Crio Brü

It is a rare day when someone creates a completely new category of hot drink. In this case, Crio Brü’s brewed cocoa. You brew it just the way you would brew coffee, in a gold filter or a French Press using two tablespoons of roasted, ground beans, for 8-12 minutes.

I sampled two of their many varieties, some flavored and some not. The Cavalla and Coca River. Before brewing, I had to create some cranium space for this completely new experience; luckily, that was easy, as the whole concept is fascinating. Both samples were brewed in a small French Press for 12 minutes. I tried them with coconut milk creamer and stevia and black, the black was much more robust and satisfying, though if you like cream and sweetener you might prefer those additions. Cavalla was a deep, full-bodied drink, kind of a cross between coffee and tea, as it’s not as opaque as coffee and looks like a dark tea. The taste is of cocoa, not chocolate. This is definitely not hot chocolate, but a truly is unique experience.

The Coca River was smoother and less intense, while still creating a lingering subtle cocoa flavor. Both were easily quaffable, and I found myself sorry I hadn’t doubled the quantity.

They don’t suggest making this into an iced drink, but I think that would work well; especially, if you used the same amount of water and three tablespoons of beans.

I also sampled their nibs, and dark chocolate covered roasted beans. The former are excellent in smoothies, trail mix, or scattered on just-tempered chocolate. The latter were divine; yet, so satisfying I found myself having one a couple of times during the day for a quick mini-treat and energy boost.

Mystery Chocolate Box

Mystery Chocolate Box is the brainchild of Peter Messmer. When Peter was growing up, his family had a tradition where one of them would buy a bunch of chocolate bars, remove the outer label, and try to guess what was in each bar. Then, they read out their guesses and the person who brought the chocolates revealed the answers. They found the guessing and the eating a ton of fun, not to mention having a great time together as a family.

Peter and his family found out how different it was to taste what was in a chocolate bar once they already knew the ingredients, from trying to blindly figure out add-ins without any clues. As someone who eats chocolate daily, I can attest to his assertion.

If you aren’t already intrigued and need a bit more incentive, you can win a prize if you guess correctly on their website within a specified amount of time.

The three large bars (each monthly delivery including shipping is $30) arrived in perfect condition with ice packs. Each was labeled Mystery Bar A, B, or C. There was a guessing card, and information on allergies. I have decided not to post my guesses, just in case you are interested in procuring your own Mystery Chocolate Box. Suffice it to say, I am not even 100% sure I guessed correctly, and that’s even after visiting the three websites the bars came from (two of the names were printed on the bars themselves, while for the third nameless one, I did a little sleuthing).

Peter focuses on this as a family activity, which is a great way to do something different and fun with the kids. I can think of plenty of teens, and adults who would love it, too. It could also be a great fund-raiser for your favorite charity if done in small groups.

Trader Joe’s 70% Dark Chocolate Bars with Caramel

What entrancing, lovely, fanatsy-like designs these boxes sport. I don’t know about you, but I get plenty of seriousness in a typical day, so whimsey goes a long way. These enchanting watercolors of planes with wings, and other trippy images seemed to set the stage for contemplating chocolate’s ability to transport me from the mundane into realms of gustatory nirvana.

I tried both of their dark caramel filled bars. The one with Black Sea Salt was infused with subtle smokey notes from the Hawaiian lava beds whence the salt is sourced. The 70% dark chocolate’s slightly fruity notes complemented the silky, runny caramel beautifully. Unfortunately, the bar is poorly designed, so when you try to break off one of its eight squares, caramel drips out. An unnecessary mess, as a better design would preclude this. I strongly advise eating every little bit, which requires a plate. Despite that problem, the confection was just marvelous. All the flavors and textures catalyzed each other producing an experience far larger than each on its own could possibly provide. The rendition with Coconut is equally delicious, but different, as it had chewy bits of coconut in every bite.

I have eaten a few of these caramel bars and still find them tantalizing. Considering their high luscious quotient, they have a fairly low sugar content: 13 grams per half bar, or 43 grams. Last but not least, they sell for $1.99.

