K is for Kafupbo

Let me start off by saying that Kafupbo is technically NOT an origin. It’s a cooperative of about 500 small cacao producers in Petit Bourg de Borgne in northern Haiti.

For Wm. Chocolate’s first collaboration bar, owner & chocolate maker Will Marx teamed up with the Madison, Wisconsin-based non-profit Singing Rooster who has partnered with Kafupbo since 2015. Singing Rooster was established in 2009 to connect Haitian artists and agricultural producers to the U.S. market as a way to combat widespread poverty in Haiti.

While I was researching Kafupbo and Singing Rooster yesterday afternoon, I discovered online articles about other chocolate makers who have also used these beans. In fact, just yesterday morning I tried a dark milk chocolate bar from K’ul that mentioned Petit Bourges, Haiti. Is this coincidence or a case of the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon?! 😲

I love when chocolate makers are creative with their packaging! In this case, Wm. Chocolate used a wraparound photo, taken by Singing Rooster, showing piles of fermented cocoa beans being dried in the sun.

Another neat feature of the packaging that will catch your eye is the “spider chart” which denotes the intensity of certain flavor characteristics on a zero to five scale. You can see that this bar is fairly roasty, earthy, spicy and nutty, as well as cocoa flavored and sweet.

Once you become familiar with tasting craft chocolates and take note of the flavor profiles that you most enjoy, this type of chart will help you pinpoint which bars hit that “sweet spot” combination.

Removing the slender bar, made up of 12 unadorned beveled rectangles, from the compostable heat-sealed inner wrapper, the appearance was neither shiny nor flat/dull. I’m guessing the correct term would be a “satin” finish? Please let me know if there is a better way of describing this!!

There was a robust roasted and chocolate aroma and deep dark brown color, which you would expect from an 80% bar. Someone needs to invent “smell-o-vision” for the internet, don’t you think?! 😉

While, I don’t often expect to find designs on the backs of bars, I’m always amused and entertained when I do. Take a look at the picture below & let me know what YOU see. I see a myopic caterpillar wearing glasses or the fictional movie character ET, frowning while stuck in a dryer exhaust tube!

The bar segments easily with a sharp snap, leaving interesting shear patterns behind and what appears to be some unrefined Costa Rican cane sugar crystals at the break point.

Prior to tasting, my nose detected either herbal or honey aromas. Popping a piece in my mouth, I could instantly feel a “cooling” sensation on my tongue during the slow, even and creamy melt. If I remember correctly, this sensation is caused by the added cocoa butter content. Herbal, malty, earthy or spice notes danced in my mouth. At the finish, the flavors reminded me a bit of a bowl of oatmeal, oatmeal cookies or whole wheat bread.

The chocolate is “toothy” and solid when you bite into it and I experienced bursts of vibrant fruit flavor while chewing the tasting morsel. Oddly enough, this method seemed to leave a film on my teeth. While 80% is a bit higher in percentage than I generally enjoy, I’m wondering how this will taste as a hot chocolate beverage…more experiments to follow, for sure! Happy National Chocolates Day! 🍫🎉

To learn more about Wm. Chocolate’s philosophy behind chocolate making, please visit: https://www.wmchocolate.com/

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/

Q is for Q’uma Chocolate

It wasn’t until I started putting together the “wish list” for Eating the Chocolate Alphabet that I discovered that some letters were much less readily available than others. Many people assume that “X” and “Z” would be problems…but really “Q” and “Y” were what stumped me!

Back in late May (at least a week before publishing my first blog post), while I was sitting in my friend’s kitchen savoring Belgian chocolates & treats he had acquired on his recent trip to that country, I mentioned how impossible it was to find a “Q” chocolate. Unbeknownst to me during that tasting, he surreptitiously located and purchased some “Q” chocolate bars online! (Have you ever noticed that sometimes the best way of getting something done is to say that it can’t be done?) A little later, the secret purchase was revealed to me, but I had to curb my enthusiasm since I knew that my friend would be traveling overseas again soon for more than a month. Visions of melted chocolate languishing in a neglected box in the brutal summer sun plagued my thoughts. For months, I heard nothing about the status of the shipment and then one day I received a text message from my friend letting me know that the Peruvian “Q” chocolates had been delivered safely! He had intentionally delayed the shipment/delivery until someone would be at his house to receive the package 🙂 (Did I mention that I have the most supportive friends ever?!)

Stay tuned later in the week to hear the story about another “Q” chocolate “miracle”!

