U is for Uyuni Salt

Rather than experience Mardi Gras in chaotic Rio de Janeiro (Brazil), one of my adventurous friends decided instead to travel to Bolivia for their version of carnaval. While on a side trip, she posted awe-inspiring pictures to Facebook of this 4,000 square mile desert-like salt flat in the Andes of Southwest Bolivia that is transformed into the world’s largest mirror during the rainy season! It’s hard to tell where the sky meets the earth.

Why do I mention all this? Well, up until now I had struggled to find a “U” inclusion ingredient and, as luck would have it, this particular salt flat is called Salar de Uyuni! The word uyuni comes from the Andean Aymara language (which is spoken by about a million people in Bolivia and Peru) and means “enclosure” (like a pen in which you would keep animals). I was thrilled to discover that two of the bars from the El Ceibo assortment she brought back just happened to include this uyuni salt!

Apologies in advance for the quality/clarity of the photos, California “May Gray” (and upcoming “June Gloom”) wreaks havoc since natural/filtered sunshine is so much better than LED or halogen lighting!  

Andean Royal Quinoa & Uyuni Salt (75%)

Just opening the heat-sealed metallic pouch, I could immediately see the generous amount of puffed quinoa inclusions bursting out from the “back” of the bar despite some chocolate dust and scuffing that marred the, otherwise, shiny finish on the front of the bar.

There was a sharp snap and the bar smelled fruity, which was unexpected since other Bolivian chocolates I’ve tried had a different aroma. Taking a bite, I anticipated a crisp crunch; however, these tiny orbs were chewy and a bit stale (the “best by” date had elapsed even before I received this bar).

Overall, the slow/even melt resulted in fruity notes rather than the earthy taste that is common for this origin. Surprisingly, the bar was not salty; so either there wasn’t much added to the bar or it was simply enhancing the flavor in a behind-the-scenes “supporting role.”

Cocoa Nibs & Uyuni Salt (77%)  

This mini bar had some ghosting and cosmetic blemishes, but had otherwise traveled well. Segmenting the rectangles into tasting morsels with a sharp snap, there was a roasted aroma at the breaking point. The malty/fruity, slow/even melt was punctuated by crunchy, slightly bitter cacao nibs and the occasional burst of the uyuni salt. Try as I might, I wasn’t able to isolate the salt crystals in my mouth.

According to an article by food-critic Mimi Sheraton, uyuni is said to have an intense deep-sea salty flavor with a slight flush of bitterness. To me, the chocolate with the visible salt crystal tasted sweet rather than briny…wonder if that’s because of the interaction with the other ingredients?!

Once again, I’m so very grateful to friends who think of me on their foreign trips. Who would have thought that a travel souvenir could be so helpful to my Eating the Chocolate Alphabet adventure!

To learn more about the chocolate assortment that these bars came from, check out: http://www.elceibochocolate.com/

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/

50 States Collaboration – Minnesota / K’ul Chocolate

When you think about an energy bar or afternoon pick-me-up snack, does the term “bean-to-bar” come to mind? Probably not…but Peter Kelsey, the man behind K’ul Chocolate, might just change your mind about that! K’ul (pronounced “cool”) is the Mayan word for energy, so I thought it would be fun to try the four bars from their Superfood Bar Introductory pack which are each made with 70% bean-to-bar dark chocolate.

First up is “Power” (peanuts & currants + 8 grams of protein in each bar)

This bar is K’ul’s modern twist on the North American slang term for trail mix, aka “GORP” (good ol’ raisins and peanuts). Instead of raisins, they use currants and their peanuts are covered with a protein “shell” made from algavia (a whole algae protein powder). Don’t worry, there isn’t a seaweed or briny smell; the aroma reminded me of freshly roasted nuts like you might find from a street vendor or at a carnival.

The intricate five-sided spiral knotwork company logo is hardly intact on any of the 6 small squares since the featured ingredients are just bursting out from both the front and back of the chunky bar. [As a side note, I’d love to know if this pattern has a name since my research led me down a never-ending rabbit hole of complex Mayan and Celtic inspired crafts.]

