V is for Virunga

Chocolate daily connects me to the greater world in unimaginable ways.

A couple of months ago, I made a plea on Instagram for recommendations for some of the letters that were stumping me. Thanks to Lilla from Little Beetle Chocolates/Taste.Better.Chocolate for suggesting Virunga, otherwise I might never have known about the endangered mountain gorillas that live in Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

From online sources and a 2014 documentary that can be seen on Netflix, I learned that Virunga National Park is the oldest and the largest national park on the continent of Africa. Originally established in 1925 to protect the mountain gorillas, Virunga National Park has been a UNESCO-designated World Heritage Site since 1979. There are currently less than 900 mountain gorillas left, making them a rare and critically-endangered species.

I’m pretty sure that it is illegal to explore for oil within a National Park; yet in 2013, about 80% of the Virunga National Park was allocated for oil concessions to a UK-based company. While that company demobilized in 2014, they still hold operating permits and the future of the exceptionally biodiverse National Park is uncertain. In an effort to research things for this blog post, I read that earlier this week there was more bloodshed within the Virunga National Park as five DR Congo soldiers were killed by the Rwandan army. It was truly shocking to read that during the Second Congo War between 1998 and 2003, there was upwards of 5 million human fatalities.

While I haven’t yet seen the Netflix documentary, I recently watched the companion piece called “Virunga: Gorillas in Peril.” It was heart-wrenching to watch the gorillas cower in fear each time they heard machine gun fire and I have much admiration for the individuals who have risked their lives to protect the mountain gorillas from poachers, war, and the devastating effects of oil exploration.

As mentioned on the back of the bar’s packaging, Amsterdam-based chocolate company, Original Beans, does what they can through their “one bar: one tree” program to help preserve some of the Earth’s rarest places. By entering a code from the box, I was led to a website with information on the progress made in Virunga. Additionally, this particular bar helps to protect the world’s last 800 mountain gorillas: https://originalbeans.com/cru-virunga-congo/

Now for the chocolate itself!

Original Beans: Cru Virunga 70%, Virunga Park, Congo DR

The main illustration on the front of the box pays homage to the mountain gorillas whose home is the Virunga National Park. I love the delicate gold foil stamping and embossing.

Unless you look carefully, you might miss the image at the top: a tree sprouting from the flattened image of the globe.

The back and inside panels provide more details about the efforts made by Original Beans, as I mentioned earlier in this post.

Removing the 12-rectangle bar from the biodegradable inner pouch, the chocolate itself felt silky smooth, almost a little greasy, to the touch despite the lightly frosted/bloomed appearance.

Running a fingertip over the sunburst image at the center of the rectangle seemed to smear the chocolate rather than bring back the lustre and shine.

There was an earthy, mushroom-like aroma to the chocolate. Splitting a rectangle in half with a medium snap, the aroma turned nutty, like browned butter. There were no air bubbles at the break point.

Smooth, creamy mouthfeel during the slow/even melt, punctuated by berry and citrus notes. The overall chocolate flavor lingers pleasantly on your palate with little to no astringency on the finish. This is a very easy-to-eat bar and you can support a good cause at the same time. WIN:WIN!

To learn more about Original Beans, their products and their philosophy, please visit their website: https://originalbeans.com/

U is for Udzungwa Mountains

As I’m nearing the end of the Alphabet, I seem to be losing enthusiasm for the last remaining letters. Somehow I just don’t have the same connection to origins as I did with company names (Round 1 of this project) or inclusion ingredients (Round 2). It probably doesn’t help when I don’t even know how to properly pronounce the name of the place I’m featuring…like this one: Udzungwa!

From online sources, the Udzungwa Mountains are the largest and most southern in a chain of eleven mountain ranges that form what is called the Eastern Arc. As the name implies, these mountains curve in a crescent shaped grouping starting in Tanzania and continuing north into Kenya toward Mount Kilimanjaro, which (I believe) is not part of the Arc.

The website of the WWF (World Wide Fund, formerly called World Wildlife Fund) describes the Udzungwa Mountains National Park as supporting a diverse community of wildlife including elephants, lions, eland, monkeys and leopards. Now it makes sense that Ocelot chose a leopard-like pattern for this particular 88% dark chocolate bar!

I love that the re-sealable, oxo-degradable plastic inner pouch calls to mind the tropical rainforest which is also found in Tanzania’s Udzungwa Mountains. You can almost hear the wind rustling through the leafy canopy.

Removing the thin bar from the packaging, I was mesmerized by the detailed mold that was used. Each of the 9 rectangles is etched with a different portion of the bigger image of a cacao tree with several pods in multiple stages of ripeness.

Honestly, I was surprised that this bar was not as dark in color as I was expecting from an 88%. You could almost be fooled into thinking this was a dark milk chocolate until you smelled and tasted it!

