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/

I is for Izabal

These days, I’m constantly on the lookout for new chocolate origins; however, sometimes I get so excited about discovering a new place, that I forget to write down who makes (or sells) the bar 😮 Such was the case with Izabal, Guatemala. Apparently, I dutifully typed the name into my “wish list” spreadsheet at the beginning of October, but neglected to note the maker, foolishly thinking “I’ll remember when it comes time for that letter of the Alphabet.” By late-October, my mind was a blank. EEKS! Now what?!

Instagram Stories to the rescue! For a day, this “plea for help” appeared:

Lucky for me, a fellow chocolate enthusiast reminded me that one of my favorite chocolate makers, Violet Sky, sells a bar made with Izabal beans! Looking back, I was able to trace my first discovery of the origin. Thanks to chocolate maker Hans Westerink’s excellent customer service, he was already holding a bar for me! ❤️  The day after returning from a busy trip to Seattle’s Northwest Chocolate Festival, he shipped me a bar which arrived yesterday, just in time for the end of “I” week!

The coastal Department (what we would call a state) of Izabal surrounds Guatemala’s largest lake and is bordered on the North by Belize and on the East by Honduras. This area has a rich ecosystem and a mixture of Mayan and Garifuna cultures. The Garifuna people (which are found primarily in Belize, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua) are an Afro-Caribbean mixed race, follow this link to read more.

I was fascinated to learn that at Hacienda Rio Dulce, where the beans were grown, hardwood trees like mahogany and rosewood are intercropped with the fine flavor cacao varietals. Here is a short video from the Izabal Agro Forest website which shares the sights and sounds of the plantation/farm.

Just look at rainbow of colorful pods!

Source: Izabal Agro Forest website

Now for the chocolate bar you’ve been waiting to hear about! Two-ingredient 77% Izabal, Guatemala.

I love that the bar looks like a holiday-wrapped present with its thick, textured, silver outer paper and bright green informational band. The folds are kept closed in the back with a similarly colored sticker. Since I like to keep that informational sticker intact, I’ve found an ingenious way of unfolding the outer paper so that I can simply slide the shiny foil wrapped bar out of the top or bottom. Voilà!

There is an elegant simplicity to the glossy shine of the 28-rectangle bar (though I need to be careful since it takes fingerprints easily!)

Sometimes it’s the little, often overlooked, details that make me the happiest, like the “shear pattern” that emerges or the cross section texture after segmenting a tasting morsel with a sharp snap.

The flavor of that first piece reminded me of tart fruit with a yogurt-like tang; sort of like cherries and kefir. The smooth, even, creamy melt had a velvet mouthfeel that coated my tongue. The second piece tasted like hazelnuts during the melt and when chewed, it reminded me of a thick fudge with a roasted/earthy aroma.

And to think that I almost missed the opportunity to sample and feature this bar! I’ve definitely learned my lesson: don’t leave things to chance, TAKE DETAILED NOTES IMMEDIATELY! 🙂

For more information on Violet Sky, please visit their website http://www.violetskychocolate.com/ or Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/Violetskychocolate/

H is for Hacienda Azul

Little did I know when I started the Ecole Chocolat online Mastering Chocolate Flavor Program that I would learn so much about cacao genetics!

From the book Raising the Bar: The Future of Fine Chocolate: “…all cacaos, but especially fine flavor cacaos, are susceptible to disease” like frosty pod rot or witches’ broom. As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, these pathogens can devastate crops, but also tend to behave and spread differently depending on the type of tree that is grown in each country. For years, scientists have been “…studying the interaction between the pathogen and the trees to get a better understanding of what actually constitutes and causes the disease, to help that management and see if there’s anything that can be done genetically to alleviate or moderate disease interaction in the future.” That’s where Dr. Wilbert Phillips-Mora (an expert on cacao diseases and breeding) from Costa Rica’s C.A.T.I.E. (Centro Agronómico Tropical de Investigación y Enseñanza – which translates to the Tropical Agricultural Research and Higher Education Center) comes in. He believes that a solution can be found by “creating a blend at the genetic level, no different from what a chocolate maker does in manufacturing to get the flavor profile they want: combine traits of production, disease resistance, and quality through breeding and produce a kind of polyclone.” This article from the New York Times states that “after an 11-year trial, a hybrid called C.A.T.I.E.-R6 experienced a 5% frosty pod rot infection rate, compared to 75% infection for a control variety.” That certainly sounds promising!!