I’m pretty sure that these bars are meant to be “chomped” rather than melted. How else would I be able to fully enjoy the crunchy, lightly salted coated peanuts and the chewy, sweet, dried currants?! It was difficult to isolate the chocolate by itself, but it was creamy, smooth and tasted a bit like banana. Not sure if this was “cross-contamination” with one of their other bars (see below) or an inherent flavor note of the chocolate used.

Next is “Electrobar” (which will help to restore your electrolyte balance)

Again, the featured ingredients (dried bananas & toasted unsweetened coconut flakes) are clearly visible on both the front and back of the thick bar, such that one of the squares does not have a recognizable logo!

I liked the generous chunks of chewy bananas & the texture of the coconut strips. Large crystals of Cyprus sea salt are unevenly dispersed on the back of the bar, making some morsels saltier than others (especially if you put the salt side down on your tongue).

The overall flavor is very tropical, though the chocolate itself seems secondary to all the other ingredients.

Next is “Stamina” (to recover from oxidative stress)

Flavored with cranberries, tart cherries, freeze dried pomegranate arils, freeze dried raspberries and maca root powder. All the not-too-sweet fruits worked well together, though it seemed that raspberry and pomegranate were dominant, perhaps because of the longer-lasting seeds.

Last, but not least, “Endurance” (caffeine courtesy of guarana powder)

The crunchy, toasted pumpkin seeds are again coated with the algae protein powder giving them a slightly yellowish appearance while the chewy dried cranberries retained their distinctive jewel red color. This bar is designed to provide “consistent energy to push through the miles.”

I tasted a third of each bar first thing in the morning, before having breakfast…I have to say that I did feel a bit of a “buzz” from the “Endurance” bar within minutes of eating 2 squares.

Love that there is minimal packaging to these single servings. The bars are wrapped with a snug and form-fitting printed plastic “film” with a notched opening at one edge. Each bar is so unique in terms of the flavor combinations and the intended use of the chocolate bar. From the company website: “Chocolate is not candy. Chocolate is food.” So if you are passionate about maintaining a healthy lifestyle while enjoying the pleasure of chocolate, these seem like the best of both worlds!

This Introductory 4-pack is currently $11.99 (including shipping) – limit one per customer.

To learn more about K’ul’s philosophy behind nature’s original superfood and to discover their entire product line, check out: https://kul-chocolate.com/

Remember to follow the Time to Eat Chocolate blog to hear about the next stop in the “50 States” project!

Other chocolate makers in Minnesota:

Meadowlands Chocolate

Terroir Chocolate

Two Ravens Chocolate

NOTE: If you know of any other bean-to-bar makers in Minnesota that aren’t mentioned above, please leave a comment or send an email so that we can keep this list as up-to-date as possible!

Q is for Queen of the Meadow

If you were following along last year, you’ll remember that “Q” was a problematic letter for me. This time, I had more inclusion options potentially available: quandong (from Australia), quinoa, quince and even quinine. However, once I heard about this seasonal Limited Edition Queen of the Meadow bar from Vintage Plantations, I knew I had to find it. Lucky for me, it was available at Chocolate Covered San Francisco!

The aromatic herb “Queen of the Meadow” is also known by other names like “Meadow Sweet” or “Mead Wort” (the latter is descriptive since the spice is commonly used to flavor Scandinavian fermented honey beverages aka mead). I’m not sure if the “Queen” title comes from the fact that it tends to dominate low-lying damp meadows or that supposedly Queen Elizabeth I preferred this herb above all others when it came to scenting her chambers (it’s known as a “strewing” herb, meaning that it would be strewn on the floor to give rooms a pleasant floral aroma).

The packaging art by Brooklyn-based painter Charlotta Janssen looks very much like a botanical illustration showing how the creamy white flowers grow in nature as well as details of the buds, petals and branched cymes (clusters). It’s fun to compare those drawing to the tiny dried flowers that were sprinkled on the back of the bar.

Removing the “chocolate dust” coated bar from the sealed foil inner pouch, I could immediately smell a botanical aroma that reminded me of an herbal tea. While it’s a shame that the bar wasn’t intact, it made it so much easier to show the “back” and “front” details simultaneously.

There was a brittle snap to the thick bar and the chocolate itself seemed a little dry and chalky at the break point.

