50 States Collaboration – Nevada / Hexx Chocolate & Confexxions

Even though these chocolates have been in my stash since mid-April, I’ve been dragging my feet on tasting & posting them, partly because of the quantity (6 milk & 5 dark) and partly because I wasn’t sure how to execute my vision of a large tic-tac-toe game to pay tribute to the Xs that appear on each of the bite-sized morsels (maybe it’s just me, but the logo looks like a stylized, sideways hashtag). With the dwindling number of states “assigned” to me for this collaboration project, I could no longer procrastinate! So, apologies in advance since this set-up doesn’t really match my mental picture 🙁

When I discovered that an Instagram friend was visiting Las Vegas, I immediately jumped on the opportunity to request that he visit Nevada’s only bean-to-bar maker and purchase some chocolates on my behalf to save on warm weather shipping charges. Rather than choosing from the different countries of origin (or type of chocolate), he opted for one of each flavor that was available (NOTE: at that time, Venezuela was only available in milk chocolate in this 0.25 oz. “taster” size).

One of the things that I noticed about the mini heat-sealed pouches was that the milk chocolate ones (which were all 47% cacao content) had a “drippy” design while the dark chocolate ones (which varied in cacao percentage from 70-74%) had a solid rectangular color block. Also, the “forward slash” of each X matched the color coded wrapper.

Personally, I would have liked more information imprinted onto these wrappers, since it wasn’t until afterwards that I learned that the dark chocolates were made with just two ingredients: cocoa beans and palm sugar while the milk chocolates were made with five ingredients: cocoa beans, palm sugar, milk powder, ground vanilla beans and cocoa butter.

Overall, it seemed that the milk chocolate “traveled” better since there was less chocolate dust marring the surface vs. the dark chocolate. However, the milk chocolate all smelled very similar to each other: an industrial plastic-like aroma that reminded me of mass-produced candy rather than the bean-to-bar craft chocolates shown on their website. Speaking of which, this “tasting” size doesn’t appear on their website and all the bars available online are packaged in cardboard boxes, so maybe these issues have since been resolved.

If you haven’t noticed already, these small chocolates are all six-sided (hexagonal)…a visual representation of the company name, get it?! 😉 From what I’ve seen online, the mold for their full-size chocolate bars form a “honeycomb” shape composed of multiple hexagons.

In each case, I tried the milk chocolate first and then the corresponding dark chocolate (if there was one). I also tasted the dark chocolates in ascending order of cacao percentage. Below is a summary of my thoughts. Too bad I didn’t find this online “tasting menu” with descriptions of the flavor notes BEFORE my own sampling. Wonder why the Dominican Republic origin isn’t part of the online tasting menu!

Venezuela (Ocumare)

Some cosmetic defects, medium snap, grassy smell, creamy, reminded me of a milkshake, even melt, lightly grainy/almost “sticky” mouthfeel

Peru (Marañón Pure Nacional)

Milk: Minimal dust, soft snap, taste reminded me of a powdered hot cocoa mix, creamy yet sticky mouthfeel

Dark (70%): Some dust, sharp snap, slow to melt, bitter in comparison to the milk, roasted/earthy/fruity flavor, thick/not smooth mouthfeel

Tanzania (Kokoa Kamili)

Milk: Air bubbles & dust marring surface, medium snap, smelled like fresh baked brownies, yogurt-like tang, thick milky mouthfeel

Dark (70%): Lots of dust, dry/brittle snap, initially tasted like a hard cheese that changed to fruity/berry-like, astringent/chalky aftertaste

Dominican Republic (Oko Caribe)

Milk: Shinier/less dust than others, though still had air bubbles on the surface, sharp snap, dry appearance, tasted like a caramel or powdered hot cocoa mix, not smooth mouthfeel, back-of-the-throat acidity

Dark (71%): Also shinier/less dust than others, sharp snap, dry/chalky, tasted fruity/citrusy, astringent aftertaste on tongue

Ecuador (Camino Verde)

Milk: Shinier, less dust, some scuffing & air bubbles, brittle/crumbly snap sending shards flying everywhere, very sweet, caramel taste

Dark (73%): Minimal cosmetic defects, sharp snap, smelled fruity like plums, lightly roasted/nutty flavor [THIS WAS MY FAVORITE]

Madagascar (Sambirano Valley)

