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/

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 😉

A is for Anamalai

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bonus Z – Zereshk

Where do I even begin to tell this story? Another round of the Eating the Chocolate Alphabet is coming to an end, so I have mixed feelings. I’m super proud that I was able to accomplish my mission of finding a unique inclusion ingredient for each letter of the alphabet, but it’s safe to say that this “challenge” has added some grey hairs to both my head and my boyfriend’s head! ?

Remember all of his advance planning and preparation for the “X” bar?! Well, he STILL wanted to try tempering chocolate with his sous vide machine, so unbeknownst to me, he researched Z ingredients and discovered zereshk (the Persian word for barberries)! The perfect tie-in to celebrate World Chocolate Day today!

The tiny, plump, moist, jewel-like reddish-brown berries look like a cross between a dried currant and a seedless pomegranate aril.

For scale, I’ve “posed” some zereshk berries next to a U.S. penny!

These berries are a great source of vitamin C and boy are they TART! Imagine mouth-puckering tart when eaten out of hand. According to Wikipedia, Iran is the top producer of zereshk in the world. Next time I visit a Persian restaurant, you can be sure that I’ll be ordering the zereshk polo (a rice dish where the chicken has been cooked in barberry juice) to taste these berries in a different form!

Anyway, back to the story…

The step-by-step instructions and explanation of the chocolate tempering process in “layman’s terms” from this Serious Eats article by J. Kenji López-Alt, led us to believe that tempering with a sous vide circulator would be relatively easy and painless…ooh, famous last words!

A couple of weeks ago, we had some time on the weekend and tested out the process following the instructions carefully. Perhaps we (and by “we” I mean “I”) were a little over-confident. We piped the melted chocolate into the mold, placed the mold in the fridge for about 30 minutes, then unmolded it only to discover that the chocolate WAS NOT TEMPERED ?After a little research online, we discovered that the temperature ranges quoted in the article did NOT match the melting/crystallization/working information for this particular Valhrona product. WAAH! At least we didn’t waste any of the inclusion ingredients and still had plenty of chocolate for further testing. I have no photographic evidence of this chocolate failure…my ego was too “wounded”!

As “Z” week loomed, one evening during the 4th of July long weekend, we decided to employ our “lessons learned” (I have a page worth of notes and ideas of what we could do differently) from the first attempt and give tempering another shot.

So, we measured out 3 ounces of feves from the Valhrona Guanaja 70% bag that was purchased from Caputo’s in Salt Lake City, UT.

Used a vacuum sealer to remove all the air from the baggie.

Waited for the water to reach 115 degrees Fahrenheit and dropped the baggie into the pot.

The chocolate melted fairly quickly.

Then we added lots of ice to the pot to bring the temperature down to about 81-82 degrees Fahrenheit. We allowed the chocolate to enjoy its “bubble bath” at this temperature for a while and massaged the baggie at regular intervals to promote crystal formation (this is a step we neglected to perform the first time around). After about 10 minutes, we raised the temperature up to about 91 degrees Fahrenheit, still massaging the baggie at regular intervals. We thoroughly wiped down the baggie to ensure that NO water droplets were clinging to the folds. Cutting a small corner from the baggie, we piped some melted chocolate onto the back of a spoon as well as a piece of parchment paper. The spoon went into the fridge for about 3 minutes and the parchment paper remained at room temperature. When we touched the shiny chocolate with a fingertip, the chocolate ended up there, indicating that our tempering was not successful. We re-sealed the baggie and repeated the process at least 3 more times, varying the temperatures a degree or two in either direction, but still NO luck!

Have I mentioned that I have no patience, but my engineer boyfriend is tenacious and enjoys problem-solving?! So, as a last ditch effort (I was ready to quit at this point), he decided to use the “seeding method” (meaning that we took some small pieces of well-tempered chocolate and added it to the melted chocolate). Minutes’ worth of massaging and checking the temperature with an infra-red thermometer, we decided to test it one last time with the spoon and parchment paper sampling method. These were the slowest three minutes of my life…but in the end, SUCCESS!! We had tempered chocolate!

Now to pipe it into the waiting mold and add the zereshk. I have a new respect for those chocolate makers and chocolatiers who make inclusion bars look so photogenic. I tried my best, but still ended up with clumps in certain places 🙁

The mold was placed carefully onto a level shelf in the refrigerator and again we waited; this time for 10 minutes! An eternity, I tell you! TA DA…shiny chocolate with some ghosting and a few cosmetic blemishes due to imperfections in the polycarbonate mold! But no air bubbles…yippee!

The “back” on the other hand is full of lacy squiggles around the berries. I’m a chocolate blogger, not a chocolatier, remember 😉 Or maybe, that gives the bar “character”…yeah, I think I’ll stick with that theory!

We’re calling this bar Zereshk’ed Development (sorry, the “Arrested Development” play on words sounded better in my head!)

Since we had a second bag of chocolate (my BF meant to buy a different type and ended up getting the same Valhrona, though I suspect it comes from a different batch), we decided to make another bar. I’d like to say that we were vastly more successful now that we had some experience under our belts, but really the only way we were able to get tempered chocolate was by using the seeding method…AGAIN!

We are calling this bar “Zereshk Make a Deal” (since I wasn’t completely sold on the idea of adding salt as an inclusion & settled on hickory wood smoked sea salt as an acceptable option). After tasting our creation, I think the smoky flavor notes even out the harsh tartness of the berries.

