Category Archives: Artisanal chocolate

K’UL Chocolate Bean-to-Bar

I love innovation. Not for innovation’s sake, but when it truly improves something. K’UL (pronounced cool) Chocolate is definitely innovative. Founder, Peter Kelsey, calls his bars Superfood and I can see why. Chock full of nuts, seeds, anti-oxidants, and supplements each bar is its own little powerhouse of nutrition. It’s food, not candy. Vegan and gluten free.

K’UL Chocolate travels to the cacao farms, selects the beans and imports them. Then they roast, winnow and grind the beans. They make it their mission to improve the lives and environment of the farmers. Luckily, this kind of ethical agenda drives more and more chocolate companies.

The bars are designed by athletes for athletes. If you are into endurance sports or big adventures, K’UL Chocolate has a bar for you. The packaging itself is water proof and pocket sized. This means that even if you are hiking the Amazon and your chocolate melts, you can still neatly squeeze out its soft goodness.

I sampled a few and found them brimming with add-ins. My favorite was the Maca & Fruit bar. Maca is an ancient root that is used for energy, but it does not contain caffeine. (Here’s a link to more information on its benefits: http://draxe.com/top-5-maca-root-benefits-and-nutrition/) The combination of cherries, cranberries, raspberries and pomegranate is divinely chewy, and plays beautifully with the 70% chocolate.

All the chocolate they use is 70%. The pure bar has an earthy profile with a slightly dry finish and undertones of dark fruits, like raisins and plums. While I liked it, I was a bigger fan of the bars with add-ins, and not just for their added nutritional punch, but for their visual appeal. The fruits and nuts are mixed in so you can still see them peeking though the chocolate, quite beautiful.

Saltsensation, with sea salt flakes, was delicious. That little bit of sodium really amped up the chocolate’s flavor giving it a multi-layered, nuanced taste.

Peanuts & Currants was very satisfying, and a perfect choice for a hike or a briefcase.

Endurance, enhanced with Pumpkin seeds, Guarana and cranberries had a marvelous combination of crunchy and chewy textures. Guarana is like caffeine on steroids, so be warned if you are sensitive to its effects. On the other hand, if your body thrives on that extra burst of energy, this bar’s for you.

The folks at K’UL are always creating new combinations, so keep checking out their website for new temptations.

NOTE: They have a special introductory offer on their website where you can buy a variety pack of four bars for $11.99, including shipping.

Pacari Chocolate Covered Cacao Beans, Tropical Fruits and Nibs, and Drinking Cacao

The older I get the more alluring a new chocolate taste, texture, or even packaging, can be. So I was delighted to sample some of Pacari’s offerings.

Before I tell you about the chocolate, let’s talk about the visuals. The black sleeve encasing five mini boxes of dark chocolate covered fruits, espresso beans, and nibs is so appealing, any jaded chocophile would be thrilled to tuck into its contents. Whole, dark chocolate covered cacao beans, three larger boxes to a pack, also come in their own black cardboard box. Somehow, all that black makes them alluring.

Pacari uses Ecuadorian organic beans from small farms, cared for by 2500 families. They are committed to biodynamic techniques and have won many awards. Clearly, this chocolate has good karma.

Though there are five boxes (two ounces each) in the Tropical Fruits gift pack, there are four flavors: two dark chocolate covered banana, one dark chocolate covered nibs, one dark chocolate covered golden berries, and one dark chocolate covered espresso beans. The first thing I noticed after tasting all four varieties was the perfect amount of chocolate covering. Just enough to let the intensity of their centers come through. You might think banana is not intense, but these little dried pieces pack a ton of flavor, along with a satisfying chewy texture, and a hit of tropical fruit aroma. The espresso beans are super crunchy and full of caffeine. What a wonderful way to get a bit of a pick-me-up in the afternoon; especially, if you need something easily portable. The nibs, because they are small, sport a mini-crunch that’s addictive. The golden berries were my favorite for their burst of chewy, slightly acidic flavor complemented by that perfect layer of chocolate. Apparently, I am not the only one to think they’re divine, as they received the 2012 gold medal from The International Chocolate Awards.

Pacari’s Chocolate Covered Cocoa Beans come in three flavors: Natural, Banana, and Ginger. Each box is 3.17 ounces and there is one of each in a package. Frankly, I think this is a very gutsy, even visionary, product to produce. It shows an incredible respect for chocolate lovers everywhere who have embraced whole foods, and have cultivated an adult palate for deeper, less sweet chocolate. These are not to be scarfed down, but savored. If you love the crunch in life, each chocolate covered roasted bean will more than sate your craving. I would eat a few with some Jasmine Green or Silver Needle tea. Amazingly, for all their punch, there is no bitterness. The natural flavor beans were the essence of cacao, but refined. The ginger flavor had been done with a gentle touch, so the spice didn’t overwhelm. As for the banana, as you would imagine, it added a bit of extra sweetness, and a whiff of banana flavor. An interesting trio, and a fantastic choice for a chocolate tasting. Each chocolate coated bean was dusted with cocoa powder which made them look like truffles.