Milk: Dust, ghosting & air bubbles marring surface, dull snap, dry/chalky appearance but tasted creamy, too sweet & lightly “sticky” mouthfeel

Dark (74%): lots of air bubbles, smelled fruity (like ripe berries), tasted like burnt toast or lightly vegetal, chalky mouthfeel

Next time I visit the Las Vegas, I plan on taking a factory tour and re-sampling these small-batch, single origin bars to determine if the taste and smell were transit related. Besides, based on the side panel of their shopping bag, it looks like there is PLENTY to do, see & eat! 🙂

If you’d like to learn more about Hexx Chocolate & Confexxions, check out their website: http://www.hexxchocolate.com/

Remember to follow the Time to Eat Chocolate blog to hear about the next stop in the “50 States” project…we’re almost reaching the end!

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

S is for Salami

Sometimes I worry that my featured inclusion ingredient might be too “over the top” & people will stop reading my posts! 🙁 I’m hoping that if you’ve stuck with me through the foie gras bar from several months ago, then fingers crossed that you won’t be too shocked by this 72% dark chocolate bar flavored with Hungarian Salami and Smoked Bacon!

I’m including a photo of the ingredient list, in case you’re curious:

L’Amourette freely admits that this bar might be an “acquired taste” or controversial, as mentioned on the back of the box:

As you might recall, this isn’t the first time that I’ve tried bars from their Art Nouveau line. Here is a link to a post from last year which echoes many of the same experiences from this current bar in terms of overall appearance and texture of the chocolate itself.

Removing the dense 10-rectangle bar from the thin gold foil, I could already smell a smoky aroma. In the year or so since my last L’Amourette bar, I had forgotten that the domed rectangles were solid, not filled with a softer ganache. Many of the rectangles had air bubble imperfections, while several others had inclusion ingredients poking out from small holes in the chocolate near the embossed logo within a stylized heart.

It took a little effort to split one of the rectangles in half by hand, but I was rewarded with a perfect view of the meaty ingredients that lay beneath the surface.

Popping one of the halves into my mouth, I noticed that the chocolate didn’t really melt easily. Removing the morsel from my mouth halfway through the melt, I could see a tiny chunk of crispy, crunchy, salty bacon with the fat still glistening around the edges.

The chocolate itself is grainy and a bit chalky – which is surprising due to the 36 hour conching. Here is a better view of the bacon in all its glory:

The Hungarian salami with mild paprika (which I now realize was mentioned further down in the ingredient list) must have been more finely ground when incorporated into the chocolate bar since I haven’t really encountered identifiable pieces in the 4 rectangles that I’ve eaten so far. However, one of my very first bites of this bar left me with a lightly spicy, yet stringy bit of pork fat or gristle in my mouth after “chomping” on the tasting piece – I assume this was the salami.

Overall, this was not one of my favorites, but am glad that I tried it as part of this Eating the Chocolate Alphabet adventure…consider it me “taking one for the team” so to speak 😉 If you are daring enough to try this bar once it returns to stock, please let me know about YOUR experience!

To learn more about their process and product lines (according to their website, all their other offerings aside from this bar are vegan), please visit: http://www.lamourettechocolat.com/

G is for Gold

Yes, I’m still eating Christmas chocolates at the end of February…don’t judge me 😉 What you may not realize is that this has been the most highly anticipated bar (so far) during “round 2” of Eating the Chocolate Alphabet! Also, based on the unique inclusion ingredients, I could have potentially used it for not one, but three different letters: F, G or M! The story about how I came to acquire this bar (spoiler alert: I actually had 4 bars in my possession at one time!) is long, convoluted and funny…but, I won’t bore you with the details here. However, if you find me in person + are curious, ask me about it! 🙂

As you may have guessed…this is a Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh bar by Rococo Chocolates. This holiday favorite was first created by founder Chantal Coady in 1996 & Christmas wouldn’t be the same without it!

While the “Three Wise Men” are not named in the New Testament, other traditions have given them names, different ages, countries of origin and attributed special significance to each of their gifts.

