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!

B is for Bay Nut

Setting yourself a goal within specific parameters may seem limiting, but I’ve found it to be an eye-opening and fun challenge! Last year I wanted to alphabetically feature new-to-me chocolate brands & I succeeded even though “Q” and “Y” were the most difficult to obtain. This year, I’m featuring unusual and/or unique inclusion ingredients in alphabetical order. If it wasn’t for this project, I don’t think I would have ever known about the existence of bay nuts and that they were edible!

When I visited the Northwest Chocolate Festival in Seattle last November, I wasn’t really on the lookout for unusual inclusion ingredients quite yet (I was just toying with the idea of that theme at that point; but by the time I left the festival, I knew that I had stumbled upon a great idea…still need to find “U” or “X” – so let me know if there are any makers I should try!)

If you’re like me, you like to chat with other festival attendees to compare notes on interesting finds and “not-to-miss” goodies! My ears perked up when I heard someone mention a bay nut bar from Firefly Chocolate. My next stop was to their booth to taste this for myself. I remember it being creamy and unusual; but after eating chocolate for a couple of days, I had a bit of “palate fatigue” (yeah, it’s a thing), so “B” week on Eating the Chocolate Alphabet was the ideal way to savor and fully appreciate it!

One of the first things that you notice about the packaging is the precise percentages and origins of the three (and only) ingredients used in this bar: 40% cacao beans from Belize / 30% bay nuts from Mendocino (California) / 30% coconut sugar from Indonesia.

From their website: Firefly Chocolate buys cacao primarily from Maya Mountain Cacao (MMC) in Southern Belize. MMC works directly with 309 indigenous Maya farming families in 31 communities located in the foothills of the Mayan Mountain Range. Firefly roasts and conches the beans at the lowest temperatures possible, inspired by the raw foods movement. While California Bay Laurel trees are plentiful, they are not cultivated, so all the nuts used in this bar were wild harvested. Traditionally the nuts are roasted in ashes which produces an aroma like popcorn. To learn more, check out this link: https://fireflychocolate.com/product/wild-harvested-bay-nut-chocolate-bar/

After reading that bay nuts are related to avocados, I did some research & found this photo. It wasn’t until recently that I learned you can roast and eat avocado seeds (pits) – maybe other chocolate makers will be inspired?

Upon opening the tri-fold cardboard packaging, the copper embossed sticker on the narrow rectangular glassine pouch caught my eye. Initially I thought it was a bee, but I’m now pretty sure that it’s a firefly (though I’ve never seen one in person, during daylight with their wings outstretched). 😉

Removing the 12-rectangle bar from the inner packaging, I noticed that my fingerprints were easily transferrable to the surface, so I had to be careful not to mar the otherwise pristine finish. I wonder if the low percentage of cacao caused the bar to melt easily in my hands.

The aroma reminds me of roasted coffee, but the taste is reminiscent of slightly burnt popcorn kernels. One thing that really surprised me was the instant refreshing/cooling sensation I get when I put a piece in my mouth. It’s like menthol without the menthol flavor. There is a nice sharp snap to the bar and the mouthfeel is creamy, though a little grainy probably due to the beans being stone ground and the use of coconut sugar. Coconut blossom sugar is a natural sweetener with a low glycemic index that is gaining popularity for those trying to avoid refined sugars.

For years, I’ve been seasoning soups and stews with California bay leaves (though I like Turkish bay leaves too), but I never realized that this tree also produced nuts. I knew about acorns, but bay nuts was something completely new to me. So, as I was taking photos of this bar, I decided to “stage” the chocolate amongst some dried leaves waiting to fulfill their destiny in some culinary creation.

Just this morning, I posted a “teaser” photo to Instagram letting people guess today’s unique ingredient. One person immediately guessed bay leaves, but I don’t think anyone has guessed the bay nut yet!

