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/

D is for Dandelion Chocolate

Next time I visit San Francisco, I’m going straight to the Dandelion Chocolate Factory & Café in the Mission District to get my own single-origin chef’s tasting menu or a brownie bite flight paired with European drinking chocolate! I’m envious of all the photos I’ve seen posted on Instagram recently!

When I was putting together the list of bars that I wanted to try for the Eating the Chocolate Alphabet series, I knew that I had to include Dandelion based on all the information I had read about them. As an added bonus, they are located in my home state of California!

As is the case with many small-batch bean-to-bar chocolate makers, Dandelion had to be inventive with the machinery and equipment that they would be using. Fortunate for us, the two founders are “technology nerds” who seem to have a talent for re-tooling electronics. What started as a garage or basement experiment for the fun of it has turned into a booming business where sometimes they simply can’t produce enough chocolate bars to satisfy the demand. To learn more, check out this article from Chocolate Noise: http://www.chocolatenoise.com/dandelion-chocolate/

So, until I have the chance to visit them in person, I’ll just have to make do with this 2014 harvest 70% bar from San Francisco de Macorís in the Dominican Republic which only has 2 ingredients: cocoa beans & cane sugar. Dandelion avoids extraneous ingredients so that the unique flavors and characteristics of the bean can be highlighted.


I love the thick and rustic cream colored hand-made paper from India that they use for the outer wrapper, which I believe are also hand silk-screened with gold colored accents. My only wish is that the pasted on labels were easier to remove so that the wrapper could be recycled in a creative way…it’s just too pretty to throw out!


One thing that caught my eye is that the wrapper featured the names of two employees who helped with this particular bar: Kaleb was recognized for writing the roast profile description and Greg received kudos for directly sourcing the organic beans. I was fascinated with the unique fermentation and drying technique used for these beans: http://www.dandelionchocolate.com/our-beans/oko/

Am I alone in feeling like a klutz when opening the carefully hand-folded foil wrappers? If only I could re-create the crisp, neat origami-esque folds after sampling the bar. Maybe the solution is to eat the entire bar in one sitting so that I don’t need to worry about wrapping the leftovers?! 😉

The simplicity in design is also evident in the mold that they use, which produces a bar with 18 rectangles, each with 5 squiggly lines that make me think of ocean waves.



The squares were easy to break apart (I blame the current heatwave for the lack of sharp snap). This released a pleasant roasty aroma that gave me a hint of what the chocolate would taste like. To me, the chocolate had tart, fruity notes (like cranberries) in addition to an earthy flavor. While it wasn’t gritty, there was definitely a thicker (less smooth) mouthfeel.

I just had to laugh when I read a recent post from the Dandelion blog about the challenges of chocolate “fatigue” when tasting chocolate day in and day out…but someone has to do it & I’m glad they are “sacrificing” themselves to ensure continued quality 🙂

If you’re like me & want to plan your San Francisco culinary “wish list” in advance, check out: https://www.dandelionchocolate.com/