You can take the woman out of the 60s but you can’t take the 60s out of the woman. As a product of my time, I have always cared deeply that everyone have the opportunity to earn a living wage. Apparently, so do the people at Equal Exchange. Since 1986, their goal has been to focus on supporting small farm co-operatives that use sustainable agriculture and provide a fair wage.
Organic wares have been a staple in my household for 20 years. (It’s a fallacy to think you save money buying processed cheap foods when you can buy fresh, in-season produce, whole grains, beans, and dairy for less money—provided you are willing to do some basic cooking.) In spite of that, chocolate can have all the organic Fair Trade cred in the world, and if it doesn’t taste good I will not buy it. So it was with some measure of high hopes and trepidation I recently sampled a wide variety of bars from Equal Exchange.
I wrote about EE’s dark mint bar in a separate review, but as it turned out to be one of my favorites, I thought I’d include a few more words about it here. A wonderful blend of 67% dark chocolate with crisp mint bits that are so well distributed you get the same chocolate-mint-crunch experience in every bite. If you need more incentive to try this, each 40 gram serving has 28% of your daily requirement for iron and 3 grams of fiber. EE’s chocolate has a bit of a rustic feel and a slightly chewy texture. It works divinely when juxtaposed against those mini mint crystals.
EE’s 65% Orange Dark bar is more subtle than many orange infused chocolates. Perhaps, that’s because they use orange oil and not actual candied orange peel. Orange and chocolate is a very personal thing. Not everyone likes it; but, if you do, try this. There’s just enough orange to give the bar added interest, but not so much that you get sick of it after a few bites. Let a small square melt slowly in your mouth as the complexity of ground vanilla beans slow dances with the orange.
It’s amazing to me that only 3% of the 55% bar with Espresso Beans is ground beans, as their flavor permeates the experience so intensely I would have thought it was 50%. For someone like me, who is highly sensitive to caffeine, this allowed me to enjoy a flavor I rarely let myself have with no buzz. Of course, I make no such claim if you eat the whole 100 gram bar. Since EE also produces coffee, their beans were wonderfully fresh and robust. And, kudos to them for choosing a 55% chocolate in this bar as a creamy foil for the gustatory punch of the coffee. Last, but not least, was the aroma: chocolate and coffee…just stellar.
As those of you who regularly read this site know, I have been enamored with nibs lately. EE’s 68% with nibs strikes a great balance between full-bodied chocolate enlivened with crunchy bits of bean (10%). I find it incredibly helpful of them to tell you the exact percentage of their add-ins. There aren’t a ton of nibs in this bar. Just enough to make things interesting. Nibs don’t just add great texture, they add incredible depth of flavor. Yes, I would buy this again. The nib and mint bars can duke it out for first place.
Milk chocolate is not typically my first choice, but EE’s 38% milk bar with a hint of hazelnut (this time they didn’t give the percentage) is certainly a cut above your normal milk bar. It has the creaminess down pat and the hint of hazelnuts is reminiscent of Nutella (a worthy ancestor).
I am always amazed at how you can take two ingredients, like dark chocolate and almonds, and create a very different experience depending on the proliferation of nuts and the cacao content of the chocolate. EE’s rendition, a 55% dark bar with smallish pieces of almonds provides crunch in an easy-to-eat dark chocolate.
As have said before, once you get over 74% cacao content you run the risk of eating very bitter chocolate. EE’s 80% Panama bar, with only 7 grams of sugar per 40 gram serving (and a whopping 38% of your RDA of iron) is deep, dark, and delicious. That earthy texture I mentioned earlier is just perfect coupled with the slight sweetness, and the wonderful complexity of the bean. Unlike many other chocolates with high cacao content, there’s not even a hint of tobacco or soil in the aroma or taste. This rich experience is not to be missed.
Tasting the 71% dark bar after the 80% could have felt a bit wimpy, but it was fabulously assertive in a gentler way. These beans are from the Conacado co-op in the Dominican Republic and they are different from the Panamanian beans. Trust me, both are very easy to scarf down. The 71% chocolate is for those times you want something serious but not that serious. As a dark chocolate lover, even I am not always in the mood for a super dark fix.
Equal Exchange bars are fairly ubiquitous. You can easily find them in many supermarkets; so, it’s even more miraculous that the quality and variety of their offerings is so great.