learn more about the Brazilian cacao sources and conservation efforts to turn chocolate into a force for tropical reforestation.

Each of the thick white cardboard boxes is decorated with a brightly colored kaleidoscope imagery featuring a different endangered animal. Additionally, there are thin gold foil stamped & embossed lines accenting the box and these are repeated again on the chocolate bars themselves. One of my favorite gold accents is the company logo, which looks to be a stylized face of a macaw parrot, with plumage framing its beak and eyes.

Each of these chocolate bars was made with just three ingredients: cocoa beans, cane sugar and cocoa butter. Instead of utilizing the perforated “tear strip” on the back panel of the box, I decided to keep the packaging intact by easily lifting the flap from the double stick tape, which could then be used to “re-seal” the envelope-like closure.

Though not pictured, each bar was wrapped in a crimped heat sealed, metallic plastic pouch. Additionally, each bar of chocolate had a dull matte finish with varying degrees of chocolate “dust” marring the surface. I’m surprised that none of the boxes had any tasting notes listed, though the company website does mention the flavor notes there. I didn’t consult the website until just now, so we’ll see how “close” I was able to get during my “unbiased” tastings 😉

First up is the 74% Atlantic Forest / Single Estate Vale do Juliana bar, featuring a Golden Lion Tamarin Monkey.

Removing the bar from the inner packaging, the aroma reminded me of dark roasted coffee.

There was a brittle, dry snap to the bar which revealed some air bubbles and a few unusual white flecks at one section of the tasting morsel (see the upper left corner of the photo below):

Initially, the piece tasted like mocha and then evolved into an earthy flavor during the smooth and even, slow melt. This did not have a creamy mouthfeel and was lightly astringent on the finish. According to the website, the tasting notes are listed as: Toffee, licorice, peppercorn… This one’s a bit of a mystery

Next up is the 77% Amazon Rainforest / Single Estate Tomé Açu bar, featuring poison dart frogs.

This bar had a grassy, hay-like aroma which then transitioned to a dark roasted smell once it had a chance to “breathe” a bit. I’m always fascinated by the “shear pattern” upon creating a tasting morsel.

However, subsequent pieces looked completely different / no “shear”!

This one was the darkest in color and had a sharp snap with an earthy, herbal, almost black licorice flavor. The mouthfeel was more “juicy” than the last bar and also had a smooth, slow, even melt. The website’s tasting notes describe the bar as: Earthy with dried fruit such as raisins

You can also read about Lori’s impressions about this bar here.

Originally I was only going to try two of the three Harper Macaw bars that Lori had sent me, but I just couldn’t resist trying all of them!

Next up is the 75% Atlantic Forest / Single Estate M. Libânio, featuring Agrias claudina butterflies.

Sadly, this bar had the most chocolate “dust” marring the surface.

The aroma reminded me of dried figs and had a brittle, almost hollow sounding snap.

Surprisingly, there were sour, tangy notes to the chocolate and a chalky astringent aftertaste despite the smooth and even, slow melt. The website lists the flavor as: Malt, tart cherries, white fruit

Here is a photo of all three bars side-by-side to show the differences in colors even through the cacao used only varied by a few percentage points. Some of my descriptions were close to the tasting notes, but I still have a long way to go in perfecting my palate!

To learn more about Harper Macaw and see even more colorful packaging, including their political collection, visit their website: https://harpermacaw.com/

But wait, there’s more…I also had the opportunity to taste a bar from Chocotenango! Lori just recently wrote about this company, so check out her blog post to learn more about how they got started.

Cardamom is one of my favorite flavors, so I was thrilled when Lori was able to obtain this 73% Dominican Republic dark chocolate Arabian Nights bar on my behalf!

The royal blue foil doesn’t really go with the cream and green colored outer packaging, but I was fascinated by the way they wrapped the bar on the diagonal, which reminds me of the Japanese Furoshiki technique.

The twelve rectangle bar with a matte finish sustained some damage in transit, possibly because the bar is much more narrow than the outer cardboard sleeve packaging. There was a sharp snap and a creamy, smooth mouthfeel with the occasional crunch from a citrusy cardamom seed.