On the slow and even melt, the gritty texture & mouthfeel was what you would expect from stone ground cacao. Whether melting or “chomping,” there was a subtle nutty flavor since Queen of the Meadow is known to impart a taste like almonds. Overall, the chocolate was not too sweet and at times the flavor reminded me of passion fruit or marshmallows. These flowers are only available in Sweden for two months each year, so I’m very glad that Vintage Plantations has utilized them so uniquely. I hope their Swedish collaboration line continues to expand…can’t wait to see and taste what they will make next!

To learn more about Vintage Plantations, be sure to check out: https://www.vintageplantations.com/

N is for Nori

There almost wasn’t an “N” post this week! :0 I knew exactly what I wanted, but was having trouble sourcing it. After successfully maintaining my own personal deadline schedule of posting one article per week for 39 weeks, would I now have to resort to recycling a review from a year ago?! Had I just followed my instincts and visited my hometown health food store earlier, I might have saved myself a week’s worth of angst, but then I would have missed my various phone conversations with Cole Meeker, founder and one of the owners of the The Great and Wonderful Sea of Change Trading Company. (Is it just me, or does the company name make you think of “The Wizard of Oz”?)

Until today, I didn’t do any research on the Northern California company, so I was excited to find this 5 minute video featuring Cole and his wife Anastasia explaining their passion for making food products with sea vegetation. I certainly didn’t know that there were 400+ kinds of edible seaweed in the ocean and that only about 3 of them were commonly eaten.

Introducing today’s bar…Wild Nori Crunch made with 70% unroasted, stone ground Ecuadorian cacao

Holding the outer packaging at an angle, you can better see and appreciate the spot UV anglerfish, with a sun or all-seeing eye coming out of its head as a lure. Opening the back flap, you’ll see a thank you message to those that were instrumental in getting this project funded in 2015 through an Indiegogo campaign.

Removing the slender rectangular bar from the heat sealed gold foil wrapper, you’ll see that the mold is comprised of 9 slightly textured, matte finish “batons” that are minimally marred by some air bubbles + chocolate dust at the top and bottom corners of the bar.

Taking a closer look at the bar, you can easily see dark flecks of the wild-harvested seaweed near the surface, though flipping the bar over shows just how the well dispersed they really are.

Breaking off one of the rectangles produced a brittle, crumbly snap that released an earthy and mineral-rich aroma.

Taking a bite, I’m reminded of the Middle Eastern sesame paste or nut-butter based snack halva in terms of the gritty crunch that is associated with stone ground cacao.

This is definitely a bar to be “chomped” rather than melted, unless you like having tiny mineralized flakes of seaweed stuck to your tongue and teeth afterwards! 😉

As an experiment, I used a knife to segment another piece from the bar just to hear the rasping “scritch” of the metal blade making contact with the chocolate and dried seaweed mixture. It certainly created a bit of a mess, but it was fascinating to see the delicate and translucent nori chunks apart from the chocolate itself.

I know what you’re thinking…seaweed and chocolate?! If you’ll recall, I wasn’t a big fan of the flavor back in April 2016. However, after a year of eating poke bowls garnished with furikake and enjoying a miso bar last week, I think my palate was better prepared for the flavor profile.

Lightly sweet from the coconut sugar and maple syrup, satisfyingly crunchy and lightly savory/vegetal in flavor, I encourage you to set aside your preconceptions and taste this for yourself. After reading about seaweed today, I’m really intrigued to try their Wild Dulse bar next…now to find it! 😉

In the words of fellow Instagrammer honeycreeperchocolate: “Wow, nori…you are certainly on an adventure!” – Yep, and loving every moment of it!

To learn more about Cole and Sea of Change, check out the “About Us” page on their website. If you’re not lucky enough to find their products in your local health food store, you can order online through their sea vegetable store: https://www.seaofchangetrading.com/sea-vegetable-store/

These are my personal thoughts and experiences. I did not receive pay or any compensation for reviewing this product.

K is for Kale

If you’ve been following along for a while, you’ll know that I enjoy trying unique or unusual inclusion ingredients that you wouldn’t normally associate or pair with chocolate…remember the foie gras from a couple of weeks ago? Well, this is the COMPLETE opposite end of the spectrum since it’s a vegan and “healthy” chocolate bar!

