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/

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/

P is for Papaikou

Maybe it’s the post-holiday blues or that I’ve been trying not to succumb to the cold/flu bug that’s been going around…but I just haven’t been motivated to write my featured “P” post this week 😢 That and mid-week I abruptly changed my mind about which bar to post! 😲

Whenever I feel less-than-enthusiastic, the thing that keeps me going is the fascinating information that I learn each time I research a new origin!

Did you know that in the eyes of the U.S. Census Bureau, there are no incorporated areas in the state of Hawaii below the county level (as in the county of Hawaii)? This means that even large cities like Honolulu or Hilo are considered a Census Designated Place (CDP) for statistical data purposes only! According to Wikipedia, there were 1,314 people in Papaikou in 2010, down from 1,414 during the 2000 census. To put that number into perspective for me, there were about 1,200 students in my high school; which must mean that Papaikou is a close-knit community!

Pāpa’ikou is located on the east side of the “Big Island” of Hawaii, north of the county seat of Hilo. In addition to seeing the small cacao farms and the Tropical Botanical Garden, I’d love to visit the Hawaii Plantation Museum to learn more about the area’s sugar plantation era from its beginning in the early 1860s until the last mill closed in 1996.

Now for the chocolate itself!

In November, when I visited the month-old Romeo Chocolates shop on Historic Pine Avenue in Long Beach, California, I was surprised that, in addition to their own chocolate confections, they were selling co-branded chocolate bars made by Mānoa in Hawaii.

Though it doesn’t say so on the packaging itself, I found additional information about this 50% milk chocolate bar on Mānoa’s website:

“These beans were sourced from Tom Sharkey of Hilo Sharks Coffee and Colin Hart-whom we have sourced since 2015. Sharkey and Colin harvest pods from 6 farms in the Hilo Paliku area, which spans from Wailuku River to Hakalau and the Puna District. They return to Sharkey’s farm to crack and extract wet seed before loading the fermentation boxes. Sharkey and Colin maintain the orchards and manage the post-harvest handling, which is paramount for quality.”

Unclasping the gold foil stamped and embossed outer cardboard packaging, I could immediately see that the plastic inner wrapper had become stuck to the light brown bar and knew that the visual finish would be shiny and marred in spots.

Despite this, the bar sported an intricate mold design on the front with the company name encircled in the center and stylized cacao pods and/or leaves at the top and bottom sections.

At first whiff, the aroma reminded me of peanut butter, but then became more grassy/herbal…which made me wonder if this smell came from the beans themselves, the post-fermentation process or the milk that was used?! If anyone has additional information, I’d love to hear about it!

The bar broke apart easily with a sharp snap, revealing a cross section that was completely smooth in places and looked like Swiss cheese, dotted with air bubbles, in others.

At the break point, there were subtle toasted milk/caramel notes. This aroma carried over to the overall taste during the slow/even, creamy melt. Rather than change or evolve, the flavor remained consistent during the entire tasting and lasted well after the chocolate was gone from my mouth. Honestly, if you told me that this bar was made with camel’s milk (or a non-cow’s milk), I would believe you! Have YOU tried this bar? If so, please leave a comment below with your thoughts/impressions!

To learn more about Mānoa, please visit their website: https://manoachocolate.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!

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/