This particular package art depicts the “Three Kings” as being from the same age group, but below is a compilation of information I found:

  • Caspar (or sometimes listed as Gaspar) was said to be the king of modern-day Turkey. He represented an “older” man in his 60s and his gift was gold. Gold was (and still is) a valuable possession, but this item is also thought to embody kingship on earth and virtue.
  • Melchior represented a “middle aged” man (in his 40s) and gave frankincense from his native Arabia. This aromatic resin has been used in perfume and incense and is considered a symbol of deity & prayer.
  • Balthazar (a “young” man, aged 20) was said to come from modern-day South Yemen (though other traditions list his country of origin as Ethiopia or other parts of Africa). His gift was myrrh, which has often been used as an anointing or embalming oil and is a symbol of death or suffering.

Until this project, I never really thought about frankincense and myrrh, so I was surprised to learn that they are both obtained from the sap of trees and that Somalia is the biggest exporter of frankincense. While it might have been interesting for Rococo to have used these ingredients in their solid state, their chocolate was actually infused with trace amounts of oil that were obtained by steam distillation of the dry resins. Frankincense is said to be woody in flavor, while myrrh (a natural gum that is waxy and coagulates quickly) is considered bitter & spicy by Chinese medicine.

Upon opening the cardboard packaging, I noticed that the bar was wrapped in festive thick gold foil.

However, after unwrapping the bar from the foil, I noticed that the chocolate had sustained some damage in transit: it was broken in 2 pieces & some of the edible 22 carat gold leaf had become detached from one of the rectangles.

Since I had a bar in “reserve,” I decided to open that one as well…only to discover that the inner packaging was the same patterned white & blue one that I had seen on the Earl Grey Tea bar from a couple of weeks ago.

As I alluded to earlier, 3 bars were brought back directly from England after the Christmas holidays + I acquired another bar at Chocolate Covered in San Francisco on Christmas Eve day. Turns out that the UK version had the gold foil inner wrapper + more gold leaf decorations while the US version had the “standard” inner packaging, less gold leaf & more chocolate “dust” + scuffing marring the surface (as well as a minor crack along the entire length of the bar where the first “C” of Rococo was imprinted on each of the rectangles).

For tasting purposes, I chose to stick with the UK bar despite the less-than-pristine appearance of the cracked bar (in case you were curious, BOTH bars tasted the same!)

Gold is a malleable and pliable chemical element, so “gold leaf” is created by hammering pieces of gold into thin sheets. It is odorless and tasteless, but it adds a certain “bling” to the chocolate…don’t you agree?!

Here is a close up of the gold leaf:

Overall, the chocolate smells and tastes primarily of citrusy orange oil. There was a sharp snap to the bar, though I also noticed an air bubble along the breaking point.

Melting a piece, I noticed that the texture was not completely smooth, but the morsel melted evenly. During the melt, I experienced a prickly, tingling sensation on my tongue that was vaguely effervescent. This reminded me of prior experiences with tasting pine resin and it left some astringency behind.

This was definitely a fun and unique Christmas-inspired bar & I’d love to get the Chocolarder version next year for comparison purposes!!

To learn more about Rococo Chocolates and their range of artisan bars, check out: https://www.rococochocolates.com/

E is for Earl Grey Tea

While in college and shortly after graduation, my ideal weekend would include a “high tea” outing with friends. For years, it was a hobby (and almost an obsession) of mine to visit every tea shop in Southern California…sadly, I didn’t succeed in my quest, but I had a delicious time trying! 😉 In the beginning, I wasn’t very familiar with different types of teas, so I relied on the recommendation of others. Not surprisingly, Earl Grey tea was generally what people would suggest to me (did you know it’s second only to English Breakfast as the world’s best-selling blend of tea?) While no one really knows why this flavor of tea was named after the former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland (Charles Grey, the second Earl Grey, Viscount Howick) who was best known for abolishing slavery in the British Empire and was one of the leading British statesmen of the late 18th Century and 19th Century, there are several myths and legends surrounding the origin.

Sitting there chatting with friends and daintily nibbling on finger sandwiches, I always felt so “posh” drinking my Earl Grey tea with milk and sugar. It wasn’t until years later that I discovered that bergamot oil gives Earl Grey its distinctive flavor and aroma. The bergamot orange, grown primarily in the Calabrian region of Italy, is probably a hybrid of a sweet lime and a bitter orange. The fruit is the size of an orange, with the color of a lemon, is less sour than a lemon, but more bitter than a grapefruit. The rind from 100 bergamot oranges (both ripe and unripe) yields about 3 ounces of the fragrant essential oil.

But enough about that and on to the CHOCOLATE!