When I was putting together the list of chocolates to feature for each letter of the alphabet, I *knew* I had to include Compartés’ Kale bar for “K” week! I first tried this bar a couple of years ago when it was sold under the name “Vegan Zen.” The ingredients remain the same as before: 75% dark chocolate, kale, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, olive oil, sea salt, sunflower seeds (though those were hiding on this bar?) and spirulina; but I wonder if they had to change the branding/packaging to read “Vegan Kale” because too many people bought a bar without realizing that the main inclusion ingredient was a leafy cruciferous vegetable?! :0

Don’t forget to read the pseudo haiku on the back of the box. While it doesn’t follow the 3 line poem format with 17 syllables (broken down as 5/7/5), it’s still a fun segway to what awaits upon opening the packaging.

Inside the colorful cardboard box, the bar is wrapped in a gold metallic heat sealed/crimped pouch with the distinctive clean lines of the company logo that make me think of the Arts and Crafts Movement of the early 1900s. Did you know that while the Los Angeles-based chocolatier started out as Comparte’s in 1950, it morphed into Compartés when the brand was re-invigorated under current owner Jonathan Grahm, who took over running the company at the age of 21 (he started at the tender age of 15!)

Chevrons and triangles that are evocative of the Art Deco style feature prominently on the front side of the bar.

Though there is a bit of scuffing to the surface of the bar, you can already tell that segmenting tasting morsels will be both easy and fun, since the rows can be either horizontal or at a diagonal. Oh, the possibilities!! 😉

In my mind, the “star of the show” is the inclusion side which is photogenically blanketed with crunchy dehydrated kale chips, pumpkin seeds and white sesame seeds. I’m not really familiar with spirulina, but I imagine that the deep green color is enhanced by the protein-rich algae.

Based on photos that I’ve seen on the company website, I assume that lacinato kale was used. This leafy vegetable is also called dinosaur kale, Tuscan kale or black kale, among a variety of other names. You would think that the flavor of this bar would be bitter, earthy or medicinal, but you’ll be surprised to learn that it’s actually nutty and sweet despite the fact that there is no additional sugar aside from what is included in the base cocoa mass made from South American sourced beans.

It’s difficult to isolate the dark chocolate by itself, so when chomping pieces of this bar (I don’t think it’s possible to “melt” morsels like you’re *supposed* to), the flavor reminds me a bit of coconut or marzipan. Overall, there is just a slight vegetal hint. Truly, if you were to try this bar without knowing the ingredients, you would not be able to guess kale!

Jonathan Grahm, a self-taught chocolatier, was named of one Forbes “30 under 30” in 2011 when he was just 27. He has no formal culinary or business training, but since buying the company from his parents at age 24 the brand has grown internationally with several popular shops in Japan. You can read more about that here. The Brentwood, CA shop has attracted Hollywood celebrities, both back in the 1950s as well as today. From the outside, the shop looks almost like a high-end jewelry store rather than a purveyor of sweet treats; which ties in to Jonathan’s vision of fusing chocolate with art, style, design and fashion.

You’ve probably been wanting to up your “5 a day” and leafy greens consumption, right?! Well, here is your chance to feel virtuous and daring at the same time!! This is one of my favorites & I encourage you to try this unique chocolate bar for yourself! I think you’ll be happy you did & please keep me posted on your thoughts!

In addition to walls of colorfully packaged chocolate bars, their bonbons and chocolate dipped fruit are not to be missed. Check out their website for more details: https://compartes.com/

H is for Hemp Seeds

Are you trying to eat healthy and include “super foods” in your diet? Well, here is a chocolate bar that includes three different super foods: goji berries, cacao nibs and hemp seeds (since it’s “H” week on Eating the Chocolate Alphabet)!

Don’t worry, I won’t go into the health benefits or discuss super foods here since you can conduct your own research on the topic. I just want to introduce you to one of the most photogenic chocolate bars that I’ve seen in a while (and I’ve seen quite a few as part of this inclusion project)!

I don’t know about you, but my eye is immediately drawn to the lightly shriveled elongated reddish orange goji berries and the generous sprinkling of tiny white and greenish hemp seeds. The cracked cacao nibs almost blend into the 72% Dominican Republic dark chocolate base that you might forget they are there until you take that first crunchy bite!