Overall, I loved the strong green cardamom flavor and aroma! It will be hard not to eat this entire bar within the next few days. To learn more about Chocotenango and see their other flavors, please check out their website: https://www.chocotenango.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 Washington, D.C.:

Undone Chocolate

NOTE: If you know of any other bean-to-bar makers in Washington, D.C. 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!

J is for Juniper Berries

Growing up, there was a tree in my parents’ backyard that produced a small, edible, grape-shaped, fuchsia colored berry. Those were the days before the internet, so we consulted encyclopedias and asked neighbors for ideas on what this tree and berry were called. Up until a few years ago, I was convinced that these berries were juniper…but, just today, I discovered that these are actually “Lilly Pilly Berries”!

Why am I telling you this story? Well, when I thought of a juniper chocolate bar, I naively imagined that there would be plump, still somewhat chewy berries featured prominently on the inclusion side. My bubble was burst, but that’s OK…read on to hear more about my experience with chocolate paired with juniper berries!

One of the current masters of the photogenic “chocolate topography” inclusion bar is Violet Sky Chocolate from South Bend, Indiana. I featured them during “round 1” of the Eating the Chocolate Alphabet project and you can read more about them here. When you read about the first bar featured in that post from 2016, you’ll better understand why my mental picture included lots of berries poking out from the chocolate! 😉

Anyway, today’s bar is called “Forest Spirits” – a barrel aged dark chocolate with raspberry, juniper berry and maple sugar.

The outer packaging features a colorful, thick paper with a grosgrain ribbon like texture and a color-coordinating construction paper band letting you know a bit about the bar. The folds are kept closed with an informational sticker that peels away easily.

Inside this, the 28-rectangle bar was wrapped in bright fuchsia colored foil. Honestly, I was not prepared for how the bar looked, since in my mind’s eye there should be juniper berries visible at first glance! Don’t get me wrong, I love the generous amounts of freeze dried raspberries and chunks of maple sugar, but I’ll admit to pouting for a while 😉

I was afraid of turning the bar over to see the “top” side of the bar, but thankfully the inclusions stayed mostly adhered, though some of the raspberry and sugar “dust” had come loose and stuck to the foil to make the other side a little “speckled” – like remnants of confetti after a party.

There was a medium-crisp snap to the bar and a combination of raspberry “dust” and little flecks of chocolate seemed to fly everywhere.

The first bite was tart and acidic. Once my tongue had become acclimated to the flavor, subsequent bites were more mellow and fruity. The aroma triggered a memory, but I still can’t conjure it exactly 🙁 Placing a morsel with the inclusion side away from my tongue, the chocolate was creamy, smooth and there were hints of juniper, though I really thought it would taste more like gin! Some of the chunks of maple sugar were a little tough to crunch on and there was a grainy, earthy sweetness. My only complaint is that tiny raspberry seeds tended to get stuck in my teeth afterwards.

Neither the packaging nor the company website provided information about the percentage of cacao or the country of origin of the beans that were used, but I assumed that something darker than 70-75% had been used based on the taste and prior experience with Violet Sky bars. I wondered how the juniper berries had been incorporated since I knew they can be potent in flavor. Was some sort of infusion used? If so, how?…since most online recipes suggest adding the berries to cream, but I knew that wasn’t the case with this bar. To satisfy my curiosity, I sent an email to Hans, the chocolate maker, to get more information and when I woke up this morning his answer was waiting for me in my inbox!

“Forest Spirits can be on different chocolates, always barrel aged though. That one was a blend of gin barrel aged Brazil 77%, rye whiskey barrel aged Haiti 77%, and a bit of rye Brazil 88%. It’s about 80% after blending.

I use journeyman Distillery barrels from near where I am, they are located in Three Oaks Michigan. Also I age whole raw beans, usually for 2 or 3 months. Usually I use the barrels two times because after that the flavor becomes milder and more woody. 

The juniper berries are simmered in maple syrup to extract some flavor into the maple, which is then cooked down and crystalized. Then the berries that came out of the maple are crushed and sprinkled on the bar also. So basically it’s candied juniper powder. Perhaps bigger pieces of the juniper berries would lead to a more evolving flavor, but I was a bit worried about an overly tough texture. The juniper berries I have are pretty chewy/crunchy on their own, not freeze dried, but just dried like a spice. What do you think?”

After reading his message, I remembered that years ago I had used whole, dried juniper berries to flavor a meaty stew, so I searched through my spice pantry and, lo and behold, I still had a baggie of them.

