Askinosie’s New Dark Bar: Fruit Punch with Strawberry & Pineapple

In over 500 chocolate reviews I have written for this site, I can’t recall ever thinking a chocolate bar was refreshing; yet, that’s exactly the first word that came to mind as I bit into a square of this luscious fruit infused dark chocolate bar from Askinosie.

I have always been a big fan of their Mababu Tanzanian beans. The farmer is a woman who produces a single origin Trinitario bean that delivers a sumptuously indulgent taste profile. 

This 52% rendition, enhanced with organic strawberries, organic pineapple, and the barest hint of organic black pepper, was a real revelation. The ultra creamy texture, slight acidity from the fruits, and tiny kick from the black pepper created an intriguing bar of depth, complexity, balance, and nuance.

One second the strawberry flavor predominated, and the next it was the pineapple. But it was the velvety texture that held it all together.  It takes real talent to know that these assertively flavored fruits would pair best with a 52% chocolate.

As always, they source their beans directly from a small farmer groups in Ecuador, the Amazon, Tanzania, and the Philippines. In addition, they visit these groups every year to maintain mutually supportive, long-term relationships. I especially like the fact that they pay above fair trade market prices and profit share with their farmer partners. One of those female-led groups is responsible for the beans in the Fruit Punch bar.

You can find an enticing array of plain and inclusion bars on their website. Some are seasonal, but most are available year-round. See their full line at: http://www.Askinosie.com. 

Two new offerings from Dick Taylor Chocolate

Straight Bourbon Whiskey Limited Release

The first thing I noticed about this bar was the incredibly fudgy texture. It’s not so easy to achieve that with well tempered chocolate, but Dick Taylor has. The Whiskey in this bar is not an alcoholic presence; it’s supportive. Its oakiness adds complexity, nuance, and deliciousness. I loved the way they soaked the nibs in barrels from the whiskey, rather than adding it directly, as this produced a more subtle Bourbon profile without overwhelming the 70% Belize chocolate. The result is a unique, adult chocolate experience.

Chocolate Coated Cherries

In my experience, even when enrobed in dark chocolate, chocolate coated cherries are often too sweet and the cherry pieces themselves are typically too large. Dick Taylor’s chocolate coated cherries are absolutely superb. They have layers of 65% Belize dark chocolate, are dusted in cocoa, and the size is just perfect. The balance of dried, organic, slightly tart, chewy cherries with the chocolate’s richness is incredibly satisfying. (If you love chocolate and chewy fruit I also suggest their Black Fig bar. Its 72% Madagascar chocolate base is studded with little pieces of California black mission figs.)

Dick Taylor Chocolate is offering free shipping, including cold packs during the summer, for a minimum purchase of $35.

Crow & Moss Banana Cardamom Brûlée and Passionfruit Sesame Chocolate Bars

One of the secrets of a happy life is continuous small treats.

Iris Murdoch.

As someone who has lived according to Ms. Murdoch’s maxim, I can assure you she’s right.

Even though Covid has made me far more aware of savoring every pleasure I possibly can, I have come to see Crow & Moss chocolate as one of the most reliable treats in my larder.

Perhaps some of you can relate to this, but I have have often found it difficult to spend money on what I saw as luxuries. As time goes by, however, I am increasingly aware of seizing as much joy as possible. For me, that has always included chocolate.

As you can tell, if you have perused any of the 500+ reviews on this site, I have sampled an embarrassment of riches. While some chocolates become favorites for a short time, others stand the test of time. Crow and Moss is one of the latter.

I adore their Vanilla Smoke bar (see separate review here: https://chocolateratings.wordpress.com/2021/05/08/crow-moss-vanilla-smoke-69/ ), as well as the highly craveable Wampusirpi and Zorzal bars.

Mike Davies, the man at the helm of Crow & Moss, just launched two new highly original bars. In this day and age, when the wildest inclusions have become almost commonplace, that’s saying a lot.

Both of Mike’s new bars are made with a blend of Dominican Zorzal and Ecuador Camino Verde. Each was a meditation in discernment, as the inclusions are subtle.

The Banana Cardamom Brûlée bar (65%) was a harmonious blend of fruit and spice. Neither flavor predominated. They simply danced together among the strains of blended Dominican Zorzal and Ecuador Camino Verde beans. The unusual combination of these flavors was quite a lure as I kept trying to see which flavor might steal the show, but they simply refused to upstage each other.

The seared, roasted bananas blended into this chocolate are organic. This is vastly different from any banana flavoring you might have had before. That’s where the nuance comes in.

The Passionfruit Sesame bar (68%) was a completely different experience. Crunchy, toasted organic sesame seeds embedded in the bottom of this bar were so captivating they stole the show from the more subtle passionfruit.  That’s not to say the passionfruit didn’t add something, it definitely added a citrusy note, I just got carried away by the bar’s fetching texture.

Crow & Moss offers free shipping with a minimum $25 purchase. You can find their entire menu here: https://crowandmoss.com/.

11 Chocolate Claims and Buzzwords to Know

Here’s a short article on words to watch for when buying chocolate. Just as companies plaster the word natural on their products to confuse people into thinking they’re organic, these words are there to confuse the buyer…but, not if you’re aware.

https://toakchocolate.com/blogs/news/beware-of-these-11-chocolate-claims-and-marketing-buzzwords

Michel Cluizel Chocolats de Plantation

If you love chocolate and you’re looking something fun to do, I highly recommend sampling a tasting box of Michel Cluizel’s Chocolats de Plantation. These are single estate chocolates, even rarer than those from a single origin.

Each of these delicious squares will transport you from world weariness into nirvana.

There are 16 squares in the 80 gram box I sampled with seven different varieties from plantations across the globe. The packaging is lovely and makes for a very attractive gift. 

Each chocolate is vibrant, complex, and nuanced.

The texture is sublimely silky and the temper utter perfection. To be honest, as I sampled them, all I could think of was buying the larger bars.

70% Riachuelo, with beans from the Bahia region in Brazil, has a sweet, fruity, and roasted profile. All the flavors blended seamlessly and I was completely smitten.

73% Los Ancones Bio is crafted with cacao from the island of Hispaniola in the Dominican Republic. There are hints of licorice, a slight acidity, and a strong presence of raisins.

71% Mangaro hails from Madagascar in the valley of the Sambirano River. This is a very assertive chocolate with a slightly drier finish than the other two. I detected chestnut, and dried plum. 

75% El Jardin is crafted with beans from the flood plains of the Ariari River in Columbia. This is a lush, sweeter chocolate redolent of honey and caramel with woody undertones.

75% Mikiaya Bio is from the Chiapas region of Mexico, the birthplace of a drink made from cocoa pulp called “kakawa.” It’s nutty, peppery and a little fruity.

73% Vila Gracinda is made from beans from São Tomé island In the Gulf of Guinea in Africa that grew in volcanic infused earth. You can actually taste the difference the soil makes in its smoky, woodsy, roasted notes supported by a perfect dose of sweetness.

70% La Laguna is exceptionally velvety, rich and plummy. The beans are sourced from protected land in a Guatemalan forest naturally irrigated with water from La Laguna lake.

I love the higher cacao content of these chocolates and the amazing variety of flavors. My personal favorite was the Riachuelo, but I throughly enjoyed savoring and contrasting all seven.

You can find them here: https://cluizel.us/collections/chocolate-bars

Or here: https://www.googleadservices.com/pagead/aclk?sa=L&ai=DChcSEwjfyJOMgen2AhXjg1sKHUIIBusYABARGgJ5bQ&ae=2&ohost=www.google.com&cid=CAESbOD2urGn4OxswmAKxolQ8d0tsq1ijNE24-3s7pdn07UV84i4UJ51uEz6MggVQXIqHvuOrlrsm6wVBsaxlG_zruYaZ6w_RqUz_EkJ54vJpoNBtZFgKpQsXRIa9Z_yqVPoT2wuJyWKsPOleA0UHg&sig=AOD64_0UpU8k0eo_55Q8tUonTBXSCmR61Q&q&adurl&ved=2ahUKEwjLmYqMgen2AhWZlIkEHbEAD0oQ0Qx6BAgDEAE&dct=1

You can also read a lovely article on the difference between single-origin and single-estate chocolate here: https://cluizel.us/blogs/michel-cluizel-chocolate-blog-spot/single-origin-vs-single-estate-which-is-the-best

Nahua Single Origin Costa Rican Chocolate

Recently, I have become enamored with Costa Rican Beans. Nahua Chocolate is a bean to bar manufacturer that boasts an extensive line of milk and dark bars. All are packaged beautifully in re-closable cardboard envelopes adorned with paintings of Costa Rican flora and fauna.

Nahua exclusively uses single origin Trinitario cacao beans sourced directly from local farming communities. Their Cacao Renovation Program helps improve the lives of smallholder farmers by providing valuable technical training and access to financing. They also preserve the environment by promoting sustainable farming practices, reforestation and the conservation of natural ecosystems.

I sampled 12 of their 50 gram bars.

The four milk bars are unique and different from any other milk chocolate I have ever tried as they all include ghee (clarified butter). This imparts another layer of flavor and extra richness. All four bars are creamy and decadent.

The Almond bar was generously studded with tiny pieces of roasted almonds, the Moka bar enhanced with coffee, and the Chai bar with classic chai spices. I found the ghee flavor more obvious in the plain milk bar. The Moka had a cafe au lait, light coffee profile. The Chai was spiced judiciously so no one flavor predominated, and all were complemented by the sweet chocolate. I loved the texture of the Almond bar as each bite was simultaneously crunchy and creamy.

The seven bars in their 70% range were all crisply tempered and had a dry finish. None had ghee.

The plain one was enhanced by a slight crunchiness from nano-particles of nibs.

The mint bar was executed with a gentle hand so the herb supported the perfectly sweet dark chocolate, rather than overwhelming it.

Since Costa Rica is a great coffee exporter you would be right to assume their coffee bar was perfectly balanced. Finely ground Arabica beans (from local coffee cooperatives) judiciously imparted both a slight caffeine boost and a delightful mocha flavor. (If you love coffee, check out Nahua’s five different coffee blends: https://nahuacoffee.com/en/)

Cinnamon and chocolate are an interesting combination, especially if you love stronger flavors, as the spice is fairly prominent.

I was surprised that the cayenne infused bar was less intense than the cinnamon version. Here, cayenne was a distinct understudy to the assertive chocolate.

Orange essential oil flavors their citrus bar. Here, the delicate fruitiness perfectly complemented the chocolate.

Essential oil of ginger was also added with a restrained hand so it supports the chocolate while not overpowering it.

Nahua’s 90% bar is made with only two ingredients: beans and sugar. Here, the bean’s natural flavor comes through. It’s a gentle, fairly unassertive personality that, even at 90%, isn’t bitter. I tasted dark fruits without the sweetness. Naturally, it has a slightly drier finish as there’s no cocoa butter.

You can find all their bars here: http://nahuachocolate.com/en/

Does eating chocolate make you more likely to win a Nobel prize?

According to a 2012 study in the New England Journal of Medicine…one I clearly missed…there is a correlation between eating more chocolate and the likelihood you will win a Nobel prize. Of course, correlation does not mean causation, but it’s fun to contemplate.

If you’re curious about the study you can read the original article here: https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMon1211064.

Squash Blossom Farm To Farm & Bean To Bar Chocolate

Susan Waughtal and Roger Nelson run Squash Blossom Farm, a bucolic slice of heaven in Minnesota. While they have always loved chocolate, it was only when their daughter was working on cocoa farms in Costa Rica that they got excited about adding a line of single origin bars to their menu of breads, pies and wood-fired pizza.

The beans are roasted in that same oven after being fermented in Costa Rica. All are 70%, sweetened with organic cane sugar, and tempered to a lustrous shine with an audible snap.

I sampled the current range of five bars.

My favorite was the Wholly Mole. A unique experience of pistachios, pepitas, cinnamon, chiles, and a hint of garlic. I have had other Mole seasoned bars, but this one hit it out of the park. It takes a lot of courage to add garlic to chocolate…I wouldn’t have gone there…but the spice blend is extraordinary, especially when topped with crunchy nuts.

Raspberry Orange is another great combination of flavors. Just the right amount of orange zest heightens the crunchy freeze-dried raspberries scattered on the bar’s surface, a lovely visual.

