50 States Collaboration – Illinois / Ethereal Confections

This chocolate adventure has been an eye-opening experience in so many ways! Over the past year, it’s been my privilege to taste an eclectic variety of chocolates, expand my knowledge of ingredients/processes/places and “meet” people connected to the chocolate industry/community. One of the things that I most enjoy is seeing how brands change and evolve over time. Such is the case with Ethereal.

Ethereal Confections opened in 2011 by co-owners, Mary Ervin (formerly a graphic designer) and Sara Miller (formerly an interior designer) who met through Mary’s brother, Michael Ervin. When I tried one of their bars last year, the packaging left me wondering if they were still using other people’s chocolate. However, after recently receiving some sample bars from Michael Ervin (who is married to Sara), it’s now very clear that the focus of these two very creative and talented women is producing craft chocolate from the bean. By the way, they have been bean-to-bar since 2013 when they moved from a tiny shop to their current location in the Historic Woodstock Square area of Illinois, ~60 miles north of Chicago.

**While I received the following three bars free of charge, I did not receive any compensation for reviewing their products. The opinions are my own.**

Instead of a cardboard outer sleeve, the bars are now wrapped with thick, textured paper adorned with artwork that remind me of watercolor prints. On the front is a white rectangular informational sticker which peels away easily, such that I will probably re-purpose the colorful wrappers once the chocolate is gone. The folds are kept closed with a thin strip of double sided tape which makes it easy to open and re-close the packaging (another improvement from last year!) The single origin bar weighs in at 2.25 ounces, while the “chubbier” inclusion bars are 2.5 ounces each.

Single Origin – Haiti (70%)

Removing this three-ingredient bar from the light blue foil inner wrapper, I was surprised to see yet another change from last year: an intricate mold with the company logo prominently featured in the center, despite some chocolate dust and air bubbles marring the overall finish.

There was a roasted aroma and a sharp snap, which revealed more air bubbles at the “breaking point.” Rather than a completely smooth texture, the mouthfeel reminded me of melting grainy brown sugar.

Initially, I experienced a sweet, dried fruit flavor (like raisins) which then transitioned to an earthy and lightly astringent finish with a long-lasting, back-of-the-throat, tart taste.

66% Dark Chocolate with Caramelized Almonds, Cocoa Nibs & Sea Salt

The light blue inner foil wrapper could hardly contain this bar’s generous amount of inclusions! Nearly every surface of the back of the bar was covered with crunchy roasted nibs, caramelized almond chunks and enhanced with a sprinkling of sea salt.

Gently turning the bar over to segment into tasting morsels, a few of the inclusions came loose, but the majority remained intact. Again, there were some air bubbles marring the “top” surface, though there were far fewer air bubbles in the chocolate itself.

While it was difficult to isolate the creamy chocolate from the rest of the ingredients, the overall flavor was citrusy, leading me to wonder if Dominican Republic cacao (or a blend) was used.

66% Dark Chocolate with Caramelized Pecans, Smoked Sea Salt & Scorpion Pepper

In 2012, New Mexico State University identified “Scorpion Chili” as the hottest pepper in the world with a heat of 1.2 million Scoville heat units (it’s now considered the second hottest behind the “Carolina Reaper” which, according to some sources, has 2.2 million SHUs!) For comparison purposes: ghost chili is rated at 1 million SHUs, habaneros has between 100,000-350,000 SHUs & jalapeños have a mere 2,500-10,000 SHUs!

I’ve been both curious and apprehensive about trying this bar since I’m a bit of a wimp when it comes to spicy foods. Well, let me tell you, this bar is NOT for the faint of heart since the scorpion bourbon spice blend packs a punch! Popping a few errant “crumbs” of chocolate from the dark green foil into my mouth and (wow!) my lips + tongue were already starting to get numb from the building heat! Being daring, I followed that by “chomping” on a small chunk – now the back of my throat and even ears were feeling the burn. I decided to melt a piece on my tongue to try to isolate the chocolate by itself, I was unsuccessful; but at least the sweet, sugar-coated pecans seemed to tone down the intensity just a tiny a bit.

Next time I’m fighting a cold, this will be my remedy! Thankfully the immediate burst of heat slowly faded to a warm (yet long lasting) tingle at the tip of my tongue and back of my throat. A little goes a long way & I can see adding bits of this bar to a plain vanilla ice cream or a sipping hot chocolate for a kick. I’ve been known to test out chocolate on unsuspecting friends; this time I’ll be sure to give an upfront warning :-0

While researching Ethereal a little more today, I was intrigued to discover that 5-10% of their business over the past few years has come from a growing popular niche market: craft breweries. Here is a link to a 2016 article with more details.