They smell a little like licorice and look a bit like large peppercorns with a chewy, papery skin concealing the tough, hard seeds inside. They taste woody and astringent, but not unpleasantly so.

Did you know that junipers are the only spice derived from a conifer and aren’t really berries at all…they are the female seed cone from a juniper tree? All species of junipers grow berries, but some are too bitter to eat.

Armed with new knowledge and with my tongue “primed” from having chomped on a few dried juniper berries, I decided to have a second taste. Biting into a rectangle, my tongue was tingly and there seemed to be a “cooling” sensation as I melted the piece on my tongue. The maple sugar tasted “earthier,” but overall there were fruity bursts of flavor as I chomped on another morsel. It was hard to isolate the chocolate from the rest of the inclusions (especially the tangy raspberries), so I would munch, munch, munch trying to put my finger on the different tastes that I was experiencing and put words to those flavors. It’s no wonder that only half a bar remains! :0 There is a lingering, long lasting, fruity, tart aftertaste.

Knowing the “behind the scenes” process for this bar, I’m not sure that I would change anything. However, if there was a way to “bump up” the botanical flavor of the juniper without it being overwhelming, I’m certain THAT would be delicious! :p

For more details, please check out Violet Sky’s Facebook page as it contains more information than their website.

50 States Collaboration – Michigan / Fresh Coast Chocolate Co.

So far, every week during this collaboration project, I’ve tried to find a connection between the state and/or maker that Lori posts about and the one that I write about a day later. From our tentative publishing schedule, I knew that Lori was going to write about New Jersey, but I struggled to choose which state to feature next. I decided on Michigan because both states have lighthouses that I admire (and, truth be told, I selected this particular bar SOLELY on the photo featured on the packaging!) So, imagine my surprise after reading Lori’s post about Glennmade yesterday, that my seemingly random and “tangential” choice would pay off, since Glenn from Glennmade learned some of his chocolate skills from another Michigan bean-to-bar chocolate maker: Mindo Chocolate Makers!

When we were compiling a list of chocolate makers within the U.S., one of the sources that we relied upon was compiled by Lisabeth in Canada as part of her “Ultimate Chocolate Blog.” It was through her blog post that I discovered that Fresh Coast Chocolate Co. actually started out under a different company name. With a little research, I found a March/April 2015 interview with Nichole Warner where I learned that “Just Good Chocolate” started in October 2011 by making a cacao-based snack called “Nibblers” and at that time they had the goal of becoming Northern Michigan’s first bean-to-bar manufacturer as well as eventually having a wind and solar powered factory. In May 2016, Fresh Coast launched their new brand and packaging and also won a Good Food Award last year.

Generally I pay attention to country of origin, cacao percentage and/or inclusion ingredients when choosing a bar to feature. However, in this case, what caught my eye immediately was Summer Osborn’s photo of the South Manitou Island Lighthouse, located in Lake Michigan, which can be reached seasonally by ferry boat.

One of the things that you will notice on the back of the packaging is the three values that Fresh Coast Chocolate Co. lives by, which are expanded in more detail on their website:

  • Quality: We don’t settle. It is that simple.
  • Craftsmanship: We don’t take shortcuts. Ever.
  • Integrity: Transparency and honesty matter.

From the packaging and company website, we learn that the beans for this single-origin bar come from the Kilombero District in the Morogoro Region of southern Tanzania. Kokoa Kamili is a social enterprise that works with more than 2,500 farmers across the region and beans are fermented and dried in their centralized facility to ensure uniform quality; all of these elements seem to fit in with their values.

Unsealing one of the flaps from the outer envelope, the 20-rectangle bar is wrapped in lined silver foil.

Just peeling back the folds of the inner wrapping, I could smell a red berry aroma. Turning over the bar, this was the first time I had seen a mold that reminded me of “racing pinstripes” with five diagonal lines running through the middle of each rectangle. The overall glossy finish, with a minimum of chocolate “dust” marring the surface, was both aesthetically visually appealing and very stylishly photogenic.

There was a medium-crisp snap to the bar and the pieces segmented evenly and easily along the score lines. While I can definitely appreciate that Fresh Coast touts having “slightly over the top perfectionism” in their production processes; one thing that I noticed after segmenting 4 rectangles from the bottom row was that the mold must have been tilted slightly during cooling, since some pieces were slightly thicker than their neighboring pieces and the bar would not lay completely flat.