Chocolate Naive’s Dark Chocolate Coated Blueberries, Strawberries, and Caramelized Hazelnuts

Chocolate Naive’s new trio of freeze dried blueberries, strawberries, and caramelized hazelnuts in chocolate is a unique addition to the plethora of products vying for your chocolate fund.

Eating even one of the tiny blueberries is like being transported into a fairy tale. Each mini orb an amazing combination of ethereally crunchy, freeze dried blueberries. The texture somehow melts on the tongue, along with 41% Madagascan chocolate, while a little dusting of cocoa provides the perfect hint of intensity. Out of curiosity, I bit into one to discover a shocking burst of magenta, which just added a visual thrill to the whole experience.

The strawberries are Brobdingnagian in comparison to their Lilliputian brethren. With a thicker shell of dark chocolate and a huge berry inside, these confections offer up the essence of strawberry with a super rich dark chocolate. (Can this really be 41% cacao?) These are as different from a fresh strawberry dipped in chocolate as chalk and cheese. I am not a fan of the fresh ones, as they always seem like a mess: fruit juice mingling with broken pieces of chocolate and none of it cohering. Here, you have a seamless marriage of textures, flavors, and the gustatory excitement of something new.

Their chocolate covered caramelized hazelnuts are just divine. Unlike the couverture on the fruits, which tastes like dark chocolate to me, this is a dark milk finished with confectioner’s sugar. The nuts are perfectly roasted and lightly caramelized. Crunchy, creamy textures along with a just sweet enough chocolate shell deliver a supremely satisfying, decadent treat.

One thing that takes all three of these up a notch is the addition of sea salt. It’s the tiniest bit, but it catalyzes the fruit, nuts, chocolate, and sugar into something really remarkable.

Wilkie’s Organic Bean To Bar Chocolate

Apparently, stone ground chocolate can be as smooth as cream. When that lusciously velvety texture meets Criollo beans the result is unique and crave-worthy.

Wilkie’s is an Irish company founded by Shana Wilkie, a woman whose ideology and food savvy conflate to bring you gluten free, dairy free, soy free, nut free, and ethically sourced organic single-origin chocolates. Currently, their beans come from Peru. As those of you who read this site know, I am a huge fan of Criollos, those rare beans comprising only 2% of the world’s cocoa crop. Their sophisticated deep chocolate presence is ridiculously delicious and satisfying.

I sampled both bars and cocoa. The hot chocolate recipe was a bit different from what I usually do, and it worked beautifully. In the bottom of a small pot, you mix their not-too-sweet 64% cocoa with a little hot water. This creates a smooth paste to which you add your milk. Bring it to a boil and enjoy. It produced an excellent cup of cocoa. I also tried it with with unsweetened vanilla almond milk and that was wonderful, too. By using 64% cocoa, they created a drink that was incredibly satisfying for adult palates.

All their bars are 65 grams and divided into 18 appealing little rectangles. They break neatly, allowing you to savor each bite without making a mess.

Each of the five bars I sampled highlighted Wilkie’s ability to alchemize elegant beans with stone grinding to create an ultra smooth texture. Three of them won Great Taste awards for 2013.

Their 89% Amazonas bean bar gave a true window into the bean, as there was just a whisper of sweetness. If you love intense dark chocolate its tobacco-earthiness and lingering edgy finish would sate your cravings completely.

75% Amazonas with Nibs, was punctuated with a light scattering of gently crunchy nibs–just enough for textural interest. Still wildly flavorful, it had a more fruity profile than its 89% cousin and a lighter finish.

Interestingly, in the 75% Amazonas sans nibs it was easier to distinguish raisin and plum presences.

The 64% Amazonas had a distinctly drier finish with an extra lift of sweetness accentuating dark, fruity notes.

Their 75% Tumbes bar was my favorite. The balance of terroir, fruit, silkiness, and a slightly dry, lingering finish was just sublime.