The graphics used on the box remind me of a Moorish palace floor. According to a Wall Street Journal article from 2011, planted behind the Belgravia Rococo shop, there is a Moroccan garden that has geometrical-design tiles which inspired the packaging.

Opening the box, I enjoyed reading about the history behind the company and the source of the cocoa that was used. One feature that I especially liked (and hope that other chocolate companies adopt) is that there are 4 small tabs at each corner that help keep the wrapped chocolate bar securely in place, preventing it from sliding around in the box.

Cutting open the top of the foil lined inner packaging, the citrus aroma immediately transported me back to my favorite afternoon tea outings. There is a rich dark color and matte finish to the bar which has seven narrow rectangles imprinted with the company name in block letters.

Segmenting one of the rectangles from the rest of the bar produced a dull snap, while breaking the rectangle in half produced a medium snap (possibly due to the air bubbles in the chocolate, see below for a photo). As I’m wont to do, I usually munch the first piece of any chocolate bar I try. This rewarded me with a satisfying crunch from the ground Earl Grey tea (3% of the ingredients) that was mixed into the chocolate itself – you can see black flecks of the tea throughout the chocolate.

There is a slow, even melt to the morsel and of course the mouthfeel is not smooth due to the tea. I was curious to see what a partially melted piece might look like…so here it is:

When a friend traveled to England to visit family for the holidays, I specifically requested that he bring back a different Rococo chocolate bar, which you will hear about in just a few weeks! Serendipity must have led him to also bring back this Earl Grey bar that I didn’t realize that I *needed* – such an unexpected pleasure to stroll down memory lane 🙂

It’s no wonder that founder Chantal Coady received the very first OBE (Order of the British Empire) for “services to chocolate making” as part of the Queen’s Birthday Honours List in June 2014.

To learn more about Rococo Chocolates and their range of artisan bars, check out: https://www.rococochocolates.com/

Bonus B – Black Sesame

Thanks to fellow blogger “Time to Eat Chocolate” for making me aware of this bar. When I attended the Northwest Chocolate Festival in Seattle a week after her blog post was published, I knew I had to pick up one of these bars for myself. Little did I know then that this bar was a “limited edition,” otherwise I would have picked up more of them!

Upon opening the silver foil inner packaging, I was immediately mesmerized by the plump jewel-like dried cherries, the sprinkling of white and black sesame seeds, the glinting crystals of French sea salt and oh my…the COLOR of the bar itself!!

 

I cannot get over the unique charcoal grey color that is achieved by combining ground black sesame seeds and non-dairy white chocolate (cocoa butter). Based on my experience with Charm School Chocolate as part of last year’s Eating the Chocolate Alphabet project, I knew that they produced exclusively vegan chocolate bars using coconut milk. What I didn’t realize is that this particular bar isn’t “traditional” in the sense that there aren’t any cocoa solids; black sesame seeds were truly the “star” providing both the flavor and the color for this bar!

Here is a photo of the bar against a black background so you can see the unique shade of grey, as well as the generous sprinkling of inclusions!

After several minutes of trying to capture the perfect angle (the bar is so photogenic, it was hard to decide on what to concentrate while taking pictures), it was finally time to taste the bar!

Surprisingly, there was a sharp snap to the bar; with only 40% cacao, I was expecting a softer snap and, to me, the primary aroma was coconut. The chocolate morsel melted slowly on my tongue, allowing me to enjoy the buttery, lightly salty, nutty and not-too-sweet flavor. Depending on the piece, I either experienced crunchy toasted (or maybe they were air puffed?) sesame seeds or tart, sour Michigan-grown Montmorency cherries or both! My personal preference is to “chomp” (rather than melt), so I enjoyed the juicy bursts of mouth-puckering cherries that counterbalanced the nutty sweetness of the sesame white chocolate.

I’ve heard of Montmorency cherries before, but didn’t know much about them. They take their name from a valley in France and are currently grown in Canada, France and the U.S. (particularly in Michigan and Wisconsin). According to Wikipedia, these cherries are said to date back to Ancient Rome. The trees were planted along the roads and soldiers would use the fruit for food and the wood to build weapons or repair equipment.

Also, did you know that black sesame seeds and white sesame seeds are basically the same? Black sesame seeds still have their hull (shell), while white sesame seeds have the hull removed. Some people say that black seeds are nuttier and smokier, while the white seeds are sweeter. I’m not sure that I could identify one over the other in a blind taste test and the flavors are so similar to me that I certainly can’t pick a favorite.