Regardless, taste is the most important aspect and I am constantly amazed when two-ingredient bars can have such vibrant flavor notes without any inclusions. This Batch 003 bar tasted like a not-too-sweet, tangy raspberry with a slight citrus aftertaste. Melting a piece on my tongue produced a creamy, smooth and even melt. As an interesting side note, since it’s unseasonably warm here at the moment, I’m keeping my chocolate stash in a wine fridge set to 62 degrees F. Straight out of the fridge, this bar had a nutty aroma and a more muted raspberry flavor. Allowing the morsels a few moments in this upper 80s degree room, the pleasantly intense and almost juicy berry flavor returns full force.

There are four more single-origin bars + a hot cocoa blend and brownie mix to try. My mouth is watering already! To learn more & purchase bars for yourself, please visit: http://freshcoastchocolate.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 Michigan:

Mindo Chocolate Makers

NOTE: If you know of any other bean-to-bar makers in Michigan 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!

I is for Irish Whiskey

When I was initially going through inclusion ingredients in my head during the planning stages for “round 2” of this Eating the Chocolate Alphabet project, I don’t think I fully realized that the letter “I” would be relatively difficult to fill. Maybe it’s me, but the only English-language foods that I could think of involved the word “ice.” Now it’s your turn, go ahead & take a moment, I’ll wait! While I was waiting, I did a search for Spanish foods and discovered Idiazábal (a Basque smoked cheese); if someone finds a chocolate paired with that ingredient, I’ll try it! Google also revealed that there are imbe fruit, ink nuts or iyokan (which is a Japanese citrus similar to a mandarin orange), but I’ve never seen any chocolates with those flavorings, have you?

Since I was undeterred, it was now time to find an “I” word modifier: like Icelandic, Irish, Italian or Israeli. I’ve had several chocolates with Icelandic Sea Salt, but that didn’t seem “special” enough for this blog. Someone suggested Irish Coffee, but I’m not a fan of the coffee flavor profile. So, when Jack from Chocolate Covered San Francisco mentioned that he had an Irish Whiskey bar, I knew I had finally found something I could feature and enjoy!

Ococoa is not unfamiliar to me since in mid-January I tried Diana Malouf’s flavorful and unique ingredient/flavor combinations that are part of her 9 piece Butter Cup Collection. If only I had paid more attention to her other product lines during that visit, this Irish Whiskey Caramel bar could have avoided a 700+ mile journey to reach me!! Oh, the irony!

This Irish Whiskey Caramel bar is made up of 6 thick filled rectangles, decorated on the “back” with a wood-grain patterned transfer sheet. The tops of some of the rectangles were starting to implode a little bit, partly because of the transit and partly because, by the time I was sampling this bar, the “enjoy by” date had elapsed by about a month :’(

There was a strong alcohol aroma and the rectangles cracked while I was segmenting this bar by hand. The milk and white chocolate caramel center from the first rectangle I tried seemed a little grainy and/or crystallized rather than runny, chewy or gooey.

However, when I bit into that piece (and all subsequent pieces), the middle was creamy and smooth, almost like a dulce de leche texture, but wow…it is BOOZY! Probably not what I should have been eating first thing in the morning! It would make for a perfect after-dinner treat though!

Overall, I liked the amount of burnt sugar caramel encased in the thin dark chocolate shell and the slight back-of-the-throat burn from the alcohol. Next time I want to try the Honey Liqueur Caramel bar, the Cardamom Orange truffle bar or the Peat Smoked truffles!

To learn more about Ococoa, please visit: https://ococoa.com/

And if you find any other unique “I” inclusion ingredients, PLEASE send me a message to let me know!!

50 States Collaboration – Washington / indi chocolate + Theo Chocolate

Since Time to Eat Chocolate wrote about Florida yesterday, I decided to feature a state that is diagonally on the opposite side of the country: Washington!

Thanks again to Jess (aka the Seattle Dessert Geek) for helping to shop for chocolates in her hometown! In addition to sending me a variety of chocolates, she sent a super cute hand-drawn card with the penguin avatar from my Instagram handle @myic2016!