Locally grown Minnesota hazelnuts adorn another offering. The nut’s rich, buttery presence adds a delicious dimension to the Costa Rican beans.

Locally grown and toasted Black Walnuts generously dot the surface of the fourth bar I tasted. This time, the nuts impart a crunchy-creaminess. While that may sound like an oxymoron, it conveys my experience and speaks to the almost indescribable way thee nuts enhance the chocolate.

The pure, 70% plain bar allows you to fully enjoy the perfectly tempered crisp break of the chocolate, its captivating cocoa fragrance, balanced flavor profile, and velvety texture.

You can find the bars and fetching photos of the farm here: https://www.squashblossomfarm.org.

If you live within a day’s drive you may want to visit in the warmer months when they host concerts, plays and festivals.

Dr. Bronner’s Magic All-One Chocolate Bars

Just hearing the name Dr. Bronner’s reminds me of my hippie years, replete with beaded necklaces, jean skirts, and long hair. Using Dr. Bronner’s peppermint soap was de rigueur. The scent still sends me into Proustian reveries.

Imagine my surprise when I discovered Dr. Bronner was making chocolate bars.

As a mother, I got a front row seat in how tastes change and mature over time. I thought of that again as I sampled these six bars.

I felt like a toddler who over the course of a week morphed into an adult. What I mean is my initial impression of this chocolate was not favorable. It seemed very different to me from all the other chocolate I had ever sampled, and that’s a lot of chocolate. As I like to maintain an open, curious mindset, I didn’t rush to judgment. Over the next week I continued to sample the bars and found I was, not only able to broaden my palate and overcome preconceived notions, but to actually crave some of them.

While I deeply value my initial gut feelings, this experience has taught me how crucial it is to also give things a chance and not summarily dismiss them.

All their bars are sweetened with coconut sugar, prized for its lower glycemic index. It has a different taste profile from other sugars: smoky, toasty and musky. 

One thing I love about this chocolate is its incredibly firm temper. The bars are thicker than many other commercial high quality options and their firmness is extremely satisfying, both to bite into and to savor. At first, I was surprised that the filling in the nut butter and praline bars was also firm. I had expected something creamier; but, after re-tasting them numerous times I realized this is simply a different experience and came to thoroughly enjoy it.

I sampled all six 70% bars in their new line. Two are filled with a layer of nut butter, two have whole roasted nuts, one is enhanced with coconut praline, and one is a plain salted dark chocolate. The finish is somewhat dry. All are organic, super fresh and made with chocolate from Ghana. The Bronner family has a regenerative organic project in Ghana that encompasses 800 farmers, many of whom grow cocoa. You can read a detailed account of how the company created their chocolate offerings here: https://www.drbronner.com/all-one-blog/2021/06/dr-bronners-path-to-regenerative-cocoa/

The Coconut Praline was my favorite. The filling was dense, intensely coconut and incredibly satisfying.

The options with roasted nuts, one almonds and the other hazelnuts, were incredibly fresh and super crunchy. The nuts were huge chunks or whole and there were plenty in each bar.

Salted almond butter and crunchy hazelnut butter both had a dense filling that allowed them to be fully savored in small bites; the benefit of this heavier, rather than creamier, texture.

Salted Dark chocolate is the one for people who already know they love this flavor profile and the unique taste of these beans.

Like so many new, yet potentially rewarding experiences in life, tasting this chocolate required me to change my expectations. Coconut sugar is not going to taste like other sugars. These Ghanaian beans are also different. That said, I’m so glad these bars enabled me to widen my chocolate experience. They are incredibly satisfying and enjoyable.

You can find them here: https://shop.drbronner.com/pages/magic-all-one-chocolate

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Antidote Chocolate

The tagline for Antidote Chocolate is: Chocolate that loves you back. I don’t know about you, but I think the world could use some undemanding love. Not to mention a major antidote. Thankfully, there’s chocolate. This chocolate, in particular, is designed to give you all the phytochemical benefits of the amazing bean while it delivers them in tantalizing, unique flavor combinations.

All of their bars are made with Arriba Nacional cacao, famous for its fruity, floral notes. (You can read an excellent piece on the difference between Criollo and Arriba beans here: https://toakchocolate.com/blogs/news/what-is-the-best-cacao-variety-in-the-world)

Rose Salt + Lemon is a 77% bar whose gentle salinity, light lemon notes and subtle floral flavors beguiles and excites your palate at the same time.

Banana + Cayenne, 77%, pairs crispy, slightly sweet dried banana against the warm, spiciness of cayenne. The pepper is added with a a flourish so it hits your tongue at the end of your taste experience, not overwhelming, but balancing out the flavors.

The last 77% bar is adorned with small pieces of lightly sugared ginger. This is a classic combo that never ceases to delight me.

Want to jazz up your coffee and chocolate bar options? Try Andtidote’s Coffee + Cardamom, 73%. Just be sure you can handle the extra caffeine that comes from slightly larger pieces of roasted coffee beans scattered on the underside. This inspired pairing uses the deep sweetness of cardamom to enhance the coffee’s robustness and the chocolate’s velvety texture.

Mango + Juniper, 73%, is studded with chewy pieces of not-too-sweet mango. The Juniper adds a fruity, peppery and piney undertone. Again, the creaminess and fruity profile of Arriba Nacional beans gives it extra gustatory punch.

Their Quinoa bar, made with tiny toasted, puffed quinoa delivers a slight crunch against a backdrop of dark, rich 70% cocoa.

84% Naked is for those stalwart chocophiles who find nirvana in the stratosphere of cocoa content. I have entered their ranks and find myself eating more bars in the 80% range than ever before. If you haven’t yet succumbed to their dark seductive powers I suggest working your way up. Antidote offers a solution: start with their 70% and move through the 73%, 77% and up to the 80%.

All the bars are packaged intelligently. In other words, a pretty, re-closable cardboard box houses an inner foil wrapper that allows you to break off sections without making a mess. All the chocolate was well tempered and crisp.

You can find Antidote bars here with free shipping: https://antidotechoco.com/?gclid=CjwKCAiAwKyNBhBfEiwA_mrUMsbrRwVFFAwSSY1omvUtVBjAXjBYSJQu5rJyZf0C4rMKZJUIlbhuvRoC9zkQAvD_BwE

Note: I had a very interesting experience with this chocolate. It happens to me with certain brands, like Crow & Moss, 9th and Larkin, Dandelion, and Dick Taylor. The more I enjoyed it over the following weeks, the more I came to love its complexity and depth.

Singing Rooster 78% Peppermint Crunch

I love the combination of dark chocolate and peppermint, but many holiday bars tend to be quite sweet. Not so for Singing Rooster’s Peppermint Crunch, 78%. (You can read about their company here: https://chocolateratings.wordpress.com/2020/12/06/singing-rooster-2-0/)

This intense, attractive bar is adorned with crunchy little shards of peppermint stick candy. It really hits the spot if you seek an adult version of that classic holiday combination.

Right now, you can buy four bars for $20.40, including shipping at singingrooster.org.

These make a lovely treat for yourself or a great gift for anyone looking to lower their sugar intake while still enjoying minty dark chocolate.

The Neurobiology of Chocolate

While there are numerous books and articles that delve into the biochemistry of chocolate, there is a dearth of information on the neurobiology of chocolate.    

I believe the only neurobiology you need to know to understand chocolate’s magical ability to calm, delight, and soothe your nervous system is this:  

  1. The default mode network (DMN) in the brain, sometimes called the monkey mind, is typically responsible for thoughts that create stress, anxiety and tension. It constantly works to assess danger both inside and outside your body. When it’s satisfied you’re safe it starts judging you, judging others or comparing yourself to others. Clearly, turning it off is a great relief.
  2. The direct experience network (DES), enhanced with mindfulness practices and anything that focuses on your senses, deactivates the default experience network and creates calm.

You can access the direct experience network a number of ways, though they all include a mindful focus on something sensory. It could be noticing the breath, lengthening your exhales, listening to sounds, being touched, tasting something delicious, or enjoying a pleasing aroma.

A daily practice of meditation is a great way to create new neural pathways. When the default mode network is activated, these new pathways can derail it and bring you back to a calm state. 

As much as I love meditation, yoga and qigong for their ability to help soothe my nervous system, I also appreciate how chocolate does the same thing as it creates mindfulness and sensory awareness. 

As neuroscientists like to say: Neurons that fire together wire together. So a lifetime of wonderful chocolate experiences can create strong neural pathways that get activated by even a whiff of the bean.

As well as tasting marvelous, chocolate’s fragrance can start a cascade of positive memories you might associate with joy, calm and peace. These can change your brain chemistry even before you take that first bite. 

While there are a number of books that explain how chocolate’s chemistry boosts your mood, this is a fairly new way of conceptualizing its power. Of course, you could associate anything sensual or mindful with feeling calmer, as long as it reliably does the trick for you.  

Katy’s Tea & Chocolate Tasting

As a someone who quaffs large mugs of tea on a daily basis, I like to pair my sybaritic joys by including chocolate. This enhances both the chocolate and the tea.

Katy’s Blood Orange tea, made with orange peels, rose hips, hibiscus and natural blood orange flavor, has a definite fruity profile with floral undertones. There’s no caffeine, so it’s a perfect choice for evening. It pairs well with well with fruitier 70% single origin origin bars, like the three I tried it with from Dandelion chocolate. Both the tea and the chocolate are delicious on their own. Here’s what happens when they are paired.

All tea was served at a hot temperature to further facilitate melting the chocolate more quickly than it would normally have melted at body temperature.

Dandelion’s 2018 Costa Esmeraldas from Ecuador, has a fetching slight edginess that was great with the citrus flavors in the tea. It was almost as if they were taking turns on my palate. One second the chocolate would predominate and the next it was the tea.

Next up was the Tumaco chocolate from Colombia. This earthier bar loved the floral, fruity tastes in the tea as they rounded out some of the chocolate’s natural honey notes.

Maya Mountain from Belize is an amazingly balanced bar. It married perfectly with the tea. Each complimenting the other, creating a rich, complex, yet super attainable, level of delight.

In the spirit of research, I couldn’t help but be curious to see if the tea would enhance my own tempered mendiants with 74% Guitard and bits of crystallized ginger. That created a combustion of spicy, fruity, floral and fudge flavors that I also loved.

The next tea, Dragonfruit, also caffeine free, is made with apple, pineapple, strawberry and dragonfruit pieces along with orange peels, rose hips, hibiscus, lemon verbena, marigold flowers, rose petals and natural dragonfruit flavor.

It’s a sweet mix which made me wonder how it would go with something really intense, so I chose a delicious Dominican Republic Zorzal chocolate bar from Crow & Moss. The chocolate’s cherry, caramel and spice notes were a perfect match for the tea.  

I also sipped the Dragonfruit tea with an 88% high intensity bar from Endangered Species. The combination of naturally fruit sweetened tea with the velvety, richness of the chocolate was wonderful.

If you love milk chocolate, both of these teas, as well as Katy’s black tea with chocolate, would be great with a dark milk bar, like TCHO’s 54%.

Katy’s offers a very well designed portable tea infuser that works for hot or cold brews. I like that it’s clear as this not only allows you to see the color of your drink, but also how much is left. As it’s fairly large, you might need to use more tea than for a regular cup.

If you’re sending Katy’s tea as a gift, the packaging is very festive and will bring some aesthetic joy to the recipient. They cushion the products with a generous amount of recyclable squiggly strips of sparkly and brown paper.

You can find her wares on Amazon. Here’s a link to the Dragonfruit Tea: https://www.amazon.com/DRINK-KATYS-Dragonfruit-Tea-Fruit/dp/B07ZTXBYDV/ref=pd_lpo_1?pd_rd_i=B07ZTXBYDV&psc=1

Chocolate Tree

In 2005, Alastair and Friederika Gower created an outstanding chocolate company in Scotland. Their wares have won numerous awards and I can see why.

Though I only sampled two of their bars, both were memorable, beautifully packaged, and lovely to behold, as they showed up with a variety of bas relief designs.

It always makes me happy to learn when a company treats their famers well, and the Gowers pay a high price for their beans. Most of the cacao they use is from South and Central America.

Venezuela Chuao 70% Limited Edition is made with beans grown in a completely out of the way area, only accessible by small fishing boats called “peсeros.” Chuao beans from Venezuela are renowned as some of the world’s best. 

