L is for Loma Quita Espuela

Originally I was going to avoid inclusion bars this round (unless absolutely necessary) since “Round 2” was dedicated to them. However, once I saw this bar as part of Chocswap 2.0 with Lilla from Little Beetle Chocolates, I knew I couldn’t find a better (or more unique sounding) “L” origin!

The highest elevation within the city of San Francisco de Macorís in the North Region of the Dominican Republic is at Loma Quita Espuela. In case you’re curious about the name, here is what I found on Wikipedia:

“This name allegedly comes from the time when the Spaniards were exploring the island, since the hill was too steep to ride their horses, they had to dismount and remove their spurs and undertake the ascent on foot.”

It certainly sounds like an amazing place to experience nature, based on what I’ve seen from this website!

Now for the chocolate itself: Kilian & Close 52% D.R. with Périgord walnuts

Love the simplicity of this sturdy cardboard packaging with interlocking folds that remind me of a modified “dovetail joint” or “tongue and groove” assembly. There is a single triangular notched tab keeping the box closed and the plastic-wrapped bar tightly nestled within. In retrospect, the bar might have been too secure since the inner wrapper clung to the chocolate in places, leaving several shiny spots.

Honestly, I was NOT expecting there to be several candied walnut halves adhered to the back of the bar, though I should have guessed there might be visible inclusions when the package felt thick in my hand.

As if to alleviate my conscience (about only using non-inclusion, single origin bars for this round of the Alphabet), there were several spots sans walnuts so that I could taste the chocolate on its own!! 💕

The bar segmented easily with a sharp snap and there were hardly any air bubbles at the breaking point.

Handling the tasting morsels with my fingers, I noticed that the chocolate had an ultra-smooth, plastic-like texture to the touch. Perhaps this explains why it was difficult to melt on the tongue? Switching to chewing, creamy, nutty, caramel notes emerged. The flavor remained consistent throughout the tasting, until I got to a piece with the candied walnuts. Chomping on a walnut, there were earthy and lightly bitter notes relegating the slow roasted Dominican Republic cocoa beans to “second fiddle.”

Speaking of the walnuts, these come from Périgord (the old name for the former province in southwestern France) which, as of September 30, 2016, has a new name: Nouvelle-Aquitaine. In 2002, these walnuts were awarded PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) status even though they have been in the area since the Middle Ages!

Since Lilla purchased this bar in Germany during her summer road trip, the label is entirely in German.

It wasn’t until AFTER my tasting that I decided to translate the ingredient list. I was surprised to see coconut blossom sugar as the first ingredient and that there was also coconut milk powder at the end of the list! The flavor notes all make much more sense now! Not sure why I didn’t originally make the connection that there would be an alternate milk to retain its vegan certification! 😲

I’m slowly learning to embrace serendipity since not knowing all the information in advance allows you to taste without prejudice and pre-conceptions. 🙂 This was certainly a delicious journey of discovery!

To learn more about Kilian & Close, please visit their website: http://www.kilian-close.com/en.htm

J is for Jangareddygudem

India as an origin for cacao seems to be having a “moment” as this is the third origin I’ve tasted in as many months. Luckily I noticed that Palo Alto’s The Chocolate Garage stocked all three bars before they were officially released by the maker, Areté Fine Chocolate.

Unlike some of the other places I’ve featured so far, I wasn’t able to find much about the town of Jangareddygudem online. However, Wikipedia revealed that the process of electronic auctioning of tobacco was first introduced in India at the Jangareddygudem Tobacco Board. Does this mean that tobacco is a main source of revenue for this upland agency area?!

Thankfully typing “Jangareddygudem chocolate” into the Google search box yielded more information! From a completely different maker’s website, I discovered that the beans for this bar were grown by a collective of 12 farms in the upper west mountain area within a 20 kilometer radius of the town. As you might imagine, small farms like these aren’t able to sell their products widely, so additional crops need to be grown in order to make ends meet. For example, two of the farms grow their cacao under palm (oil) trees while the rest use coconut trees as the shade crop.

Removing this 70%, 3-ingredient bar from the plastic inner pouch, the aroma reminded me of dried fruit like raisins or prunes.