Long after I finished tasting this bar, a pleasant nutty aftertaste lingered in my mouth, making me want yet another piece. For someone who is not a fan of white chocolate, this bar just might have won me over! 🙂

To learn more about Charm School Chocolate, check out: https://www.charmschoolchocolate.com/

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!

Bonus A – Anzac Crunch

From the moment I saw the packaging on Instagram, I knew I *had* to have “The Great War” bar from Wellington Chocolate Factory! The flavor didn’t matter to me since the hand-painted illustration of the soldier eating a chocolate bar from his ration pack while hunkered down in the trenches with his buddy and some animal friends had captured my heart.

Thanks to Josh Rubin from Chocexchange in Canada for being the intermediary between New Zealand and Southern California to make my dream a reality! [Originally I was going to feature this bar during “round 1” of the Eating the Chocolate Alphabet blog during “W” week, which would have coincided closely with Canadian Remembrance day in November; however, fate intervened so that I could instead showcase it as a bonus “A” bar for “round 2” of the blog!]

The top surface of the outer paper wrapper must somehow be lightly coated because the informational label & Cuisine Artisan Award Winner sticker were easily removed to reveal a ~200mm x ~250mm image.

Each time I look at the artwork by Auckland-based Misery (aka Tanja Jade), I see some new detail that I had previously overlooked: the mountain in the distance that is crying, the birds wearing tiny helmets dodging cannon fire to carry ration packs to the soldiers on the front lines, the serene faces in the poppies. Despite the folds and creases, this will soon be framed and displayed proudly in my home!

On the 25th of April each year, Anzac Day commemorates the anniversary of the 1915 landing at the Gallipoli Peninsula in Turkey, where thousands of Australian and New Zealander soldiers fought and died during World War I. In case you’re unfamiliar, Anzac stands for Australian and New Zealand Army Corps. Like Veterans’ Day in the US and Remembrance Day in Canada, Anzac Day honors past and present AUS & NZ servicemen and women from all wars, conflicts and peacekeeping operations. Though some believe that Anzac biscuits were sent to the soldiers on the front lines in Europe, the truth is that Anzac cakes were sold at the “homefront” to raise money for the war effort. Anzac biscuits are traditionally made with rolled oats, flour, sugar, butter, golden syrup, baking soda, boiling water and (optionally) desiccated coconut. The “Anzac crunch” used for this bar was inspired by those ingredients, with some modern-day updates.

The “back” of the bar is completely covered in crispy, crunchy, toasted rolled oats and coconut chips that it’s easy to forget that there is a smooth and creamy 52% coconut milk chocolate hiding underneath.

This bar, made from a house blend of Criollo and Trinitario beans, is as delicious as it is photogenic. Modernizing the traditional recipe, coconut flour and coconut sugar were used (though raw sugar and golden syrup still added to the sweetness of the bar). There is an unusual, almost sour, tang to the chocolate itself. I assume this is from the golden syrup since I just now tasted coconut flour and coconut sugar from my kitchen pantry and the flavor note does not seem to originate from those ingredients. Upon research, I discovered that golden syrup is an acidic sugar solution that adds a smoky warmth. I was also fascinated to learn that golden syrup was used as a “binder” (getting ingredients to stick together) when there was a shortage of eggs during wartime.

Honestly, it was impossible not to “chomp” this bar and quickly has become one of my new favorites. As I sit here with only a few morsels left, a trip to New Zealand to get more in person (and avoid winter) seems like a perfectly reasonable solution! 😉

From the label: A portion of the profit from this bar of chocolate will be donated to the Great War Exhibition to assist with making the compelling history of the First World War available to all.

To learn more about their entire line of organic ethically traded bean-to-bar chocolates, check out: http://www.wcf.co.nz/

A is for Amaranth

With the New Year comes a new “theme” for the Eating the Chocolate Alphabet blog. In 2017, I plan to alphabetically feature unusual or unique “inclusion” ingredients (meaning stuff that gets included with the chocolate). Last year I limited myself to only new-to-me chocolatiers and chocolate makers, but this year all brands are fair game! While I might not be able to stick to the “one post a week” schedule due to the availability of some letters (I’m currently stumped with “X” – so let me know if you have any recommendations), I’ll still try to post as often as possible.

