50 States Collaboration – Nevada / Hexx Chocolate & Confexxions

Even though these chocolates have been in my stash since mid-April, I’ve been dragging my feet on tasting & posting them, partly because of the quantity (6 milk & 5 dark) and partly because I wasn’t sure how to execute my vision of a large tic-tac-toe game to pay tribute to the Xs that appear on each of the bite-sized morsels (maybe it’s just me, but the logo looks like a stylized, sideways hashtag). With the dwindling number of states “assigned” to me for this collaboration project, I could no longer procrastinate! So, apologies in advance since this set-up doesn’t really match my mental picture 🙁

When I discovered that an Instagram friend was visiting Las Vegas, I immediately jumped on the opportunity to request that he visit Nevada’s only bean-to-bar maker and purchase some chocolates on my behalf to save on warm weather shipping charges. Rather than choosing from the different countries of origin (or type of chocolate), he opted for one of each flavor that was available (NOTE: at that time, Venezuela was only available in milk chocolate in this 0.25 oz. “taster” size).

One of the things that I noticed about the mini heat-sealed pouches was that the milk chocolate ones (which were all 47% cacao content) had a “drippy” design while the dark chocolate ones (which varied in cacao percentage from 70-74%) had a solid rectangular color block. Also, the “forward slash” of each X matched the color coded wrapper.

Personally, I would have liked more information imprinted onto these wrappers, since it wasn’t until afterwards that I learned that the dark chocolates were made with just two ingredients: cocoa beans and palm sugar while the milk chocolates were made with five ingredients: cocoa beans, palm sugar, milk powder, ground vanilla beans and cocoa butter.

Overall, it seemed that the milk chocolate “traveled” better since there was less chocolate dust marring the surface vs. the dark chocolate. However, the milk chocolate all smelled very similar to each other: an industrial plastic-like aroma that reminded me of mass-produced candy rather than the bean-to-bar craft chocolates shown on their website. Speaking of which, this “tasting” size doesn’t appear on their website and all the bars available online are packaged in cardboard boxes, so maybe these issues have since been resolved.

If you haven’t noticed already, these small chocolates are all six-sided (hexagonal)…a visual representation of the company name, get it?! 😉 From what I’ve seen online, the mold for their full-size chocolate bars form a “honeycomb” shape composed of multiple hexagons.

In each case, I tried the milk chocolate first and then the corresponding dark chocolate (if there was one). I also tasted the dark chocolates in ascending order of cacao percentage. Below is a summary of my thoughts. Too bad I didn’t find this online “tasting menu” with descriptions of the flavor notes BEFORE my own sampling. Wonder why the Dominican Republic origin isn’t part of the online tasting menu!

Venezuela (Ocumare)

Some cosmetic defects, medium snap, grassy smell, creamy, reminded me of a milkshake, even melt, lightly grainy/almost “sticky” mouthfeel

Peru (Marañón Pure Nacional)

Milk: Minimal dust, soft snap, taste reminded me of a powdered hot cocoa mix, creamy yet sticky mouthfeel

Dark (70%): Some dust, sharp snap, slow to melt, bitter in comparison to the milk, roasted/earthy/fruity flavor, thick/not smooth mouthfeel

Tanzania (Kokoa Kamili)

Milk: Air bubbles & dust marring surface, medium snap, smelled like fresh baked brownies, yogurt-like tang, thick milky mouthfeel

Dark (70%): Lots of dust, dry/brittle snap, initially tasted like a hard cheese that changed to fruity/berry-like, astringent/chalky aftertaste

Dominican Republic (Oko Caribe)

Milk: Shinier/less dust than others, though still had air bubbles on the surface, sharp snap, dry appearance, tasted like a caramel or powdered hot cocoa mix, not smooth mouthfeel, back-of-the-throat acidity

Dark (71%): Also shinier/less dust than others, sharp snap, dry/chalky, tasted fruity/citrusy, astringent aftertaste on tongue

Ecuador (Camino Verde)

Milk: Shinier, less dust, some scuffing & air bubbles, brittle/crumbly snap sending shards flying everywhere, very sweet, caramel taste

Dark (73%): Minimal cosmetic defects, sharp snap, smelled fruity like plums, lightly roasted/nutty flavor [THIS WAS MY FAVORITE]

Madagascar (Sambirano Valley)

Milk: Dust, ghosting & air bubbles marring surface, dull snap, dry/chalky appearance but tasted creamy, too sweet & lightly “sticky” mouthfeel

Dark (74%): lots of air bubbles, smelled fruity (like ripe berries), tasted like burnt toast or lightly vegetal, chalky mouthfeel

Next time I visit the Las Vegas, I plan on taking a factory tour and re-sampling these small-batch, single origin bars to determine if the taste and smell were transit related. Besides, based on the side panel of their shopping bag, it looks like there is PLENTY to do, see & eat! 🙂

If you’d like to learn more about Hexx Chocolate & Confexxions, check out their website: http://www.hexxchocolate.com/

Remember to follow the Time to Eat Chocolate blog to hear about the next stop in the “50 States” project…we’re almost reaching the end!