Q’uma Chocolate – Quinoa 70%

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I don’t know about you, but Q’uma quinoa is a “double word score” in my book!

According to their website, q’uma comes from the Quechua word q’umara, which means “healthy.” Quechua was the official language of the Inca Empire (1438 through 1533 – source: Wikipedia), but is still used by a little more than 10% of the population of Peru today. I really wasn’t able to corroborate this definition with online translation services, but I did find that q’uma translates to “crime” in English. Also, interestingly, in K’iche (the indigenous language of mesoamerican Maya peoples in Guatemala), the word q’uma’r translates to “rotten” – maybe the more accurate word is “fermented” since that is a major step in converting cacao beans into edible chocolate? I’ll leave it up to you to decide which meaning to accept.

One thing that caught my eye on the outer box was what appeared to be an iguana at the bottom left corner. Its spiral design reminds me of Maori tribal tattoos. However, I’m sure that this graphic pays homage to the animals that live in the Peruvian rainforests, where the single origin, Criollo varietal cacao beans for this bar are grown.

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Inside the colorful outer box, is a sealed black foil pouch – the front mimics the design elements of the outer package and the back provides information about Q’uma in both English & Spanish.

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Upon opening the inner pouch, I stuck my nose into the opening and detected a raisin or dried fruit aroma. Unfortunately, the bar itself (comprised of 8 squares) wasn’t glossy/shiny and had a few blemishes + almost looked a little bloomed – probably due to the summer heat endured during shipping.

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There was a medium snap when segmenting the bar & a slightly “industrial” smell. This chocolate doesn’t melt in the mouth easily, despite having cacao butter as an ingredient; besides, in my opinion, the crunchy/nutty quinoa begs for the chocolate to be “chomped.”

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While tasting the chocolate, there was no raisin or dried fruit notes. I was overwhelmed by a bitter roasted flavor and an astringent/funny after taste – I wasn’t sure if this was attributable to the added quinoa or the chocolate itself…so, as they say, there is only one way to find out!

Q’uma Chocolate – Extra Dark 70%

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One thing that I didn’t notice as much on the quinoa packaging, is that there is a tree in the background behind the logo – probably since Q’uma refers to themselves as a “tree-to-bar” chocolate company (which, I suppose is a step beyond just bean-to-bar). It was fun to discover the variety of animals hiding amongst the branches.

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Upon opening this inner packaging, the bar smelled heavily roasted + almost a bit ashy. Like the quinoa bar, this Extra Dark 70% bar also had some blemishes + a matte finish. Thankfully, this bar appeared less bloomed.

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Even though both bars are 70% cacao content, the quinoa one appears to be lighter in color…is that because of the inclusions?

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Like the quinoa bar, it had a medium snap & was slow to melt. I noticed a slightly gritty mouthfeel, though not like one attributed to stoneground cacao (aka Taza or Olive & Sinclair).

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There was no odd after taste & this bar was much less astringent, so my guess is that the quinoa had somehow compromised the taste of the chocolate. While I admire that Q’uma strives to maintain the original taste of the beans through minimal processing and that their bars usually have only 4 ingredients, free from artificial flavors and/or emulsifiers, neither of these bars were complex and both lacked the bright fruity notes that are typically a characteristic of Peruvian chocolate. My friend kept 2 chocolates for himself (a milk chocolate + a 70% dark Maras salt chocolate), so hopefully his results will be better than mine!

If you’d like to purchase bars for yourself, here is the link to a U.S. company that imports and distributes these chocolates: http://www.makigourmetorganic.com/

To learn more about the Q’uma product line & philosophy, check out: http://www.qumachocolate.com/

The “N” bar that wasn’t…

Let me begin by saying that this hasn’t been the first time that I’ve been fooled by packaging (and it probably won’t be the last time either)!

When I started putting together the “lineup” for the Eating the Chocolate Alphabet project, I wanted to feature both new-to-me bars as well as chocolates with unusual ingredients. This particular 62% Tanzanian dark milk chocolate Porcini bar made in Lithuania seemed to fit those requirements perfectly, so I was super enthusiastic when I found & purchased the bar in anticipation of “N” week!

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However, imagine my dismay right around the letter “G” (early July), when I discovered that this was actually a “C” bar! Darn those European chocolate makers with confusing company names! (Naive vs. Chocolate Naive…really, I don’t think I’m entirely to blame!)

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Since I still really wanted to feature this bar, I’m hoping you’ll indulge me in a little diversion from the proper alphabetical order!