Since I was looking for an “H” bar, I reached out to Greg D’Alesandre at Dandelion Chocolate to get my hands on their 2-ingredient Hacienda Azul bar which is made from a mix of all six C.A.T.I.E. hybrids.

How can you resist being mesmerized by the gold silk screened repeating pattern that adorns the thick, handmade cream-colored outer wrapper? My only quibble is that it was difficult to unwrap the bar without tearing the paper underneath the adhesive keeping the folds closed. However, things have improved since my blog post from last year; it’s now easier to remove the two informational stickers without marring the paper’s design!

Removing the deep, dark brown bar from the thick gold foil inner wrapper, you see a near flawless matte finish to the 18 perfectly segmentable adjoined rectangles that are each etched with 5 wavy lines.

There is a roasted and earthy/herbal aroma to the bar, which transforms into a caramel-like smell once a piece is broken in half with a resounding and satisfyingly sharp snap. Looking at the break point, the chocolate is close textured, though I did find a few tiny air bubbles for visual interest.

Another fascinating element to the bar was the ripple pattern on the back. Maybe when I visit San Francisco next month, I can attend a factory tour to watch how the molds are filled?!

Popping a piece in my mouth, the chocolate melted more slowly than I expected. When aided by a couple of quick chews first, then there was a juicy mouthfeel with tart/tangy fruit flavor notes. What surprised me is that I encountered a tingly sensation on the tip of my tongue and palate during the melt and for a while after the chocolate was gone from my mouth. There was a slight chalky, astringent feeling on my tongue at the finish.

From the wrapper, “These beans come from Hacienda Azul, a single estate near Turrialba, Costa Rica. Ryan [who is responsible for the roast profile] loves the dynamic range of flavors that are possible in these beans at different toasting temperatures.” It’s not clear to me how the hybrid beans impacted the flavor or if what I tasted was mainly due to the roasting and/or conching process at Dandelion. To investigate that further, my next challenge will be to source some of the dried fermented beans and use Greg’s protocol for tasting them. Regardless, it’s an exciting time to be involved in craft chocolate based on all the new discoveries that are being made (and will continue to be made) on a biodiversity and genetic level.

Have you tried this bar? If so, let me know your thoughts in the comment section below!

To learn more about Dandelion Chocolate and see their extensive range of chocolates, please visit: https://www.dandelionchocolate.com/

G is for Guasare

For this round of the Eating the Chocolate Alphabet project, my goal is to feature origins from A through Z. In this case, the word “origin” means the place where the cacao was grown, whether that is a specific farm, a city/town/region, or even a country (as a last resort to cover a particular letter). When I selected this 70% Brasstown dark chocolate bar, I assumed that Guasare was an area in Venezuela; I’ve since learned that though there is a Guasare River (Rio Guasare) in the state of Zulia in northern Venezuela (near the border with Colombia), Guasare is really a cacao cultivar (short for “cultivated variety”)! So, rather than find a last minute substitute “G” bar, I’m bending the definition of origin, just this one time.

It used to be thought that there were only 3 varieties of cacao: Criollo, Forastero and Trinitario (a hybrid of Criollo and Forastero). Later, Nacional was added to the list. After many years of research and plant DNA mapping, these classifications were expanded in 2008 to encompass 10 major clusters/groups and 22 different species. As you might expect with anything scientific, this is a “work in progress” and will continue to evolve/change as new discoveries are made.

Now for the chocolate itself! As an added (unexpected) bonus, this 3-ingredient bar is vegan in honor of World Vegan Day 2017!

