X is for Xoconostle

Every chocolate has a story! I just hope to do adequate justice to its narration since this one touched not only my heart, but also my soul ❤️

You know the phrase “it takes a village”? Well, this bar would not have come into being without the inspiration, ingenuity, creativity, tenacity, talent, care and support of so many people!

Late last year, as I was finishing “round 1” of the Eating the Chocolate Alphabet project, I wracked my brain for another unique alphabetical adventure. During the NW Chocolate Festival in Seattle in November, I decided that A through Z inclusions would be perfect…though I couldn’t figure out what to do about “X” since I didn’t want to feature xylitol or xanthan gum and after tasting XO sauce (a spicy seafood paste originating from Hong Kong) I knew that would NOT work with chocolate AT ALL!

When I posted “A is for Amaranth” on January 4th, I added a plea to my Instagram followers for suggestions on how to handle that elusive letter. Fellow chocolate lover, Janice, promptly responded xoconostle; but heck if I knew what that was?! After a quick Google search, I discovered that this was a cactus fruit, smaller than a prickly pear; but the chances of finding that in chocolate were slim to none!

Fast forward a month later to Map Chocolate’s Indiegogo campaign. One of the perks was to design “the Map of your dreams”! Unbeknownst to me, though I had my suspicions, my boyfriend anonymously purchased that option in the hopes of partnering with Mackenzie Rivers to create a custom chocolate bar on my behalf! In the week that followed, my BF started researching foods that started with the letter “X” and found a company online that sold dried xoconostle – but they were currently out of stock. When the Indiegogo campaign was nearing the end and it was looking like Map would not reach their $25K fixed goal, my “I’m an engineer and problem-solver” BF decided that HE would obtain all the ingredients needed to home-craft a chocolate on the sly. He purchased a polycarbonate mold, a bag of Rancho Gordo xoconostle (as soon as it came back in stock) and some Valhrona couverture chocolate, which he would temper with a sous vide machine. At some point, he just could no longer keep the secret to himself. As we munched on a couple of rings of dried xoconostle together (imagine a cross between jerky and a tart “Sour Patch Kids” candy!), he recounted his endearing scheme and revealed the perfect bar name! It was then that it dawned on us…how would two neophytes like us possibly utilize and sweeten this shriveled fruit AND come up with a decent looking chocolate bar?!

Lucky for us, Mackenzie generously offered some of the Indiegogo perks even though the campaign had not been successful and I LEAPT at the chance that had previously eluded my grasp! My only request was that this bar include xoconostle and I left the rest of the details up to Mackenzie. If you heard squeals of joy in late May, know that was when these magical bars were delivered to me and they exceeded even my wildest dreams. Thanks for indulging me to endure this long story to finally see:

X MARKS THE SPOT

As you can see, there was care and attention to detail every step of the way: from the strips of map forming an X on the envelope, to the cacti paper wrapping the bars and even the inner liner note (which makes reference to a brief chance encounter that we unknowingly shared while both visiting a chocolate shop in Portland one afternoon):

Even though Map’s mold is super unique and distinctive, it’s all about the inclusions for me…so I’ll only be showing you the “back” side of the bar! However, if you head to my Instagram account, you’ll see a quick “unwrapping” video which highlights both the front and the back!

Just look at how the rehydrated translucent xoconostle glistens and the chili lime shimmers in the light! Chocolate topography at its finest! <swoon>

The aroma was fruity and jam-like with citrus and pepper undertones. Tasting the xoconostle on its own reminded me of a lightly sweet, crisp Asian pear or strawberry rhubarb. Upon handling the square bar to segment it into tasting morsels, my fingertips became stained with bright red chili dust and I certainly couldn’t let any of that go to waste! It was just like licking the rim of a tequila shot, followed by a short-lived, back-of-the-throat burn from the spice.

Now I could concentrate on the inclusion that was nestled within the 65% Dominican Republic Reserva Zorzal chocolate which was not completely smooth on the tongue, but not gritty either. It’s hard to articulate the sensation of teeth meeting the panela glazed peanuts which had just the right amount of “give” to add texture and a mellow crunch.

Leading up to the delivery of the bars, there were a couple of posts on Map’s Instagram account that probably made sense only to me:

Like a proud new parent, I took dozens upon dozens of photos of this photogenic bar and despaired over which ones to include in this post! After actively blogging for a little more than a year now, it’s getting harder and harder to find chocolates that other bloggers haven’t already written about! I think it’s safe to say that this is truly a one-of-a-kind bar and that no one else has ever tasted anything like it. While I might be biased, I think this was a delicious combination of ingredients and I can only hope (please, please, please) that Mackenzie considers adding this bar to her seasonal repertoire 🙂

And with that exhortation, I certainly DID!