NOTE: If you know of any other bean-to-bar makers in Nevada, please leave a comment or send an email…we like to keep our resource lists as up-to-date as possible!

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 – 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!

A Tale of Two Horchatas

Let me start off by saying that I love horchata! There is one that I still dream about from a Puerto Rican restaurant in North Hollywood that makes theirs with ground sesame seeds. But the one that is, for me, the paragon of all horchatas comes from a small mole restaurant in the Maravilla neighborhood of East Los Angeles. Their horchata is made Oaxacan-style, drizzled with fuscia-colored cactus-fruit syrup, rimmed with pink sugar and topped with roasted pepitas (pumpkin seeds). <drool>

However, when I started looking for unusual inclusion ingredients to feature as part of the Eating the Chocolate Alphabet series, horchata never really crossed my mind. This non-alcoholic beverage is typical in Central and South American restaurants, but is also available in Spain. Each country has their own style and a plethora of different ingredients can be used for the flavoring. Some call for milk, others water. Until I started discovering that this drink could be made with ground nuts or seeds, my only experience had been with the ground rice and cinnamon variety.

Shortly after visiting the Mast Brothers factory in Downtown LA, I heard they were selling a Los Angeles collection that included an horchata bar! When one of my friends texted me that she was at the Artisanal LA holiday market in December, I sent her on a quest to find some bars for me. Please don’t write to me and ask if I’ve read the scathing 4-part DallasFood.org exposé articles about Mast Brothers’ chocolate…the answer is yes, and I refer you back to the beginning of this post: I LOVE HORCHATA (that and I’m a sucker for chocolate bars that are part of an “exclusive” collection…I blame my boyfriend for corrupting me in that regard)! 😉

As always, the Mast Brothers’ packaging could easily double as an abstract art print. The thick textured paper of this bar has bold swaths of neutral, earth-tone colors and is credited as “artwork by Block Shop Textiles.”

Like all the other bars that I’ve seen, the back of the package has a center justified, line-by-line list of ingredients.

The cacao is called out simply as 58%, without a country of origin; so if you’re inquisitive (like me), you search on their website to discover that Tanzanian beans were used for this bar. Peeling back the informational sticker to unfold the packaging, you’ll see a gold foil wrapped bar made from a standard 28-rectangle mold.

Not surprisingly, the primary aroma is that of cinnamon, though there is also a nutty scent as well. Segmenting some pieces, there was a soft and slightly brittle snap.

The mouthfeel is certainly not smooth, but not gritty like stone ground/minimally processed cacao either. Despite the addition of cocoa butter, the chocolate seems disappointingly dry instead of creamy. There is a muted tang from the buttermilk; but, overall, this bar falls short of the flavor I would expect to justifiably represent the diverse and vibrant Hispanic culinary tapestry within the city of Los Angeles.

As you might know, I’m also currently working on a “50 States” collaboration project with Time to Eat Chocolate. To save on shipping costs, I volunteered to cover Washington since it’s geographically closer to me. Also, lucky for me, I have a Washington expert in my arsenal…for who better knows about the “sweets scene” than a dessert blogger! Jess, aka the Seattle Dessert Geek, was instrumental in acquiring some chocolates for me since apparently there are some Theo Chocolate flavors that never make it out of the city. As a shameless plug for my other project, stay tuned when I cover two different bean-to-bar chocolate makers from Washington soon!

Sorry for veering off on a tangent there…now back to this post! During Jess’ day-after-Valentines’ shopping trip, we were both surprised to discover that one of Theo’s new flavors is Cinnamon Horchata! So instead of keeping that bar for the collaboration project, I decided to feature it with my other horchata bar; though, in retrospect, maybe it wasn’t a fair side-by-side comparison :0

As mentioned, this 45% milk chocolate bar is one of the newer additions to their “Fantasy Bar” line. The colorful illustration on the packaging (as well as the name) shows that cinnamon will be prominently featured; but what I didn’t realize until reading the ingredients is that it would also include crisped brown rice and crisped quinoa. One of my only complaints, aside from the fact that the first ingredient listed is sugar, is that the foil was wrapped with the external paper and the folds were sealed so tightly that I had to practically mutilate the outer band to get to the chocolate bar.

As you can see the bar is just bulging with crispy crunchy goodness and who doesn’t love a bar with crunch?!

Here are a couple of close ups of the inclusion ingredients: the first showing the crisped rice peeking out from a segmented piece & the second showing a small lump of un-dispersed ground cinnamon:

This is a relatively small bar, just 4 large horizontal rectangles. While cinnamon is the initial aroma, you also can’t miss a milky sweet, caramel scent to the chocolate. Breaking off one of the rectangles produced a brittle snap and tiny shards tended to fly everywhere! Don’t even try to melt this bar, chomp away blissfully, combining creamy with crunchy!

Of the two horchata bars that I tasted, Theo was the winner for me! Now if someone could figure out a way to combine chocolate with either of the two horchata drinks that I mentioned at the beginning of this post, THAT would be the BEST of times!

The “N” bar that wasn’t…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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