Love the spot gold foil accents on the front of this bar’s packaging, plus that it features the silhouette of Caracas, the capital of Venezuela. Another prominent design feature is the use of a compass. From the clear round sticker keeping the packaging closed….

…to the image of an antique pocket compass on a map depicting Pennsylvania, Virginia and Maryland…

…to the tiny compasses that make up the intricate mold pattern.

Despite the fact that Guasare cacao pods contain white to pale pink beans (since this variety is closely related to Criollo and Porcelana), this bar is a rich dark brown color, with a pristine matte finish.

Upon removing the bar from the clear plastic wrapper, the aroma reminded me of honey. There was a high-pitched, hollow snap when segmenting the bar into tasting morsels; some pieces looked close textured (with only a few tiny air bubbles) and others seemed to have hidden nooks and crannies.

While it took a little effort to melt that first piece on my tongue, with a little patience, I was rewarded with a tangy fruit flavor that hit at the back of the throat. I couldn’t place the taste, but referring back to the flavor notes, guava seems like an appropriate description. Chewing a piece, I was surprised by citrusy flavors and an almost juicy sensation. Going back to melting, the mouthfeel was smooth and left a lightly acidic aftertaste (as if I had just swallowed some freshly squeezed lemon juice).

Like the packaging says: “Every bite of Brasstown Chocolate will take you on a unique journey via the taste and your imagination. It might take you overseas or across the mountains or through the farms. To the places new and unknown, yet infused with an occasional splash of a familiar smell or color… taste the place one bite at a time.”

To learn more about Guasare, C-Spot has a short article on their website. Now I’m fascinated to try more chocolate bars made with these beans! If you have any recommendations, please leave me a comment below!

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

F is for Fazenda Camboa

When you embrace serendipity, you never know what is waiting for you around the corner!

Honestly, I really wasn’t looking for an “F” bar that afternoon! However, lately, I’ve come to realize that when a bar presents itself, it is fate’s way of telling me to seize the opportunity (besides, it is ALWAYS best to have a backup bar just in case)!

While reading the book Raising the Bar: The Future of Chocolate as homework for an online course from Ecole Chocolat, a “chapter” in Part One focused on cacao diseases like witches’ broom that decimated farms in Brazil between 1985 and 1997. This information didn’t really “hit home” until researching the history behind Fazenda Camboa (situated in the tropical rainforest state of Bahia, Brazil), where the beans for this bar were grown.

Visiting various online sources, including the Fazenda Camboa website, I learned that the Carvalho family purchased their first cacao farm from British trading companies in 1942 and continued to purchase other farms in the subsequent decades. Current owners, brothers Arthur and Eduardo Carvalho, the great-grandsons of the founding father of the cacao empire took over the farm in 1982. Then, in 1989-1990, their cacao farms in Bahia were devastated by the fungal pathogen witches’ broom which is spread by airborne spores. Between 1996 and 1999, production at Fazenda Camboa dropped by 96%. Despite facing bankruptcy and other key family stakeholders choosing to abandon growing cacao, the two Carvalho brothers were resilient and worked tirelessly with an agronomist for two decades to find ways to hybridize and graft healthy branches to infected ones and slowly bring back yields to what they are today. Now they are Bahia’s largest producer of organic cocoa beans (certified organic since 2007) and in 2013, they exported cocoa beans for the first time in 25 years!

To learn more details about the farm, please visit this link available through Cacao Bahia, the farm’s marketing/distribution arm, which is managed by Jack Bell, the son-in-law of Arthur Carvalho.

Now, onto tasting this 75% dark chocolate Dick Taylor bar.

Dick Taylor’s packaging design & intricate mold are so immediately recognizable and photogenic! Paraphrasing a recent comment from fellow chocolate blogger, The Chocolate Website, even if they removed the text/logo, chocolate lovers around the world would still be able to easily identify the maker!

With brutal triple digit temperatures for weeks on end, even a gelato shop will have problems keeping their cool. I suspect that this is what happened to this particular bar, though the “bloom” has a beauty of its own, don’t you think? It reminds me of my parents’ polished mahogany piano!