From the bottom of my heart, THANK YOU to everyone who made this bar possible!!! xoxo

For more information on Map Chocolate, please see her website: http://www.mapchocolate.com/

V is for Voatsiperifery Pepper

Story time! Here is yet another example of me being a “magnet” for unusual inclusion ingredients! 🙂

During a recent trip to Portland, Oregon the weekend before Memorial Day, we visited The Meadow in the historic Nob Hill District since I’d seen pictures online of their “wall of chocolate.” Imagine a shop with row after row of neatly organized shelving that almost reaches the ceiling, where sales associates climb a ladder to retrieve the chocolate bar(s) from the highest perches…if there was ever a chocolate “library,” it would be this place with 400+ bars to choose from!

When the employee on duty that afternoon asked me if I was looking for anything in particular, I mentioned that my heart was set on finding a bar with violets, but I’d be willing to settle for something else that started with “V” except for vanilla. She pondered, she climbed the ladder, she examined several bars…there was rose, but no violet. 🙁 As she attended to other customers, I slowly perused the shelves to see if there were other bars that I couldn’t live without. After a few moments, I was gleefully exclaiming, “I found my V, I found my V!” I’m sure everyone else in the store thought I was nuts; but my boyfriend and The Meadows’ employee were both genuinely very happy for me. Mind you, I still don’t know the proper way to pronounce this “V” inclusion ingredient. I found a site with 80+ versions, which doesn’t help narrow things down at all!

So, thanks to serendipity, I’m thrilled to feature this 72% Nicaraguan dark chocolate bar with Voatsiperifery Pepper which is a collaboration between Portland-based Pitch Dark Chocolate and the Bitterman Salt Company.

Later on, I learned that Mark Bitterman (of the Bitterman Salt Co.) founded The Meadow in 2006. This seems like the perfect quote to encapsulate this culinary collaboration:

“Salt and pepper, the powerhouses of flavor amplification, bring new life to chocolate’s eternal mystery. Combining the most beautiful salt and the most tantalizing peppers within the molten smithy of a bean to bar chocolate is the flavor sensation chocolate has been waiting for, and nobody knows it like Bitterman.”

It’s interesting that beans from Nicaragua were combined with a rare Madagascar pepper. The back of the packaging explains how voatsiperifery looks and tastes like. In case you’re curious, here is a link to see for yourself. The Meadows’ website explains “The name voatsiperifery is derived from the Malagasy words voa, meaning ‘the fruits,’ and tsiperifery, meaning pepper vine” and that the fruits are harvested just once a year making them relatively rare, even in native Madagascar.

Easily sliding the 12-rectangle bar from the uniquely shaped, stark white, textured thick paper outer holder and the black inner wrapper, you can immediate see that the “back” was generously sprinkled with the featured inclusion ingredient (surprisingly for a collaboration with a salt company, there is no salt listed for this bar!) The aroma reminded me of freshly cracked black pepper and I believe that there was a stem or two making an appearance. Notice an odd squiggle? Well, here are two close-up shots:

Segmenting the rectangles from each other produced a dull snap, while splitting a rectangle in half produced a sharp snap, sending little fragments flying everywhere. I noticed air bubbles at the break point.

I tried both melting a morsel on my tongue and then “chomping” on a piece. By melting, the peppery flavor was muted/delayed and there was a thick, not completely smooth mouthfeel. I personally preferred the “chomping” method since that allowed me to experience the crunch from the pepper, which also made the roof of my mouth and tongue prickle for minutes afterwards. The chocolate itself seemed a little dry/chalky and there was an astringent finish. I hope to find a jar of this pepper someday so that I can experiment with soups and stews in my own home kitchen.

Brian Flick, the “one man show” behind Pitch Dark, has been working with chocolate for more than half of his life, starting at age 14 by making confections for events and weddings. At age 21, he lived with a tribal group of cacao farmers in rural Fiji for 3 months to conduct field work for his thesis. Founding Pitch Dark in 2014 in his late 20s, his focus is on fine cacao sourced from single farms to isolate the unique flavors of the beans. This article from 2014 explains that Brian utilizes two separate pieces of equipment whereas many makers use just one for the conching/refining process: first he uses a stone grinder to pre-refine beans, then a separate roll refiner & finally a dedicated conching machine to control particle size.