If you’ve been following me for a while, you’ll know that I’m fascinated with the backs of bars. I’ve tweaked the photo below with a “silver tone” filter to showcase what appears to me as an “image within an image.” The larger outline looks like the tilted head and body of a penguin in profile and within that is a bald scrawny buzzard with a rosette boutonnière standing on one leg. Did I mention I have an overactive imagination?! 😲

As usual, the front had a nearly pristine matte finish featuring the company logo of a woman floating in mid-air with an outstretched arm reaching for a star. To me, the “ghosting” circle above her head looks like a full moon.

Surprisingly, this bar had a brittle snap and the breaking point looked a little ashy white at one corner. There were also a few air bubbles visible.

While the chocolate had a velvety smooth and even melt, I struggled to put words to that first taste. The only thing I could come up with was malty or woody. Once my palate became acclimated, I experienced short-lived juicy and tangy/bright red fruit notes that seemed to burst quickly and then disappear like a fleeting breeze. Melting a piece on the tongue was preferable to chewing since that seemed to leave a film on my teeth and some astringency on the finish. Honestly, I’m undecided if I like this flavor profile and it would seem that John Nanci from Chocolate Alchemy also had initial reservations. I found this product description a few days AFTER my own tasting.

It’s evening as I write this post and I’m re-tasting the bar a few morsels at a time. My palate and lips still feel cotton-y dry after the chocolate is gone from my mouth, but now I taste mildly smoky (charcoal), walnut or caramel notes. The evolution of this bar is a prime example of why it’s a good idea to taste chocolate multiple times and at different times of the day to see if the flavors change. If you taste this bar, I’d love to hear YOUR impressions!

For more information about Areté Fine Chocolate’s growing portfolio of chocolate bars, please visit their website: http://www.aretefinechocolate.com/

I is for Izabal

These days, I’m constantly on the lookout for new chocolate origins; however, sometimes I get so excited about discovering a new place, that I forget to write down who makes (or sells) the bar 😮 Such was the case with Izabal, Guatemala. Apparently, I dutifully typed the name into my “wish list” spreadsheet at the beginning of October, but neglected to note the maker, foolishly thinking “I’ll remember when it comes time for that letter of the Alphabet.” By late-October, my mind was a blank. EEKS! Now what?!

Instagram Stories to the rescue! For a day, this “plea for help” appeared:

Lucky for me, a fellow chocolate enthusiast reminded me that one of my favorite chocolate makers, Violet Sky, sells a bar made with Izabal beans! Looking back, I was able to trace my first discovery of the origin. Thanks to chocolate maker Hans Westerink’s excellent customer service, he was already holding a bar for me! ❤️  The day after returning from a busy trip to Seattle’s Northwest Chocolate Festival, he shipped me a bar which arrived yesterday, just in time for the end of “I” week!

The coastal Department (what we would call a state) of Izabal surrounds Guatemala’s largest lake and is bordered on the North by Belize and on the East by Honduras. This area has a rich ecosystem and a mixture of Mayan and Garifuna cultures. The Garifuna people (which are found primarily in Belize, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua) are an Afro-Caribbean mixed race, follow this link to read more.

I was fascinated to learn that at Hacienda Rio Dulce, where the beans were grown, hardwood trees like mahogany and rosewood are intercropped with the fine flavor cacao varietals. Here is a short video from the Izabal Agro Forest website which shares the sights and sounds of the plantation/farm.

Just look at rainbow of colorful pods!

Source: Izabal Agro Forest website

Now for the chocolate bar you’ve been waiting to hear about! Two-ingredient 77% Izabal, Guatemala.

I love that the bar looks like a holiday-wrapped present with its thick, textured, silver outer paper and bright green informational band. The folds are kept closed in the back with a similarly colored sticker. Since I like to keep that informational sticker intact, I’ve found an ingenious way of unfolding the outer paper so that I can simply slide the shiny foil wrapped bar out of the top or bottom. Voilà!

There is an elegant simplicity to the glossy shine of the 28-rectangle bar (though I need to be careful since it takes fingerprints easily!)

Sometimes it’s the little, often overlooked, details that make me the happiest, like the “shear pattern” that emerges or the cross section texture after segmenting a tasting morsel with a sharp snap.

The flavor of that first piece reminded me of tart fruit with a yogurt-like tang; sort of like cherries and kefir. The smooth, even, creamy melt had a velvet mouthfeel that coated my tongue. The second piece tasted like hazelnuts during the melt and when chewed, it reminded me of a thick fudge with a roasted/earthy aroma.