To learn more about Jonas Ketterle’s mission of “inspiring awe and wonder,” as well as the vision and values for this first bean-to-bar chocolate company in Sonoma County (California), I encourage you to visit: https://fireflychocolate.com/ I certainly like learning something new & hope you do too!

Zotter Redux

In addition to their hand-scooped bars, Zotter Chocolate also has a line of single-origin chocolates called Labooko. Typically, there are two 35g bars in one packaging. In this case, I chose a dual tasting “contest” bar containing a 72% Belize bar (which was conched for 21 hours) and a 72% Panama bar (which was conched for 22 hours).


However, upon opening the uniquely folded informational outer wrapper, I came to the realization that both bars were wrapped in IDENTICAL gold foil and did not have any distinguishing labels to indicate which was which (unlike the Sirene tasting bars that I reviewed a few weeks ago).



Maybe a “blind” tasting was the intent of the packaging? Maybe I was oblivious to some crucial clue that would help to identify each bar? Feeling perplexed, I decided to call Zotter’s customer service line and had a very pleasant chat with Barbara Dolleschal, co-owner and manager of the Cape Coral, Florida location. She mentioned that, unless things had changed at headquarters in Austria, the Panama bar was on the left side and the Belize bar was on the right (when looking at the packaging as if it was an open book). Prior to my call, as I opened each chocolate individually and placed them on a plate for ease of comparing & contrasting, I tried to pay attention to which one came from the left side of the packaging and which one from the right side. In my excitement, I *may* have lost track…oops!

So, below I’ll provide my tasting notes, but will only be able to refer to the bars as “top” and “bottom” based on this photo:


Each bar is imprinted with, what looks to me, two cacao pods. The pod in the foreground is plain and the pod in the background has writing etched into it, though I can’t make out the words.


The bar on the bottom looked a little darker in color than the top bar and had a stronger roasted aroma. In segmenting the bar, it produced a sharp snap and seemed to break apart in a smooth, even chunks.


The mouthfeel was smooth and creamy (probably due to the additional cocoa butter) and had a rich, warm, nutty flavor. My guess is that this is the Panama one.

The bar on the top produced a brittle snap and broke apart in jagged, uneven pieces, sending little shards flying every which way.



This one looked a little drier in texture and had a less creamy mouthfeel. Overall the flavor was multi-layered: starting off earthy, turning to fruity (reminding me of berries) and finishing a bit like toasted bread or malt. Based on prior experiences, my guess is that this is the Belize bar.

While I enjoyed both bars, I’m still curious about which was which. I may never really know. Next time I’ll pay more attention, but it would also be helpful for Zotter to provide a label on each bar to minimize confusion. Unfortunately I haven’t been able to determine the meaning of the word “Labooko” that is imprinted on the bars and the packaging, so please let know if you have additional information!

One thing that I forgot to mention in my last Zotter post is how well the chocolates were packaged for transit. They wrapped the bars in a cocoon of silver thermal bubble wrap and added a cute ice pack just in case.



There is a warning in three languages advising people not to eat the contents of the squishy square! I love the English translation 🙂

It’s hard to believe that 26 weeks ago I embarked on this journey to alphabetically sample new-to-me chocolates A through Z. This is a proud moment for me as I post the last entry for this year. THANK YOU all for your support and encouragement throughout this process!

If you’ve come to enjoy the weekly stories, never fear, “Round 2” of Eating the Chocolate Alphabet is in the works! My goal will be to feature unique inclusion ingredients (think A is for Amaranth and B is for Bay Nut) and all brands/makers are fair game. If there is an unusual inclusion ingredient that you think I should try, please send me a note! I’m pretty sure that “X” is going to be challenging since I don’t want to feature Xanthan Gum or Xylitol. I wonder if there is a chocolate that incorporates XO sauce?! If not, hopefully this will inspire someone to do so 😉

Until the new year, I wish you all Happy Holidays starting with Thanksgiving tomorrow!