Based on the bar’s condition, it’s no surprise that there was a soft/dull snap and that the tasting morsel was a little crumbly when chewed. At the breaking point, there were no visible air bubbles.

During my first tasting, the chocolate was creamy, smooth and delicate in flavor with nutty and fruity notes plus some astringency on the finish. For my second tasting, the aroma reminded me of roasted coffee while “chomping” the bar released juicy grape-like flavors and a yogurt-y tang.

Congratulations to the Dick Taylor team for winning silver at both the Academy of Chocolate and International Chocolate Awards this year!

For information on Dick Taylor’s extensive line of chocolate bars and more products, please visit their website: https://dicktaylorchocolate.com/

While I’m definitely not a “chocolate whisperer,” when chocolate “speaks” I try to pay attention 😉

A is for Anamalai

When I think of India, the first images that spring to mind are influenced by movies like “The Lunchbox” or “Outsourced” where they depict densely populated cities, full of chaotic traffic – places that are definitely not conducive to cacao farming! However, if you’ve seen the PBS historical drama series “Indian Summers,” you know that there are also beautifully lush/tropical areas (though [spoiler alert] that TV show is actually filmed in Malaysia!) The following paragraph from Meridian Cacao’s blog should help conjure up a mental picture of the Anamala/Anaimalai Hills where the cacao for this bar is grown.

“Some mornings, Harish Manoj and Karthi Palaniswamy will arrive at their farm to find their young coconut palms devastated, with broken fronds as if a hurricane has come through. The source of the destruction is no storm, however—it’s elephants. The farm is right at the base of the western Ghats, a mountain range which extends through the south of India. Lots of elephants (and tigers and monkeys) live on the slopes of those mountains, safe in the Anamalai animal preserve (Anamalai is Tamil for ‘Elephant Hills’). The elephants will lumber down onto the farm at night to help themselves to the coconut trees–not for the coconuts, but for the palm fronds themselves, which, as it turns out, are perfect tools for whacking pesky mosquitos off their backs. Amongst this wild backdrop, Harish and Karthi have begun their mission to make their small valley, known for its abundance of coconuts, an unlikely source of delicious cacao.”

Meridian Cacao’s blog goes on to explain that in 1948, after British Colonial Rule ended, the UK’s chocolate behemoth, Cadbury, set up operations in India and much of the cacao produced in that country today still gets purchased by Mondelez (which now owns Cadbury). I’ve been wanting to try a chocolate bar made from Indian cacao for a while now, so I jumped at the opportunity to purchase an Areté bar after reading an Instagram post from Palo Alto’s The Chocolate Garage.

Wanting to learn more about the beans used by David and Leslie Senk of Areté Fine Chocolate in Milpitas, California, I discovered an informative article published in “The Hindu” a few months ago. On the eve of World Chocolate Day, that article announced that brothers-in-law Karthikeyan Palaniswamy and Harish Manoj Kumar were launching India’s first (and only) tree-to-bar chocolate through their company, Regal Chocolates. After reading this Indian blog post, I would love to get my hands on one of their bars too – both the packaging and the bar itself are decorated with simple embossed lines that look like a stylized cacao tree with many branches, leaves and pods.

And, now, the moment you’ve been waiting for, tasting Areté’s bar…

As always, Areté’s bars have a near-flawless, textured matte finish. The logo of a woman, seemingly floating in air in a modified arabesque balletic pose, reaching for a star with an outstretched hand, “pops” from the center of the deep reddish-brown bar with a polished mirror-like shine.

The aroma wafting from the bar evokes dried fruit and raisins, in particular. It pains me to mar the frame-worthy intact rectangle. Reluctantly, I break off a tasting morsel. While I hear a sharp snap, I see tiny flecks of chocolate flying every which way and landing gently on the table below. There is an earthy, minerality smell at the breaking point and I can see nooks and crannies reminiscent of cut granite.