To learn more about Pitch Dark and their various chocolate bars, check out: http://www.pitchdarkchocolate.com/

And if you ever figure out how to pronounce this multi-syllable, tongue twister of a pepper…PLEASE let me know! 😉

50 States Collaboration – Massachusetts / Goodnow Farms Chocolate

Maybe I’m developing a “knack” for reaching out at the perfect time? Maybe “fate” is intervening to guide my path? Either way, these moments of serendipity, when things fall into place, make me the happiest 🙂

Just last week, after months of waiting for a CSC (community supported chocolate) subscription allocation to arrive, I decided that particular Massachusetts maker, who shall remain nameless, really didn’t need additional hype since there were lesser-known makers in that state deserving of recognition. Late at night, looking at the Goodnow Farms website under “Retailer Locations,” I saw California listed as “Coming Soon” – this was a good omen! So, I sent an email asking if there might be an update and wouldn’t you know it, the very next day I received an email from Tom Rogan (co-owner of Goodnow Farms Chocolate) advising that, later that afternoon, a delivery of chocolate bars was scheduled to arrive to a shop near me!! The two bars I’ll be featuring below had only been in the shop’s inventory for 2 days by the time I visited, so it’s no wonder that the employees there weren’t familiar with them yet!

The gold foil stamped & embossed thick, textured paper sleeves of each bar feature watercolor landscape paintings of idyllic country life, which I assume reflect Tom & Monica Rogan’s 225-year old farm where the small batch chocolates are made. A quick search on the Sudbury Chamber of Commerce website revealed that Goodnow was the last name of one of the first settlers of that town from back in the late 1600s. I also discovered that there is a Goodnow Farm Historic District in Princeton, Massachusetts…but I’m not sure if the two are related since the two towns are about 30 miles away from each other.

70% Asochivite Guatemala with Maple Sugar

The unique name caught my eye as I was selecting which of their 4 bars to sample. In case you’re curious too, “The remote Guatemalan village of San Juan Chivite is perched on the side of a mountain, reachable only by foot. Part of the journey requires crossing a long, narrow wooden and steel cable footbridge across which all harvested cacao is carried by hand.” / “The Q’eqchi Maya farmers of Chivite, Guatemala harvest cacao from the wild trees surrounding their village.” What a journey for these beans! :0

The gold foil-wrapped bar slides easily from the paper sleeve and reveals an envelope-like fold kept closed with a small round sticker.

[As a side note, whoever thought to use an informational sticker is a GENIUS! I struggled to refold the foil as neatly as it arrived to return the bar to its appropriate sleeve. Without that sticker, I wouldn’t be able to tell which flavor was which for future tastings…thanks packaging designer!]

Simply peeling back the origami-like folds, there was an immediate aroma that reminded me of freshly toasted raisin bread spread thickly with sweet butter. I also really liked that the custom logo mold was the first thing you see upon opening the package.

The bar had a near flawless matte finish, though I did encounter some errant flakes that looked like “fuzz” sticking to the “top” surface. Thanks to Tom for explaining the cause of that phenomenon:

…[this] is actually tiny chocolate shavings caused by the bars being handled prior to being opened. The reason these shavings happen is that the chocolate contracts a bit as it cools in the molds, and it ‘sticks’ to the sides of the mold slightly, leaving a bit of a ridge on the edges. This ridge is what ends up flaking off a bit when the bar is handled in the wrapper. 

Upon turning the bar over, I noticed 8 squares with concentric rings. I’m intrigued and would love to see a video of their molds being filled since the still photo online from Step 6 of “Our Process” (Tempering and Molding) only showed chocolate being pumped out from one spout?!

Update from Tom on June 6th: “…the 8 squares on the back of the bar are formed by the depositing head we use on our tempering machine. The head is custom made for each of our different size molds, and it allows the mold to be filled more evenly. It attaches to the single spout that you see in the pictures in the ‘Our Process’ section. The depositing heads are a pain to deal with but they allow the chocolate to fill the molds more quickly and the result is a better looking bar.

Segmenting the bar into tasting bites, there was a soft snap; the chocolate had some elasticity and bent a little before breaking apart. I assume that this was due to the maple sugar used as sweetener. From the packaging and website: the maple sugar is sourced locally from family-owned and operated Severance Maple in Northfield, MA. Milt Severance and his family tap the trees surrounding their sugar house and do every step of the process themselves to produce granulated maple sugar (chocolate makers can’t use maple syrup since moisture and chocolate don’t mix!)