We interrupt the alphabet for something different

Since January 2016, I’ve been using Instagram to document “My Year in Chocolate” and I’ve reached a milestone – 300 posts!! In honor of that achievement (and because I didn’t really do anything for the 100th or 200th post), I decided to share something special that I recently had the opportunity to try….

Heirloom Chocolate Series D7 (Designation 7) – seven tasting tablets from the first ever officially designated heirloom chocolates produced by the C-Spot / chocolate fulfillment by Fruition Chocolate.


In searching for some chocolates on my behalf, my boyfriend came across the C-Spot website, which is an amazing “one stop shop” if you are looking to answer any questions that you might have related to chocolate. If you like to “geek out” on the science behind chocolate, they have that! If you appreciate well-organized, searchable databases with precise metrics, this is definitely the website for you! I especially like their thorough and in-depth chocolate reviews, the pithy and concise directory of “barsmiths” (aka bean-to-bar chocolate makers) and the fact that they don’t take “experts” or themselves too seriously. I’m sad that I only discovered them now, when I’m almost at the end of my Eating the Chocolate Alphabet adventure. They are bookmarked & will be a great source for “round 2” and beyond!

Mark Xian, the elusive figurehead behind C-Spot was named the Director of the Heirloom Cacao Preservation Fund in 2013. From their website, the HCP is a partnership between the FCIA (Fine Chocolate Industry Association) and the USDA/ARS (United States Department of Agriculture / Agricultural Research Service) “to identify and preserve fine flavor cacao varieties for the conservation of biological diversity and the empowerment of farming communities.” Also from their website: “Heirloom cacao trees and beans are endowed with a combination of historic, cultural, botanical, geographical and most importantly flavor value. They are the foundation of the best tasting chocolate.” As the back of the box explains, “These heirloom varieties are vanishing…their botanical treasures lost forever unless we all act to protect them / saving an endangered species.”


Inside the box there were seven small bars, each wrapped in a different color metallic foil and numbered on a map & accompanying flavor sheet.



I was both excited and overwhelmed with the prospect of tasting these chocolates, so I wanted to be methodical about the process. My initial tasting was in the morning, before having anything else to eat and my second tasting was after dinner when my palate had been exposed to sweet/savory/salty/sour. During the second pass, I tasted with more intention…observing snap & texture more carefully, so I’m including that information below. Additionally, I employed Barbie Van Horn’s suggestion to use chopsticks rather than my fingers since I had sliced shallots the night before & didn’t want to introduce any lingering odors to the process.


Below are photos of each bar (generally the “back” or non-scored side) as well as a cross-section of one or two squares. What a difference several hours can make in terms of noticing nuances in flavor, though some descriptions remained very similar between the first & second try! In some cases, my palate detected the flavors listed in the notes, but often times our descriptions differed. Apologies for the lighting on some photos, I wanted to capture details and that affected the color of the chocolate itself.

Heirloom I – Alto Beni (Bolivia) 68% cacao


First tasting notes: smells & tastes nutty;  tart flavor

Second tasting notes: smells earthy; reminds me of coffee; smooth texture, sharp snap

Heirloom II – Wild Beni (Bolivia) 72% cacao


First tasting notes: smells smoky; sweeter in taste + smoother than Heirloom I

Second tasting notes: sharp snap; smells floral; tasted sweet (like caramel or honey) + fruity like apples; smooth texture

Heirloom III – Orecao (Ecuador) 70% cacao


First tasting notes: felt more brittle when snapped; smells floral/earthy; gritty/grainy texture; nutty taste

Second tasting notes: brittle snap/crumbly; gritty/grainy texture; tasted like marshmallows/spices/fruity

Heirloom IV – Maunawili (Hawaii) 72% cacao


First tasting notes: more brittle snap; mineral smell; tastes like tea; smoother texture

Second tasting notes: medium snap (sounded “higher pitched” when broken apart); smells roasted/smoky; mineral taste, almost a little salty; mostly smooth texture, but doesn’t melt easily