At the beginning of the slow/even melt, there is a fruity (almost juicy) explosion of flavor in my entire mouth. A few moments later, the sensation shifts to a dusty (yet creamy smooth), nutty taste that reminds me of chomping on Brazil nuts. Finally, there is a sharp acidic burn at the back of my throat (like swallowing a gulp of wine) during the finish.

If you’re like me and have been watching Sunita de Tourreil’s “Happy Chocolate” documentaries on YouTube, you’ll know that she will soon be filming an episode in India. I’m eagerly awaiting that installment to learn even more about this exotic country of origin. I hope she visits the Tiger Reserve ? or Wildlife Sanctuary ? in Anamalai! Imagine the outtakes 😉

This India bar is NOT listed on Areté’s website since it is exclusive to The Chocolate Garage at this point. Contact The Chocolate Garage to place an order if you’d like to taste this bar for yourself! Please let me know your impressions once you try it!!

P.S. In case you missed it, the “theme” for this round of Eating the Chocolate Alphabet is ORIGINS! If you have recommendations, please send me a message or leave a comment below!

Z is for Za’atar

It’s hard to believe that I’ve already reached the letter “Z”! In some ways, it seems like these last 26 weeks went by in the blink of an eye and in other ways it seems like an eternity since I posted “A is for Amaranth.” But wait, this post isn’t the end of the alphabet…I still have one more surprise “trick up my sleeve,” so stay tuned for that bar’s reveal soon!

At the end of last year, as I was putting together a list of inclusion ingredients that I wanted to feature for each letter of the alphabet, za’atar was the FIRST thing that came to mind (well, I did briefly consider zebra milk, but that was just to get an eye roll ? from my friends, though if a bar like that DOES exist, please let me know ASAP!) Feeling inspired in early February, I sent an email to two chocolate-industry people I felt were the most likely to work with an unusual flavor combination such as this. Lucky for me, Hans Westerink from Violet Sky Chocolate wrote back within a few days with this response:

It is interesting that you mention za’atar, that is on my list of experimental bars to work on. I even have the sumac ready and waiting!

Pinch me, I must be dreaming! Hans sent me his ideas on the spice blend and even asked for my opinion on how best to incorporate them with the chocolate. That gesture made me feel important & part of the “creative process” – though, as the expert, he would no doubt develop an ideal “formula” without my input! As the months went by, I still reached out to fellow chocolate lovers across the country to determine if there were any other za’atar bars out there (just as a precaution), but the closest source was Tel Aviv, Israel ? In mid-June, I sent a quick email to Hans to confirm that he was still willing to make a couple of bars for me. I am so grateful that he was able to quickly create the bars and that we had the time to wait until there was a short break in the Southern California heatwave to ship them about a week later. These bars exceeded my expectations! Hans is truly a master when it comes to layering flavors such that the photogenic #chocolatetopography tastes as good as it looks!

In case you’re not familiar, za’atar is a spice mixture that typically includes: sesame seeds, dried herbs, sumac and some salt. If you’ve ever eaten a Lebanese flatbread (manakish) or Armenian lahmajoun, chances are you’ve tasted this uniquely Middle Eastern flavor!

Since this was an experiment, Violet Sky didn’t make an outer label, but still wrapped the bar in their distinctive collection of shiny metallic foil. Hans, how did you know that purple is one of my favorite colors?! 🙂

Just unwrapping the bar released an aroma that transported me back to a Middle Eastern feast with olive oil dripping from my fingers as I took bite after bite of chewy, soft, still-warm dough crusted with spices. ?

Just look at the generous amount of dried thyme, toasted white sesame seeds, reddish-brown sumac and fat jewel-like salt crystals that seem to all but hide the 77% Belize dark chocolate!

I took dozens of close-up shots since I was just mesmerized by how photogenic the bar looked from every angle!

The inclusions remained mostly well-adhered to the chocolate while I “posed” the bar for photos or flipped it over to see the simple 28-rectangle “front” of the bar.