There was a refreshing + short-lived tingly sensation at the tip of my tongue during the smooth, creamy, even melt. A fruity, yogurt tang hit me at the back of my throat and the finish reminded me of roasted coffee.

Limited Edition 77% Nicalizo Nicaragua

According to the packaging, Nicalizo is the first Nicaraguan bean awarded Heirloom Cacao status (last year I tried samples from the “D7 Series”) – the Nicalizo beans are the 8th out of 13 varieties to earn this designation.

Again there was a sticker holding the gold foil folds closed, this one shows a “scarecrow” in a garden, in addition to the flavor’s name.

The toasted bread aroma was more subtle upon opening the inner wrapper; though I also encountered lightly earthy/woody scents. Tiny “fuzz” particles appeared on the top surface of this bar too, marring the otherwise pristine finish (you might have to zoom in to see below). As you would expect from wispy, thin chocolate shavings, they disappear as soon as you touch them lightly with your finger or tongue.

The same 8 squares appear on the back; I’ve adjusted the camera’s color settings to make them “pop” (the photo next to it was “undoctored”):

This bar had a sharp snap as well as a smooth, creamy, even melt which brought out nutty, grain-like, and wood flavor notes and ended with a lightly astringent, grape wine finish.

Goodnow Farms Chocolate is a relatively new company, established in 2015. This article provides interesting details about how Tom & Monica got started in creating single-origin, 3 ingredient, bean-to-bar chocolates and their continued efforts to improve the lives of the farmers at origin. One thing that especially caught my attention is that they press their own cocoa butter from the same beans as are used in the chocolate bars!

Please check out their website to see their full line of bars: https://goodnowfarms.com/

We’re nearing the end of this “50 States” project, so remember to follow the Time to Eat Chocolate blog to hear about the last few stops!

Other chocolate makers in Massachusetts:

Chequessett Chocolate

Equal Exchange

Rogue Chocolatier

Somerville Chocolate

Taza Chocolate

Vivra Chocolate

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

U is for Uyuni Salt

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

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

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

Andean Royal Quinoa & Uyuni Salt (75%)

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

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

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

Cocoa Nibs & Uyuni Salt (77%)  

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

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

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

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

50 States Collaboration – 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 – Montana / Burnt Fork Bend

Every day is a new adventure and, for me, eating chocolate certainly helps smooth out the rough edges! A huge thank you to Jennifer Wicks, Burnt Fork Bend’s chocolate maker, for generously sending me samples of 2 bars/3 origins for this “50 States” project!

Did you know that ~38 of the 50 United States have bean-to-bar chocolate companies and Montana is one of the states that has only one B2B maker? This article from 2012 provides details on how Jennifer got started and the inspiration behind the company’s name and logo, while this article from 2015 provides a glimpse into her chocolate making process.

While deciding which states I wanted to feature as part of this collaboration project with Lori from Time to Eat Chocolate, I visited Burnt Fork Bend’s website and fell in love with the stories behind the bar names, especially the “Bob Bar”! One of Jennifer’s former co-workers wasn’t fond of her original 72% dark chocolate bar and wasn’t afraid to honestly tell her. So, she developed a recipe that he liked & named the bar after him 🙂

The bars come in two different sizes: the 2 oz. package is the “small” and the 2.5 oz. package is the “large.” Origins change every 8-10 months or so (based on availability) to keep things interesting, as well as to introduce customers to as many different flavor profiles as possible.

The “Bob Bar” is made with just three ingredients, using evaporated cane juice instead of sugar.

The outer packaging is a coated paper “envelope” that can be opened and re-sealed easily.

Inside each of these envelopes, the thick bar is wrapped in a plastic pouch kept closed with a small silver sticker adorned with the company logo: the silhouette of heron standing in an idyllic, flowing creek.

The mold is made up of 12 equal squares which reminds me a bit of a Ritter Sport chocolate bar. As I’m looking at the bar now that I’ve easily removed a row of squares for tasting purposes, the remaining 9 squares makes me think of a chocolate Rubik’s Cube!

First up is the 60% Costa Rica Bob Bar

If I’ve deciphered Jennifer’s batch numbering nomenclature, this bar is from batch number 8, made on December 18, 2016! I noticed air bubbles at the corners of several squares, otherwise the matte finish was mostly free from other imperfections.