But, let’s start from the beginning of the tasting process! If you’ve been following along for a while, you’ll know that I like using an “EAT” approach: E for exterior (which refers to the packaging), A for aroma and appearance and T for taste 🙂

Chequessett Chocolate is the third bean-to-bar chocolate maker in Massachusetts (Taza was the first & Rogue was the second). Self-taught co-founders, Katherine Reed and Josiah Mayo, handcraft their minimally processed chocolate bars in small batches in a workshop on Cape Cod, at a shop location that once stood abandoned for two years, but now thrives as a café, production room and office. From what I’ve seen on their website, each of the small button and string tie dark blue envelopes sport a distinctive map motif with silver lines and numbers.

After reading that Josiah had 20+ years’ experience working in commercial fishing, I figured that these were topographical maps of some sort, but couldn’t for the life of me figure out the “proper” term to describe them. After several fruitless Google image searches, I finally broke down and called Chequessett to get the information “from the source.” Thanks for confirming my hunch that these were bathymetric maps that show the shape, size and distribution of underwater features as well as the terrain and contours of the ocean floor.

Removing the foil wrapped bar from the outer packaging & peeling back the folds, the inclusion side of the bar “greeted” me with a nutty, roasted aroma. I was almost afraid to turn the bar over for fear of dropping ingredients everywhere, but amazingly everything stayed pretty well-adhered to the 20-rectangle chocolate bar (I’d love to learn the technique that was used to achieve this)!

The “top” side of the bar was a reddish brown color and only had some slight scuffing from the transit to Southern California (I had purchased this bar after Thanksgiving last year to take advantage of their free shipping “Black Friday” deal & also indulged myself in an order of caramel cashew turtles with Wellfleet sea salt…which were DELICIOUS, by the way! Still kicking myself for not buying more than one container!)

When segmenting rectangles from the main bar, there was a soft snap since the chewy, lightly sweet goji berries would hang on to their spot tenaciously and then tear to reveal the tiny seeds hidden inside.

The shelled hemp seeds (sometimes called hemp “hearts”) are softer and nutty, though I’m not sure why some have a greenish tinge to them. With all this texture to the bar, it was pretty much impossible for me to “melt” a piece in my mouth…I made several valiant attempts to do so, but always succumbed to “chomping” after 15-20 seconds 😉 I wanted to isolate the chocolate by itself, so I tried slicing off the raised “hump” from the top side of several rectangles. Even though it was very messy to do so (wish I knew a better way of doing this), now I could taste the citrusy notes of the evaporated cane juice sweetened chocolate.

It will come as no surprise that this bar is almost gone now, so I’ll leave you with this one parting photo:

You can bet that the Blueberry Ginger or Cranberry bars will be next on my wish list!! Or maybe the Farrago confection, though the Mexican hot chocolate mix is calling to me too 🙂

To learn more about Chequessett Chocolate & their Cape Cod products, please visit: http://www.chequessettchocolate.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/

50 States Collaboration – Colorado / Cultura Craft Chocolate

My 5th grade choir learned the lyrics to the song “Fifty Nifty United States” and to this day I can still recite the states in alphabetical order…at least until where the soloists took over! Though, now that I’m thinking about it, I can’t decide if remembering 35 out of 50 states (70%) decades later is a point of pride or a quirk that I shouldn’t admit to?! Regardless, I’m thrilled to be asked to collaborate with Lori from Time to Eat Chocolate on this project to feature bean-to-bar makers from as many states as have them. We’ll be trading off sharing stories and featuring 1 to 2 makers per state, so be sure to also follow her blog so that you won’t miss a thing! 🙂

In fact, Lori started off the project yesterday by featuring a state near her: Maryland – here is a link to her post: https://timetoeatchocolate.com/2017/02/05/spagnvola/

The state I selected is close to me both geographically and alphabetically: Colorado

Cultura Craft Chocolate (established 2016) is the collaboration of two experienced chocolate makers: Damaris Ronkanen (formerly of Dead Dog Chocolate) and Matthew Armstrong (formerly of Mutari Chocolate). From their website: “Their shared values of always being curious, never compromising, pushing boundaries, and having fun are reflected in every aspect of Cultura – from the name, to the packaging and the origins they source their beans from, to how they make their chocolate and share their story.” This new brand is a tribute to the events that led them to chocolate.