There was a robust, earthy and roasted aroma straight out of the packaging. Silky smooth texture to the touch while segmenting pieces with a medium snap, revealing some air bubbles at the break point.

Immediately bitter on the palate and at the back of the throat during the slow, even melt with some astringency on the finish. A second taste brought out fruity notes which reminded me of grapefruit pith and a buttermilk/yogurt tang appeared during a third taste. The astringency seemed to increase with each subsequent taste such that it quickly became somewhat not enjoyable for me. Maybe it’s just that I prefer bars in the 70-85% range?! I can think of several friends who would love this bar!

Thanks to Rachel (foodnerd4life) in the UK for having sent me three of Ocelot’s bars as part of our inaugural chocswap. Not sure why I didn’t research the chocolate makers behind this Edinburgh, Scotland brand earlier, but I really enjoyed reading this article about Matt and Ish who started their chocolate business one week after getting married!

If you are interested in buying some of their bars for yourself, please visit their website: https://ocelotchocolate.com/

Personally, the Fig & Orange bar is next on my wish list 🙂

P.S. On a separate note, it’s not too late to find a chocolate gift for your sweetie for Valentines’ Day. Here is a link to an article I wrote with some unique ideas: https://feast.media/looking-for-love-these-5-valentines-day-ideas-will-give-you-an-edge

T is for Turrialba

Sometimes it’s easier to decide when you have fewer options; however, in this case, I’m grateful that I had multiple choices available for the letter “T”! I was about to start playing “rock paper scissors” to pick between two bars, but then fate intervened and made the decision for me. Then again, maybe deep down, I really wanted to feature this bar from Southern California’s Bar Au Chocolat & the opportunity manifested itself perfectly!

Prior to tasting this bar, my most recent (yet tangential) experience with chocolate maker Nicole Trutanich was about 2 years ago when we used beans from her inventory during the bean-to-bar class taught by Ruth Kennison at Santa Monica’s The Gourmandise School of Sweets and Savories. During that two-day, hands-on class we used beans from Peru, Madagascar and the Dominican Republic.

When fellow chocolate blogger Max Gandy from Dame Cacao asked for bean-to-bar chocolates from Los Angeles, I knew I had to expand the scope to include hard-to-find-in-stores Bar au Chocolat (located in Manhattan Beach, which is considered part of the Greater LA area). So, I placed an order online: one bar for Max and another bar for me!

When I opened the box, I was mesmerized by Nicole’s shipping aesthetic! The two bars were artistically wrapped in a cloth napkin, in a style that called to mind furoshiki (Japanese cloth wrapping). This bundle had a stylish knot at the back and had been expertly folded to look like an envelope or satchel on the front with the company name and a tiny cacao flower at the edge of one corner.

The handmade paper wrapping the bar is so soft, it feels almost like suede. Is it bad that I enjoyed “petting” this bar?! I love the rustic touch of a handwritten “enjoy by” date underneath the embossed man on horseback, though I’m not certain what he is holding in his hand. It almost looks like a raptor (bird of prey) that might be used for hunting.

On the back of the outer wrapper, there is a wide, rectangular, custom embroidered informational ribbon positioned such that you can easily undo the folds and remove the foil wrapped bar from within.

It’s on the back of the bar that we learn the origin of the cacao beans: Turrialba, Cartago Province, Costa Rica. Since I’m not familiar with Costa Rica, I visited Bar au Chocolat’s website for more details. There I learned that the beans were “cultivated in rich, fertile soil against the romantic backdrop of the Turrialba volcano.” Ooh, now that sounds intriguing…time for further research!

According to Wikipedia, Turrialba is the easternmost and one of the largest of Costa Rica’s active volcanoes. Through a Google search, I discovered that Turrialba was quite active last year! Here is a link to an article from May 2017 featuring a photo + a short video of the ash produced by the eruption.

Removing the 2-ingredient, 72% dark chocolate bar from the foil inner wrapper was a little anticlimactic in comparison to the outer packaging. I noticed some “ghosting” and air bubbles marring the deep brown, matte finish of the 15-rectangle bar.

There was an initial roasted aroma, which then evolved to leather or tobacco once exposed to room temperature for a while. Breaking off a row of 3 rectangles from the larger bar produced a gentle snap, but there was a sharp snap when splitting a rectangle in half, revealing lots of nooks and crannies at the break point. Bringing the halved piece up to my nose, the smell reminded me of toasted and buttered whole wheat bread.

Smooth, slow/even melt with a delicate, but concentrated, berry/fruit flavor and some roasted nut notes. Initially the flavor didn’t seem to last long once the chocolate was gone from my mouth, but after the second or third bite, the flavor lingered pleasantly on the tip and back of my tongue. Chewing a piece intensified the fruit flavor with little to no astringency on the finish.