Cococlectic

I have always thought there was a real genius behind the fruit-of-the month club and its many offspring. After all, who doesn’t like a delicious monthly surprise? Now, there is a chocolate-of-the-month club: Cococlectic. This isn’t any ordinary chocolate club, it specializes in small batch, bean-to-bar artisanal manufacturers.

Founder Doreen Leong even includes shipping in the different options which range from $31.50 to $34 a month. (You can also order a one-time only box for $34.) Each delivery includes four bars. The sizes vary depending on the producer.

My sample box came wrapped in brown kraft paper with old-fashioned black and white striped butcher’s string held in place with a wax seal of an embellished “C.” It was original and appealing. Nestled inside were four bars from Twenty-Four Blackbirds, a company out of Santa Barbara, California. Their Madagascar 75% was just luscious: velvety, crisply tempered, complex, and sophisticated. Palos Blancos 75% from Bolivia was a completely different cat: almost black, shiny, beautifully tempered, with deeper notes of leather, coffee, and dark fruits. The Organic Dominican 68% had its own personality, though it still sported their characteristic snappy temper, it was a medium dark color, fairly silky, a tad sweeter, with a balanced fruity profile. I received an extra Organic Dominican to make up four bars.

Ms. Leong’s passion is apparent in her desire to share the wide variety of bean-to-bar wares, allowing you to explore and savor a tasting flight every month. Not only is this a gustatory trip, it’s a way to support fledgling chocolate businesses.

As a special treat Ms. Leong has graciously offered my readers a $5 off discount code when purchasing a subscription. Just use: 5CHOC.

Barefoot & Chocolate

Is there really anyone who doesn’t like Nutella? I must admit I don’t usually indulge my cravings because it’s like chocolate crack and all too easy to overdo. But, my real reason for not eating it is the hydrogenated oils. Barefoot & Chocolate, whose name derives from the Sasha and Trent’s images of “jumping in the lake on a hot summer day, bliss inducing yoga, and sharing laughs with dear friends over good food and chocolate,” makes a Hazelnut Chocolate spread that is even more delicious with no hydrogenated oils.

The texture is dreamily creamy, the flavor a great juxtaposition of chocolate, nuts, and sweetness. (Over twice the amount of nuts in other spreads.) I can’t imagine a child who wouldn’t be just crazy about this. As an adult, it appealed to my inner kid. I don’t know about you, but when I get a new toy I like to experiment. I started imagining well-toasted English muffins with some gorgonzola and hazelnut chocolate spread, crepes with fruit and hazelnut chocolate spread, filling little chocolate liqueur cups garnished with a caramelized hazelnut, as the center of mini chocolate meringues topped with raspberries, or swirled into Greek yogurt. This jar is just brimming with possibilities. Trent, one of the founders, has some incredibly delectable recipes on their website, like: Chocolate Quesadillas, Chocolate Hazelnut Pumpkin Pie, and Banana Coconut Chocolate Almond Bread.

I also tried their Almond Coconut Chocolate spread, which was completely different. The consistency is still creamy, but thicker, and the coconut has been completely amalgamated into its luxuriously velvety texture. I found the chocolate almond flavors predominated with the coconut adding a subtle undertones. It’s a tiny bit less sweet and would be fabulous on whole grain toast with thin slices of crisp apple or barely ripe banana, sprinkled with a few grains of sea salt.

Righteously Raw Organic Chocolate

I just love it when people are creative. The raw caramel bar from Righteously Raw by EarthSource Organics is a wonderful example of an insanely high cacao content bar (90%) that is actually easy to scarf down. Unlike any other intense raw bar I have tried, it has the added appeal of a chewy center made with dates, lucuma fruit and agave. With seven grams of sugar in each mini bar (there are three to a 2.3 ounce package) you get enough sugar to beautifully balance that heady cacao rush.