First up is a mini single-origin tasting “pod” in the shape of a, you guessed it, halved teaspoon-sized cacao pod packaged in a re-sealable plastic pouch…as if there could ever be any leftovers! 😉

All of indi’s single-origin chocolates are made with just three ingredients: cacao, sugar and cacao butter and, although it’s not stated on the packaging, this Nicaragua pod is made from 72% cacao.

Due to the size and shape of this chocolate, I wasn’t able to “snap” the piece, so I forgot to smell the chocolate after I bit into it! 🙁

I think this was the first time tasting Nicaraguan chocolate, so I regret not sniffing it before eating the whole pod. The flavor was earthy and reminded me of black olives. The slow and mostly smooth melt finished with a slightly tannic aftertaste.

Next is a single-origin mini bar made from Orecao beans.

The country of origin isn’t listed on the packaging, but their website reveals that it is Ecuadorian. I remember this being one of the Heirloom Cacao Preservation “Designation 7” chocolates that I tried last year. If you are interested in learning more about HCP, here is the link to that post.

Though the bar sustained some damage in transit and there was a bit of chocolate “dust” marring the surface, it’s hard not to be captivated by the decorative multi-segment bar depicting leaves as well as whole and cracked opened cacao pods.

Since I had neglected to smell the last bar, I made sure to pay attention this one! To me, there seemed to be a faint “industrial” aroma, but thankfully that didn’t really transfer to the taste of the chocolate itself. Overall the chocolate looked a little dry in appearance and had a sharp snap when breaking it into tasting morsels.

I experienced a grainy mouthfeel and the piece melted slowly on my tongue. Interestingly, the taste seemed to change depending on how I ate the piece: when “chomped,” the flavor reminded me of raisins, but when I melted a piece in my mouth, I was reminded of a hard rind cheese! Afterwards, there was a long-lingering astringent/chalky aftertaste.

indi chocolate is best kept secret of Pike Place Market…but now YOU know! They are currently located on the 5th floor, but it sounds like soon they will be moving to the new Market Front (Spring 2017), so be sure to check out their website for more details: https://indichocolate.com/

One of my current favorite inclusion ingredients at the moment is breadcrumbs, so I couldn’t miss trying a 70% dark chocolate Bread & Chocolate bar which is a twist on a pain au chocolate breakfast viennoiserie and is part of Theo Chocolate’s “fantasy line.”

My only complaint with Theo’s bars is that the outer packaging is sealed so tightly, that it’s impossible to open the wrapper without ripping it. Being ingenious, I ended up using a letter opener to slice the informational sticker from the paper. While it used to bother me when the inner foil encasing the bar itself was folded with the outer wrapper, I now realize that it’s a much neater way to keep both layers crisply folded.

The “back” side of the bar is mottled with tiny dots that appear to be the beginnings of bloom and there were also plenty of large lumps poking out, showing that Theo was generous with the inclusion ingredients!

Though not pictured, this mini bar is made with a 4 rectangle mold and there was a matte finish to the “top side” of the chocolate. Breaking off one of the large rectangles produced a dull snap & little flecks of chocolate flew everywhere. So many nooks and crannies and chunks of bread!

The crunchy, lightly salted, creamy, not-too-sweet bar had a toasted butter aroma that begs to be chomped NOT melted! I would have loved to have known the origin of the chocolate, though perhaps it was a blend?

Just last week, as part of my separate Eating the Chocolate Alphabet project, I featured a different Theo bar, please follow this link if you are interested in reading more about that adventure.

Theo Chocolates can often be found at Bristol Farms and/or Whole Foods Markets in Southern California, but you can always order directly through their website: https://www.theochocolate.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 Washington:

Bellflower Chocolate Company


Tease Chocolates

NOTE: If you know of any other bean-to-bar makers in Washington 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!

A Tale of Two Horchatas

Let me start off by saying that I love horchata! There is one that I still dream about from a Puerto Rican restaurant in North Hollywood that makes theirs with ground sesame seeds. But the one that is, for me, the paragon of all horchatas comes from a small mole restaurant in the Maravilla neighborhood of East Los Angeles. Their horchata is made Oaxacan-style, drizzled with fuscia-colored cactus-fruit syrup, rimmed with pink sugar and topped with roasted pepitas (pumpkin seeds). <drool>

However, when I started looking for unusual inclusion ingredients to feature as part of the Eating the Chocolate Alphabet series, horchata never really crossed my mind. This non-alcoholic beverage is typical in Central and South American restaurants, but is also available in Spain. Each country has their own style and a plethora of different ingredients can be used for the flavoring. Some call for milk, others water. Until I started discovering that this drink could be made with ground nuts or seeds, my only experience had been with the ground rice and cinnamon variety.