Heirloom V – Mindo (Ecuador) 77% cacao


First tasting notes: dull snap (thinnest bar); reddish brown color; smells musty (like wet leaves); tasted buttery, though with a roasted/bitter flavor too; gritty/grainy texture

Second tasting notes: medium snap; smells floral; earthy, reminded me of olives; bitter/astringent/chalky; grainy/gritty – this was my least favorite

Heirloom VI – Terciopelo (Costa Rica) 70% cacao [FYI, “Terciopelo” translates to “velvet” in English] – this had an aqua foil that looks silver in the photos


First tasting notes: brittle snap; leather smell; smooth texture; intense/concentrated flavor; reminds me of cheese for some reason

Second tasting notes: sharp snap; mostly smooth texture; musty/earthy, like leather taste; lightly astringent – this was my 2nd least favorite

Heirloom VII – Maya Mountain (Belize) 70% cacao


First tasting notes: soft/smooth; tastes of raisins

Second tasting notes: brittle snap; grainy/“dusty” texture; floral/honey smell; flavor disappears quickly on the melt, like wind blowing it away

I found it difficult to discern a difference in terms of color despite the range of cacao percentages. Heirlooms I and II were similar in color; Heirloom III was a little darker; Heirlooms IV, VI and VII were similar in color and Heirloom V was the darkest. Can you tell a difference?!


Since there were 6 “squares” in each bar, my boyfriend and I will be jointly tasting these seven chocolates later in the month (me for the third time and him for the first time). Maybe I’ll do a “blind” tasting next time to see if my impressions have changed over time. The box suggests consuming these by January 2017 or keeping them longer as “vintage chocolates” – does anyone know if aging chocolates is a good idea?

There were only 100 sets of these chocolates, ours was number 53. If you have a chance to try this collection, please drop me a line since I’d love to hear your thoughts on these designated heirloom varieties!

In other news…stay tuned later in the week for the continuation of the alphabet series since this is “X” week!

V is for Violet Sky

Any day that I get to sample and photograph new chocolates is a good day! Lately, though, I’ve come to look forward to “blog post” days almost as much as I did Christmas mornings when I was growing up. The process of unwrapping chocolates as if they were small gifts and then savoring them fills me with gleeful anticipation 🙂 I’m not sure which drew me to Violet Sky’s Instagram feed more: the eerie and ethereal photos of bloomed chocolate as it ages or the close-ups of their ever-changing, unique inclusion ingredients/flavor combinations. Either way, I hope to make Hans and Alison Westerink proud with this post!

As a side note, this is one of the few posts that carries over a two day period (normally I photograph, taste & post all within a single day, but other time commitments prevented me from doing so this time). I woke up yesterday (Monday) morning to the sound of distant thunder and rain dripping from the eaves, which meant cloudy skies and less-than-ideal lighting for photos. However, I was undeterred!


Eagerly removing the 4 colorful bars from wine fridge storage, I decided to sample the two inclusion bars & keep the “plain” Ecuadorian chocolates for a later tasting. Had I captured the view of the sky from the window near my “desk” with time lapse photography during the photo shoot, you would have seen it change from ominous/gloomy clouds, to the sun playing hide-and-seek, to bright rays of light streaming into the room…I took that as an omen of good things to come!

Colombia 77% with Black Currants, Maple, and Cinnamon


At a quick glance your eye is fooled by the outer wrapping…you think the thick blue paper is textured, but really it’s just printed on one side to look like linen weave! I really like that the featured ingredients are listed on a contrasting colored band as well as the back of the wrapper, though as you’ll soon see, there would be no mistaking this bar if I were to misplace the outer packaging! 😉 Speaking of packaging, my only “quibble” is that I would have liked to open the wrapper without slicing the informational sticker in half…maybe unfolding the top or bottom flap & sliding the foil-wrapped bar from the paper would be more ideal?