Notes of dark cherries, plums and blackberries in an uber fudgy consistency create a rich, decadent bar that is supremely satisfying.

Piurra Chililique 70% is made with beans that come from a remote mountain valley in northern Peru. They yield another fudgy bar that reminded me of Criollo beans, but with more complexity. This bar delivered a super saturated solution of chocolate with chestnut undertones and a lingering caramel finish. It’s no wonder it won a gold medal from the British Chocolate Awards. 

Both bars are delicious and wonderful choices for the chocolate novice or aficionado. They are only two among a truly astounding abundance of choices. Check out their website to see them all: www.choctree.co.uk

Blissfully Better Chocolate

Blissfully Better’s unique organic confections are made with coconut sugar. This high nutrient and low glycemic sweetener, from the blooms of coconut trees, offers the clean sweetness of sugar with a slow release of energy and 16 amino acids. 

I never would have known I wasn’t eating cane sugar unless I had read the label. 

Sampling five of their offerings I was struck by the quality, freshness, depth of flavor and wonderful textures. If I had tried these in a blind tasting I would have thought they were from a very high end boutique chocolatier.

Each good sized piece was enrobed in the perfect amount of 72% dark organic chocolate, while the interiors were all quite different from each other, just as they would be in a fabulous box of bonbons.

Each is sold in a separate box of four pieces. 

The name is a little misleading as they are called Thins, but are actually on the thicker side. This just makes them that much more satisfying. Each piece was a little dessert unto itself.

Crunchy Quinoa Toffee Thins had a slightly burnt caramel flavor. Enough to give the candy a little edge. The texture was deliciously crispy.

Toffee Thins with Almonds were even crunchier and didn’t have that edge. Their texture was a bit more friable and, like everything I sampled, super satiating.

Sea Salt Caramel Thins reminded me of an old favorite dark chocolate caramel I used to crave from a famous California chocolate shop. These, of course, have a much lower glycemic index, are thicker, and incredibly delicious.The texture is perfect, neither too chewy nor too soft.

Vegan Toasted Coconut Thins have a wonderfully chewy texture enhanced by shredded coconut. While the texture is marvelous, the flavor is balanced between coconut, sweetness and dark chocolate.

Vegan Mint Thins house a truffle filling of dark mint chocolate. The picture on the box is a little misleading as it looks like a toffee center, the filling was clearly more of a firm, dark chocolate ganache with mint.

You can find these, and other Blissfully Better confections, on their website: http://www.blissfully better.com or on Amazon.

Bouchard Chocolate

Have you ever noticed how sometimes the tiniest gesture, whether a glance or a touch, can rock you? I was reminded of the poetry of small things as I unwrapped a two-bite sized piece of Bouchard 70% chocolate.

The chocolate scent was intoxicating and seductive. I appreciated the attention to detail in the bar’s design of tiny ridges lined up across its surface. Apparently, this enhances the way your taste buds assimilate the flavor. The texture of the chocolate was incredibly smooth setting set me up to revel in its rich, classic flavor.

The two pound bag is enormous and contains 180 individually wrapped small rectangular bars. Great for stashing chocolate everywhere you might be: the office, home, kitchen, gym bag, or backpack. Individual portions are also wonderful for slowing down your enjoyment or portion control. If you’re feeling particularly generous, you could even give them out at Halloween.

You can buy these Belgian treats with free shipping through their website: http://www.Bouchardchocolate.com or on Amazon.

Prittie Chocolat Heirloom Single Origin Tasting Box

If you’re new to all the varieties of single origin chocolates, one way to sample nine of the most well known is through this beautifully designed box by Prittie Chocolat. Its impressive set up makes it incredibly easy to taste, compare, savor and repeat. This is a wonderful choice for those who want a solo experience, or you to share with a friend.

As someone who has hosted numerous chocolate tastings for a local non-profit, I can attest to the intelligent organization and ease of use this selection offers. There is even an accompanying card with steps on how to taste chocolate so you truly savor the experience. You might think it’s intuitive, but slowing down and using all five senses is vastly enhanced with some guidance. There is also ample space to write down you own impressions.

Prittie will even customize a tasting box for you.

Here is a breakdown of the nine dark chocolates Prittie includes with their descriptions:

Cru Sauvage Bolivia 68%
The rich, harmonious cacao flavor is complemented by the aromas expressing the freshness of lemon and the fruitiness of grapefruit. The traditional, gentle processing method (60) hours of conching, exquisitely unfolds the prune bouquet and vanilla note. The exceptionally pleasant fruit acidity and the long-lasting finish make the Cru Sauvage Bolivia a unique experience.

Elvesia Dominican Republic 74%
Elvesia Republique Dominicaine 74% Cru Hacienda couverture made of noble cacao from the Hacienda Elvesia. The elegant, rich cacao flavor is entwined with tender tones of black tea and mild tobacco notes.

Usulut’an El Salvador 80%
Usulutan El Salvador is in the southern part of Usuluta (which shares its name with the volcano); you will find Jiquilisco Bay know for its untouched natural beauty and home to the largest abundance of coastal-marine birds in El Salvador. Cocoa was first planted in the luscious sandy loam soil on our supplier’s farm near here about 100 years ago.

Matagalpa Nicaragua 70%
Matagalpa is located in north central Nicaragua near the continental divide between the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. This region is increasingly popular with ecotourists because of its beauty and biodiversity. Originally it was home to the Matagalpa Indians whose language was spoken until 1875. This fertile area is known for its great coffee, vegetables, and flowers. This chocolate is made from the cacao of numerous small farms who harvest Trinitario cocoa trees indigenous to the land.

Sambirano Madagascar 68%
Chocolate was introduced into Madagascar in the 1800’s originally on the east coast. It is now grown in the north west Sambirano river region north western Madagascar. Trinitario cocoa, well balanced fruity, a touch of hazelnut and fresh forest berry notes.

Wampusirpi Honduras 72%
Wampusirpi, a small town of les than 2,000 inhabitants, is in a remote jungle area of northeast Honduras on the Patuca River (2nd largest river in Central America). The cacao grown here is a combination of indigenous Trintarios and tree provided by sporadic NGO (Non- governmental agents) efforts to support this region. Our supplier is a philanthropist who is committed to being a reliable buyer in a place where cacao is the Only cash crop.

Maracaibo Venezuela 65%
Intensive flavor experience. The strong cocoa taste is pleasanty supplemented by a licorice note which then transfers into a roasted coffee flavor rounded by a hint of prune. Black tea notes accompanies the slow and intensive finish.

Coucher du Soleil Côte d’Ivoire 72%
Dark, rich, smooth chocolate with a smooth mouth feel. The chocolate flavor is full-bodied throughout with a clean, fresh finish. Provides tremendous chocolate flavor to any dessert without being overpowering. Serves as a base chocolate.

Arriba Ecuador 72%
Esmeraldas is Ecuador’s most northern province and boarders on Columbia. The cacao flavor is enhanced through the intensive coffee and licorice notes, making Arriba an unforgettable experience for the senses, 72 hours of conching gives the smoothest texture.

You can find their products at http://www.prittiechocolat.com. The tasting box is also available at http://www.worldwidechocolate.com

Casse-Cou Chocolate

There are are beautiful chocolates and delicious chocolates and, often, they meet; however, there are few that elevate each bite into an artistic gustatory experience. Casse-Cou has clearly earned a place in that rarified realm.

With great care, thought, creativity and culinary skill Matthew Kenney and Sebastian Brecht, co-founders of Casse-Cou Chocolate produce extraordinary bonbons, each worthy of a mini-reverie. All of their edible experiences are completely plant based.

I must confess, when it comes to chocolate, it takes a lot to surprise me; yet, the May Special Edition bonbons I sampled were a revelation.

Banana Cream Pie seemed like a soda fountain name for what was clearly more appropriate for high tea at the Ritz. Each of the chocolates in this assortment had an interior comprised of two or three layers, a feat carried out with exacting precision. In this one, the chocolate shell was thin and dark, the filling a three layer affair of cashew coconut rum crust at the bottom, banana coconut cream in the middle and pineapple gelee on the top. Not only was each layer toothsome in its own right, but the flavors all came together harmoniously, not one eclipsing another.

Raspberry Beet, yes, you read that correctly, was also housed in a thin 60% dark chocolate shell and had a two layer filling of raspberry coconut mousse above a base of beet, hazelnut and graham cracker crust. My jaded chocolate palate could not have been more intrigued.

Lemon Tart was a lovely cone shaped white chocolate shell with a two tiered interior, a bottom layer of nutty graham cracker crust topped with a perfectly acidic lemon mousse. 

Another white chocolate offering was the Blood Orange bonbon. This had the creamiest center as it contained vegan cream cheese and blood orange purée. 

There are all sorts of captivating flavor combinations in their various other offerings, including a Smoked Pecan Whiskey that sounded incredible.

Each of these is a little jewel and, just like jewelry, it’s a luxury. Frankly, I think they’re best enjoyed solo so you can fully focus on their modernist appearance as well as each one’s culinary nuances. Whatever assortment you choose, Casse-Cou’s chocolates offer plant based chocolate elegance.

You can find them all here: http://www.matthewkenneycuisine.com

Chequessett Chocolate

As a teenager I sailed on my father’s 1935 single-hander sloop. It was built for racing with an 8 1/2′ beam and a 6′ keel. During strong winds the boat would heel at such an angle that the gunnels were submerged. Exhilarating but very scary. While I haven’t been sailing for many years, I remembered those days when I saw the beautiful gaff rigged boat adorning Chequessett Chocolate’s website.

Katie Reed and Josiah Mayo’s relatively new venture into chocolate making is yielding impressive results. I sampled a wide variety of their bars and was completely smitten.

Though it’s not a prerequisite for a great taste experience, packaging certainly enhances my enjoyment. Chequessett’s old fashioned envelope design, with a string closure at the back that winds in a figure eight pattern, is particularly fetching. To keep your precious cargo neat and intact, there is a cello resealable envelope tucked inside. The design is a mariner’s chart in silver on a midnight blue background. The visuals enticed and intrigued me before I even tasted one morsel.

The bars themselves feature a variety of sailor’s knots in bas relief. This unique, beautiful design enhances the perfectly tempered chocolate.

72% Zorzal Comumitario from the Dominican Republic offers up the deep, rich complex flavor of this bean that I know and love in a velvety textured bar with a lovely lingering finish.

The 83% Tumaco Narino bar has pronounced coffee, licorice and earthy notes. Its slightly dry finish encourages the flavor to linger.

Santa Maria Cahabon 72% from Guatemala has notes of plum, raisin, cherry, and a hint of chestnut. The satisfying long finish paradoxically made me want more.

Nantucket Nib Crunch 77% has a scattering of toasted nibs underneath which gives it textural interest without making it a tooth cracking experience. The chocolate’s flavor is very mild for a 77%, just in case you want a higher cacao content bar that’s easy to scarf down.

69% Provincetown Pure Dark was another all-too-easy-to eat bar. If I were a carpenter I would say it wasn’t even a bubble off plumb. Supremely balanced, gentle, silky textured…a wonderful bar for anyone wanting a high end dark chocolate that holds your interest over time.

With both peppermint oil and tiny shards of peppermint candy cane, 70% Peppermint Candy Cane is another bar showcasing the chocolatier’s restraint. Its refreshing mint flavor, slightly crunchy texture and dark chocolate base make it a great after dinner choice.

Twenty Boat buttered Rum is perfectly calibrated to deliver a subtle rum flavor within its creamy 55% dark milk base. In addition to spiced rum, the bar has allspice, anise, cinnamon, cardamom, vanilla and sea salt. Reading that ingredient list would have given me the impression that too much was going on; luckily, I tasted it before I read the label. The finished product belies the cornucopia of spices as it’s gentle on the palate. Unlike anything else on the market. Crave worthy.

Another amazing combination appears in their Sconset Brown Butter Sage bar. Here, a 52% dark milk is paired with organic browned butter and sage. Truly inspired. Nuanced, satisfying, even mesmerizing in its unusual blend of flavors.

As someone has to take the night watch, Chequessett offers a Monomoy Moccachino 60% dark milk with coffee that would keep anyone alert. Alert to the deft touch and ultra smooth texture this bar delivers. Unlike many other chocolate-coffee combos, here the coffee is a flavor enhancer, not a textural experience derived from ground beans.