And to think that I almost missed the opportunity to sample and feature this bar! I’ve definitely learned my lesson: don’t leave things to chance, TAKE DETAILED NOTES IMMEDIATELY! 🙂

For more information on Violet Sky, please visit their website http://www.violetskychocolate.com/ or Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/Violetskychocolate/

H is for Hacienda Azul

Little did I know when I started the Ecole Chocolat online Mastering Chocolate Flavor Program that I would learn so much about cacao genetics!

From the book Raising the Bar: The Future of Fine Chocolate: “…all cacaos, but especially fine flavor cacaos, are susceptible to disease” like frosty pod rot or witches’ broom. As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, these pathogens can devastate crops, but also tend to behave and spread differently depending on the type of tree that is grown in each country. For years, scientists have been “…studying the interaction between the pathogen and the trees to get a better understanding of what actually constitutes and causes the disease, to help that management and see if there’s anything that can be done genetically to alleviate or moderate disease interaction in the future.” That’s where Dr. Wilbert Phillips-Mora (an expert on cacao diseases and breeding) from Costa Rica’s C.A.T.I.E. (Centro Agronómico Tropical de Investigación y Enseñanza – which translates to the Tropical Agricultural Research and Higher Education Center) comes in. He believes that a solution can be found by “creating a blend at the genetic level, no different from what a chocolate maker does in manufacturing to get the flavor profile they want: combine traits of production, disease resistance, and quality through breeding and produce a kind of polyclone.” This article from the New York Times states that “after an 11-year trial, a hybrid called C.A.T.I.E.-R6 experienced a 5% frosty pod rot infection rate, compared to 75% infection for a control variety.” That certainly sounds promising!!

Since I was looking for an “H” bar, I reached out to Greg D’Alesandre at Dandelion Chocolate to get my hands on their 2-ingredient Hacienda Azul bar which is made from a mix of all six C.A.T.I.E. hybrids.

How can you resist being mesmerized by the gold silk screened repeating pattern that adorns the thick, handmade cream-colored outer wrapper? My only quibble is that it was difficult to unwrap the bar without tearing the paper underneath the adhesive keeping the folds closed. However, things have improved since my blog post from last year; it’s now easier to remove the two informational stickers without marring the paper’s design!

Removing the deep, dark brown bar from the thick gold foil inner wrapper, you see a near flawless matte finish to the 18 perfectly segmentable adjoined rectangles that are each etched with 5 wavy lines.

There is a roasted and earthy/herbal aroma to the bar, which transforms into a caramel-like smell once a piece is broken in half with a resounding and satisfyingly sharp snap. Looking at the break point, the chocolate is close textured, though I did find a few tiny air bubbles for visual interest.

Another fascinating element to the bar was the ripple pattern on the back. Maybe when I visit San Francisco next month, I can attend a factory tour to watch how the molds are filled?!

Popping a piece in my mouth, the chocolate melted more slowly than I expected. When aided by a couple of quick chews first, then there was a juicy mouthfeel with tart/tangy fruit flavor notes. What surprised me is that I encountered a tingly sensation on the tip of my tongue and palate during the melt and for a while after the chocolate was gone from my mouth. There was a slight chalky, astringent feeling on my tongue at the finish.

From the wrapper, “These beans come from Hacienda Azul, a single estate near Turrialba, Costa Rica. Ryan [who is responsible for the roast profile] loves the dynamic range of flavors that are possible in these beans at different toasting temperatures.” It’s not clear to me how the hybrid beans impacted the flavor or if what I tasted was mainly due to the roasting and/or conching process at Dandelion. To investigate that further, my next challenge will be to source some of the dried fermented beans and use Greg’s protocol for tasting them. Regardless, it’s an exciting time to be involved in craft chocolate based on all the new discoveries that are being made (and will continue to be made) on a biodiversity and genetic level.

Have you tried this bar? If so, let me know your thoughts in the comment section below!

To learn more about Dandelion Chocolate and see their extensive range of chocolates, please visit: https://www.dandelionchocolate.com/

G is for Guasare

For this round of the Eating the Chocolate Alphabet project, my goal is to feature origins from A through Z. In this case, the word “origin” means the place where the cacao was grown, whether that is a specific farm, a city/town/region, or even a country (as a last resort to cover a particular letter). When I selected this 70% Brasstown dark chocolate bar, I assumed that Guasare was an area in Venezuela; I’ve since learned that though there is a Guasare River (Rio Guasare) in the state of Zulia in northern Venezuela (near the border with Colombia), Guasare is really a cacao cultivar (short for “cultivated variety”)! So, rather than find a last minute substitute “G” bar, I’m bending the definition of origin, just this one time.