What a surprise awaited me as I unwrapped the bar from the bright royal blue foil! I don’t think I’ve ever seen such plump and round black currants in my life (up until now, I thought that the desiccated currants used in scones were the same fruit, I have since been enlightened to the differences!) I’m guessing that the berries were freeze dried to maintain their shape and vibrant taste.


The “top” side of the bar (the side with the mold segmentation lines) had a matte mahogany finish with cinnamon flecks adding to both the overall coloring and the aroma of the bar.


Unfortunately, the bar did not remain intact during transit, but that just made it easier to see the large chunks of maple sugar that were dotted at strategic intervals throughout the bar!



The earthy/roasted dark chocolate flavor itself was secondary for me since it was difficult to isolate the taste aside from the inclusions. Each bite was an explosion of piquant/tart chewy fruit, sweetened by the gritty crunch of the maple sugar. This is an instance where “precision of language” is tricky because certain words can carry negative connotations; I only want to convey that it was “gritty” in the best possible way!

Brandy Barrel Aged Belize 77% with Red Wine Salt


In retrospect, any bar that followed would not be as stellar (if you’ll forgive the “celestial” pun!)

From the packaging, the salt inclusion was created by soaking plain sea salt in red wine and then drying it + the cacao was aged in Journeyman Distillery brandy barrels. For a 77% dark chocolate bar, the color is substantially lighter than the previous one, reminding me of a diluted hot cocoa or mocha beverage.


Removing the bar from the gold foil wrapper, I noticed that a couple of corners and part of the “front” of the bar displayed signs of blooming.



I blame a recent power outage, after which my wine fridge reset itself to 54 ℉ from my “default” temperature of 65 ℉ before I noticed. I don’t know about you, but there is a magical beauty in the fat bloom: swirls that just appear and could not be exactly re-created even if you tried. Where the surface wasn’t marred by bloom, there was an almost mirror shine.


The inclusion side looked like a lunar landscape, evenly sprinkled with light purplish-pink salt crystals which were starting to dissolve in the air.



This bar broke apart with a medium snap and had a woody/tobacco-like aroma on the non-inclusion side. My guess is that the barrel aging process imparts both smell and taste enhancements. The morsel had a smooth mouthfeel, but didn’t really melt easily. Overall, the flavor was a bit bitter and vinegary to me with a tannic, astringent after taste. Perhaps these flavors would appeal more to wine drinkers or should be paired with a brandy and/or some cheese? I see experimentation in my future 🙂

After listening to a recent Well Tempered podcast interviewing Estelle Tracy from 37 Chocolates, I strongly agree that (as consumers) we should celebrate and learn as much as possible about the passionate people who create the chocolates we enjoy. It’s impressive to read that such talent and creativity is coming from 20-somethings + Hans and his wife Alison really only started their bean-to-bar production just about two years ago.

As far as I know, their bars aren’t currently available in Southern California, but hopefully they will be soon so that I can satisfy my “fix” for unique inclusion ingredients aside from just drooling over their Instagram feed. However with Violet Sky’s philosophy of making small-batches and experimental bars, I realize I can’t get too attached to any one flavor…each one is as ephemeral as the company’s name implies.

To learn more and order bars for yourself, check out: http://www.violetskychocolate.com/

M is for Map Chocolate Co.

Maps are multi-faceted. They can evoke memories of journeys from the past, they can open up a whole new world of places you have yet to explore and can also serve as a guide to help you find your way while on your present path.

“M” week is finally here! This is one of the bars that I have been eagerly awaiting for MONTHS! When I first started using Instagram at the beginning of the year, I was mesmerized by gorgeous photos of Map Chocolate’s square bars. If I’m honest with myself, I might have designed the whole Eating the Chocolate Alphabet project simply as an excuse to try this chocolate brand for myself!