[update April 5th: Thanks to Jennifer for reaching out…seems I was close, but not completely accurate in my nomenclature deciphering. Rather than denote the batch number, the first two digits represent an internal reference to the beans’ country of origin + the rest of the numbers are the packaging date.]

There was a roasted coffee aroma on opening the package and a semi soft snap when segmenting tasting morsels. While the square’s size makes it a bit difficult to “melt” on my tongue like you are supposed to, I discovered that “chomping” the piece a couple of times made “melting” much easier! It’s not abrasive like stone ground cacao, but the texture / mouthfeel is not completely smooth since the beans are minimally processed.

This may be my first experience with Costa Rican chocolate, so I’m not sure if coffee notes are inherent in this origin. After the first few bites, the flavor mellowed to a buttery/nutty one with hints of honey or caramel. I can understand why Bob liked this “sweeter side of dark” bar!

Next were the 72% Ecuador and 72% Bolivia Blue Heron Bars

Like the “Bob Bar,” these have only three ingredients – though sugar is used for the sweetener.

Looking at the bars side-by-side, it appears that the Ecuador bar is slightly darker than the Bolivia bar, though both have interesting swirls on the “back” side of the bar! Depending on how I oriented the bar, I could see different abstract artwork that I would have otherwise missed if I wasn’t inquisitive!

The Ecuador bar (batch number 1, made December 29, 2016) had a medium crisp/slightly hollow sounding snap and seemed to have less air bubbles marring the surface of the matte finish. There was an earthy aroma upon opening the package, a fruity/berry flavor on the melt and a creamy/nutty flavor when “chomped.”

The Bolivia bar (batch number 3, made March 23, 2017) smelled less earthy than the Ecuador bar and there was more chocolate “dust” on the top surface. It seemed to have a drier mouthfeel when chomped (which reminded me of marshmallows) and a lightly astringent finish.

If you prefer milk chocolate, don’t worry…they have that too! Be sure to visit their website for more details and to order bars for yourself: http://www.burntforkbend.com/index.html

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 Montana, please leave a comment or send an email…we like to keep our resource lists as up-to-date as possible!

50 States Collaboration – Louisiana / Acalli Chocolate

Remember the adage “don’t judge a book by its cover”? Well, that definitely applies in this case! While you might be tempted to dismiss the plain packaging with a mishmash of typefaces and fonts; if you did, you would be missing out on the anything but simple two-ingredient chocolate that awaits you inside.

I first learned about this bean-to-bar maker from Louisiana through fellow blogger and chocophile “37 Chocolates.” In October 2016, Estelle Tracy (aka 37 Chocolates) posted an interview with Carol Morse, the founder and maker of Acalli Chocolates in New Orleans. In that interview you’ll learn about the meaning behind the company’s name, how Carol got started down her chocolate path and the challenges she faces producing award-winning chocolates due to the heat and humidity in New Orleans. Lucky for me, through Instagram, I was able to discover that Honeycreeper Chocolate, who generally sells only through local to Birmingham (Alabama) pop-ups, was willing to sell and ship me a bar to California so that I could feature it here!

El Platanal Chulucanas, Peru 70%

One thing you don’t notice, until you start taking photos and zooming in, is that the light aqua/turquoise background color of the outer box is made up of tiny pixels/dots, such that it creates a sort of moiré pattern depending on the angle of the camera shot. This picture below, gives you an example of what I mean by a moiré pattern (start at the top left hand corner of the box and you should be able to see some yellowish wavy lines cascading down at a diagonal until about the Good Food Awards sticker):

While, the pattern has seemingly disappeared in this photo, when placed side-by-side the 15-rectangle unwrapped bar:

Unwrapping the bar from the thick heat crimped plastic pouch, the matte finish is marred by some chocolate dust and a single “ghosting” dot at the exact center of the bar.

I also noticed an unusual swirl pattern on the back of the bar (ignore the fingerprints, please!)

As I was taking photos, deep fruity aromas kept wafting to my nose and that gave me a good idea of what the bar would ultimately taste like. Segmenting tasting morsels, there was a medium sharp snap to the bar and tiny chocolate “crumbs” tended to fly everywhere in the process.