It used to be thought that there were only 3 varieties of cacao: Criollo, Forastero and Trinitario (a hybrid of Criollo and Forastero). Later, Nacional was added to the list. After many years of research and plant DNA mapping, these classifications were expanded in 2008 to encompass 10 major clusters/groups and 22 different species. As you might expect with anything scientific, this is a “work in progress” and will continue to evolve/change as new discoveries are made.

Now for the chocolate itself! As an added (unexpected) bonus, this 3-ingredient bar is vegan in honor of World Vegan Day 2017!

Love the spot gold foil accents on the front of this bar’s packaging, plus that it features the silhouette of Caracas, the capital of Venezuela. Another prominent design feature is the use of a compass. From the clear round sticker keeping the packaging closed….

…to the image of an antique pocket compass on a map depicting Pennsylvania, Virginia and Maryland…

…to the tiny compasses that make up the intricate mold pattern.

Despite the fact that Guasare cacao pods contain white to pale pink beans (since this variety is closely related to Criollo and Porcelana), this bar is a rich dark brown color, with a pristine matte finish.

Upon removing the bar from the clear plastic wrapper, the aroma reminded me of honey. There was a high-pitched, hollow snap when segmenting the bar into tasting morsels; some pieces looked close textured (with only a few tiny air bubbles) and others seemed to have hidden nooks and crannies.

While it took a little effort to melt that first piece on my tongue, with a little patience, I was rewarded with a tangy fruit flavor that hit at the back of the throat. I couldn’t place the taste, but referring back to the flavor notes, guava seems like an appropriate description. Chewing a piece, I was surprised by citrusy flavors and an almost juicy sensation. Going back to melting, the mouthfeel was smooth and left a lightly acidic aftertaste (as if I had just swallowed some freshly squeezed lemon juice).

Like the packaging says: “Every bite of Brasstown Chocolate will take you on a unique journey via the taste and your imagination. It might take you overseas or across the mountains or through the farms. To the places new and unknown, yet infused with an occasional splash of a familiar smell or color… taste the place one bite at a time.”

To learn more about Guasare, C-Spot has a short article on their website. Now I’m fascinated to try more chocolate bars made with these beans! If you have any recommendations, please leave me a comment below!

For additional information on this Winston-Salem, NC craft chocolate maker, please visit their website: http://www.brasstownchocolate.com/

F is for Fazenda Camboa

When you embrace serendipity, you never know what is waiting for you around the corner!

Honestly, I really wasn’t looking for an “F” bar that afternoon! However, lately, I’ve come to realize that when a bar presents itself, it is fate’s way of telling me to seize the opportunity (besides, it is ALWAYS best to have a backup bar just in case)!

While reading the book Raising the Bar: The Future of Chocolate as homework for an online course from Ecole Chocolat, a “chapter” in Part One focused on cacao diseases like witches’ broom that decimated farms in Brazil between 1985 and 1997. This information didn’t really “hit home” until researching the history behind Fazenda Camboa (situated in the tropical rainforest state of Bahia, Brazil), where the beans for this bar were grown.

Visiting various online sources, including the Fazenda Camboa website, I learned that the Carvalho family purchased their first cacao farm from British trading companies in 1942 and continued to purchase other farms in the subsequent decades. Current owners, brothers Arthur and Eduardo Carvalho, the great-grandsons of the founding father of the cacao empire took over the farm in 1982. Then, in 1989-1990, their cacao farms in Bahia were devastated by the fungal pathogen witches’ broom which is spread by airborne spores. Between 1996 and 1999, production at Fazenda Camboa dropped by 96%. Despite facing bankruptcy and other key family stakeholders choosing to abandon growing cacao, the two Carvalho brothers were resilient and worked tirelessly with an agronomist for two decades to find ways to hybridize and graft healthy branches to infected ones and slowly bring back yields to what they are today. Now they are Bahia’s largest producer of organic cocoa beans (certified organic since 2007) and in 2013, they exported cocoa beans for the first time in 25 years!

To learn more details about the farm, please visit this link available through Cacao Bahia, the farm’s marketing/distribution arm, which is managed by Jack Bell, the son-in-law of Arthur Carvalho.