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There is an elegant simplicity to the cream colored box with minimalist taupe lettering. In a flat lay, the logo of a penny farthing (or is it a unicycle?) riding gentleman can “read” as black, but shift your perspective just a little bit & you’ll be rewarded with the shiny copper foil stamping. This philosophy can also apply to life in general! Nothing is exactly as you first see it, you’ll often be surprised when making subtle changes in your point of view.

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Even before removing the bar from the pouch, I could tell that the bar was not completely flat in the middle – this is due to the delicate 3D logo.

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Upon cutting open the sealed Mylar pouch, the distinct musty/earthy aroma of mushrooms was intense. Perhaps this is the right time for me to confess that I’m NOT fond of mushrooms (although, maybe it’s raw mushrooms that I dislike since a Vosges Reishi Mushroom & Walnut bar is among my favorites).

Carefully removing the chocolate bar onto a plate for further photographs, I took the opportunity to stick my nose fully into the empty pouch – almost like a wine or whiskey connoisseur would do before enjoying a poured glass. This transported me back to what it must be like to forage for mushrooms in a lush, damp forest! Did you know that mushroom hunting is Lithuania’s second favorite sport, after basketball?! The packaging says that “Each September, mushroom-hungry folks return to their super-secret spots where all the best ones grow.”

With as much mushroom as I was smelling, I was expecting the bar itself to be flecked and/or gritty due to the freeze dried porcini mushrooms, but that was not the case!

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The bar was creamy and velvety smooth. There was definitely the umami mushroom taste – which was better when “melted” rather than “chomped” (this bar just might provide me with enough inspiration to acquire the patience needed to “melt” a piece of chocolate in order to better savor all the nuances).

Like many other chocolate makers, Chocolate Naive has a fascinating and inspiring backstory. Check out this link to a 2012 interview: http://chocolateandzucchini.com/interviews/artisans/chocolate-naive-a-qa-with-domantas-uzpalis/

I leave you with this quote from the back of the packaging: “Chocolate is like my own life – both bitter and sweet. It has been a constant companion that has seen me grow from a carefree youth to a quixotic adult. Chocolate is as luxuriant as my most vivid dream and as humble as my simple reality.”

For more information about other delectable chocolate options, visit: http://chocolatenaive.com/

M is for Map Chocolate Co.

Maps are multi-faceted. They can evoke memories of journeys from the past, they can open up a whole new world of places you have yet to explore and can also serve as a guide to help you find your way while on your present path.

“M” week is finally here! This is one of the bars that I have been eagerly awaiting for MONTHS! When I first started using Instagram at the beginning of the year, I was mesmerized by gorgeous photos of Map Chocolate’s square bars. If I’m honest with myself, I might have designed the whole Eating the Chocolate Alphabet project simply as an excuse to try this chocolate brand for myself!

Since this chocolate wasn’t available locally, my only viable option was to visit Map’s website to make my selection. It was such a treat to scroll through more mouth-watering pictures and smile while reading each bar’s unusual and unique name. In the end, I selected one inclusion bar (Still Life with Pi: a renaissance of candied orange peel & vanilla seeds / Belize 65%) + one bag of hot chocolate mix. (Let me tell you, it’s been such a challenge not to indulge in a cup of cocoa, I’m so glad that the self-imposed moratorium is finally over…stay tuned on Instagram for that!)

It’s evident that much care and thought have been put into each small detail, including the packaging. Rather than revealing itself too quickly, this chocolate bar arrived packaged like a small gift to be unwrapped.

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The simply folded plain brown tissue paper, adorned with a bit of gold ribbon, was kept closed with a small black sticker emblazoned with an “M” in gold calligraphy amongst a cloud of decorative curlicues.

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I was especially touched by a personalized, handwritten note on the back of a small map square tucked into the ribbon at the back of the package.

Once that layer was removed, an old world style map peeked out from the sides of a simple, yet elegant outer sleeve providing ingredient information.

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The clear sticker used to keep the sleeve closed exhorts you to “find open roads” and begin an exciting adventure! 🙂

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Sliding the map-wrapped bar from the sleeve, I saw a familiar sight! An aerial view featuring the colonnade and piazza of St. Peter’s Basilica, an Italian Renaissance church in the Vatican City, the papal enclave within the city of Rome. This map transported me back to my 2009 trip to Italy and a treasured photo that a friend took from the top of the dome, overlooking the city below.