The smooth and creamy mouthfeel was punctuated with vibrant bursts of tart fruit which mellowed to a raisin-like sweetness and ended with a lightly astringent aftertaste. I’d like to think that my impressions aren’t too far off from the tasting notes that mention plum and tangerine. 😉

From the back of the packaging: Acalli believes that they are the final stewards on cacao’s journey from a tropical fruit to artisan bar. The growers and farmers develop flavor and acidity through fermentation and drying, while the chocolate makers are responsible for highlighting the array of flavors unique to each origin. There is nothing flashy or gimmicky about this bar, but I’d say that Carol accomplished her goal since the natural citrus notes from this Peruvian cacao were able to shine through with the simplicity of only adding organic cane sugar to the beans!

To read more about Acalli and discover their other flavors and drinking chocolate mixes, check out their website: http://www.acallichocolate.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 Louisiana, please leave a comment or send an email…we like to keep our resource lists as up-to-date as possible!

50 States Collaboration – Washington DC / Harper Macaw & Chocotenango

The cross-country chocolate swap and collaboration project continues! Sometimes you can get complacent about things that are familiar to you; so, from the start, Lori & I thought it would be fun for each of us to review chocolates from the other’s hometown to get a “fresh perspective” on them. She reviewed three chocolate makers from the Southern California area yesterday, so today I’m writing about two chocolate makers from the Washington, D.C. area.

Harper Macaw Chocolate Makers has been on my “wish list” for a while now, so I’m very grateful to Lori for choosing these 3 bars from the Rainforest Origin series for me. Check out this link from their website to learn more about the Brazilian cacao sources and conservation efforts to turn chocolate into a force for tropical reforestation.

Each of the thick white cardboard boxes is decorated with a brightly colored kaleidoscope imagery featuring a different endangered animal. Additionally, there are thin gold foil stamped & embossed lines accenting the box and these are repeated again on the chocolate bars themselves. One of my favorite gold accents is the company logo, which looks to be a stylized face of a macaw parrot, with plumage framing its beak and eyes.

Each of these chocolate bars was made with just three ingredients: cocoa beans, cane sugar and cocoa butter. Instead of utilizing the perforated “tear strip” on the back panel of the box, I decided to keep the packaging intact by easily lifting the flap from the double stick tape, which could then be used to “re-seal” the envelope-like closure.

Though not pictured, each bar was wrapped in a crimped heat sealed, metallic plastic pouch. Additionally, each bar of chocolate had a dull matte finish with varying degrees of chocolate “dust” marring the surface. I’m surprised that none of the boxes had any tasting notes listed, though the company website does mention the flavor notes there. I didn’t consult the website until just now, so we’ll see how “close” I was able to get during my “unbiased” tastings 😉

First up is the 74% Atlantic Forest / Single Estate Vale do Juliana bar, featuring a Golden Lion Tamarin Monkey.

Removing the bar from the inner packaging, the aroma reminded me of dark roasted coffee.

There was a brittle, dry snap to the bar which revealed some air bubbles and a few unusual white flecks at one section of the tasting morsel (see the upper left corner of the photo below):

Initially, the piece tasted like mocha and then evolved into an earthy flavor during the smooth and even, slow melt. This did not have a creamy mouthfeel and was lightly astringent on the finish. According to the website, the tasting notes are listed as: Toffee, licorice, peppercorn… This one’s a bit of a mystery

Next up is the 77% Amazon Rainforest / Single Estate Tomé Açu bar, featuring poison dart frogs.

This bar had a grassy, hay-like aroma which then transitioned to a dark roasted smell once it had a chance to “breathe” a bit. I’m always fascinated by the “shear pattern” upon creating a tasting morsel.

However, subsequent pieces looked completely different / no “shear”!

This one was the darkest in color and had a sharp snap with an earthy, herbal, almost black licorice flavor. The mouthfeel was more “juicy” than the last bar and also had a smooth, slow, even melt. The website’s tasting notes describe the bar as: Earthy with dried fruit such as raisins

You can also read about Lori’s impressions about this bar here.

Originally I was only going to try two of the three Harper Macaw bars that Lori had sent me, but I just couldn’t resist trying all of them!

Next up is the 75% Atlantic Forest / Single Estate M. Libânio, featuring Agrias claudina butterflies.

Sadly, this bar had the most chocolate “dust” marring the surface.

The aroma reminded me of dried figs and had a brittle, almost hollow sounding snap.

