P is for Papaikou

Maybe it’s the post-holiday blues or that I’ve been trying not to succumb to the cold/flu bug that’s been going around…but I just haven’t been motivated to write my featured “P” post this week 😢 That and mid-week I abruptly changed my mind about which bar to post! 😲

Whenever I feel less-than-enthusiastic, the thing that keeps me going is the fascinating information that I learn each time I research a new origin!

Did you know that in the eyes of the U.S. Census Bureau, there are no incorporated areas in the state of Hawaii below the county level (as in the county of Hawaii)? This means that even large cities like Honolulu or Hilo are considered a Census Designated Place (CDP) for statistical data purposes only! According to Wikipedia, there were 1,314 people in Papaikou in 2010, down from 1,414 during the 2000 census. To put that number into perspective for me, there were about 1,200 students in my high school; which must mean that Papaikou is a close-knit community!

Pāpa’ikou is located on the east side of the “Big Island” of Hawaii, north of the county seat of Hilo. In addition to seeing the small cacao farms and the Tropical Botanical Garden, I’d love to visit the Hawaii Plantation Museum to learn more about the area’s sugar plantation era from its beginning in the early 1860s until the last mill closed in 1996.

Now for the chocolate itself!

In November, when I visited the month-old Romeo Chocolates shop on Historic Pine Avenue in Long Beach, California, I was surprised that, in addition to their own chocolate confections, they were selling co-branded chocolate bars made by Mānoa in Hawaii.

Though it doesn’t say so on the packaging itself, I found additional information about this 50% milk chocolate bar on Mānoa’s website:

“These beans were sourced from Tom Sharkey of Hilo Sharks Coffee and Colin Hart-whom we have sourced since 2015. Sharkey and Colin harvest pods from 6 farms in the Hilo Paliku area, which spans from Wailuku River to Hakalau and the Puna District. They return to Sharkey’s farm to crack and extract wet seed before loading the fermentation boxes. Sharkey and Colin maintain the orchards and manage the post-harvest handling, which is paramount for quality.”

Unclasping the gold foil stamped and embossed outer cardboard packaging, I could immediately see that the plastic inner wrapper had become stuck to the light brown bar and knew that the visual finish would be shiny and marred in spots.

Despite this, the bar sported an intricate mold design on the front with the company name encircled in the center and stylized cacao pods and/or leaves at the top and bottom sections.

At first whiff, the aroma reminded me of peanut butter, but then became more grassy/herbal…which made me wonder if this smell came from the beans themselves, the post-fermentation process or the milk that was used?! If anyone has additional information, I’d love to hear about it!

The bar broke apart easily with a sharp snap, revealing a cross section that was completely smooth in places and looked like Swiss cheese, dotted with air bubbles, in others.

At the break point, there were subtle toasted milk/caramel notes. This aroma carried over to the overall taste during the slow/even, creamy melt. Rather than change or evolve, the flavor remained consistent during the entire tasting and lasted well after the chocolate was gone from my mouth. Honestly, if you told me that this bar was made with camel’s milk (or a non-cow’s milk), I would believe you! Have YOU tried this bar? If so, please leave a comment below with your thoughts/impressions!

To learn more about Mānoa, please visit their website: https://manoachocolate.com/

We interrupt the alphabet for something different

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Heirloom I – Alto Beni (Bolivia) 68% cacao

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First tasting notes: smells & tastes nutty;  tart flavor

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

Heirloom II – Wild Beni (Bolivia) 72% cacao

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

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

Heirloom III – Orecao (Ecuador) 70% cacao

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

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

Heirloom IV – Maunawili (Hawaii) 72% cacao

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

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

Heirloom V – Mindo (Ecuador) 77% cacao

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

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

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

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

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

Heirloom VII – Maya Mountain (Belize) 70% cacao

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First tasting notes: soft/smooth; tastes of raisins

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

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

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

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

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