Now, onto tasting this 75% dark chocolate Dick Taylor bar.

Dick Taylor’s packaging design & intricate mold are so immediately recognizable and photogenic! Paraphrasing a recent comment from fellow chocolate blogger, The Chocolate Website, even if they removed the text/logo, chocolate lovers around the world would still be able to easily identify the maker!

With brutal triple digit temperatures for weeks on end, even a gelato shop will have problems keeping their cool. I suspect that this is what happened to this particular bar, though the “bloom” has a beauty of its own, don’t you think? It reminds me of my parents’ polished mahogany piano!

Based on the bar’s condition, it’s no surprise that there was a soft/dull snap and that the tasting morsel was a little crumbly when chewed. At the breaking point, there were no visible air bubbles.

During my first tasting, the chocolate was creamy, smooth and delicate in flavor with nutty and fruity notes plus some astringency on the finish. For my second tasting, the aroma reminded me of roasted coffee while “chomping” the bar released juicy grape-like flavors and a yogurt-y tang.

Congratulations to the Dick Taylor team for winning silver at both the Academy of Chocolate and International Chocolate Awards this year!

For information on Dick Taylor’s extensive line of chocolate bars and more products, please visit their website: https://dicktaylorchocolate.com/

While I’m definitely not a “chocolate whisperer,” when chocolate “speaks” I try to pay attention 😉

E is for El Jardín

Sometimes packaging confuses me…especially when it’s in a foreign language. Is this an “E” bar or a “P” bar?! Well, this is MY project; so, like any good writer, I’ll just “bend the data” to fit my needs 😉 (Hopefully you realize that last sentence is my attempt at tongue-in-cheek humor!)

Legend says that this area of Colombia was entirely a jungle when settlers first arrived in the mid-to-late 1800s. These settlers thought the lush vegetation looked like a garden, hence the Spanish name: “The Garden.” According to Wikipedia, El Jardín was declared a parish in 1871 and declared a town in 1882. From what I’ve read, the buildings and architecture of this town and municipality have remained mostly unchanged in 140 years and one of the main sources of their economy is tourism (there are 40 hotels, whereas other towns only have 10!)

Based on maps I’ve seen online, El Jardín is located in the Northwest part of Colombia, specifically in the Southwest region of the department of Antioquia (I assume that “departments” are like what we call “states” here in the U.S.) I like that the front of the neon-yellow/green packaging shows a dot on the map; however, it doesn’t quite match what I’ve seen, so maybe the Plantation is in a different location than the town?!

Source: Wikipedia

Although you’re not really supposed to, I stuck my nose into the thin, silver inner foil wrapper after slicing open the top. The aroma reminded me of honey, though the bar itself smelled like roasted coffee.

The reddish brown bar (surprisingly light in color for 69%), made up of 15 identically sized rectangles, is emblazoned with 9 stylized cacao pods and oddly spaced lettering for the company name/logo. Try as I might using online translation tools, I was stumped by the term “Cacaofèvier” until I checked in with my French language expert, Estelle Tracy from 37 Chocolates. She mentioned that this was a made up word essentially meaning “bean-to-bar maker.”

Michel Cluizel must have a six-head depositor for their molding machine since there were that many swirls on the back of the bar. Note: I tweaked the color a bit on the photo below to make it “pop” a bit more.

When segmenting tasting morsels, there was a sharp/brittle snap and I could see nooks and crannies (air bubbles) at the breaking point.

The mouthfeel was creamy and the melt was slow and even. Initially, the flavor was nutty and reminded me of a mocha. Then there were some caramel or dairy notes during the melt, ending with some peppery notes at the back of my throat + tongue. On a second tasting, the flavor reminded me of red fruit (berries) with flashes of peanut butter. Overall, the finish is hard to describe! I wouldn’t call it minty or menthol (like the packaging mentions), but I would definitely say it was refreshing.

Michel Cluizel holds a special place in my heart since his bars were my introduction to fine chocolate back in 2006-2007! Time flies! It’s been about 10 years since I’ve tasted his chocolates, so I was thrilled to find a bar that fit in with my Alphabet project. Do you have a favorite Michel Cluizel bar? Leave me a comment below!??