Since this chocolate wasn’t available locally, my only viable option was to visit Map’s website to make my selection. It was such a treat to scroll through more mouth-watering pictures and smile while reading each bar’s unusual and unique name. In the end, I selected one inclusion bar (Still Life with Pi: a renaissance of candied orange peel & vanilla seeds / Belize 65%) + one bag of hot chocolate mix. (Let me tell you, it’s been such a challenge not to indulge in a cup of cocoa, I’m so glad that the self-imposed moratorium is finally over…stay tuned on Instagram for that!)

It’s evident that much care and thought have been put into each small detail, including the packaging. Rather than revealing itself too quickly, this chocolate bar arrived packaged like a small gift to be unwrapped.


The simply folded plain brown tissue paper, adorned with a bit of gold ribbon, was kept closed with a small black sticker emblazoned with an “M” in gold calligraphy amongst a cloud of decorative curlicues.


I was especially touched by a personalized, handwritten note on the back of a small map square tucked into the ribbon at the back of the package.

Once that layer was removed, an old world style map peeked out from the sides of a simple, yet elegant outer sleeve providing ingredient information.


The clear sticker used to keep the sleeve closed exhorts you to “find open roads” and begin an exciting adventure! 🙂


Sliding the map-wrapped bar from the sleeve, I saw a familiar sight! An aerial view featuring the colonnade and piazza of St. Peter’s Basilica, an Italian Renaissance church in the Vatican City, the papal enclave within the city of Rome. This map transported me back to my 2009 trip to Italy and a treasured photo that a friend took from the top of the dome, overlooking the city below.


As I peeled away each layer of protective packaging, the heady chocolate aroma was both enticing and intoxicating. After months of waiting and worrying, would the square be broken into pieces or perfectly intact? Now came the moment of truth! I delicately unwrapped the final layer of coated white paper to reveal a pristine shiny square which brings back memories of the Moorish tiles I saw at the Alhambra in Spain during my first European trip as a teenager.


Maybe it’s me…but from within the 12-pointed star (which is said to depict completeness), I can almost see the outline of the Castel Sant’Angelo, which was also on the map of Rome.


In an interview, Mackenzie Rivers (Map Chocolate owner and chocolate maker) revealed that this Belgian-made mold is called “Scheherazade” – as in the storyteller of “One Thousand and One Nights.” This seems to go well with a quote that was included as part of the non-traditional tasting notes page: “…chocolate carries an amazing story of cultivation, travel, wild places, people, birds landing amongst its leaves, rain falling, farmers tending it, and mouths tasting it. every bite the story unfolds.”


The reverse (or inclusion) side is equally complex with the combination of slightly chewy vanilla seeds, crunchy candied orange peel and tiny perfectly shaped sugar crystals.


It seemed like such a shame to break the bar into pieces, but it had to be done! Not surprisingly, the same adjectives can be used for both the mold and the chocolate itself: overlapping, interlaced and intricate. Biting into the smooth & creamy chunks, there were long lasting layers of flavor as well as bright/tart fruit notes.

In the words of Mackenzie: “this bar is about coming full circle, by way of the meandering tangent.”

With my apologies, here are some of my thoughts on the reason for choosing “Pi” as part of the bar’s name (with help from an online article from wonderopolis.org):

  • “Pi is an irrational number, which means that its value cannot be expressed exactly as a simple fraction.” Since taste is very subjective, it would be impossible to create a definitive, one-size-fits-all description for any chocolate bar. Therefore, just like there is no end to Pi’s decimal places, there is an infinite number of ways to encapsulate the experience of tasting chocolates.
  • “Since circles can vary in size, yet they all retain the same shape, ancient mathematicians knew there had to be a special relationship amongst the elements of a circle. That special relationship turns out to be the mathematical constant known as pi.” I’d like to think that, regardless of each person’s history/backstory, chocolate can be the connection that unifies us all.