45% Mass Bay Dark Milk is for anyone you know who is ready to try dark chocolate after a lifetime of milk chocolate loyalty. Its higher intensity than is traditional for typical milk chocolate, though its sweet, caramel flavors could easily lure them to the dark side.

Another original combination is their 32% White Lemon Thyme with lemon oil and turmeric. It won the Good Food award in 2020. Once again, the inspired combination of flavors, applied with a light hand, enhance the white chocolate base with far more complexity than you might expect.

All Chequessett’s bars are direct trade and sweetened with evaporated cane juice.

I would be hard pressed to choose favorites from the large flight I sampled. Each had its own appeal, though some were vastly different from others. 

Any, or the whole line up, would make an extravagant and welcome gift for your favorite chocophile. You can find them, and other chocolate treats, at: http://www.chequessettchocolate.com

Crow & Moss Vanilla Smoke 69%

I just had a unique chocolate experience, Crow & Moss’s Vanilla Smoke bar. This uncanny combination, redolent of both flavors along with a deep rich chocolate base (50% Ecuador Camino Verde and 50% India Anamalai) is truly intriguing. After numerous tastings, I finally put my finger on the undertones of clove. While they are slight, they add a completely new dimension to the flavor of this bar.

Like all chocolate from Crow & Moss, it’s beautifully tempered, super fresh and packaged intelligently with a resealable top.

if you love dark, single origin bars, and seek something to really wake up your taste buds, I would recommend this experience. There is nothing else like it.

My favorite offering from Crow & Moss is their Zorzal single origin bar, and I buy it regularly; but, this one is a mesmerizingly different experience.

You can find their full range here: http://www.crowandmoss.com.

FlavaNaturals high Flavanols chocolate

Like me, Alan Frost, Founder & CEO of FlavaNaturals, is captivated by the plethora of research showing how the flavanols in chocolate benefit both the brain and the body. But there is a catch, he would have to eat 5-10 average dark chocolate bars to get the recommended 500-1,000mg of cocoa flavanols. Even I wouldn’t attempt that, and chocolate is one of my major food groups. By creating FlavaNaturals Alan, and the rest of us, can get all the antioxidant gifts without the extra calories and fat.

FlavaNaturals sources its beans from producers shown to have cocoa rich in flavanols. You can eat their body-mind enhancing products in the form of bars or in a mix for smoothies, drinks, chia pudding, yogurt, or oatmeal.

FlavaNaturals has a lovely giftable box of five different flavors. Each variety has two individually wrapped bars, 36g each. All are crisply tempered and have 12-15g of sugar.

The Crystalized Ginger + Saigon Cinnamon was a combination I had never experienced before. It was probably;y my favorite, not just for its uniqueness, but for he lovely warmth it generated.

Pure Cocoa Nibs had the added extra crunch from perfectly roasted nibs embedded on the underside of each bar. This addition also amped up the chocolate flavor, and probably the flavanol content.

Blueberry + Green Tea Matcha was another unusual combination that worked beautifully. The fruit juice sweetened berries added a lovely chewy texture and the organic matcha provided an energy boost.

Roasted Almond + Himalayan Pink Salt was another wake up call for my taste buds as little pieces of nut, generously mixed in with the chocolate, married perfectly with the hit of salt.

Espresso Ground Coffee had pulverized ground coffee beans throughout producing a smooth mocha bar.

I also sampled their Classic Dark Chocolate FlavaBar. This allowed me to discern the slightly dry lingering finish I was distracted from in the previous five samples.

If you love including an extra antioxidant boost to your foods, try the FlavaMix. It only adds 35 calories per serving yet provides a whopping 900mg of cocoa flavanols. It also boasts 2 grams of fiber and 28% of your daily iron needs.

You can find all these products at: http://www.FlavaNaturals.com

Here’s more research to support flavanol’s benefits :

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Millésime Organic Belgian Bean-to-Bar Chocolate

For many people living through the Covid pandemic, this has been a time of concentration on the minutiae of life. With both challenges and joys heightened, there can be a new appreciation for more basic comforts, like chocolate.

In the spirit of learning to hone our attention and home in on the more subtle aspects of anything enjoyable, we can take chocolate tasting to new experiential realms. If you need more reasons to focus on your chocolate, I suggest mindfulness practice. Tasting anything, but especially chocolate, as mindfully as possible is a sensual meditation.

Millésime offers a bounty of choices ranging from 50-90% cocoa, some with inclusions and some in their pristine form.

The company was founded by Jean-Christophe Hubert, a chocolate aficionado. He trained in a French agronomy research center center, where he focused on the development of sensory chocolate, analysis and cocoa expertise. He also studied at the Fine Cacao and Chocolate institute in New York. His bean-to-bar chocolate has won numerous awards.

Each of this Belgian company’s cocoa vintages comes from a specific terroir, with its own unique flavor profile. Similar to the wine-making world, Millésime’s aspirations include promoting naturing processes promoting flavors that change year-to-year while keeping the basic characteristics of each region.

Millésime only uses cocoa beans from environmentally friendly plantations that do not engage in intensive farming. Even more interesting, all Millésime’s beans come from non-modified strains carrying ancestral cocoa genes. And all their beans are sourced from plantations that engage in sustainable agriculture.

I sampled eight offerings, each of which is packaged beautifully in artistic cardboard envelopes with cellophane encased bars. The bar’s design is a bas relief pyramid, and they are all tempered to a perfectly crisp snappiness.

Guatemala 50% Dark Milk Chocolate. This is a rich, not too sweet bar with a slightly dry finish. There are notes of flowers, plums and a hint of caramel. As there is no added vanilla, the bean’s full flavor profile, even with the addition of milk powder, shines forth.

Peru 55% Dark Milk Chocolate with Salted Butter Caramel, a gold medal winner, is studded with tiny, crunchy bits of caramel. You might think that would make the bar overly sweet, but it isn’t. The salted butter caramel was cooked to the point of flirting with bitterness, but not consummating the relationship. This resulted in a wonderful counterpoint to the dark milk chocolate.

Madagascar 55% Dark Milk Chocolate Bar with Hazelnuts & Almonds Praliné Filling. I let this melt slowly in my mouth until the teensy bits of nuts demanded a little chewing. Completely different from the other bars in this line, it has a more pronounced creaminess from the filling and an extra dose of sweetness from the dark milk base. Though sweeter than the other two bars, it was far from cloying. Very satisfying for those who seek a more velvety texture.

Nicaragua 65% Dark Chocolate with Pistachio Nougatine Filling. This filling has far more depth of flavor than you might expect as the bar is fairly thin. 65% dark chocolate is the perfect foil for the creamy center, while the added light crunch of caramelized pistachio pieces adds extra texture and interest.

Millésime India 74% Dark Chocolate Bar. Forastero beans from Kaithapara, a village in the Idukki district, give this bar an edgy quality, while the dry finish keeps its dense chocolate flavors lingering.

Millésime Panama 75% Dark Chocolate Bar. Immediate fruity notes with banana undertones make this a delicious, rich experience.

Millésime 75% Dominican Republic with Hazelnuts. There is something incredibly satisfying about beans from the Dominican Republic, and this bar won a gold medal to prove my point. They possess a richness whose softness keeps the finished product from being too intense or overwhelming. Crunchy bits of buttery hazelnuts amplify the whole experience.

Millésime Tanzania 90% Dark Chocolate Bar. Another gold medal winner, this bar is made with beans that have woodsy, earthy flavors. 90% bars can be a bit challenging if this is not your usual fare. Here is an opportunity to sample one with a hint of dark fruits that keep it friendly and accessible.

If you’re reading this in Europe, you can find their wares on the Belgian site: https://www.millesime-chocolat.be/fr/

You can also buy a wide variety of bars at: https://www.worldwidechocolate.com/product-category/millesime/

Lanier’s Fine Candies: Nut Brittles With Chocolate

What drew me to Lanier’s brittles was the thick layer of dark chocolate generously enrobing each piece. I also liked the short ingredient list featuring semi-sweet chocolate, sugar, and an abundance of nuts. The old-fashioned recipe handed down to Herman Lanier from his aunt in Louisiana was another draw.

I sampled four of their varieties, each unique and delicious. (For those of you who prefer milk chocolate, Lanier’s offers that option. If you want unadulterated brittles you can find many varieties on their website, even one with habanero.)

Each bite forced me into a mindful reverie as I focused on the dark chocolate’s sweetness, the uber-crunch of roasted nuts and the lovely experience of the candy’s friability as it both melted and finely shattered into tiny euphoric pieces of joy.

The Macadamia Nut Brittle, like all the flavors I sampled, was drenched in dark chocolate. It was a wonderfully rich, satisfying treat. Hints of vanilla showcased the nut’s inherent buttery decadence.

Pistachio Brittle with Honey was even crunchier. If you love pistachios, you will happily scarf this down as it amplifies the nut’s unique flavor.

Cashew Brittle, also jam-packed with nuts, was opulent, balanced and satisfying. Once again, the cashew’s one-of-a-kind flavor was enhanced by the addition of honey.

Peanut Brittle, the most classic of Lanier’s offerings, was, like the rest, too good. The combination of peanuts and chocolate is always a winner in my book and here it ascends to stratospheric joy. The extra crunch from the brittle, the perfectly roasted nuts and the semi-sweet chocolate are perfection.

If you love brittles, but don’t want a cloyingly sweet confection that just creates a sugar rush and an insatiable craving, try any or all of these. They are in a class by themselves. I have one caveat: Eat a small piece, preferably with tea or coffee, and watch how a few bites really satisfy you. It takes a bit of self-discipline, but your stash will last longer and you’ll be more prone to mindfully enjoy each bite. This delight is not to be eaten mindlessly while distracted by TV, I wouldn’t even eat it during a conversation. Just focus all your attention on each morsel.

If you love exploring new gustatory territory, you will really appreciate how these four diverse brittles offers a unique taste profile.

You can find these and the full array of Lanier’s Fine Candies here: http://www.laniersfinecandies.com

The Sweet Whisk

In my gustatory dictionary, the definition of chocolate bonbons is: Beautiful bite sized chocolate confections filled with fresh, silkily textured centers redolent with flavor and housed in perfectly tempered thin chocolate shells. 

Next to the definition would be a picture of an assortment of chocolate truffles from The Sweet Whisk, a new and welcome addition to the chocolate landscape. Owners Amanda and Kenny have been working together for 6 years. They had been working as chefs in restaurants before taking a trip to Paris where they fell in love with chocolate. Wanting to create their own business back in Amanda’s hometown of Buffalo, NY, they opened The Sweet Whisk. In addition to bars, bonbons, and hot chocolate bombs, they offer macarons, brownies, and other delicious desserts.

The 12 bonbons I sampled were a world unto themselves. Whether it was the tartness of Loganberry or passion fruit, the intensity of coffee, familiarity of peanuts and chocolate, or Tahitian vanilla, each center was like a mini sensual vacation. Their salted caramel was a soft-centered blissful bite, just sweet enough without being cloying. Each glossy artistic dome a visual prelude to delights within.

I love a perfect temper, and the bonbon’s shells were as crisp as they could be. Interestingly, they didn’t shatter when bitten into as the soft centers held any shard in place.

In addition to the bonbons, I sampled three of their narrow, pyramid sectioned bars. Each had a generous amount of topping that was embedded into the surface. These are also available in a larger size. My favorite was the raspberry with Valrhona CARAÏBE 66% dark chocolate topped with freeze dried raspberries. The slightly acidic berries were perfect with the sweeter dark base.

Valrhona Jivara 40% Milk Chocolate, Golden Graham Cereal & Mini Marshmallows make up the Smores bar. A great choice if you crave something sweeter and there’s no campfire nearby.

Caramelized hazelnuts encrusted a milk chocolate offering made with Valrhona’s AZÉLIA 35%. The candied nuts were extra crunchy and satisfying.

If you’re looking for a way to endear yourself to someone I would send them a box of the bonbons. You can find them here: https://www.thesweetwhiskboutique.com

Fu-Wan Chocolate

With too many awards to mention, Fu-Wan, founded by Warren Hsu, is made with tree to bar beans in Fu Wan Ping-Tung county. As the first bean-to-bar chocolate maker in Taiwan, Fu-Wan ferments, dries, roasts, and grinds all their products.

Each bar is house in an attractive orange cardboard box made like an origami puzzle with a two stage opening, like a little safe. Psychologically, this sets the stage by forcing you to slow down in anticipation of savoring the riches within.