Shortly after visiting the Mast Brothers factory in Downtown LA, I heard they were selling a Los Angeles collection that included an horchata bar! When one of my friends texted me that she was at the Artisanal LA holiday market in December, I sent her on a quest to find some bars for me. Please don’t write to me and ask if I’ve read the scathing 4-part DallasFood.org exposé articles about Mast Brothers’ chocolate…the answer is yes, and I refer you back to the beginning of this post: I LOVE HORCHATA (that and I’m a sucker for chocolate bars that are part of an “exclusive” collection…I blame my boyfriend for corrupting me in that regard)! 😉

As always, the Mast Brothers’ packaging could easily double as an abstract art print. The thick textured paper of this bar has bold swaths of neutral, earth-tone colors and is credited as “artwork by Block Shop Textiles.”

Like all the other bars that I’ve seen, the back of the package has a center justified, line-by-line list of ingredients.

The cacao is called out simply as 58%, without a country of origin; so if you’re inquisitive (like me), you search on their website to discover that Tanzanian beans were used for this bar. Peeling back the informational sticker to unfold the packaging, you’ll see a gold foil wrapped bar made from a standard 28-rectangle mold.

Not surprisingly, the primary aroma is that of cinnamon, though there is also a nutty scent as well. Segmenting some pieces, there was a soft and slightly brittle snap.

The mouthfeel is certainly not smooth, but not gritty like stone ground/minimally processed cacao either. Despite the addition of cocoa butter, the chocolate seems disappointingly dry instead of creamy. There is a muted tang from the buttermilk; but, overall, this bar falls short of the flavor I would expect to justifiably represent the diverse and vibrant Hispanic culinary tapestry within the city of Los Angeles.

As you might know, I’m also currently working on a “50 States” collaboration project with Time to Eat Chocolate. To save on shipping costs, I volunteered to cover Washington since it’s geographically closer to me. Also, lucky for me, I have a Washington expert in my arsenal…for who better knows about the “sweets scene” than a dessert blogger! Jess, aka the Seattle Dessert Geek, was instrumental in acquiring some chocolates for me since apparently there are some Theo Chocolate flavors that never make it out of the city. As a shameless plug for my other project, stay tuned when I cover two different bean-to-bar chocolate makers from Washington soon!

Sorry for veering off on a tangent there…now back to this post! During Jess’ day-after-Valentines’ shopping trip, we were both surprised to discover that one of Theo’s new flavors is Cinnamon Horchata! So instead of keeping that bar for the collaboration project, I decided to feature it with my other horchata bar; though, in retrospect, maybe it wasn’t a fair side-by-side comparison :0

As mentioned, this 45% milk chocolate bar is one of the newer additions to their “Fantasy Bar” line. The colorful illustration on the packaging (as well as the name) shows that cinnamon will be prominently featured; but what I didn’t realize until reading the ingredients is that it would also include crisped brown rice and crisped quinoa. One of my only complaints, aside from the fact that the first ingredient listed is sugar, is that the foil was wrapped with the external paper and the folds were sealed so tightly that I had to practically mutilate the outer band to get to the chocolate bar.

As you can see the bar is just bulging with crispy crunchy goodness and who doesn’t love a bar with crunch?!

Here are a couple of close ups of the inclusion ingredients: the first showing the crisped rice peeking out from a segmented piece & the second showing a small lump of un-dispersed ground cinnamon:

This is a relatively small bar, just 4 large horizontal rectangles. While cinnamon is the initial aroma, you also can’t miss a milky sweet, caramel scent to the chocolate. Breaking off one of the rectangles produced a brittle snap and tiny shards tended to fly everywhere! Don’t even try to melt this bar, chomp away blissfully, combining creamy with crunchy!

Of the two horchata bars that I tasted, Theo was the winner for me! Now if someone could figure out a way to combine chocolate with either of the two horchata drinks that I mentioned at the beginning of this post, THAT would be the BEST of times!