Surprisingly, there were sour, tangy notes to the chocolate and a chalky astringent aftertaste despite the smooth and even, slow melt. The website lists the flavor as: Malt, tart cherries, white fruit

Here is a photo of all three bars side-by-side to show the differences in colors even through the cacao used only varied by a few percentage points. Some of my descriptions were close to the tasting notes, but I still have a long way to go in perfecting my palate!

To learn more about Harper Macaw and see even more colorful packaging, including their political collection, visit their website: https://harpermacaw.com/

But wait, there’s more…I also had the opportunity to taste a bar from Chocotenango! Lori just recently wrote about this company, so check out her blog post to learn more about how they got started.

Cardamom is one of my favorite flavors, so I was thrilled when Lori was able to obtain this 73% Dominican Republic dark chocolate Arabian Nights bar on my behalf!

The royal blue foil doesn’t really go with the cream and green colored outer packaging, but I was fascinated by the way they wrapped the bar on the diagonal, which reminds me of the Japanese Furoshiki technique.

The twelve rectangle bar with a matte finish sustained some damage in transit, possibly because the bar is much more narrow than the outer cardboard sleeve packaging. There was a sharp snap and a creamy, smooth mouthfeel with the occasional crunch from a citrusy cardamom seed.

Overall, I loved the strong green cardamom flavor and aroma! It will be hard not to eat this entire bar within the next few days. To learn more about Chocotenango and see their other flavors, please check out their website: https://www.chocotenango.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 Washington, D.C.:

Undone Chocolate

NOTE: If you know of any other bean-to-bar makers in Washington, D.C. 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 – Michigan / Fresh Coast Chocolate Co.

So far, every week during this collaboration project, I’ve tried to find a connection between the state and/or maker that Lori posts about and the one that I write about a day later. From our tentative publishing schedule, I knew that Lori was going to write about New Jersey, but I struggled to choose which state to feature next. I decided on Michigan because both states have lighthouses that I admire (and, truth be told, I selected this particular bar SOLELY on the photo featured on the packaging!) So, imagine my surprise after reading Lori’s post about Glennmade yesterday, that my seemingly random and “tangential” choice would pay off, since Glenn from Glennmade learned some of his chocolate skills from another Michigan bean-to-bar chocolate maker: Mindo Chocolate Makers!

When we were compiling a list of chocolate makers within the U.S., one of the sources that we relied upon was compiled by Lisabeth in Canada as part of her “Ultimate Chocolate Blog.” It was through her blog post that I discovered that Fresh Coast Chocolate Co. actually started out under a different company name. With a little research, I found a March/April 2015 interview with Nichole Warner where I learned that “Just Good Chocolate” started in October 2011 by making a cacao-based snack called “Nibblers” and at that time they had the goal of becoming Northern Michigan’s first bean-to-bar manufacturer as well as eventually having a wind and solar powered factory. In May 2016, Fresh Coast launched their new brand and packaging and also won a Good Food Award last year.

Generally I pay attention to country of origin, cacao percentage and/or inclusion ingredients when choosing a bar to feature. However, in this case, what caught my eye immediately was Summer Osborn’s photo of the South Manitou Island Lighthouse, located in Lake Michigan, which can be reached seasonally by ferry boat.

One of the things that you will notice on the back of the packaging is the three values that Fresh Coast Chocolate Co. lives by, which are expanded in more detail on their website:

  • Quality: We don’t settle. It is that simple.
  • Craftsmanship: We don’t take shortcuts. Ever.
  • Integrity: Transparency and honesty matter.

From the packaging and company website, we learn that the beans for this single-origin bar come from the Kilombero District in the Morogoro Region of southern Tanzania. Kokoa Kamili is a social enterprise that works with more than 2,500 farmers across the region and beans are fermented and dried in their centralized facility to ensure uniform quality; all of these elements seem to fit in with their values.

Unsealing one of the flaps from the outer envelope, the 20-rectangle bar is wrapped in lined silver foil.

Just peeling back the folds of the inner wrapping, I could smell a red berry aroma. Turning over the bar, this was the first time I had seen a mold that reminded me of “racing pinstripes” with five diagonal lines running through the middle of each rectangle. The overall glossy finish, with a minimum of chocolate “dust” marring the surface, was both aesthetically visually appealing and very stylishly photogenic.

There was a medium-crisp snap to the bar and the pieces segmented evenly and easily along the score lines. While I can definitely appreciate that Fresh Coast touts having “slightly over the top perfectionism” in their production processes; one thing that I noticed after segmenting 4 rectangles from the bottom row was that the mold must have been tilted slightly during cooling, since some pieces were slightly thicker than their neighboring pieces and the bar would not lay completely flat.