Around Halloween last year, the colorful and decorative sugar skull designs featured prominently on the packaging caught my eye on Instagram; so when I discovered that they would be at the Northwest Chocolate Festival in Seattle, I knew I had to visit their booth and try them for myself.

While Cultura also sells larger (1.75 oz.) single origin, two ingredient bars, I was drawn to their mini bars (0.8 oz.) that either highlight a single origin (with varying percentages of cacao) or are made with inclusion ingredients. A fellow blogger recently posted about the trend of mini bars, so check out this article for more details.

First up was the 70% Haiti (“PISA” 2015 harvest). By the way, “PISA” stands for Produits Des Iles SA, a new cacao processor and exporter in Northern Haiti.

After unwrapping this single origin, two ingredient mini chocolate from the black foil, I noticed some “ghosting” marring the top surface of the bar. I believe this type of “blemish” appears when there are problems removing the chocolate from the mold.

Segmenting a tasting morsel, there was a brittle snap and the chocolate appeared a little dry with some air bubbles along the edge of the break.

Since I had noticed a fruity, sweet, raisin-like aroma upon opening the foil, I was surprised by the initial bitter and roasted flavor that I encountered. The chocolate melted evenly on my tongue, but was not completely smooth in texture and left an astringent feel to my mouth. This cacao is said to taste like fig, tart cherry and lightly roasted nuts + the tasting notes on the box mentions biscuit, raisin and malt, unfortunately none of those came across strongly to me and instead I tasted red berry.

Next was the 70% Mexican Spice (made with Dominican Republic Oko Caribe 2015 beans)

Peeling back the black inner foil wrapping, I could immediately smell pepper, though I wouldn’t have known they were guajillo chiles, a staple in Mexican cuisine, that impart a pleasant back-of-the-throat heat (personally a “4” on a scale of 1 to 10 in terms of heat intensity). What you see is a generous (though uneven) sprinkling of toasted almonds.

The almonds looked a little dry/powdery, so that when segmenting the bar, the almonds tended to fly everywhere and there was a woody/dull snap (possibly due to some air bubbles in the bar).

Overall, the slow and even melt of this Ceylon cinnamon and chile infused dark chocolate reminded me of a hearty, savory mole dish or a “warming from the inside out” Mexican hot chocolate beverage. The inherent sweetness of the chocolate itself helped to tone down the peppery heat.

Last, but not least, the 70% Peppermint-Nibs (also made with Dominican Republic Oko Caribe 2015)

There was a light (not overpowering) and refreshing aroma of peppermint oil upon opening the packaging and a generous sprinkling of cacao nibs. One of the things that surprised me was seeing bits of cacao husk near one corner of the bar.

While I had heard that tea could be made from the papery shells, I had usually avoided tasting them before. This errant piece of husk was pleasantly nutty and crunchy, so I’ll definitely have to investigate this chocolate making by-product more in the future!

Another thing that caught my eye was a slightly purple nib (see top left in the foreground of this photo), since the rest of the nibs were dark or light brown in color.

Overall, this bar had a sharper snap, a smoother melt and a creamier mouthfeel than the other two bars. Also, it seemed easier for me to appreciate the chocolate itself aside from the inclusion ingredients than the previous bar, as I was able to get hints of citrus that is inherent in beans from the Dominican Republic. While peppermint makes me think of winter and Christmas, this bar is sure to be a perennial favorite.

To learn more about Cultura and their different bars, check out their website: http://www.culturachocolate.com/

Also, remember to follow Lori’s “Time to Eat Chocolate” blog to read about future installments of our joint 50 States project!

Other chocolate makers in Colorado:

Beehive Chocolates

Dar Chocolate

Fortuna Chocolate

Nuance Chocolate

WKND Chocolate

While not bean-to-bar, Nova Chocolate is a craft chocolate company.

NOTE: If you know of any other bean-to-bar makers in Colorado that aren’t mentioned above, please leave a comment or send an email so that we can keep this list as up-to-date as possible!