For more information on Michel Cluizel’s extensive product line, please visit their website: https://cluizel.us/

C is for Chuao

A couple of weekends ago, I walked into the Monsieur Marcel French Gourmet Market, located in L.A.’s Original Farmers Market on Fairfax & 3rd, to source some chocolate for this project. Prominently, at eye-level, was a handwritten sign saying something along the lines of “Chuao, the best chocolate grown in the WORLD!” (I’m bummed that I forgot to take a picture of the actual sign.) My first reaction was “Hmmm…is there truth to that statement or is it just creative marking hype?” I was looking for a bar for “C” week anyway, so what the heck, I’ll give this Chuao bar a try!

*NOTE: At your local grocery store, you might have seen brightly colored foil packages for bars with fun names and unusual ingredient combinations that are made by a Carlsbad, California-based chocolatier called Chuao. I love their “Firecracker” bar and no longer available “Winter” hot chocolate mix…but that’s not who I’m featuring here (though the Venezuela-born founder *did* name his company after the legendary cacao-growing region). Since this round of Eating the Chocolate Alphabet features ORIGINS (aka where chocolate is grown), the Chuao that I’m talking about in this post is a small village, accessible only by boat, near the northern coast of Venezuela, west of the capital, Caracas.

Sure, I’m vaguely familiar with Chuao, but honestly I’ve heard more chocolate lovers ooh and aah over chocolate made with Porcelana beans (which, coincidentally, are also grown in Venezuela, though in the Lake Maracaibo region in the northwest part of the country, closer to the border with Colombia).

Do you believe in serendipity?! Just yesterday, I was reading Part 2 of “Raising the Bar: The Future of Fine Chocolate” by Pam Williams and Jim Eber as part of a homework assignment. Imagine my surprise to encounter several paragraphs detailing a journey taken by Art Pollard (from Utah’s Amano Chocolate) to Chuao, a place he calls the “home” of cacao because of their 400+ year tradition of producing some of the world’s finest and most highly sought after cocoa beans.

“Here, with historic precision, young and old work together to process the fruit, loading the beans into wheelbarrows at the fermentary, carrying them to the patio in front of the 200-year-old church to be dried, waiting until the beans are ready to be brought in, and then starting all over again. […] No wonder Chuao beans have a storied history and command premiums equal to or greater than any other and that, until recently, European companies had locked up exclusive rights to those beans.”

Now to try this bar from famed French maker, François Pralus:

One of the first things that you’ll notice about the Pralus packaging is their use of GPS coordinates showing where the cacao was grown. Also, there is a large dot marking the location on the flattened world map. I love how the embossed gold foil “pops” from the dark chocolate brown cardboard outer sleeve!

By the way, since this bar was made in France, the coordinates are listed with French abbreviations, so the “O” represents “Ouest” (or West, in English). The back of the box provides a short bilingual story about Chuao, as well as some tasting notes.

As you can see, the square bar is tightly nestled in a mitred edge box that slides easily from the outer sleeve like a vinyl record.

The smell of sweet dried fruit (like raisins or currants) wafts to your nose upon unwrapping the bar from the gold inner foil which was folded with the almost black outer paper. There were also some roasted coffee notes.

The 75% cacao bar is a deep, glossy brown with some flecks rising to the surface near the top half.

The back of the bar was less pristine than the front, with ghostly rings marring the finish. I see the outline of a bear’s head, what do you see?

Segmenting tasting morsels, there was a crisply sharp snap & some air bubble nooks and crannies were visible at the breaking point. Placing the morsel near my nose, I detected some floral or honey aroma notes.

During the melt, the mouthfeel was creamy & smooth, like my tongue was being wrapped in a silky blanket. Initially I experienced earthy, woody notes at the back of the throat; followed by toasted, buttered bread notes; finishing with a tart, fruity back of the throat tang. It is “toothy” when you bite into a piece; in that it doesn’t crumble, but retains its structural integrity in a satisfying way.

As I’m learning in the online Ecole Chocolat course entitled “Mastering Chocolate Flavor,” each person tastes things slightly differently under different circumstances since flavor is a perception, or experience, that is constructed in the brain. Generally I like to taste first thing in the morning, before eating anything else, when my palate hasn’t been influenced by other flavors. Over the weekend, while I was sharing a selection of chocolates with my boyfriend, I popped a piece of this bar in my mouth after dinner and mindlessly eating some other chocolate samples. All of a sudden, there was a wave of roasted cashew in my mouth! WOW! Had I not known that I was eating this Pralus Chuao, I would have thought it was a completely different chocolate!