Hopefully Nicole’s atelier will open soon, the website says Spring of 2018!

To learn more about Bar au Chocolate, please visit: https://www.barauchocolat.com/

S is for Surabaya

Focusing on “origins” for this round of the Eating the Chocolate Alphabet project has provided so many opportunities to improve my knowledge of world geography. Until today, when I thought of Indonesia, the first thing that came to mind was a unique “rijsttafel” (rice table) meal that I experienced in Amsterdam several years ago. After researching this Willie’s Cacao dark chocolate bar, I have a new mental picture of the Indonesian island of Java and the port city of Surabaya (which also happens to be the second largest city in Indonesia, after Jakarta).

Curious about the etymology of the word Surabaya, I discovered that “sura” means a shark, while “baya” means a crocodile. So it makes perfect sense that Surabaya would use these two animals as part of their coat of arms above a motto that translates to “bravely facing danger.”

Source: Wikipedia

On the back of the foil stamped and embossed small square box, chocolate maker Willie Harcourt-Cooze is quoted as saying “This Javan Dark Breaking bean stopped me in my tracks. It’s an adventure in taste with its criollo characteristics and soft caramel and toffee flavours, born in the volcanic soil of Surabaya.”

The phrase “Dark Breaking bean” was new to me, so I decided to research further. Typing those words into a Google search engine, I discovered that every single entry referred to a Willie’s Cacao bar, so I had to dig more!

Luckily, a PDF version of a 2001 document from the International Trade Centre entitled “Cacao: A Guide to Trade Practices” provided the explanation I was looking for:

“When cocoa beans are examined in the laboratory or during grading, they are cut lengthways and the interior of the bean is examined for colour and defects. If the colour is light brown, the bean is considered ‘light breaking’. If the colour is dark, it is ‘dark breaking’. Light breaking beans are generally of the Criollo variety (some are Trinitario or Nacional-based), i.e. fine or flavour beans. Basic cocoa beans of the Forastero variety are generally dark breaking.”

This left me a little confused since the above information refers to Forastero beans being dark breaking, even though Willie’s label mentions Criollo, which seems to be the type of bean that the Dutch planted in Java/Indonesia according to this source from Bali (an island and province in Indonesia).

“Java became the first region outside the New World that began producing these heritage [Criollo] beans commercially and as these genetics acclimated to their new surroundings they took on their own terroir. Today these beans are called ‘Light Breaking Javas’ for the fact that they still exhibit the famed Criollo low pigmentation when the cacao beans are cut in half.”

Hmmm, I still have questions about the precise genetics of the beans used for this bar! But enough about that, let’s see how this bar tastes!!

Willie’s Cacao Surabaya Gold Indonesian Dark Chocolate Single Cacao 69%

Removing the bar from the gold foil inner pouch emblazoned with an offset cursive capital “W,” I noticed that the bar was lightly frosted and/or had a bloomed appearance as well as a coating of “chocolate dust.”

Lightly buffing the surface with a fingertip, returned the bar to its original shine. Below are the “during” and “after” shots for comparison purposes.

Breaking off a tasting morsel with a brittle/sharp snap, there was an earthy/mineral smell to the bar. The piece had a lightly textured (not completely smooth) mouthfeel during the slow/even melt. Almost immediately, there was a smoky flavor that seemed to cumulatively increase. Sadly, no soft caramel and/or toffee notes for me!

Curious about the cacao drying practices in Indonesia, I did another search and discovered this from a description of a Bonnat chocolate bar:

“The intemperate climate on this large Indonesian island means that, as with Papua [New Guinea] chocolate, the beans are dried using large open fires. The result is a chocolate infused with a little hint of smoke.”

Seeing this description made me remember that I had that exact Bonnat bar in my stash!

What a difference in color between a 65% dark milk (Bonnat) shown at the top of the photo and a 69% dark (Willie’s Cacao) at the bottom:

This made me understand “light breaking” and “dark breaking” beans much more clearly!

Have YOU tried bars from Surabaya, Java and/or Indonesia? Let me know your thoughts in a comment!

For more information on Willie’s Cacao, please visit: https://www.williescacao.com/

You can find additional information on Bonnat, here: https://bonnat-chocolatier.com/en

R is for Río Tambo

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

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

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

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

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

Parliament Chocolate – Peru: Río Tambo 70% Dark Chocolate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q is for Q’eqchî

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Parliament Chocolate – Guatemala: Q’eqchi 70%

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

O is for O’Payo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

M is for Matasawalevu

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

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

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

Source: Wikipedia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

K is for Kafupbo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

J is for Jangareddygudem

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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