To start off the alphabet, I’m featuring an Amaranth Crunch 70% La Red Dominican Republic dark chocolate bar made by LetterPress Chocolate from my hometown of Los Angeles, California.

According to Wikipedia, it is thought that amaranth represented 80% the Aztecs’ caloric consumption prior to the Spanish conquest. Even though this seed has been around for thousands of years, it’s only started to recently gain popularity since it can be eaten by those with gluten intolerance. Additionally, it’s an excellent source of protein, vitamin C, calcium, fiber, iron and more.

David and Corey Menkes started a chocolate blog in 2012 called “Little Brown Squares” where they would feature bean-to-bar makers. According to their website, after they attended the Northwest Chocolate Festival and discovered that there were no bean-to-bar makers in the Los Angeles area, they made it their mission to change that and founded LetterPress Chocolate in 2014. Since they launched their company, I’ve had the opportunity to meet them at different pop-up events + at the 2016 Northwest Chocolate Festival in Seattle, WA. They are passionate about sourcing the best cacao beans from around the world and are very friendly and knowledgeable. Here is an article from April 2016 that provides more information about their small batch production set-up at that time: http://www.laweekly.com/restaurants/some-of-las-best-chocolate-comes-from-a-living-room-in-beverlywood-6806732

One of the first things that you notice about their bars is the distinctive logo which was inspired by vintage air mail stamps.

Their custom-designed logo features an airplane and some cacao pods.

This particular paper label is an older version since they have recently switched to a much more eye-catching gold foil stamped and letterpress embossed thicker packaging. My only complaint was that the paper “sleeve” seemed to be affixed to the silver foil and I was unable to simply slip the hand-wrapped bar out easily…akin to being thwarted in quickly opening a present due to the item being taped to the wrapping paper. I’m glad that the adhesive was minimal and flexible so that I could open the wrapper without damaging the label or the foil.

Even before fully unwrapping the bar, I could already smell the darkly roasted cacao which made me think of coffee, which isn’t a flavor that I particularly enjoy.

The 24-rectangle bar had a flawless finish on the front, neither shiny/glossy nor dull matte (not sure if the correct term for that would be “satin”?)

Flipping the bar over, you can see that the entire back surface is covered in tiny bumps from the air-puffed amaranth seeds.

Segmenting a couple of tasting morsels, there is a sharp snap and an earthy aroma.

 

While most people suggest savoring chocolate by melting it on your tongue, I’m a proponent of “chomping” (chewing) this bar, otherwise you would completely miss the fun and enjoyment of hearing the crackling of the amaranth and the crunch of the delicate fleur de sel!

However, if you do choose to melt, you will be rewarded with a creamy mouthfeel and red berry sweetness with a slight back-of-the-throat tangy aftertaste. According to their website, it’s a grown up (and healthier) version of that certain crunch bar remembered from childhood.

To learn more and find where you can locate some of their bars for yourself, check out: http://www.letterpresschocolate.com/

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).

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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).

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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:

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

Z is for Zotter Chocolate

Honestly, I’m not sure how or why I began following the Russian Zotter Biochocolate Instagram account. Before Instagram introduced the “translate” button, I certainly couldn’t understand their Cyrillic posts, but I was always mesmerized by their mouthwatering chocolate photos. It was only recently that I discovered the U.S. (Cape Coral, Florida) version on Instagram and continue to follow both accounts to this day. In case you’re curious, there are even more Zotter accounts that I could follow: Austria, Brazil, Hawaii and Poland…each one with unique content!

According to their website: “Our bean to bar chocolate, created in-house, is spread and rolled out very thinly on 15 meter tracks while at the same time, assorted fine fillings and ganaches are prepared using over 400 organic ingredients. As soon as the chocolate has cooled down, it is topped with the filling. Before the next layer is applied, it has to rest. Depending on the recipe, this process will be repeated several times. Lastly, a thin chocolate coating is spread on top and then, this gigantic piece of chocolate is cut into our classic 70g Zotter bars.” Can you imagine a chocolate bar measuring almost 50 feet long?! Next time I visit Austria, I would LOVE to visit their factory for a tour!