The Peruvian Lucuma is a delicately flavored sub-tropical fruit with high levels of calcium, niacin, fiber. It has been an important crop since ancestral times, proven by the many ceramic remains from the Moche and later Inca cultures. In fact, it was once referred to as the Gold of the Incas. Its tasty flavor and aroma are hard to describe or compare to any other. Some say it tastes like caramel custard and others a bit like pumpkin, apricot, or mango. Its texture, unlike most fruits, is dry, quite starchy and with a caramel-like consistency that melts in your mouth. So you can see how inspired it was to add this to a filling.

I would actually love to see this date-lucuma mixture in thin-shelled bonbons. In this manifestation there is a high ratio of chocolate to filling. As the chocolate is such a strong presence, I would enjoy more of that luscious chewy center. Now that I think about it, I would probably buy it by the jar it’s so yummy.

I also tried two mini squares, each .35 ounces. The Divine Mint (82%) has just the right amount of organic peppermint, enough to have an impact, but not so much that it’s overwhelming. Their Pure Dark (83%) let the raw taste come through more assertively.

In my experience, raw chocolate has a tendency to be a bit softer in texture than its heated cousins. I didn’t notice this as much in the Lucuma-filled bar as I did in the mini squares; but, even there the temper was snappy and the chocolate had a nice, light sheen.

Szántó Tibor Chocolate

As you already know, each chocolatier creates different tastes and textures, even if they use the same beans and equipment. So, you can have a company that produces stone ground bean to bar chocolate that has a very coarse grainy texture, or a more refined texture. You can even have one company that creates varying textures using the same machinery, like Szántó Tibor.

These bars are packaged in a fetchingly designed cardboard box adorned with dark brown images that relate to chocolate consumption, chocolate love, and chocolate manufacture. Much to my delight, they have inner resealable cellophane wrappers.

All of the chocolates I tried are 70%, and tempered to an audible snap. A free-form design of a cocoa tree looks as if it has been engraved on each. The thinness of all the bars allows them to melt more quickly providing a turbo-charged cacao delivery system.

Here’s the run-down:

Cacao Roja from Honduras has an earthy profile and a slight acidic edge.

Hispaniola from San Cristobal, Santo Domingo, is another bar with hints of smoke and a touch of leather, though there is also a pronounced fruitiness. The texture is smoother than the Cacao Roja.

Trinitario from S. Elizabeth, Jamaica is complex with oak, smoke, and spicy flavors. Again, the texture is smoother than the Roja. The Roja is not crunchy, but there are still tiny grains of gently crunchy nibs, like little textural exclamation points.

San Cristobal from Santo Domingo is a much more grainy bar, for those of you who like to echt quality of stone ground chocolate, and it speaks in my taste buds in hushed tones of soil, forest, and citrus, with a nice short finish.

Raw Arriba from Ecuador, tastes very pure and simple, with an atypical cocoa freshness. Quite different from the floral Arribas I have reviewed in the past; probably, because of the earthier texture.

Inti from Ayacucho, Peru, has a smooth, slightly creamier texture and hints of raisin and tobacco.

Cacao Blanco from Nicaragua has a whiffs of coffee and tobacco in a more conched, hence silkier, texture.

Malagasy Criollo from Millot, Madagascar (from the 2012 spring harvest), reveals apricot and lychee, giving it a bit of a dry finish.

My favorite was the Criollo from Venezuela, an Academy of Chocolate Bronze winner for 2013. I am partial to Criollos, and this bar is superb. The texture is velvety, the flavor both elegant and full of nuance. A little peach, a bit of grape, a melange of fruit notes without the citrus that leave my palate feeling fully sated from its deep chocolate presence and soft, but lingering finish.

For all you chocophiles who want to know more, there is a plethora of information on their website: http://www.szantotibor.com/

Solstice Chocolate

Scott Query’s Solstice Chocolate in Salt Lake City, Utah, is one of the newest kids on the bean to bar block. His five all organic bars make a handsome present in their brown paper envelopes with wonderful wire closures enabling you to keep your chocolate neat and fresh. Each 2.5 ounce bar is divided into 8 squares and has an attractive stylized sun stamped in the middle. They are beautifully tempered to a shiny, crisp, audible snap. The 70% bars hail from four different provenances: Sambirano from Madagascar, San Martin from Peru, Amazonas from Venezuela, Palos Blancos from Bolivia, and a blend called Wasatch.