I sampled seven of their bars.

36% White Rose Lychee Nibs Chocolate

Made with Pingtung organic rose, smoked dried lychee, and Pingtung cocoa nibs in a base of high cacao content white chocolate, this bar was a constellation of sensation. Chewy bits of smoked dried lychee gave it textural interest, while a a few scattered nibs offered an occasional crunch. The bar’s purple color was intriguing. The chocolate’s inherent creamy texture, along with its other qualities, especially, the smokiness of dried lychee, gave it an overall impression quite different from any other white bar out there.

62% Taiwan Tie-Guan-Yin Tea Chocolate

This was one of the most unusual and addicting bars I have ever tasted. The base is 62% Taiwan No.1 Chocolate, together with Taiwan Tie-Guan-Yin Tea. The flavor is acidic, tannic and dry, like the dryness of a lychee nut. The texture is creamy and the sweetness is a perfect balance to what would otherwise be quite intense flavors.

62% Taiwan Lychee Rose Oriental Beauty Tea Chocolate

Another unusual bar that demanded attention. Dried lychee flavor predominated, with barely discernible rose as an underlying presence.

62% Taiwan #1 Ping-Tung Chocolate

Made with beans sourced from the southwest area of Taiwan, this bar has a beguiling caramel, nut profile. The gentle, nuanced beans reminded me of criollo.

62% Dark Taiwan Charcoal Oolong Tea Chocolate

All the bars with tea have a refreshing quality to them that puts them in a class by itself. This one was enhanced with flavors of cashew, almond, and roasted chestnut.

70% Taiwan #2 Fleur de Sel Chocolate

Made with the perfect amount of fleur de sel from Jia Yi County in Taiwan, this bar has all the balance you might want in a 70% with enough saltiness to perk up the flavor an extra notch. Well-tempered, like all Fu-Wan’s bars.

100% Taiwan #1 Ping-Tung Chocolate

This bar isn’t for the faint of heart, and I say that as someone who enjoys bars in the high wattage range. 100% cacao is an intense experience. That said, the bar has an appealing creaminess, strong earthy notes, with fairly intense licorice and leather notes.

Fu-Wan also makes a chocolate tea that’s extraordinary. Its caramel color, achieved after a three minute steep, barely belies the rich, nuanced chocolate flavor. While most chocolate teas are very subtle, this one is incredibly satisfying. I didn’t detect any other flavors of black or green tea, but it may have other ingredients. The package wasn’t written in English and I couldn’t find the answer online. I am, however, quite sensitive to caffeine and didn’t detect any.

Panda Chocolate

With a motto like: “Non dairy and so good it’s scary,” you already know you’re getting chocolate made by people who have a sense of humor. While that fun attitude may influence their logo (two pandas looking quite happy with themselves) it doesn’t deter them from taking their chocolate-making seriously. It’s UTZ certified, vegan, and kosher.

I sampled three of their bars.

My favorite was the Dark and Coconut Cream. The creaminess comes from a combination of coconut, cocoa butter and cashew butter. It’s attractive with a smooth white center sandwiched between two layers of dark (80%) chocolate, has a firm texture that slowly melts in your mouth, and a light, perfectly calibrated level of sweetness. The coconut is discernible but not overpowering.

Hazelnut Crunch is a much sweeter offering made with 31% cocoa. Small pieces of crunchy roasted hazelnuts are scattered throughout the bar. It’s sweet, creamy and lightly crunchy. A wonderful vegan choice if you love a rich, traditional milk chocolate with nuts.

Hazelnut Cream is made with 33% cocoa. Another great, sweeter bar with a hazelnut cream center. Very satisfying dessert-like chocolate.

Panda seems to have a larger variety of bars, but not are all available at the same time. I suggest checking out their website to see what’s on the current menu: http://www.pandachocolates.com

Kakao Zon

If you love chocolate, and try new company’s offerings on a regular basis, you can eventually get to a point where certain regions appeal to you more than others. This is a dicey proposition, as microclimates change, pollution wreaks havoc in unpredictable ways, roasting subtleties can vary with artisanal production, and conch time can’t always be precise. Ultimately, this gives each harvest different properties.

Of the 5% of beans known as fine flavor cacao, 60% are grown in Ecuador. Kakao Zon is one of the more earthier varieties. They craft their bars with fairly traded Arriba Nacional cacao, famous for its fruity, floral notes and deep chocolate presence.

If you have been sampling Ecuadorian bars you will want to try these. All five I tasted were tempered to a crisp snap, lustrous and fresh. The bars are divided into a multitude of small rectangles making for perfect bite-sized pieces.

The 63% pineapple was excellent. The dried pineapple pieces somehow still juicy and suffused with flavor. Paired with 63% chocolate it created a flux of creamy textured chocolate with the wonderful chewiness of dried fruit. Slightly acidic notes from the pineapple added balance and interest.

Plain 63% dark allowed me to enjoy the chocolate in its unadulterated state. A completely different experience, since the caramel and roasted cocoa flavors were easier to discern.

72% dark sweetened with sugar was a very balanced, yet punchy bar. The level of sweetness made it feel indulgent, while the high cacao content gave it gustatory heft.

63% with coffee was encrusted with ground roasted coffee beans on its underside. This was another great combination of just the right amount of sweetness with crunchy, intense coffee. A real boost to your afternoon slump.

As you would imagine, the 85% dark with coconut sugar was very strong. At this high wattage, the shadow side of Arriba Nacional became more apparent. That edginess, earthiness, and roasted flavor was complemented by the creamy texture and more subtle floral, fruity notes.

Kakao Zon also offers chocolate chips, cacao, nibs and baking bars.

9th & Larkin

Lan Phan, one of the two founders of 9th & Larkin, is always innovating. Whether it’s great package design or new micro-batch offerings, her creativity is on full tilt.

I recently sampled two of her “tiny batch” bars. These thin square slabs are divided into 16 mini squares with round indentations, like a modern mosaic.

First up was Matasawalevu 77% from Fiji with Brandy. It takes an accomplished chocolatier to know just the right amount of extra flavoring to add to a bar. Lan is spot on. The brandy neither predominates nor is it swept under the rug. It adds depth, richness, and that unique oaky, fruity, caramel flavor only brandy can impart.

I also sampled the dark milk Moonlight (55% Colombian), studded with nibs and bergamot. Orange notes of bergamot infused cocoa butter were perfect against intense hits of nibby crunch.

As always, Lan’s bars are incredibly silky and beautifully tempered.

A lovely trend in the bean-to-bar producer’s lexicon is the addition of micro-batches. These unique, experimental bars offer creative pairings and inclusions that perk up anyone’s palate.

9th & Larkin is one of a few companies now offering monthly subscriptions with free shipping that challenge your preconceptions and awaken you to new delicious chocolate reveries.

Honeymoon Chocolates

Looking for a new single origin chocolate bar that’s sweetened with raw honey? Trying to avoid refined sugar? Want to help save the declining honeybee population? Honeymoon Chocolates delivers all that and more.

A few things I didn’t know about honey versus cane sugar: honey has 1.5 times the sweetness (which decreases overall caloric content by 20 calories for a 2.5 oz. bar), a lower glycemic index (55 compared to 68), and trace amounts of beneficial enzymes, amino acids, antioxidants, B vitamins, and minerals such as calcium, magnesium and potassium.

Honeymoon Chocolates’ founders, Cam and Haley Loyet, give a portion of their proceeds to support honeybee research. They also buy directly from apiarists.

The bars themselves are beautiful with a multitude of honeycomb shapes sectioning off bite size pieces. The raspberry bar looks like a mosaic of dark chocolate with berries rising randomly to the surface. Quite stunning.

I was lucky enough to try six of their sui generis creations.

Dark Raspberry is made with 70% Peruvian chocolate, dehydrated raspberries, Missouri wildflower and clover honey, and cacao butter. It was a bit of a revelation to me as the honey was not a predominant taste, yet it sweetened the bar perfectly. A 48 hour conch makes the chocolate super smooth.

70% Peru Dark Chocolate, sweetened with the same honey as the raspberry bar, was completely different. While I couldn’t discern the honey flavor, it added a mellowness to the bar. The flavor was buttery caramel with vanilla.

67% Sierra Nevada cacao and New Zealand Manuka honey (purported to have amazing health benefits), was also silkily textured from a 48 hour conch. I noticed marshmallow, apricot, and a little tea flavor.

85% Haitian Dar with Missouri wildflower and clover honey was a creamy bar with high voltage smokey flavors of cherry, and molasses. If you’re enjoying chocolate in this stratospheric range I would suggest trying it. It has a slightly dry finish and a complex, luscious presence.

Two other 75% bars sweetened with the same Missouri wildflower and clover honey are enhanced with Kaldi’s Coffee. As you might expect, both bars are brimming with intense mocha flavor that lingers for a few minutes after each bite. I can’t remember that long a finish from any chocolate I have ever reviewed, quite entrancing.

The 75% made with Haitian cocoa was gentler than the 75% Columbian cocoa and coffee bar. The flavor lingered less long, but it was just as appealing. If you prefer a milder coffee presence, I would choose the Haitian. If you want a full bore mocha immersion I would go for the Columbian.

I have tried other chocolates sweetened with honey in the past and, delicious as they were, their temper was not as firm as these from Honeymoon chocolate.

All the bars I sampled were rich, satisfying and pretty. Saying they’re pretty might sound like damning with faint praise, but it’s important. Beauty and novelty sustain us as they pique our curiosity, open our mind and create new neural pathways.

Last but not least, Cam and Haley clearly care about the environment, supporting small cocoa farmers, buying local honey and creating packaging that is compostable and biodegradable. Now, if only they could beam the bars to me they would lighten the carbon load even further.

Halva Boutique

Some things in life are truly indescribable. You simply have to experience them first hand to get the full body-mind-spirit effect. Halvah is among those ineffable joys.

Halvah is an ancient middle eastern treat made with tahini, vanilla, and sugar or honey. What results is an amazing, unique confection with a texture that is at once creamy, crumbly, dense, and melts in your mouth.

The most difficult thing about eating halvah is exerting self control as it is addictive and extremely rich.

Not only is it delicious with tea or coffee, but you can add it to brownie and cookie batter, sprinkle it on buttered toast, or use slivers to decorate a cake. If you love tahini or sesame seeds this will be your new favorite dessert.

When I was growing up in NYC, I remember going to a neighborhood Chinese place with my mother, my sister, my mother’s friend and her twin daughters. On our walk home the Moms offered to let us each get a candy bar. I can’t recall what I chose, but the twins’ mother got a small package of Halvah. I was shocked! What person would pick something without chocolate? She gave me a small taste and I was intrigued. It was like nothing I had ever eaten.

Thanks to companies like Halvah Boutique (www.halvaboutique.com), you are not limited to drugstore halvah, but can get super fresh varieties, many with chocolate, from specialty shops.

The five flavors I sampled were a vastly different experience from that first taste decades ago.

Halvah Boutique’s chocolate halvahs are not so much about the chocolate as how it enhances the halvah. Halvah is the star and chocolate the understudy.

Marble Classic is just what you would imagine: vanilla and chocolate halvah swirled together to create a delicious, attractive treat. This flavor has the most chocolate presence.

Dark Chocolate Pistachio has beautiful green pistachios scattered through its more lightly chocolate marbled base.

XOXO Chili uses the same marbled halvah base with added heat. Here, the chili plays off the sweetness of the sesame and sugar.

Surprisingly, Chocolate Chocolate was the least chocolatey of all four. Still craveable, but much more on the vanilla spectrum.

Even though it doesn’t have chocolate, I was quite taken with their Coffee Cardamom. A truly exquisite combination of finely ground coffee beans with the warmth and depth of cardamom.

Halvah Boutique has many other varieties, including some limited editions, like the Coffee Cardamom and the Dark Chocolate Pistachio.

While I hope the Covid Pandemic has passed when you read this in the future, it has made me aware of how anything new, especially something edible, can really enhance my day. This makes halvah a great gift choice now, or anytime, as it’s still fairly uncommon and could easily provide new gustatory thrills.

It’s important to keep halvah in the fridge, preferably in a stainless steel or glass container; otherwise, the oil can separate over time. My experience is it keeps for years. Yes, years.

As you might imagine, I like tempering a slab of bittersweet chocolate (70% or higher) and sprinkling halvah over the top before it sets to make halvah bark. The trick is to push the halvah pieces into the chocolate so they don’t fall off after the base hardens.