Honestly, I think that tasting a Chuao origin bar should be part of any chocolate lover’s repertoire so that you can judge hype vs. reality for yourself. When you try one, please leave me a note to let me know your thoughts & impressions!

For more information on François Pralus and their wide range of chocolate bars, please visit their website (which is available in French, Japanese and English): https://www.chocolats-pralus.com/en/our-chocolate.html

B is for Bachelor’s Hall

What’s in a name? If you’re not deterred by some genealogical sleuthing and enjoy immersive hours falling down one “rabbit hole” after another, with each historical source linking to yet another one, you’ll be surprised by what you can discover.

After reading this Pump Street Bakery article describing how the Bachelor’s Hall farm in Jamaica changed hands several times between the 1960s (when the 300+ acre estate belonged to current owner Desmond Jadusingh’s grandfather) until Desmond reclaimed it from government and private ownership in 2002, I wanted to learn more about its history.

Through the University College London (UCL) Legacies of British Slave-ownership webpages, the earliest instance I could find was from 1763, when this was a sugar estate with a cattle mill. Not surprisingly (since the records were transcribed from handwritten ledgers), the name has not been consistent from one source to another: Batchellors Hall Penn; Batchelors Hall Pen; Batchelors Hall; Bachelors Hall; Bachelor’s Hall. I wish I could have delved deeper into the etymology of the farm’s unusual name. Sadly, the UCL archives only traced the owners of this property through 1839, so I wasn’t able to determine when or how Desmond’s grandfather acquired it.

Equally fascinating was reading about Desmond’s struggles after a tropical hurricane in 2004 devastated infrastructure and damaged the plantation. Financially unable to rebuild after years of receiving less-than-market-value for his wet cacao beans, which were sold by the bucket to the Jamaican Cocoa Board and then taken, along with the beans of other Jamaican farmers, to a centralized location for fermentation and drying, he received some welcome assistance from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). After their training and funding for equipment, Desmond was able to take control of the fermentation, drying and selling of his beans such that he is the only direct trade supplier / farm-traceable cocoa exporter in Jamaica. Both quality and consistency improved due to quicker post-harvest handling, additionally his chemical-free farming creates a healthier ecosystem. He is quoted as saying that the fermentation method initially was “40% textbook, 40% experimentation and 20% sheer luck.”

Bachelor’s Hall, which is situated between the John Crow Mountains on the Northeast coast and the Blue Mountains of St. Thomas Parish on the Southeast end of Jamaica, has fertile terroir and rich soil due to natural springs and small rivers running through the property. The Jamaican government introduced Trinitario beans in the 1980s to the already present Criollo and Forastero varieties that were brought to Jamaica in the 1800s from Trinidad. Those Trinitario beans are what SOMA Chocolatemaker used for this particular award-winning, three-ingredient, 70% dark chocolate bar.

As always, I was mesmerized by the impeccable glossy finish and the intricate details of the mold. Can you spot the bird wearing high top sneakers and the distinctive Canadian maple leaf?

Removing the frame-worthy, thin, rectangular bar from the re-sealable plastic wrapper, there was an enticing fruity aroma. Due to the warm California weather, I encountered a soft to medium snap when segmenting tasting morsels instead of the sharp snap that would be possible in cooler conditions.

Pieces melt slowly on your tongue with a smooth and lightly creamy mouthfeel. The flavor started out like an herbal tea and then it evolved to an almost juicy sensation (like biting into an apple). To me, the tart, raspberry notes were muted rather than vibrant, though there was a lingering finish at the back of the throat long after the chocolate was gone from my mouth.

Earlier this year, SOMA Chocolatemaker owners, Cynthia Leung and David Castellan, visited Desmond and Bachelor’s Hall for the first time & recounted their experience on their blog. Toward the end of the post, I was surprised to learn that Desmond also grows coconut trees alongside the cacao, which is apparently uncommon, but his cacao trees seem to love it. This provides a secondary income as well as a natural beverage for his jungle workers. Hopefully one day, when Desmond sets up to create his own bars on-site, he’ll consider adding some coconut to his chocolate – I can already imagine the taste! ?