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As I peeled away each layer of protective packaging, the heady chocolate aroma was both enticing and intoxicating. After months of waiting and worrying, would the square be broken into pieces or perfectly intact? Now came the moment of truth! I delicately unwrapped the final layer of coated white paper to reveal a pristine shiny square which brings back memories of the Moorish tiles I saw at the Alhambra in Spain during my first European trip as a teenager.

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Maybe it’s me…but from within the 12-pointed star (which is said to depict completeness), I can almost see the outline of the Castel Sant’Angelo, which was also on the map of Rome.

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In an interview, Mackenzie Rivers (Map Chocolate owner and chocolate maker) revealed that this Belgian-made mold is called “Scheherazade” – as in the storyteller of “One Thousand and One Nights.” This seems to go well with a quote that was included as part of the non-traditional tasting notes page: “…chocolate carries an amazing story of cultivation, travel, wild places, people, birds landing amongst its leaves, rain falling, farmers tending it, and mouths tasting it. every bite the story unfolds.”

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The reverse (or inclusion) side is equally complex with the combination of slightly chewy vanilla seeds, crunchy candied orange peel and tiny perfectly shaped sugar crystals.

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It seemed like such a shame to break the bar into pieces, but it had to be done! Not surprisingly, the same adjectives can be used for both the mold and the chocolate itself: overlapping, interlaced and intricate. Biting into the smooth & creamy chunks, there were long lasting layers of flavor as well as bright/tart fruit notes.

In the words of Mackenzie: “this bar is about coming full circle, by way of the meandering tangent.”

With my apologies, here are some of my thoughts on the reason for choosing “Pi” as part of the bar’s name (with help from an online article from wonderopolis.org):

  • “Pi is an irrational number, which means that its value cannot be expressed exactly as a simple fraction.” Since taste is very subjective, it would be impossible to create a definitive, one-size-fits-all description for any chocolate bar. Therefore, just like there is no end to Pi’s decimal places, there is an infinite number of ways to encapsulate the experience of tasting chocolates.
  • “Since circles can vary in size, yet they all retain the same shape, ancient mathematicians knew there had to be a special relationship amongst the elements of a circle. That special relationship turns out to be the mathematical constant known as pi.” I’d like to think that, regardless of each person’s history/backstory, chocolate can be the connection that unifies us all.

To find the chocolate bar that “speaks to you” and begin your own adventure, check out: http://www.mapchocolate.com/

K is for ki’XOCOLATL

Thus far, the Eating the Chocolate Alphabet series has been a journey of discovery. It’s the impetus to intentionally seek out new-to-me chocolate brands and slowly start to recognize and appreciate the subtle taste differences in bars made from beans of different countries of origin (produced both domestically and internationally). Taste is very subjective, what might appeal to me might not appeal to others and vice versa. But, I digress…more on that later!

What do you get when you take knowledge from two modern, but classically-trained, master Belgian chocolatiers and combine that with tropical rainforest cacao farmers of the Chiapas and Tabasco regions of Mexico who maintain ancestral Mayan cultural traditions? You get ki’XOCOLATL, established in 2002. This collaborative fusion continues with the company name itself, which is an homage to two great pre-Hispanic cultures that dominated the cultivation of cacao: “ki” means delicious or delectable in Mayan and “xocolatl” means chocolate in the Nahuatl (Aztec) language. Even the graphics on the shiny outer packaging pay tribute to both the multi-colored cacao pods as well as the ancient Mayan pottery and intricate stone carvings.

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A unique trait of this company is that they harvest, process and produce their chocolate bars all within the country of Mexico. Many companies source from one country, but produce in another. According to the eye-catching box, this 72% dark chocolate bar is made from 100% organic Criollo beans single sourced directly from the cacao tree grove. Additionally, ki’XOCOLATL seeks to preserve the characteristic aromas of these rare Criollo beans through a low-temperature roasting process.

Upon opening the sealed inner foil wrapper, I was disappointed to find the bar coated with chocolate “dust” particles. I’ve learned from experience that any attempts to “clean off” the surface with fingernails or brushes will only mar the appearance of the bar for photographic purposes; so, reluctantly, I had to leave things “as is”! (Let me tell you that it took a bit of effort to resist the urge to blow on the bar to dislodge the “dust” for fear of introducing any water droplets to the surface!) Aside from the “dust,” the bar was glossy, smooth and free from other imperfections. The 15-segment mold that they used was intriguing – reminding me of an ice cube tray or an integrated circuit board.