Singing Rooster 2.0

Singing Rooster was founded by Molly Nicaise in 2009. In the past 11 years, with the help of all her customers, she has managed to:

  • put over $2.5 million DIRECTLY into Haitian farmer’s pockets
  • build several cacao fermentation tanks
  • plant hundreds of thousands of coffee trees
  • improve crops, increase yields
  • save thousands of gallons of water
  • elevate small producer artists in Croix des Bouquets

The per capita gross national income in Haiti is less than $800 a year for a farmer family.  Singing Rooster is building rural economies because farmers, not middlemen, spend money at home.  Singing Rooster works with small producers, paying as much as twice the going rate for crops compared to Fair Trade. They return 100% of proceeds from sales back to farmer communities in the form of agricultural, small business management, and entrepreneurial development activities.

As supremely valuable as that is, I still wouldn’t suggest you buy her chocolate if it weren’t satisfying and delicious.

All of Singing Rooster’s bars are 78%, and they each deliver a firm temper, deep, dark chocolate flavor, and creamy texture.

I recently resampled four of them, as she has a new chocolate maker in Virginia.

The Coffee Crunch bar is different from almost every other chocolate-coffee combo I have tried as it sports a layer of fairly large shards of roasted coffee beans on its surface. That alone would give it a very strong coffee presence, but when it’s paired with 78% chocolate you get a big WOW of flavor.

The Pure Dark is just that, unadulterated satisfying high octane chocolate.

Dried Cranberry is made with chewy berries from Wisconsin pressed onto the surface of the bar. I love the sweet acidic layers of flavor the fruit adds, especially when paired with the intensity of the chocolate.

Sea Salt Crunch has a smidgen of salt and crunchy roasted nibs.

Check out Sing Rooster’s chocolate, coffee and gift items here: https://singingrooster.org/buy/haitian-chocolate/

Beyond Good Uganda 73% Crispy Rice Chocolate Bar

This company was formerly known as Madécasse. The name may have changed to Beyond Good, but they still have the same wonderful relationships with their farmers and mission. You can read all about it here: https://www.beyondgood.com/our-work-uganda.

I also suggest looking at the reasons they changed their name: https://www.beyondgood.com/blog/we-changed-our-name-not-our-mission

I recently tried a bar of their 73% Uganda Crispy Rice. The chocolate is rich, redolent of ripe end-of-summer fruits, and remarkably smooth. The ubiquitous crunch, from a multitude of tiny crisped rice pieces, makes it all too easy to scarf down.

I also liked the African inspired graphic on the package.

This is a fabulous value for a single origin bar that in most cases would cost far more than the $4.50 they charge. If you follow sales at Whole Foods, or elsewhere, you can sometimes find it for under $3.00 a bar.

Trader Joe’s Single Origin Uganda 85%

What a wonderful surprise, an incredibly eatable 85% bar for just under $2 that weighs 3.5 ounces (100g).

The texture is creamy, the flavor profile fruity with hints of caramel, and the temper crisp.

The beans come from small farms in western Uganda. I have no idea what the farmer’s living conditions, wages, educational opportunities, medical support, etc. are as the bar is not UTZ certified or Fair Trade. All I can discern is it’s made in Italy and the package design is lovely and arresting.

Sol Cacao

Growing up in the Caribbean islands of Trinidad and Tobago, the Maloney brothers (Dominic, Nicholas and Daniel) were always surrounded by cacao trees and enjoyed eating chocolate made from the beans they had grown and picked themselves. Chocolate is a staple of the Caribbean culture and an inherent part of the Maloney family livelihood. Upon arriving to the United States, the brothers wanted to re-create their childhood experience with ethically sourced bean to bar chocolate made with only two ingredients: chocolate and sugar. They are dedicated to supporting sustainable organic farming and environmental preservation. While their South Bronx location gives them a ton of NYC cred, their bars can be enjoyed anywhere.

Currently, there are three offerings, all of which come perfectly tempered, shiny and crisp. They weigh 1.86 ounces and are divided into 12 lovely rectangles. The packaging is both beautiful and a little whimsical. When I finished the chocolate, I cut out the front panels to use as bookmarks.

The 70% Ecuadorian bar from Cedeño Farm, uses arriba nacional cocoa. The chocolate is earthy, fruity, a little spicy and very sophisticated. I liked the slightly dry finish as it seemed like a gustatory savasana (the yogic rest period at the end of asana practice) integrating everything that preceded it. (You can read more about the Cedeño Farm here: http://www.cocoanect.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/Sourcing-Report-12-Garyth-1.pdf)

The 70% Peruvian bar uses Oro Verde criollo beans. Criollo is a great choice for those embarking on a darker chocolate adventure as they produce a gentler introduction to the 70% range. The creamy melt leads with notes of walnut, chestnut, and peach, lingering at the finish line. (You can read more about the farm here: https://translate.google.com/translate?hl=en&sl=es&u=http://www.oroverde.com.pe/nuestro-cacao/&prev=search&pto=aue)

The 70% Madagascar bar made with beans from the renowned Akesson Farm is bright with raspberry, cherry and a hint of citrus. It has a deep chocolate flavor and a fudgier presence.

All three are worthy of savoring.

24 Singing Rooster 78% dark chocolate bars available at wholesale prices now.

I thought you might like to know that right now, Singing Rooster, a wonderful importer of Haitian chocolate and coffee, is offering 24 (2.2 ounce) bars of their 78% dark chocolate in either sea salt with nibs or plain for $65 with free shipping. This is a great deal as each bar sells for $4.50.

The COVID shutdown has hurt their business, so they’re fighting back with this amazing offer.

All bars are non-GMO, vegan, gluten-free and soy free, and they pay their farmers more than fair trade wages. You can find out about their mission here: https://singingrooster.org/about-rooster/

Here’s the link to buy chocolate: https://singingrooster.org/buy/haitian-chocolate/

Dandelion Chocolate Large Chips

If chocolate chips believed in reincarnation they would want to melt and come back as Dandelion’s incredibly delicious 70% Maya Mountain Belize gems.

As a chocolate lover you are probably already familiar with Dandelion’s range of memorable single origin bars from across the globe. If not, I suggest you head over to their website: store.dandelionchocolate.com, and explore their myriad offerings.

These large squares, designed by Remy Labesque (whose day job is as an industrial designer at Tesla) boast a stunning modernist shape. This square-faceted pyramid, kind of like a flattened diamond with two thick and two thin edges, gives a quick melt and a major chocolate presence in a cookie or brownie.

The 70% Maya Mountain 2018 Harvest chips I tried could not have been more perfect for eating, baking and tempering. The flavor was incredibly satisfying, balanced, fruity and rich. The texture silky, smooth and creamy.

To add to this gustatory embarrassment of riches, they offer the chips from three distinct origins: 70% Costa Esmeraldas Ecuador, 2018 Harvest, with notes of chocolate buttercream frosting and banana; 70% Hacienda Azul Costa Rica, 2019 Harvest, with notes of chocolate almond biscotti and buttery caramel; and the 70% Maya Mountain I tasted. All are made from only two ingredients so the bean’s essential nature predominates.

This is a great time to experiment with tempering chocolate, you can even successfully do it in the microwave (https://chocolateratings.wordpress.com/2011/09/26/quick-and-easy-chocolate-tempering/), adding something new to your culinary repertoire. If chocolate tempering doesn’t intrigue you, you can always eat these right out of the bag as they are absolutely delicious.

Primer on Chocolate from the New York Times

If you are confused about some of the terms used in the chocolate world or the processes by which the bean becomes your bar, check out this comprehensive, yet fairly short, primer:

RAD Chocolate

For those of us who have been eating dark chocolate for years, the idea of a vegan bar is nothing new; however, finding a good vegan milk chocolate bar can require the talent of a Sherlock Holmes.

Luckily, RAD chocolate has made your search easy. They offer a great line of vegan chocolate in four iterations, three of which are 52% dark milk. Not only are they user-friendly, wrapped in re-closable envelopes with cello inner sleeves, but they sport an appealing whimsical bubble design in bas relief.

I love the way they let you choose your sweetener. One milk bar has coconut sugar and the other maple sugar. Despite what you might think, they are really different. That was an illuminating experience as I have tasted coconut sugar sweetened bars before, but never in comparison to those with maple sugar.

The coconut sugar bar had an extra creamy profile as it slowly melted in my mouth and a lightly sweet, pure taste. The maple sugar sweetened variety was a tad less creamy and had the distinct flavor, depth and richness of maple. I liked them both. A great duo for a tasting.

Their fourth bar is an Extra Dark 85% sweetened with maple sugar, highlighted with sea salt and vanilla. At least, once a day I want something in the 80%+ range. It’s the intensity of flavor and phytochemical effect I seek. I think my endocanbinnoid receptors are particularly fine-tuned for something that concentrated. This bar sates my craving. The maple sugar and vanilla both compliment and soften the intensity of chocolate in the upper stratosphere of cacao solids.

Whether you’re vegan, or not, these dark milk bars are a worthy addition to your chocolate larder. As for the 85% Extra Dark, if you love the echt taste of maple sugar this is one to try. At just over $5 a bar, they’re also wallet friendly.

Nibble Chocolate

 

The embarrassment of riches that is the chocolate world today is really staggering. Single origins, heirloom cacao, hybrid beans, exquisite tempering, innovative bar design and creative packaging are ubiquitous. What is less available are bars that cover all those bases and cost $6. Nibble Chocolate allows you to not just nibble but scarf down some truly delicious bars. Of course, you will want to savor every bite as their perfectly tempered chocolate deserves your full attention.

For just a fraction more than you would spend at your local grocery store, you can indulge all your senses in chocolate from four distinct regions: Peru, Madagascar, Brazil and the Dominican Republic.

While I have seen a plethora of chocolate bar designs, I have never seen one with 64 tiny squares. Not only is this beautiful to behold and breaks cleanly, but it allows you to truly savor every bite.

The re-closable cardboard envelope keeps whatever you manage to resist pristine, while the inner cello wrapping adds to the neatness of your experience.

There are two ranges for each origin: 72% and 85%. All together, they make a fabulous eight bar tasting menu allowing you to compare each of the four regions and how the different percentages highlight various aspects of their respective beans. They offer their own tasting notes on each package, a great jumping off point for your own palate; or, you can taste it yourself and then compare your notes to theirs.

I sampled all eight iterations only made from organic cocoa beans and organic unrefined cane sugar. The following four are all from the 72% range.

Brazil: I tasted dark fruits, a little terroir, roasted nuts. They tasted: Tropical fruit and floral notes, hints of grapefruit and pineapple with macadamia undertones.

Dominican Republic: Super creamy texture, deep dark chocolate flavor with a hint of coffee. They tasted similar flavors.

Madagascar:  Roasted chestnuts, plum, a hint of citrus and a slightly dry finish. They also tasted raspberry and spices.

Peru: Apricot, raisins, and nuts. They also tasted biscuit, dried fruit and caramel.

Just a note about tasting chocolate: Each person has a different history, palate and sensitivity. Not only that, but one’s bodily and mood states change constantly and influence what you may experience on any given day, or time.

Here are my notes from the 85% range:

Brazil: Assertive terroir, slight leather, incredibly strong chocolate presence with a dry undertone. (Their notes for all four of these 85% bars were the same as for the 72%.)

Dominican Republic: Coffee and dark roasted nuts.

Madagascar: Creamy texture, spices, dried plum, with a lingering finish.

Peru: A pronounced caramel flavor, raisins and velvety undertones.

They also offer a Raspberry and Himalayan Pink Salt bar, 88%, in a blend of Brazilian and Dominican Republic beans with the addition of organic cocoa butter and organic vanilla. The extra creaminess from the cocoa butter makes this high intensity bar quite easy to eat. The raspberry and salt add layers of complexity and, ultimately, a lingering nuanced experience.

Their Vegan Milk bar, made with cocoa beans, cane sugar, cocoa butter, almonds, cashews, coconut, vanilla and sea salt (all of which are organic except the sea salt) was a luxuriously smooth chocolate where all flavors melded into a lighter chocolate experience to satisfy any vegan milk chocolate lover.

There are other chocolate treats on their website and limited special edition bars.

 

New fabulous criollo plantation video

Here’s a link to the Heirloom Cacao Preservation Fund: https://hcpcacao.org. They are doing great work.