There are three levels of color to this chocolate flight. The lightest are from Peru and Madagascar. The darkest is from Bolivia, and the two medium ones are from Venezuela and Wasatch.

The Bolivian bar is just fabulous: thickly textured, full of dark fruit flavors, with a nice slightly dry medium finish.

The Venezuelan bar has a touch of leather, that same slightly dry finish, and a hint of citrus.

Wasatch had a more complex texture, almost chewy, that was wonderfully different, though still very refined. It, too had a slightly dry finish.

The Peruvian was a bit creamier, with a heady combination of flavors from lychee to banana, and an elegant, lingering finish.

Madagascar was velvety, a bit less complex, but very appealing in its gentler flavor profile and more subtle finish.

All five bars are incredibly satisfying. One square is a complete chocolate experience unto itself, and the slightly dry finish most of them sport is like a big period at the end of your chocolate sentence.

Desiderio Chocolates

Artisan, gluten free, organic, local, fair-traded, and vegan chocolates from a great new chocolatier in Grand Rapids, Michigan: Vanessa Metalli Dionne.

Vanessa grew up in Rome, studied Industrial Design, and apprenticed at her parent’s Italian restaurant making desserts and breads. That’s the kind of credibility I find appealing: the interplay between modern with ancient, and discipline with creativity. All of which allows Vanessa to explore every aspect of the chocolate kingdom that piques her interest.

Her sleek looking chocolates, pure little rectangular bars or square caramels presented in the simplest wrappings, beguile you with their unadorned clean lines. Vanessa wants the focus on her delicious treats, not their trappings.

I sampled four small bars from her collection and the Salted Caramels. All are enrobed in a well-balanced dark couverture, and sport two layers: an infused ganache with a topping of gooey caramel. There is no discernible olive oil or coconut milk flavor, though their richness is easily detected.

Whiskey & Smoked Caramel Bar has a marked whiskey taste offset beautifully with textural interest from both the ganache and caramel. Of the four bars, this one has the most pronounced alcohol flavor.

Stout Caramel Ganache is simply divine, as its beery presence mixes with a hint of whiskey. Little bursts of Celtic Grey Sea Salt sprinkled on top provide a perfect gustatory counterpoint to the velvety interior.

Gourmellow :: Vegan Marshmallow Bar has a heaping layer of home made super-fluffy marshmallow on top of that incredibly chocolatey ganache.

Pumpkin Pie Caramel Truffle is a real gem. Redolent of pumpkin, spices, caramel, with a taste that bursts out of its chocolate confines, a truly memorable treat.

Salted Caramels :: Vegan Caramella with Himalayan pink sea salt is a rich dessert in two bites. Fabulous with tea or espresso, they come in a box of six and would make a great stocking stuffer.

David Bacco Chocolatier

Le mieux est l’ennemi du bien.
Voltaire

As Voltaire said, “The best is the enemy of the good.” I usually agree; however, there are times when perfection alights. As fleeting as they are, their blissfulness reminds us of what it is to be human. The perfect kiss, most beautiful sunset, or heartfelt smile take us into realms of joy and awe that raise the quotidian to the extraordinary. Like many of you, I find chocolate a fairly reliable catalyst for gustatory nirvana. My latest fix is David Bacco’s Noisette Madagascar. It is a truly perfect 64% Trinitario/Criollo dark chocolate with roasted hazelnuts. The temper is incredible, the shine like a mirror, and the juxtaposition of insanely crunchy nuts against a backdrop of fruity chocolate, with mesmerizing tones of fig and wild berries, is not to be missed. In addition, the bar’s construction: a three ounce square divided into a mosaic of trapezoidal shapes of varying sizes, makes it visually interesting and wonderful for those times when you want a smaller or larger piece. In this case, god is in the details.