As you might have guessed, based on my love of unusual inclusion ingredients, the chocolates that captured most of my attention were the “hand-scooped” (filled) bars! Frequently I see delicious close-up photos of the multi-layered bars and have lost count of all the ones I wanted to add to my wish list. Visiting their website recently didn’t make the choices any easier…if money were no object, I would have happily ordered one of each (from weird to classic, there are 300-400 to choose from)! 🙂

Alas, I narrowed down my selections to these three unique bars:

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Pumpkin Seeds with Marzipan

Aside from the bars themselves, it’s hard not to be captivated by the colorful wrappers with art by Andreas H. Gratze, as well as the eye catching embossed gold foil used for the company name.

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In addition to the wrapper being printed on environmentally friendly paper with environmentally friendly colors, I like being able to easily slip the wrapped bar from the outer sleeve. Minimal adhesive was used to keep the sleeve closed, so that you could easily unfold the wrapper to read what was printed on the inside and then re-close the wrapper, as needed.

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Opening the lightly waxed shiny gold foil inner wrapper, I noticed some discolored patches, which I assume come from pumpkin seed oil that may have seeped out during storage. Matching the outside of the wrapper, the company name was lightly embossed into the chocolate on a diagonal at evenly spaced intervals across the entire back side of the bar.

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This 60% dark milk chocolate is filled with marzipan and pumpkin seed nougat (24%), which is a Styrian classic. Slicing a thin rectangle from the bar, you easily see the distinct layers: chocolate sandwiching equal rows of thick pumpkin seed nougat & moist marzipan studded with almonds.

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It was fascinating to learn that Styrian pumpkins produce hull-less (“naked”) seeds, meaning that the bright green seeds don’t need to be “shelled” like the standard pepitas that I’m familiar with. The black fleck at the top left of this close-up is part of a caramelized pumpkin seed.

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The flavors were well-balanced, with no one ingredient overshadowing the other. There was the nutty sweetness of the marzipan and the earthiness of the pumpkin seeds. One ingredient that surprised me was apple brandy, though this seems to gives the bar a touch of holiday warmth. Until now, I never realized that there could be severe anaphylactic reactions to celery, so it’s a good thing that Zotter includes that their bars might have traces of the vegetable as part of their allergy warnings on the back of each label, given that they use many uncommon and unexpected flavor combinations in their hand-scooped bars.

Goji Berries in Sesame Nougat

Surprisingly, this wrapper was written mostly in German rather than English, so I had to refer to the online description. This vegan bar uses a soy couverture and is filled with goji berries and sesame nougat (25%).

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Cutting into the bar, you can see the stripes of each layer: soy/cocoa mass couverture (flavored with coriander, vanilla, star anise and cinnamon), homemade sesame nougat, a green tea ganache and a generous handful of dried whole goji berries. Goji berries have been nicknamed “happy berries” because of the sense of well-being they are said to induce.

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The soy couverture had a dull whitish sheen that retained fingerprints very easily, but produced a moderate snap when broken apart. The taste of the slightly dry and dense white sesame nougat reminded me of halva without the associated grittiness. While I’m not typically a fan of green tea, the earthiness was somewhat offset by the chewy sweet goji berries.

Typically Austria

This bar is described online as Mountain Milk Chocolate (40%) filled with caramelized grey poppy cream (32%), homemade walnut nougat (28%) and a thin layer of cinnamon.

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Unwrapping the bar, the aroma reminded me of an Almond Joy candy bar even though there is no coconut in Zotter’s bar. I was also intrigued by the tank tread pattern on the back of the bar, which makes sense based on the company’s description of their bar production process mentioned earlier. Since the ingredients are all part of the brown color wheel family, the straight/even layers are harder to distinguish from each other.

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There was a mild snap when segmenting this bar into tasting morsels. Overall, the piece was buttery and nutty, but there was also a sour “tang” that reminded me of yogurt or sheep’s milk.

Unfortunately, this was my least favorite of the bunch, but the tiny, crunchy, caramelized poppy seeds started to win me over at the end.

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One of the things that I want to learn more about (and potentially experiment with) is the “Mi-Xing bar,” an online tool that allows customers to choose from 99 different ingredients to create their very own favorite chocolate. Just imagine the endless possibilities!

As an added bonus, Zotter sent a tiny plain chocolate bar with my order. The wrapper provide me with a 20% discount coupon code for a future purchase, which I promptly used to order an advent calendar filled with mini hand-scooped bars. In December, I’ll be counting down the days until Christmas with 24 new-to-me flavors…I can’t wait for it to arrive 🙂

To learn more and order your own unique assortment, check out: https://www.zotterusa.com/