When ingredients did fall off during the photo shoot, it allowed me to taste them in isolation from each other. I really liked the nutty crunch from the sesame seeds, the earthy/woody notes from the thyme and how quickly the salt would melt on my tongue.

It was easy to segment the bar into tasting pieces.

With the inclusion side down on my tongue, all the ingredients seemed to mingle like a kaleidoscope image. Before reaching the chocolate base, dislodged sesame seeds and tiny thyme leaves danced on my tongue and then there was a citrusy “zing” when encountering a scattering of sumac. These pleasant flavors lingered on the roof of my mouth and I could then continue to munch contemplatively on the crunchy sesame seeds.

Originally, I thought that putting a morsel with the non-inclusion side down on my tongue would be the equivalent of “delayed gratification;” but, instead, the thyme became the focus, especially since the fresh herb had been infused into the base chocolate. By melting the chocolate first on my tongue, I could concentrate on the creamy, smooth, slow even melt punctuated by the vibrantly citrusy sumac which reminded me of freshly squeezed lemon juice.

As much as I like to “chomp” chocolate, I don’t recommend that method for this bar. Munch, munch and then the piece is gone without having enough time to notice the distinct flavor layering. Though, maybe it’s cumulative?! After my palate was acclimated to the flavors, chomping on two rectangles simultaneously still resulted in the same intensely sunny combination of flavors.

While Violet Sky has a website http://www.violetskychocolate.com/, I recommend instead that you check out their Instagram feed for all the seasonal flavors they have…seemingly never the same thing twice!

Don’t forget that I have one final “Z” post planned for later this week! You won’t want to miss that!

Y is for Yacon Root

OK…is it just me, or have you noticed that as I near the end of the alphabet, it’s getting harder and harder to find viable inclusion ingredients that start with my featured letter?! ?

For “Y” I could have potentially found yams, yeast, yogurt, yuca or yuzu…but I chose yacón root instead!

According to Wikipedia, yacón is an Andean tuberous root composed mostly of water that is a close botanical relative of Jerusalem artichokes or sunflowers. While the root can be red, orange, yellow or even purple, it seems like most pictures online remind me of a slender yam with cream-colored flesh reminiscent of jicama. Upon reading things further, Ecuadorians refer to yacón as “jicama” (wow, talk about confusing!) Speaking of names, it’s also called a “Peruvian ground apple” which makes sense since the French call potatoes pomme de terre (literally translated as earth or ground apples). Yacón is known to have a flavor that is slightly sweet & resinous with floral undertones. I was fascinated to discover that until the early 2000s, yacón wasn’t widely available outside of its native growing areas and that companies have since developed new products like syrup and tea from this root due to its extremely low glycemic index (1 on a scale of 0 to 100), making it popular among people watching their sugar intake (like diabetics or those on a diet).

After all that, I was really curious about how this bar would taste!

Raaka 79% Dominican Republic sweetened with Yacón Root

Raaka leaves their cacao beans unroasted (aka “virgin”) to allow the flavors to come through. For this bar, they are using Dominican Republic beans from the Öko Caribe Cooperative.

I love the simplicity of the micro fine point black ink lines on thick white paper. I see bamboo through mini blinds or plantation shutters. Though, I wonder if the front packaging is really an autostereogram (also called a “magic eye” picture) that needs to be viewed from a distance (or by squinting) for the image to finally emerge.

Removing the rectangular bar from the wax-lined silver foil that was folded with the outer paper like a hiyoku (inner kimono layer), you immediately see abstract art embossed into the chocolate (despite the jagged edge splitting the bar into two pieces; a transit-caused “casualty”).

There was a sharp brittle snap when segmenting pieces and the “breaking point” looked a little dry.

The tasting morsel melted slowly in my mouth (and with a bit of effort), yielding a chalky, powdery, not smooth mouthfeel and a mouth-puckering bitter flavor. There was a starchy, filmy residue that clung to my tongue, teeth and palate long after the piece was gone from my mouth. When “chomped” the chocolate tasted fruity…maybe this was the Dominican Republic terroir coming through?