Additionally, it seems that their cafe has something to appeal to everyone. Want tea or coffee beverages? – They’ve got that. How about drinking chocolate? – Yep, that’s covered too! There is even an extensive list of craft cocktails!?! What really had me salivating while reading their menu was the extensive list of chocolate pairings and tasting “flights” that they can provide. Imagine the seemingly endless possibilities sampling from among their more than 20 truffles + wine, beer, cider, whiskey or other spirits. If I lived even remotely close, they might as well forward my mail there, because it would be my 2nd home (or I’d beg them to adopt me as part of the family!) 😉

To check out Ethereal’s extensive product line for yourself, go to: http://www.etherealconfections.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 Illinois:

Noir d’Ebene Chocolat et Patisserie

NOTE: If you know of any other bean-to-bar makers in Illinois 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!

 

50 States Collaboration – Delaware / Double Spiral Chocolate

Back in November 2016, I attended the NW Chocolate Festival in Seattle, WA. While waiting for one of the Saturday educational workshops to begin, I casually chatted with another attendee who just happened to bring samples of chocolate he had recently made and was eager to get feedback from fellow chocophiles. Fast forward 5 months later…imagine my surprise as I was doing online research on the first and only bean-to-bar maker within the state of Delaware, to recognize the face of that same man looking back at me from the “About Us” page on Double Spiral Chocolate’s website! A big thank you to Stuart and Mhairi Craig (co-owners of Double Spiral Chocolate) for sending me samples of three of their bars after returning from one of their origin trips!

At first glance, the light brown outer packaging appeared very plain to me and I assumed that it was just paper made from post-consumer recycled materials. However, in keeping with Double Spiral’s goal to make a global impact not only with their chocolate making process, but also with other aspects of their business as well, the wrapper is actually tree free, carbon neutral, unbleached, biodegradable and compostable paper made from bagasse which is the fibrous matter that is left over after sugarcane or sorghum stalks are crushed to extract their juices. Almost all of the text is printed in black ink, with some spot color (blue on the back for the batch number and orange on the front when there was a 3rd ingredient used for flavoring). Though it doesn’t say so, I’m sure that they are using vegetable based-ink for the printing.

Removing the glossy one ounce bars (which they believe is an ideal daily serving of chocolate) from the wax-lined silver foil wrappers, the first thing I saw was the custom double spiral logo facing me. The back of the outer sleeve wrapper explains the reason why this symbol was used.

The first two bars that I tasted were made with just two ingredients: cacao beans and unrefined cane sugar (also called rapadura, panela or jaggery, among many other names). Since Double Spiral strives to use as few ingredients as possible and ones that are minimally processed, they sweeten their chocolate with raw sugar that is made by evaporating water from sugarcane juice (in contrast, white sugar has a centrifuge step that strips away the naturally brown color and the nutrient rich molasses).

First up: Tanzania 75% (Kokoa Kamili)

This bar exhibited the most amount of “scuffing” as well as some chocolate “dust,” though it was the only one that appeared to be free from any surface air bubbles.

Try as I might, I was unable to do justice when photographing the bars side-by-side. You’ll just have to take my word that this bar was slightly more reddish brown in color when compared with the other two bars. Upon opening the wrapper, I encountered a fruity aroma and a semi-crisp snap when segmenting pieces from the small bar. The not-too-sweet fruity flavor was muted while melting a piece in my mouth + the mouthfeel during the melt seemed a little dry and grainy. However, when chomping on a tasting morsel, there was an immediate vibrant tart/tangy, almost juicy, raspberry flavor explosion that hit my tongue and a lingering finish at the back of the throat.

Next up: Haiti 75% (Pisa)

The appearance of this bar was marred by some “ghosting” and tiny air bubbles. Simply unwrapping the bar produced an earthy aroma. There was a crisp, dry snap and a nutty scent at the “break point.” Surprisingly, the nutty (almost chalky) flavor hits at the back of the throat rather than the tongue or palate. I struggled to put a name to the specific nut until reading the tasting notes: brazil nut. This was my “ah ha” moment!

Last, but not least: Haiti 75% (Pisa) with Freeze Dried Ginger

The two Haiti bars are nearly identical in color when compared side-by-side. The unflavored Haiti is shown at the top and the ginger Haiti is at the bottom of this photo.

Again, the bar’s finish was also affected by some “ghosting,” “scuffing” as well as some tiny air bubbles. Straight out of the packaging there was a muted ginger aroma, which became much more prominent once the bar was broken into pieces. For me, the ginger flavor hit the roof of my mouth/palate first and then there was the spicy “zing” lightly burning the back of my throat.

Maybe it’s me, but it almost looks like this bar is more “close-textured” (to borrow from baking terminology) since I didn’t notice any air bubbles within the tasting morsel like the other two.

Of the three that I tasted, the ginger was my favorite, with the Tanzania coming in as a close second! If you’ve had the chance to taste these bars too, please let me know your thoughts!

To read more about Double Spiral’s chocolate making philosophy and process or to order bars for yourself, please visit their website: http://doublespiralchocolate.com/

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

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

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!