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

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/

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/

D is for Đắk Lắk

A few weekends ago, we took a short trip up to Berkeley, CA to celebrate a family birthday. It wasn’t planned, but we stopped at a “tried and true” shop hoping to source bars for this project. You should have seen me…I was so giddy to have found bars C, D and E all in one fell swoop! I usually travel around with a mini ice cooler and/or ice packs whenever I shop for chocolates; however, temperatures were mild, so I wasn’t too worried about the bars without my usual “equipment.” Rather than leave the bars in the car while we walked back and forth on San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge, I carried them carefully in an insulated lunch bag. On the flight home, I nestled the bars in my carry-on luggage to keep them safe from harm until I could get them in my wine fridge for storage.

Once I was home, I tried my “C” bar – it was bloomed 🙁 I thought it was a fluke since that was the 2nd to last bar on the store’s shelf. Then, a week later, I opened my “D” bar – it was ALSO bloomed. I mentally blamed the shop for not taking better care of the bars. THEN, I opened a 3rd bar, which was sourced from a different location, but cared for in the same manner as my other bars and discovered…it was bloomed TOO! It suddenly dawned on me that I was to blame for the bars’ condition. Here I thought I had taken every precaution, only to realize that I had inadvertently exposed the bars to temperature fluctuations 🙁 Can you say PANIC?!

I couldn’t, in good conscience, post pictures of the bloomed bar (*) since that wouldn’t be indicative of the maker’s talents. So, I visited at least 4 of my usual local “go to” Greater Los Angeles area shops only to find that their selection of craft chocolates had been decimated. Buyers were either waiting out the last heat waves of the summer and/or weren’t re-stocking their shelves due to slow sales. NOW, what do I do?! Never a dull moment here at Eating the Chocolate Alphabet! :0

<insert drumroll and fanfare here>

Bar & Cocoa to the rescue!!! I ordered a replacement bar on Monday (which was a Post Office holiday) & received the shipment by Thursday. Chris & Pashmina…you are my HEROS! So, that’s the long story behind Marou Faiseurs de Chocolat’s Đak Lak Vietnam bar!

It wasn’t until after I had purchased the chocolate in Berkeley that I discovered that this particular bar was featured on the Slow Melt Makers Series, episode 5. You can hear Sam Maruta (one of the co-owners of Marou) and host, Simran Sethi, tasting this bar right around the 19:20 mark in the podcast. This origin is one of the most recent additions to Marou’s portfolio and the furthest from their Ho Chi Minh City headquarters, in terms of sourcing distance.

Earlier in the podcast, you’ll hear that Đak Lak is located in the Central Highlands of Vietnam and shares a western border with Cambodia. Using Wikipedia, I also learned that resistance to French rule was strong in that province and that considerable action was seen during the Vietnam War. Đak Lak, which is mostly mountainous with rich red soil, is known for growing coffee; though rubber, tea and pepper are also major parts of their economy. In fact, the cacao that Marou sources is fruited among the climbing tendrils of Đak Lak’s renowned black pepper vines.

The gorgeous hand silk screened paper has a gold lattice motif with stylized cocoa pods, flowers and clouds.

Depending on where you buy this bar, the packaging will reflect the language of that country (for example: French, Vietnamese or English). This particular bar was imported by A Priori Specialty Foods in Utah, so all the information is listed in English.

The elegance continues with the gold foil wrapped bar, kept closed like a letter, with a scalloped-edge logo sticker (almost like a wax seal).

Unwrapping the chocolate, you can see that the lattice theme is continued on the bar itself. There is a matte (rather than glossy) and slightly scuffed finish, probably due to the long distance that this bar has traveled.

Notice an interesting “swirl” on the back of the bar, near one of the sides.

There wasn’t much of an aroma straight out of the packaging. I detected some lightly earthy or floral notes, but mainly it was classically fudge-like in smell. The bar breaks apart easily with a dry/crumbly snap, sending tiny shard flying every which way. Some pieces look closed textured (not many bubbles) at the break, while others are full of nooks and crannies.

The mouthfeel was smooth and the chocolate was slow to melt on the tongue. There were some nutty + spice aroma notes at the breaking point, as well as those flavors during the melt. A bit crumbly when “chomped,” chewing seemed to bring out a wine-like flavor. It was fascinating to hear Sam Maruta mention that this bar might not be as distinctive as other bars in their portfolio; that it is “too well behaved” / “a bit shy” with subtle flavors. He recommends tasting this bar at warmer temperatures (which would mimic the tropical heat in Vietnam that tends to make the chocolate bendy). My tasting took place in a 71 degree F room, so I experimented with putting the chocolate in the microwave for 10-15 seconds per side. This made the chocolate creamy in terms of mouthfeel + brought out vibrant fruity notes and a long lasting spice note at the back of the throat. I’m not sure that I would recommend this experiment on all chocolates, but it was a revelation in this case.

(*) Remember I mentioned that my first bar was bloomed. Here is a picture of the 2 bars side by side, in case you were curious. On the bloomed bar, I “buffed” the center rectangle with my finger to bring out the more lustrous brown color. What a difference between the 2 bars!

Don’t worry, the bloomed bar will make for delicious drinking chocolate during winter 🙂 No chocolate ever goes to waste in my house!

To learn more about Marou and their various Vietnam origins, please visit their website: http://marouchocolate.com/chocolate-range/single-origin/

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.”