Regardless, taste is the most important aspect and I am constantly amazed when two-ingredient bars can have such vibrant flavor notes without any inclusions. This Batch 003 bar tasted like a not-too-sweet, tangy raspberry with a slight citrus aftertaste. Melting a piece on my tongue produced a creamy, smooth and even melt. As an interesting side note, since it’s unseasonably warm here at the moment, I’m keeping my chocolate stash in a wine fridge set to 62 degrees F. Straight out of the fridge, this bar had a nutty aroma and a more muted raspberry flavor. Allowing the morsels a few moments in this upper 80s degree room, the pleasantly intense and almost juicy berry flavor returns full force.

There are four more single-origin bars + a hot cocoa blend and brownie mix to try. My mouth is watering already! To learn more & purchase bars for yourself, please visit: http://freshcoastchocolate.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 Michigan:

Mindo Chocolate Makers

NOTE: If you know of any other bean-to-bar makers in Michigan 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 – Arizona / Stone Grindz Chocolate

Partnering with Time to Eat Chocolate on this collaboration project has provided me with the opportunity to expand my horizons! Since Lori posted about a chocolate maker from her home state yesterday, I thought it would be fun to write about a company that I only recently discovered was near my home state! Honestly, it never occurred to me that there could be a chocolate maker in Scottsdale, Arizona since their summer temperatures are consistently in the triple digits!! It surprised me to discover that there are actually quite a few companies in other parts of Arizona as well (see the bottom of this post for a full list of makers).

As any marketing person will tell you, vibrant packaging sells! When trying to select which Arizona maker to feature, I was captivated by the colorful/eye-catching rustic artwork of the Stone Grindz bars as shown on their website. Seeing that they also carried a Bolivia bar (one of my favorite origins at the moment) “sealed the deal” – now to try to locate it! Luckily their bars are sold by Chocolate Covered San Francisco, so I quickly placed an order and received the bar within two days.

To me, it looks like both a llama and a donkey are depicted on the front of this C1S (coated one side) notched cardboard sleeve since these “beasts of burden” are perfect for transporting supplies in the Bolivian Andes.

Removing the bar from the outer packaging, the clear heat-sealed plastic bag allows you to immediately see the matte finish of the 18-square mold, despite some minor chocolate “dust” marring the overall finish.

Cutting open the plastic wrapper released a deep, rich, chocolatey aroma. Taking a closer look at the bar, I noticed tiny air bubbles at the corners of most of the squares and some slight “ghosting” swirls. I’m always mesmerized by the natural beauty of minor imperfections, if you take time to notice them. FYI, I enhanced the photo below a bit to make it “pop.”

Breaking off a row of squares to make tasting morsels, I noticed that the mold had not been evenly filled since each of the pieces varied in width.

There was a slightly brittle snap to the bar and I detected a nutty aroma at the break. The mouthfeel is smooth and creamy – something I didn’t really expect from a name like Stone Grindz. After melting several pieces in my mouth, I noticed a malty aftertaste; however, the overall flavor of this Wild Bolivia bar was mild to me, rather than the distinct earthy flavor profile I have come to expect from other Bolivian beans (Alto Beni, in particular). To my surprise, I tasted mostly green apple rather than the cashew and plum from the tasting notes. Based on my experience, green apple is generally considered to be an “off flavor” in beer, so I’m wondering about the amount of acetic acid produced when fermenting this particular batch of beans which, according to the packaging, grew wild along the Amazon River Basin. [As a side note, I sampled this bar twice with the same results: once in the morning as a “first taste” before having anything to eat & a second time after eating a spicy meal.]

Taste is definitely subjective! Just recently, the Choocolate Journalist published an interesting article about some of the reasons why people taste things differently than others. So, don’t take my word for it…try it for yourself & let me know your thoughts & experiences!!

If you’d like to learn more about the different bars available from Stone Grindz, check out: http://www.stonegrindz.com/

To be sure not to miss any story from this “50 States” project, I recommend that you also follow the Time to Eat Chocolate blog!

Other chocolate makers in Arizona:

Brazen Chocolate https://www.newfangledlabs.com/

Chocofin http://www.chocofin.com/

Desert Indulgence http://www.difinechocolates.com/

Lulu’s Chocolate http://www.luluschocolate.com/

Zak’s Chocolate http://zakschocolate.com/

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