Tabal Chocolate

Like so many chocolate makers these days, Dan Bieser, head of Tabal Chocolate, cares about the provenance of his beans as well as the farmer’s conditions. In 2012, when Dan started his company, he used old school chocolate making tools made from scratch. According to their website, Tabal means: Relationship; anything attached to or connected to another.

In 2017 Dan opened their retail store to a beautiful old building, circa 1929, in the historic village of Wauwatosa, WI.

I sampled five of their smaller, 1.2 ounce bars. All had inclusions, though you can buy their single origin bars in their unadulterated state in a larger 3 ounce size.

70% Chaga is the perfect place to start during COVID time as the mushroom is reported to have great immunity boosting properties. I couldn’t really taste the fungi, per se, though it added an earthiness to this satisfying bar.

Colombia Salted coffee, also 70%, was an amped up mocha chocolate. The salt was a subtle addition, not overwhelming, but enhancing the other two predominant flavors.

70% Peppermint Rooibos, is made with beans from La Paz, Bolivia and tea from Rishi Tea in Milwaukee, WI. Rishi is a well known tea purveyor and makes high quality, fresh products. This bar was enhanced by mint, not overwhelmed with it. The Rooibos tea gave it an extra grassy note.

Costa Rica, 70%, with flaked sea salt had a lovely astringent edge and was made with beans from the Finca La Amistad plantation in Upala, Costa Rica.

Blueberry Rooibos, 70%, was redolent of the acidic fruit, a great counterpoint to the velvety texture of the chocolate.

58% Huckleberry, a cousin of the blueberry, had an intriguing slightly acidic berry taste that perfectly balanced this slightly sweeter bar.

All six iterations were well tempered and very fresh.

Vital Leaf CBD Chocolates

What I immediately liked about the three different iterations of CBD infused chocolate bars I tried from Vital Leaf was the lack of CBD taste. I have tried some CBD edibles, not reviewed on this site, that have tasted like the herb.

The three bars I tried came in a neat little box, each with 30 mg of full spectrum hemp extract. They consider 10mg a serving, but I found I didn’t feel that dose and I am usually very sensitive to things. When I spoke with them they said the bars are divided into three 10mg portions so people can experiment and find the right dose for them gradually. I liked that idea. In general, the best way to enjoy the benefits of CBD is to buy from a reputable company that uses full spectrum hemp, and slowly try different doses.

There is a lot of confusion about CBD and I invite you to do your own research. The current market is complicated by the fact that different companies use different products, and some blend in herbs or other enhancers. Slow experimentation is the name of the game.

Vital Leaf’s CBD is non-psychoactive and only enhanced by the endocannabinoids and phytochemicals already in 73% dark chocolate.

The three bars I tried were all crisply tempered and very fresh.

Classic Dark, without any inclusions, tasted rich, satisfying and sweet enough for my taste.

Toasted Quinoa Crunch was generously covered on one side with super crispy quinoa. This added a large measure of texture to the bar and made it all too easy to scarf down.

Roasted hazelnut was replete with small pieces of hazelnuts which not only added textural interest but extra flavor.

I liked them all. They conveniently make large bars if you love a particular type, or you can try a sampler with all three varieties in half ounce bars.

In keeping with woke sensibilities they ethically source all their organic ingredients for a positive environmental and social impact.

9th & LARKIN

What makes something elegant? I started pondering that as I looked at the beautiful packaging from 9th & LARKIN. Is it the distillation of visuals to something simple yet arresting? Is it the fulcrum where form meets function? Are we wired for aesthetic appreciation, or does it come with exposure, experience and education? I don’t know the answers, but as poet Rainer Maria Rilke said:

“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything.”

Thankfully, I am able to live the experience of tasting extraordinary chocolate from makers who care deeply about their craft.

As you have no doubt discovered, these lovingly made, small batch chocolates are an indulgence. If you have the means to gift yourself, or someone else, the gustatory delight of a bar with this provenance, lucky you. In my hedonic calculus, saving on other things allows me to splurge on chocolate that truly makes me happier. If you’re not a chocophile, there are numerous delicious, less expensive options at your local food co-op, Whole Foods, or Aldi. If you’re a regular reader of this site, you know I’m an equal opportunity reviewer. I can enjoy a great, less expensive bar from TCHO, Equal Exchange, Endangered Species, and others, while swooning over something less ubiquitously available.

I would like to think I mindfully eat all the chocolate that passes my lips, but I know that’s not always the case. When tasting bars like these from 9th and LARKIN, I want to devote my full attention to the experience. Sharing it with you, helping spread the word about new makers, and touting the potential multifarious benefits of chocolate for ourselves, the farmers, and the environment is the unstated mission of this site.

We’re living in especially difficult times now. Savoring what is good is a way to find a simple, sensual delight in the midst of chaos. Like meditation, it offers up an opportunity to slow down, pay attention and ground yourself in the present moment.

9th & LARKIN’s chocolates are made by only two people, Lan and Brian. They hand select the beans, experiment with various roasting times, crack, winnow, grind and refine until there emerges a bar worthy of savoring. The chocolate is sublime. I sampled five of their offerings, all of which were beautiful and delicious.

There were two sizes: the first three were the smaller, 1.2 ounce squares, and the last two larger ones were 2.3 ounces. The smaller bars were a bit thinner and divided into 16 small squares. The larger bars are a little thicker and scored into 8 triangles. I liked both styles, though the package design for the larger bars is particularly stunning and makes for a very special gift. (They painted a dry cacao pod and rolled it onto a paper which was then screen-printed onto the wrappers.)

Öko-Caribe, Dominican Republic, 72% is a fruity rich, fudgy experience with a slight nuttiness. A fantastic choice for someone hesitant to dive into the deeper depths of cacao content.

Kokoa Kamili, Tanzania, 72% had dark fruit notes of plum and raisin. I liked the slight edge in the finish.

Wampusirpi, Honduras, 72% had similar fruitiness with undertones of caramel.

Tien Gang, Vietnam, 70% was a super satisfying bar with its nutty, brown sugar notes and drier lingering finish.

Matasawalevu, Fiji, 74% was my favorite as it combined the fruitiness of the first three with flavors of caramel and molasses. The slightly dry finish cemented the deal.

Dick Taylor Chocolate

There is something primal and beautiful about feeling loved. It settles our soul, grounds us in our self and lets us know everything will be OK.

While we can feel nurtured with a warm touch or kind word, food has historically been a gift that nurtures all our senses and helps us feel safe.  Chocolate, with its 300+ phytochemicals working diligently to boost both energy and mood, creates its own loving sustenance.

It’s easy to feel suffused with peace when the right chocolate comes along at the right time. That was exactly how I felt when I read the wrapper on Dick Taylor’s Dark Milk Bar.

It’s truly amazing how words can transport us. It doesn’t have to be a poem, great literature or a rousing speech. Heartfelt sentiments on a chocolate wrapper can create solidarity and connection.

I felt an immediate kinship with Dustin Taylor and Adam Dick, founders of Dick Taylor Chocolate, as I read the message on their microbatch offering of Vanilla Milk, 55%. Let me share what they say on the package:
“April is upon us, and Spring is in full swing! We usually find ourselves dreaming about warmer weather and summer adventures during this season. This year, however, we are faced with a mixed set of emotions. It’s in times like these that we really need a special treat- something comforting to take our minds off of the uncertainty around us. For many of us, a simple milk chocolate brings about a certain sense of familiarity and calm. The bar this month is a 55% dark milk chocolate, featuring our Brazilian cacao, and a very special A2/A2 whole milk powder made by our friends at Alexandre Family Farm. Old fashioned milk that is most natural to the body and easily digested. To finish it, we have added a healthy dose of vanilla bean, providing that wonderful aromatic quality that we remember from our favorite childhood chocolates. I hope this bar will provide you refuge in the present storm. With good chocolate, we will all make it through this trial together!”

The Brazilian bean Vanilla Milk bar is full of caramel and toffee flavors. While it’s definitely sweet, it’s not too sweet owing to the high, 55%, cacao content. Great by itself or with a cup of black coffee.

Limited Release, 75% Jamaican Bachelor’s Hall already has a cult following and I can easily understand why. The scent is clean, almost citrusy. The texture, like all their bars, divine. It’s the quintessence of chocolate. Complex, but not challenging. Layered flavors of coffee, roasted nuts, and persimmon all in a cracking temper.

All Dick Taylor’s bars are enticingly beautiful with their intricate scroll work design on the surface. Opening each reclosable cardboard package immediately sent a tantalizing chocolate aroma into the air.

Black Fig, 72%, made with beans from Madagascar was a revelation. I didn’t expect to like it as I thought it would contain chunks of dried figs. I couldn’t have been more mistaken. I have no idea how they made the tiny bites of fig at once both slightly chewy and crunchy, but they did. I don’t mean there was crunch from the seeds, that’s to be expected. I mean how sweetness and figginess was magically muted and transmuted to enhance the dark fruity notes of the chocolate. It’s somewhat astounding how just three ingredients can create such incredible flavors and textures.

Bee Pollen & Fennel in 70% dark Brazilian chocolate was a completely different experience. How did they come up with the idea for this creative combination? Bee pollen is famous for energizing you, which would just amp up the caffeine-like theobroma already in chocolate, and fennel is a great digestive. Chemistry aside, it’s an unusual bar. The chocolate itself is ultra rich and creamy, a good foil for the two fairly strong add-ins. The little spheres of pollen have a soft texture, like marshmallow, while the fennel seed’s chewiness slows down the process and enhances the lingering licorice finish.

Dick Taylor Chocolate has a large and tantalizing range of bars, drinking chocolate, chocolate coated almonds and caramels.

Right now, during COVID-19, they are offering free shipping on all orders. What a wonderful time to stock up.

TC Chocolate

It wasn’t that long ago that you shopped for high end chocolate in Paris or Belgium. Thankfully, the burgeoning of single origin artisanal chocolatiers has gifted us with an embarrassment of riches right here in America. A good example is TC Chocolate, a small batch organic producer in Fergus Falls, Minnesota.

All TC’s bars are perfectly tempered to a reflective polish artfully enhanced by little spherical indentations in each of the 24 mini squares that make up their 57 gram bars. A pet peeve of mine is chocolate bars that don’t break where they’re scored, these do. Yes, in the pantheon of human issues this is but a gnat’s knee, but I do appreciate when things work well. The bar’s design is like a piece of modern art housed in a resealable cardboard envelope with a foil liner. The tiny effort required in opening the package allowed me to anticipate its contents even more.

I sampled eight from their line, starting with the Lemon Poppy 38% white. This was a mini, half ounce bar, but it still had their signature design of little squares. Studded with poppy seeds and infused with essential oil of lemon, the light acidity and subtle crunch played against a creamy base.

Café au Lait was a 60% dark milk with finely ground Stumbeano’s coffee beans. It had a perfect balance of mocha flavor and a silky texture. All their chocolate was conched into ultra smoothness.

Salty Nibbler, 60%, dark milk, was another refined experience. Himalayan pink salt added astringency while crunchy nibs intensified the bar’s chocolate presence.

Haiti, 72%, was deliciously fruity with lingering flavors of dark, dried berries that became more apparent in the lingering finish.

Masdagascar, 75%, immediately impressed me with its rich, deep chocolate flavor grounded in undercurrents of fig and chestnut.

Belize, 77%, struck me with its marshmallow, caramel and nutty flavors all complemented by the slightly dry finish.

Oko Caribe, 77%, was just beautifully nuanced and intriguing. A luscious combination of apricot, leechee, melon and a hint of coffee complemented the velvety texture here, a calling card of this brand.

Alto Beni, 77%, had a light licorice first impression immediately backed up with butterscotch.

All their dark bars beckoned to me as their complex flavor profiles kept revealing new secrets.

I also tried TC’s Maple Toffee with Cocoa Nibs, touched with sea salt and topped with a layer of rich milk chocolate. Just throw away any preconceived notions you have about toffee. This is a beautiful rendition of what can often be a too-sweet confection. The scattering of crunchy nibs embedded in crisp, buttery toffee is inspired. As a perennial fan of maple syrup I love its addition here. The toffee doesn’t taste like maple, it just adds depth and interest.