For whatever reason, this one exhibited much more “ghosting” after unmolding the bar. We probably could have left it in the fridge for a little longer. Did I mention that I’m impatient?!

And though it’s hard to tell from the photo, we channeled our inner Zorro and piped the chocolate into the mold with various stylized Zs to see how it would turn out under the inclusions.

Now for the tasting notes for the “Zereshk Make a Deal” bar. There was a super sharp snap while segmenting tasting morsels. Personally, I think that the bar was a little too thick.

During the creamy, slow/even melt, there were bursts of smoky salt punctuated by chewy berries. Maybe it’s just me; but, the chocolate itself didn’t have any distinguishing flavor notes. I much preferred to “chomp” the chocolate so that the salt and berries mingled together to bring out salty, sweet, tangy and almost juicy sensations.

The “Zereshk’ed Development” bar was a bit plain in comparison. This one also had a sharp snap, but I noticed that more tiny flecks of chocolate went flying while segmenting this bar. This base chocolate had a nutty and caramel-like taste. Biting into the zereshk berries during the slow, even melt reminded me of freshly squeezed lemon juice. Of the two bars, I think I prefer the salty one.

Overall, this was an exciting way to end this round of the alphabet. From here on, I’ll leave chocolate making to the professionals! I’ll be taking a short break during the summer months (it’s HOT HOT HOT here in Southern California…predicted to be 100-101 degrees this weekend). Don’t worry, I’ll still post about chocolates here & on my Instagram feed in the meantime, but just not in alphabetical order.

Current plan for “Round 3” is ORIGINS (countries, estates, farms, etc.) Think Algeria to Zimbabwe. Please leave a comment or send me an email with any suggestions!

HAPPY WORLD CHOCOLATE DAY, hope it’s a delicious one!

50 States Collaboration – New Mexico / Chokola Bean to Bar

It’s hard to believe that after almost 5 months, the “50 states” collaboration project is complete. It was such a thrill and an honor to have been asked by Lori (of Time to Eat Chocolate) to help feature the 37 (out of 50) United States that have a bean-to-bar maker. As you might imagine, it was difficult to choose just one or two makers from each state and I’m sure there have been new additions since we started this project, so who knows what the future might bring!

Just wanted to thank Sophia Rea from Projet Chocolat for making aware of the only bean-to-bar maker in her home state of New Mexico.

Back in May, I reached out to Chokolá to inquire about bar availability and learned that they were currently aging one of their favorite origins: Madagascar. As you can imagine, I was anxious to get my hands on the bar before the weather got too warm here in the Southwest since chocolate transit during the summer months can be very tricky! Once the bars were available last week, makers Debi Vincent and Javier (Javi) Abad shipped me a couple of bars only to have them arrive badly bloomed 🙁 NOTE: Southern California was experiencing a triple digit heatwave that lasted more than 10 days ?️?. Luckily, a family member was visiting close by my home yesterday, so I was able to get a pristine replacement bar in the nick of time to feature here as the final entry of the “50 states” project!

In case you’re curious about how the bloomed chocolate bar looked, below is a side-by-side comparison…what a difference, right?!

70% Ambaja Madagascar

Anyway, as soon as I returned home from last night’s chocolate drop off, I hurriedly set up an impromptu photo shoot area under artificial light in an air conditioned room so that I could take some initial photos…I didn’t want to risk putting the bar in my wine fridge overnight before taking pictures! Apologies in advance for the grainy images since I still haven’t perfected using incandescent light.

As you can see, there was a beautiful reddish-brown mahogany color and an almost mirror-shine to the chocolate bar, despite some air bubbles around the lacy design of the company logo in the middle panel of the narrow rectangular bar.

There was a soft snap, which released a fruity aroma. Putting a tasting morsel in my mouth, there was an immediate bright, vibrant, tart berry flavor. The mouthfeel was smooth, creamy and almost fudge-y during the slow, even melt.

This morning, I decided to take some additional photos with the morning light that I prefer!

What a relief to discover that the bar was still shiny! There was still a mellow/dull snap to the bar, I blame the low-to-mid 80s temperature at just 9:30 in the morning. Finally I could take better pictures of all the nooks and crannies that emerge when segmenting the bar.

And the lunar-landscape looking “back” of the bar!

The raspberry tang (which hits at the back-of-the-throat), creamy mouthfeel and long lasting finish were still just as distinctive today as they were yesterday ?

If you’re like me, I’m sure you’re fascinated by the eye-catching packaging artwork. This mixed media collage & acrylic painting by Erin Currier depicts her modern interpretation of Philomena, Patron Saint of Infants, Babies and Youth. Several of the outer packaging panels provide more information on Erin’s background, plus a brief bio.

The center panel, directly under the gold-foil wrapped bar, highlights what makes Chokolá special:

While it doesn’t say so on the packaging, their website provides a little more information on the origin of the cacao beans:

The estate on the plantation is powered by solar energy, and contributes actively to the surrounding community by providing land, building schools, and making medicine more accessible to the local population. 

The packaging artwork for their other bars is equally stunning and there are several flavors that I’d love to try once the weather cools off. Check out their website for more details: http://www.chokolabeantobar.com/

Thanks for following along on this adventure of discovery! If you’ve missed any of the prior “50 states” stories, be sure to check out the Time to Eat Chocolate blog and for the states that I covered, you can view those posts by clicking on this link.

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

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 – 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 – 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!