David’s background as a pastry chef and chocolatier of almost two decades is no surprise, nor is his award in 2011 for “TOP ARTISAN CHOCOLATIER” title at the LA International Chocolate Salon show and competition. One bite of that dark hazelnut bar and you will be convinced, too.

Another bar I found swoon-worthy was his Olive Oil and Sea Salt in 74% bittersweet chocolate. Here, organic Grand Cru Hacienda chocolate from the Dominican Republic tangoes with more than a hint of fleur de sel. In my experience, most chocolates with salt are on the mild side. While this is still gentle on the palate, it has enough salty presence to really arc the flavor, especially when it has been paired with the rich creaminess of fruity olive oil.

David’s Milk Chocolate 40% bar with smoked sea salt is a dark milk chocolate with a super creamy texture enhanced with fleur de sel cold smoked over Chardonnay oak chips. If you are an aficionado of dark milk bars you will want to add this to your repertoire.

I also had a chance to sample his 68% Fortunato #4. Dubbed the world’s rarest chocolate it is a white pure Nacional bean renowned throughout the chocolate community. It had disappeared in 1916 when struck by disease, and was recently rediscovered in a remote Peruvian area. I have mentioned this chocolate before and its extremely mellow layers of fruit and floral flavors that are complemented by a wonderfully rich, creamy texture.

David’s chocolate ganaches and bonbons are also noteworthy. Each little gem is unique and intensely flavored. I was completely enamored with his marzipan and apricot layered square enrobed in dark chocolate, the caramelized almonds and cinnamon in milk, Caribbean spices in bitter ganache, the exquisitely flavored lime, and the red dome of passionfruit infused ganache. (I always wonder why more chocolatiers don’t offer passionfruit chocolates, as the combination is simply celestial.)

These bonbons are packaged in a serene looking black cardboard box with a bright spring green silk ribbon. The chocolate bars come in minimalist white boxes that open neatly on the side and reveal a re-closable cello sleeve which keeps everything tidy.

Sugarfina

Rosie and Josh, the founders of Sugarfina, want you to know, “In case of emergency, candy can be used as a flotation device. Simply pop a piece in your mouth and forget all your troubles.” Perhaps, they mean an existential emergency, though I can certainly see how a few of these little parcels of sugary goodness might distract one from impending doom.

I sampled two of their tasting flights: Caramel Crush and Tall, Dark, and Rich.

Here’s a list of the contents so you have an idea of the variety.
Caramel Crush contained:
Dark Chocolate Sea Salt, English Toffee, Dark Chocolate Espresso, Matcha Green Tea, Mint Chip, Vanilla Honey, Pumpkin Pie, and Robin’s Egg.

Tall, Dark, and Rich contained:
Dark Chocolate Malt Balls, Dark Chocolate Toffee Almonds, Dark Chocolate Blueberries, Dark Chocolate Sea Salt Cashews, Danish Mocha Beans, Dark Chocolate Coffee Toffee, Dark Chocolate Mandarin Cordials, and Dark Chocolate Sea Salt Caramels.

The eight packets in each lovely Tiffany blue box with pretty patterned tissue paper were just right for one portion or sharing a tasting flight with seven friends, as the bags contained about eight pieces. This is a fun way to try many different candies without making a commitment to any one in particular.

In the Tall, Dark, and Rich category my favorites were the Mocha beans, just redolent with flavor in a well-tempered dark coffee bean shape, the crunchy, sweet Dark Chocolate Coffee Toffee, and the perky Dark Chocolate Sea Salt Caramels.

In the Caramel Crush sampling, I found the Mint Chip an appealing bright flavor combo, Matcha Green Tea intriguing, English Toffee a firmer caramel, and the Espresso a classic caramel with a hint of coffee.

With a name like Sugarfina, it should come as no surprise that these are fairly sweet candies. Perfect for people who want a taste of everything, though you can buy larger quantities of any flavors you love. There are many different confections on their website in varying portions from 3.3 ounces to five pounds.