TC Chocolate also offers a Broad Spectrum Smoked Alderwood Sea Salt Chocolate bar called Hemp Rich. A half ounce portion provides 20mg of hemp. Because broad-spectrum extracts contain multiple cannabinoids, they also produce the “entourage effect,” but without the THC. Oversimplifying it for brevity, broad-spectrum CBD is like a mix between full-spectrum CBD and CBD isolate. It contains the entire spectrum of cannabinoids EXCEPT for the THC, the part that gets you high. The flavor was less hemp-y than other similar products I have tried and the lusciousness of the chocolate made it all-too-easy to eat.

Tony’s Chocolonely

I had seen these at Whole Foods but passed them by. Frankly, the wrapper looked too silly to be hiding serious chocolate. I was wrong. Teun van de Keuken, the founder of Tony’s Chocolonely, started with a very serious mission that’s close to my heart: 100% slave free chocolate.

In my experience, the Belgians like sweet chocolate. That theory was supported when I learned Tony’s Chocolonely’s best selling bar in Belgium is their 32% Milk Chocolate Caramel Sea Salt. It, like the other two bars I tried, is tempered to an uber-crisp level. There are many crunchy, friable bits of caramel and it’s quite sweet with 14 grams of added sugar in each 30 gram portion. If the little child in you seeks chocolate solace they can find it here. (In the U.S. caramel usually means something chewy; here, it means more crunch.)

All Tony’s bars are very fresh and clock in at 180 grams, or 6.35 ounces. They feel even heftier because they’re scored into uneven huge chunks which break off fairly neatly as the grooves between sections are deep.

The 42% Dark Milk Pretzel Toffee was my favorite. Yes, it’s sweeter than my usual fare, but the big pretzel pieces provided great textural interest against the creamy chocolate. I found myself regressing to my teen years when sweet, creamy chocolate was the coin of the realm.

52% Dark Chocolate Almond with Sea Salt was studded with good sized pieces of roasted almonds enhanced by tangy, salty notes.

They have a wide assortment of offerings, including a 70% bar with 8 grams of sugar per serving; and, they are always creating something new, like: white turmeric chai coconut 28%, dark chili fudge peppercorn 51% and milk honeycomb thyme 32%.

If you want to see some lovely scenes of Belgium, take a virtual chocolate tour of their factory, and visit Tony’s Chocolate Fair watch the following video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uUBCHMGGGtE

La Maison de COCO

Michele De Luca-Verley, the chocolatier and founder of La Maison De COCO, has a particular affinity for chocolate and tea. She started combining these robust flavors in 2002 by infusing chocolate with organic teas from family owned estates in China, India, Thailand, Japan and beyond.

I sampled two crisply tempered 2 ounce shiny squares. This is chocolate to savor. The flavors are layered and took turns emerging on my palate. A lingering balanced finish kept my attention after the last morsel was gone.

Brandywine Tea 64% dark chocolate had a front and center fruitiness, a very plummy flavor and no discernible tannin from the tea, though there were teensy bits of actual tea leaves here and there. The criollo beans hail from Madagascar and are sourced from Valrhona, one of the earliest purveyors of fine chocolate. The tea comes from another stellar producer: Rishi.

Sea-Salted Caramel Tea 64% dark chocolate was exquisite, too. Super luxurious in its silky texture, accented with sea salt, tea leaves and vanilla. It was another gustatory voyage.

I eat a lot of chocolate and have sampled literally hundreds of bars from around the globe. These two from Michele are in a class by themselves. Originality in the chocolate world is not hard to come by as there are many incredibly talented chocolatiers making memorable bars. These two charmed me with their nuanced flavor and elegance.

The Caribbean Lime Truffles I sampled were made with heavy cream from Arruda’s Dairy in a nearby Rhode Island town. They came in a beautiful, yet simply designed cardboard box adorned with ribbon and an actual wax seal with La Maison De COCO’s “C” insignia. Their subtle lime flavor, with its hint of acidity, amped up the chocolate and cream, while the chocolate shell added contrasting texture.

In addition to the items I tried, Michele makes Les Mendiants Dorés (dark chocolate disks topped with dried fruit and nuts with gold leaf), other COCO chocolate bars and chocolate Carrés cookies (warmly spiced cookies made with nut flour, chocolate and eggs). You can get a monthly subscription that includes her classics as well as seasonal truffle offerings, like Citron Oolong Bittersweet, enrobed in white chocolate with lemon curd; La Vie en Rose, rose with a touch of mint; and Berry Bramble.

Zazubean Organic Chocolate

It was almost exactly eight years ago that I first reviewed Zazubean’s bars. I was smitten then and have fallen for them even harder this time around.

Tiz and Tara, founders of Zazubean, have a compelling motto: “Good for the growers, good for the planet, good for you.” While most smaller chocolate companies are tuned in to environmental and farmer conditions, and buy ethically sourced beans, these two women were doing it years ago.

Choosing to help farmers and their families by ensuring fair wages and working conditions was a no brainer for them. Zazubean provides all of its hard-working producers and growers with fair and just compensation for their cacao and other ingredients via FairTrade standards.

Their partners, such as Aliet Green in Indonesia & Machu Picchu in Peru, purchase school supplies for farmer’s children.

Zazubean’s Fair For Life certification also guarantees the conservation of human rights during all stages of production — meaning their growers (including smaller scale farmers) are provided with fair working conditions and wages to provide for their families while also benefiting surrounding communities.

Their beans are organically-farmed using traditional shade-grown agriculture, protecting the farmer’s health, customers and native flora and fauna. The beans are sourced from a variety of locations including: the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Peru, Indonesia, and Panama.

There are three major ranges of offerings on their website: Superfood Chocolate, Coconut Sugar Chocolate and Limited Edition bars.

I sampled nine of their bounty. All are beautifully tempered, offer up a visual sheen, an audible snap, and that irresistible chocolate aroma that whets your appetite for what’s to come.

The following five bars are all sweetened with coconut sugar.

The “Sassy” bar with Pomegranate & Hazelnut, 55%, was an unusual combination that really worked. I loved the crunchy roasted nuts, bits of chewy fruit, and the extra creaminess provided by coconut milk. The 55% chocolate brought a hint of sweetness that was beautifully offset by the tang from the pomegranate.

“Kiki” bar with Fig & Sea Salt was another inspired combo. Here, rich 65% dark chocolate is studded with small pieces of a fig confection made with figs, apple juice concentrate, rice flour and pectin. I thought this was inspired. It provided textural interest and a hit of figgy flavor without the seeds. All those sensations coalesced to really compliment the chocolate.

Their “Saltry” bar with small roasted almond pieces and sea salt was a well executed rendition of this classic combo. Crunchy nuts and a generous sprinkling of sea salt woke up my taste buds and accented the 65% chocolate’s inherent depth.

The “Nudie” bar clocked in at 80% and is a wonderful lower sugar option if you want a purer chocolate experience.

“Buff’d” clearly references the body you’ll have if you choose this 90% bar with only 3 grams of sugar in a 43 gram serving. I have been eating more chocolate in the 80%-100% range and this one was intense but smooth and eatable.

The following two bars have the addition of Maca. I have written about Maca root before, but here’s a quick refresher course: https://www.webmd.com/diet/ss/slideshow-diet-maca-root.

“Cheeky” was love at first bite. This combination of not-too-sweet toffee and banana was creative and super satisfying. The underlying 70% cacao created a fully adult experience that was enhanced by little bits of crunch. With 45% of my iron in 40 grams I can convince myself it’s a health food. Of course, as Freud said, defense mechanisms, like my rationalization, work best when one is unaware of them…still.

“Lunatic” was enhanced with mint and nibs. I love adding nibs to my own tempered chocolate creations, and was eager to taste this 73% bar. The texture was perfect: tiny pieces of nibs mingled with maca and mint to wake up all my senses. The aroma of mint and chocolate reached back into my childhood with Peppermint Patties, but in a wonderfully bittersweet rendition that seduced me from the first taste.

“Nutbar” with 70% cacao, coconut and almonds, had the addition of camu camu, which is very high in vitamin C and offers other benefits you can read about here: https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/camu-camu. The bar is full of coconut flavor and texture, a great mix with bits of roasted almond.

“Naked” was a 73% bar featuring nibs and vanilla. With no other add-ins it allowed the flavor of the Dominican Republic and Ecuadorian beans to shine through. This is a great go-to bar that easily quenches my desire for a hit of chocolate with an extra flash of chocolate intensity and crunch.

Zazubean’s bars have clearly stood the test of time. Tiz and Tara offer up an enormous bounty of choices, no matter what your dietary preferences or chocolate inclinations.

Hnina Hemp: Full Spectrum Hemp & Raw Chocolate

NOTICE: I am not a doctor and any information on CBD is for educational purposes only.

That said, what better time to try CBD than in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic?

Just to be clear: Hnina’s full spectrum hemp extract does not contain THC and will not get you high. When mixed with adaptogenic herbs like ashwagandha and calming herbs like chamomile, it can soothe your nerves and help lower anxiety. It’s also an excellent sleep aid. (Note: Full-spectrum can have up to .3% of THC by law. Not enough to get you high, but it’s there. Full-Spectrum is a whole food with all the cannabinoids and terpenes nature intended, and the highest efficacy. As CBD gets refined into isolates & distillates, it starts losing its therapeutic strength.)

From what I have heard, different people react to CBD differently and your reaction may depend on the dose. Some experimentation is probably a good idea, starting slowly.

Portion control might seem a bit daunting when you are faced with an enormous chocolate truffle, like the one I tried from Hnina Hemp with sprouted almonds and hazelnuts; but, each is actually 2.5 servings. Covered with their signature 85% raw dark chocolate, it contains a soft truffle center and tons of nuts. The combination of a little sweetness from the pure maple syrup, the super dark chocolate and the crunchy nuts makes it a textural paradise.

You can also buy their mini chocolate bar with full spectrum hemp, vanilla, maple syrup and herbs. This is less sweet than the truffle.

I also sampled Hnina’s Raw Cacao Sprouted Spread with Hazelnuts and Almonds. Their version of the uber-unhealthy ubiquitous hazelnut-chocolate spread is far less sweet and has a softer texture. I put mine in the fridge and eat it as ganache. It’s a very grown-up version of the other one made with the best ingredients you can find.

Last but not least, in a non-chocolate category I tried their Sprouted Seeds with pumpkin, flax, sunflower and sesame. I had to mention it as it’s incredibly crunchy and healthy. These are thin, flat pieces of slightly sweet, fiber rich and protein packed deliciousness. A perfect choice for anyone who craves an energizing snack that loves you back.

Lumineux Chocolate

Lumineux means luminous, or giving off bright light: glowing. As someone who is constantly looking for great adjectives to describe chocolate, I appreciate this word as it aptly expresses the feeling we chocophiles have when eating a great bar. It’s also the name of a new chocolate company in South Carolina headed by Ben and Becca Snyder.

I sampled three of their tasting bars, 1.1 ounce each and a great way to try a variety of their offerings. All are also available in 2.5 ounce bars.

Semuliki Forest, Uganda Latitude Trade Company (LTC) works in Bundibugyo in the Semuliki Forest in Western Uganda. They build transparent supply chains to create economic stability for their farmers as well as their customers. Their mission is to “sustainably increase incomes and reduce risk for farm households” where they work. The 70% bar I sampled, with cardamom and orange, was redolent with warm spice and perked up by light notes of orange which accentuated the chocolate’s inherent earthiness. All of which was balanced by a creamy texture from a well conched and tempered base.

As most of you already know, Côte d’Ivoire has a long history of issues with forced child labor, and worse. This is why Lumineux only works with farms in this country that are Rainforest Alliance certified. This certification requires farms to meet rigorous standards that protect wages and child well-being, in addition to conservation of natural resources. Lumineux’s 67% bar highlighted the bean’s profile of dark fruits, apricot, and leechee. With all that lovely fruitiness I appreciated the slightly dry lingering finish.

Kilombero Valley,Tanzania. Kokoa Kamili is in the Kilombero Valley, in the village of Mbingu. They take great pride in the quality of their cocoa beans as well as the quality of life for their farmers, paying top price for the beans and providing seedlings. Kokoa Kamili also ferments their cocoa beans centrally, allowing for consistent quality with some of the most interesting flavor profiles among African cacao. This 75% bar was a very different experience and a great counterpart to the previous one from the Ivory Coast. It had woody notes with green apple and what some refer to as “brownie batter” flavor. A bar that will keep you curious as you discover its secrets.