To find the chocolate bar that “speaks to you” and begin your own adventure, check out: http://www.mapchocolate.com/

I is for Izard Craft Chocolate

Some letters provide more of a challenge than others (“Q” & “Y” have been particularly elusive, so far)! So, when I noticed Izard Craft Chocolate on the feed of a fellow Instagrammer, I jumped at the opportunity. The company was unfamiliar to me + I was intrigued by both the name and the fact that they were located in Little Rock, Arkansas. (I’m sure that there is chocolate made in every state in the Union, but this was the first time I had heard of a bean-to-bar maker in that state.) That elation turned to concern when I visited their website & saw “sold out” on most of their products. 0767 Undeterred (you will never know if you don’t ask), I sent off an email inquiring if there might be 1 or 2 remaining bars that I could purchase. I was thrilled to quickly receive a note back from owner Nathaniel Izard asking which of their 4 flavors I would like to purchase. Below are the two that caught my eye the most.

First off is Chimelb Microlot Guatemala (72%)


The motif of the outer wrapper makes me think of cacao beans that have been split in two for a “cut test” – though, as far as I know, beans don’t come in turquoise/aquamarine! 😉 The paper that was used is luxuriously thick, reminiscent of the packaging used for Mast Brothers Chocolates. The informational “sticker” keeping the flaps closed in the back also has great woven texture…my only complaint is that it’s hard to unwrap the bar without destroying either the sticker or the outer wrapper. Upon opening the wrapper, I noticed that this paper is double sided/reversible! Is it wrong for me to want to keep this wrapper to use as a background for future photos?! It’s as if the gold foil wrapped bar is wearing a kimono, though the pattern calls to mind India or the American Southwest.



Finca Chimelb Microlot is a private farm located in Lanquin, Alta Verapaz, Guatemala (“Finca” means ranch or estate. “Chimelb” seems to be a word in the K’iche Maya language of Guatemala; though try as I might, I wasn’t able to find a translation).

Upon opening the wrapper, I encountered an earthy, almost leathery, aroma. It was also a bit wood-like, reminding me of a barrel or cask. I was surprised to see a lighter brown color, since this is a 72% dark chocolate.


The Izard label says that they roast the beans more lightly, so maybe that accounts for the particular hue of reddish brown. There were no imperfections to be seen on this matte finish 24 rectangle bar.


This 3 ingredient bar (cacao, sugar & vanilla) was easy to segment, though there was a dull snap & it didn’t really break apart evenly along the “score” lines – but that makes for abstract art in its own way.


The mouthfeel was extremely smooth, likely due to the longer conching time. The flavor started off woody, was sweet/fruity in the middle and then ended on a slightly astringent note. Definitely a unique taste, one that grows on you over time.

Next was the Icelandic Sea Salt (70%)


This outer wrapper reminded me of a 1900s era men’s bathing costume or a sailor’s striped shirt (it’s too bad this wrapper wasn’t double sided too). It was a nice “nautical” touch given that the flake sea salt is hand harvested from the icy waters of the Norwegian Sea and then evaporated using the heat from nearby geysers in Reykjavik, Iceland. This type of salt grain seems to dissolve very quickly while enhancing the flavor of the chocolate without overwhelming it. I think it also provided a nice crunch element and a hint of briny aroma.


This 24 rectangle bar also had a dull snap, but was easier to segment evenly along the “score” lines. There was a pleasant grassy, almost hay or grain-like scent. Although neither the packaging nor the website lists the country of origin for the cacao used, another source indicated that the beans came from the Maya Mountain Co-op in Belize. Belizean beans are known for their naturally fruity taste. It was hard for me to pinpoint a particular flavor, though peaches, plums or cherries came to mind while savoring this chocolate. I was pleased that it was less astringent than the Guatemala one and had a smooth, creamy mouthfeel despite this being a vegan/dairy-free chocolate.

Izard started out in 2014, so I can’t wait to see what is in store for the future based on my initial experience with them. Check out their website for more details:  http://www.izardchocolate.com/