Overall, this bar was extremely photogenic, but sadly the “acquired” taste of the unrefined sweetener did not win me over. I like earthy bars, but this one was a little too astringent for my taste. Maybe it was the unroasted beans? Maybe it was the 79% cacao content? Maybe I just need to find the right “pairing.” Have you tried this bar? Let me know what you think!

For more information on Raaka, please see their website: https://www.raakachocolate.com/

50 States Collaboration – New Mexico / Chokola Bean to Bar

It’s hard to believe that after almost 5 months, the “50 states” collaboration project is complete. It was such a thrill and an honor to have been asked by Lori (of Time to Eat Chocolate) to help feature the 37 (out of 50) United States that have a bean-to-bar maker. As you might imagine, it was difficult to choose just one or two makers from each state and I’m sure there have been new additions since we started this project, so who knows what the future might bring!

Just wanted to thank Sophia Rea from Projet Chocolat for making aware of the only bean-to-bar maker in her home state of New Mexico.

Back in May, I reached out to Chokolá to inquire about bar availability and learned that they were currently aging one of their favorite origins: Madagascar. As you can imagine, I was anxious to get my hands on the bar before the weather got too warm here in the Southwest since chocolate transit during the summer months can be very tricky! Once the bars were available last week, makers Debi Vincent and Javier (Javi) Abad shipped me a couple of bars only to have them arrive badly bloomed 🙁 NOTE: Southern California was experiencing a triple digit heatwave that lasted more than 10 days ?️?. Luckily, a family member was visiting close by my home yesterday, so I was able to get a pristine replacement bar in the nick of time to feature here as the final entry of the “50 states” project!

In case you’re curious about how the bloomed chocolate bar looked, below is a side-by-side comparison…what a difference, right?!

70% Ambaja Madagascar

Anyway, as soon as I returned home from last night’s chocolate drop off, I hurriedly set up an impromptu photo shoot area under artificial light in an air conditioned room so that I could take some initial photos…I didn’t want to risk putting the bar in my wine fridge overnight before taking pictures! Apologies in advance for the grainy images since I still haven’t perfected using incandescent light.

As you can see, there was a beautiful reddish-brown mahogany color and an almost mirror-shine to the chocolate bar, despite some air bubbles around the lacy design of the company logo in the middle panel of the narrow rectangular bar.

There was a soft snap, which released a fruity aroma. Putting a tasting morsel in my mouth, there was an immediate bright, vibrant, tart berry flavor. The mouthfeel was smooth, creamy and almost fudge-y during the slow, even melt.

This morning, I decided to take some additional photos with the morning light that I prefer!

What a relief to discover that the bar was still shiny! There was still a mellow/dull snap to the bar, I blame the low-to-mid 80s temperature at just 9:30 in the morning. Finally I could take better pictures of all the nooks and crannies that emerge when segmenting the bar.

And the lunar-landscape looking “back” of the bar!

The raspberry tang (which hits at the back-of-the-throat), creamy mouthfeel and long lasting finish were still just as distinctive today as they were yesterday ?

If you’re like me, I’m sure you’re fascinated by the eye-catching packaging artwork. This mixed media collage & acrylic painting by Erin Currier depicts her modern interpretation of Philomena, Patron Saint of Infants, Babies and Youth. Several of the outer packaging panels provide more information on Erin’s background, plus a brief bio.

The center panel, directly under the gold-foil wrapped bar, highlights what makes Chokolá special:

While it doesn’t say so on the packaging, their website provides a little more information on the origin of the cacao beans:

The estate on the plantation is powered by solar energy, and contributes actively to the surrounding community by providing land, building schools, and making medicine more accessible to the local population. 

The packaging artwork for their other bars is equally stunning and there are several flavors that I’d love to try once the weather cools off. Check out their website for more details: http://www.chokolabeantobar.com/

Thanks for following along on this adventure of discovery! If you’ve missed any of the prior “50 states” stories, be sure to check out the Time to Eat Chocolate blog and for the states that I covered, you can view those posts by clicking on this link.

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