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One of the first things that I do after unwrapping a bar is to inhale deeply and get an initial impression of the chocolate that I’ll be tasting. In this case, I was stumped as to how to categorize/describe the aroma. To me, it seemed a little “industrial” (almost plastic-like). This didn’t bode well for me. 🙁

There was a nice sharp snap when breaking off a few segments. Again, I was stumped with the flavor since it didn’t taste like anything I’ve experienced before. It was bitter on the tongue and didn’t seem to melt easily, so I “chomped” the piece without tasting any distinguishable flavor notes. Next, I exercised patience and melted the next segment. This time, it was slightly nutty, earthy (almost tobacco-like) and had an astringent after taste.

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As I said earlier, taste is very subjective. Based on my initial reaction, I decided to do a little more research on the Criollo cacao bean & discovered some fascinating information that I wanted to share:

  • It is generally accepted that there are 3 major types of cacao beans. Of the three, Criollo is considered to be the “original” cacao.
  • Since Criollo beans are susceptible to pests and other diseases, the plants are low-yielding and difficult to grow. Because of this, Criollo beans are considered rare and only make up about 5% of the market.
  • Some say that Criollo beans are the best and have a very distinctive taste…however, there is debate whether “authentic” Criollo beans still exist. Perhaps what we associate with Criollo beans are really just hybrids designed to resist those things that might harm them.

For more information on this subject, here is a link to an article from a well-known chocolate maker: http://patric-chocolate.com/blog/2008/10/27/chocolate-myth-busters-3-criollo-cacao-tastes-better-than-other-types/

Overall, this quote from The Chocolate Revolution website accurately expresses my sentiments: “…the taste might not be everyone’s favourite as it differs considerably from that of the more common Trinitario and Forastero varieties, which define the taste of dark chocolate as most people know it.” You’ll never know, if you don’t try for yourself! So, if you DO try this bar, please reach out & let me know your thoughts!

While this particular bar was a little underwhelming for me, I’d be interested in trying some of their milk chocolate bars with unusual ingredients like almonds + oregano or baked corn chips! Maybe a different region of Mexico will produce beans that appeal more to me?

Even though this website is in Spanish, don’t despair…there is a language toggle button at the bottom right hand corner of the page to switch the language to either English or French: http://www.kixocolatl.com/

Additionally, you can also see more information in English through these websites:

http://www.mexican-chocolate.com/

https://www.cancunrainforest.com/products/ki-xocolatl-chocolate

Bonus “A” Bar – Apotheker’s Bee Sweetened Goods

Thanks to Sophia from Projet Chocolat (http://projetchocolat.com/) for introducing me to this unique confection since there are so few places where this is available on the West Coast! I was immediately impressed with the gold foil stamped & embossed outer wrapper and the vintage Victorian era looking font that was used. My only disappointment was that the gold inner foil wrapper was taped to the inside of the outer paper label, making it impossible to slide the bar out. 🙁

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What makes this company unique is that they use no refined sugars, sweetening their chocolate only with organic wildflower honey (I was pleased that the wildflower flavor was not as overwhelming as I have experienced with other bars). This Classic Dark 76% Dominican bar is thin, easily bent, has a dull snap and melts quickly when touched. I love that the mold they use has a honeycomb pattern to it, echoing and honoring the bees that helped produce the sweetener.

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There is a slightly thick, but pleasant, mouthfeel that reminds me of gritty stone-ground cacao, though I think this comes from the honey crystals rather than the chocolate itself. I’m a “chomper” when it comes to eating chocolate (rather than letting it melt on my tongue), so eating this chocolate was almost a juicy experience (not something I’ve ever experienced before!) I wonder if it has to do with the sunflower lecithin that was used?!

Here is a cross-section of a square showing the honey crystals shining almost like mica.

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Aside from the chocolate itself, I always enjoy knowing about the “back story” of the chocolatiers. Apotheker’s has a fascinating story… Russ and Shari Apotheker are an artistic husband and wife team that started the company in 2013 to share their passion for simple, healthy living with small-batch, handcrafted goods made from all-natural ingredients. Russ comes from a long line of herbalists and pharmacists dating back to ancient Jerusalem. In fact, after the family immigrated to Austria and Poland in the 17th Century, they changed their name to Apotheker, which means “pharmacist.”

Check out http://apothekerskitchen.com/ for more information + their other products (chocolate topped marshmallows & hot cocoa).

I’m personally looking forward to finding more of their offerings, especially the Cashew and Red Sea Salt bar!