For more information on Toronto-based SOMA Chocolatemaker, please visit their site: https://www.somachocolate.com/

In parting, we should all live by these words of Desmond Jadusingh:

I cannot really own this farm. I think it’s in my trust, and my duty is to leave it better than I came and saw it. I want to ensure the land I hand down is not worse but better, and I think that once I have done that I have done my duty.”

A is for Anamalai

When I think of India, the first images that spring to mind are influenced by movies like “The Lunchbox” or “Outsourced” where they depict densely populated cities, full of chaotic traffic – places that are definitely not conducive to cacao farming! However, if you’ve seen the PBS historical drama series “Indian Summers,” you know that there are also beautifully lush/tropical areas (though [spoiler alert] that TV show is actually filmed in Malaysia!) The following paragraph from Meridian Cacao’s blog should help conjure up a mental picture of the Anamala/Anaimalai Hills where the cacao for this bar is grown.

“Some mornings, Harish Manoj and Karthi Palaniswamy will arrive at their farm to find their young coconut palms devastated, with broken fronds as if a hurricane has come through. The source of the destruction is no storm, however—it’s elephants. The farm is right at the base of the western Ghats, a mountain range which extends through the south of India. Lots of elephants (and tigers and monkeys) live on the slopes of those mountains, safe in the Anamalai animal preserve (Anamalai is Tamil for ‘Elephant Hills’). The elephants will lumber down onto the farm at night to help themselves to the coconut trees–not for the coconuts, but for the palm fronds themselves, which, as it turns out, are perfect tools for whacking pesky mosquitos off their backs. Amongst this wild backdrop, Harish and Karthi have begun their mission to make their small valley, known for its abundance of coconuts, an unlikely source of delicious cacao.”

Meridian Cacao’s blog goes on to explain that in 1948, after British Colonial Rule ended, the UK’s chocolate behemoth, Cadbury, set up operations in India and much of the cacao produced in that country today still gets purchased by Mondelez (which now owns Cadbury). I’ve been wanting to try a chocolate bar made from Indian cacao for a while now, so I jumped at the opportunity to purchase an Areté bar after reading an Instagram post from Palo Alto’s The Chocolate Garage.

Wanting to learn more about the beans used by David and Leslie Senk of Areté Fine Chocolate in Milpitas, California, I discovered an informative article published in “The Hindu” a few months ago. On the eve of World Chocolate Day, that article announced that brothers-in-law Karthikeyan Palaniswamy and Harish Manoj Kumar were launching India’s first (and only) tree-to-bar chocolate through their company, Regal Chocolates. After reading this Indian blog post, I would love to get my hands on one of their bars too – both the packaging and the bar itself are decorated with simple embossed lines that look like a stylized cacao tree with many branches, leaves and pods.

And, now, the moment you’ve been waiting for, tasting Areté’s bar…

As always, Areté’s bars have a near-flawless, textured matte finish. The logo of a woman, seemingly floating in air in a modified arabesque balletic pose, reaching for a star with an outstretched hand, “pops” from the center of the deep reddish-brown bar with a polished mirror-like shine.

The aroma wafting from the bar evokes dried fruit and raisins, in particular. It pains me to mar the frame-worthy intact rectangle. Reluctantly, I break off a tasting morsel. While I hear a sharp snap, I see tiny flecks of chocolate flying every which way and landing gently on the table below. There is an earthy, minerality smell at the breaking point and I can see nooks and crannies reminiscent of cut granite.

At the beginning of the slow/even melt, there is a fruity (almost juicy) explosion of flavor in my entire mouth. A few moments later, the sensation shifts to a dusty (yet creamy smooth), nutty taste that reminds me of chomping on Brazil nuts. Finally, there is a sharp acidic burn at the back of my throat (like swallowing a gulp of wine) during the finish.

If you’re like me and have been watching Sunita de Tourreil’s “Happy Chocolate” documentaries on YouTube, you’ll know that she will soon be filming an episode in India. I’m eagerly awaiting that installment to learn even more about this exotic country of origin. I hope she visits the Tiger Reserve ? or Wildlife Sanctuary ? in Anamalai! Imagine the outtakes 😉

This India bar is NOT listed on Areté’s website since it is exclusive to The Chocolate Garage at this point. Contact The Chocolate Garage to place an order if you’d like to taste this bar for yourself! Please let me know your impressions once you try it!!

P.S. In case you missed it, the “theme” for this round of Eating the Chocolate Alphabet is ORIGINS! If you have recommendations, please send me a message or leave a comment below!