Pacari’s drinking chocolate is another visual and gustatory winner. The cocoa itself is Arriba Nacional, one of the world’s best if you like fruity, floral flavors. It’s a subtle, yet compelling, flavor profile that is full of nuance. I used some of this 100% cocoa in a simple brownie recipe. Once they cooled, I crumbled them and stirred the chunks into tempered dark milk chocolate to make brownie bites. Delicious. Far simpler is to mix some into a cup of steaming milk with your favorite sweetener for an almost instant treat.

Pacari likes to promote the work of local artists. Paula Barragan’s work adorns this box. You can see more of it here: http://www.paulabarragan.com. I checked out her art and it is beautifully energetic, open, colorful, and inviting.

Pacari offers free shipping on all orders over $25. That’s a rarity and an extra incentive to get tempted…as if you needed one.

Hoja Verde Chocolate

Just when I thought I had heard every cool thing one could know about chocolate and its production here comes Hoja Verde with their factory right on the equator. Since 2014 it has been in Cayambe, Ecuador, bisected by the equator. One half is located in the northern hemisphere and the other half in the southern hemisphere.

Their beans, the now famous Arriba or cocoa Nacional, are sourced from an area above the Guavas river in Ecuador. I have written about them before as their lovely floral notes and lack of bitterness are fairly legendary.

Let’s start with the four bonbons, all made with 58% dark chocolate. I have an affinity for chocolate with passion fruit and this little gem combined them in a happy marriage of crisply tempered chocolate encasing a delicious filling of passion fruit, whole milk and sugar. Rich, sweet, and decadent. Guava was also stellar. Mint, with its creamy green filling rang in at a perfect pitch of sharp coolness, while tangerine had a surprisingly mellow citrus flavor.

I also sampled eight 50 gram bars, each with 14 rectangular pieces. The 50% dark milk bar was just luscious. There’s nothing like a great dark milk chocolate and this one hit a home run with its adult, not-too-sweet flavor, snappy temper, and smooth texture.

There are three 58% bars, all somewhat sweet, but still full of dark bean complexity and depth. One had crunchy peanuts embedded on its side, another was mixed with toasted quinoa, giving a more subtle textural interest, and the third was infiltrated with chia seeds that gave it a slightly more pronounced crunch.

The remaining bars did not have add-ins, which allowed for the full flavor profile of the beans to come through. All had a firm temper. The 58% and 66% bars have 4 grams of sugar per 10 grams of chocolate. The 66% was far more layered, reminiscent of dark fruits and dusky florals. The 58% was better suited to the three previously mentioned bars. 72% was sublime. Those same dark fruity notes with chestnut and a perfectly balanced long dry finish. 80%, an almost black chocolate, was also immensely satisfying as it had everything the 72% offered plus a deeper, earthier, perfectly rounded flavor not easily achieved in an 80% bar. To me, Arriba beans shine in the bars with higher cacao content as they bring a softness to what might otherwise be too intense.

ChoN’anga Chocolate Barks

Johannes Busch, Nelson Schwab IV, and Brando Tijerina are the triumvirate behind ChoN’anga Chocolate with benefits. Together, they have created a line of barks and truffles infused with herbs, nuts, and fruits. Each one has a different focus from energizing to relaxing.

I sampled six of their seven barks. They come in two sizes: single serving 40 gram pouches and 114 gram bags, both of which are resealable. The barks are made with 70% couverture from the Dominican Republic and Ecuador.

Unlike other bark type chocolates, these are already cut into small rectangles that make them neater to eat.

ENERGY is enhanced with sprouted almonds, matcha green tea, dried blueberries and bee pollen, all of which pack a rejuvenating and nutritional punch. I liked the crunchy nuts, chewy berries, and uplifting qualities of the tea and bee pollen.

BREATHE is refreshing with its addition of mint, blueberries, hemp seeds, ginseng, ginkgo biloba, cocoa nibs, and osha root. That last one was new to me so I looked it up. Here is what I found on a site by Dr. Edward Group DC, NP: “Osha root has long been used by Native Americans for cold, cough, and other respiratory ailments. The root contains oils, including camphor, saponins, ferulic acid, terpenes, and phytosterols. One of the most notable benefits is its numbing effect, used to help soothe the irritated tissue of a sore throat. It has been an ingredient in cough drops and lozenges and can even be made into a cough syrup that is more effective than echinacea and goldenseal.” I did feel as if I was breathing more freely after eating just one piece. (Other research has shown that chocolate itself is very effective at relieving coughs. See one of the many articles here: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/4032585.stm)

SUPER ANTI-OXIDANT has organic almonds, pecans, blueberries, cherries, golden berries, ginger, sesame seeds., matcha green tea, and turmeric. That might sound like a gustatory free-for-all, but each ingredient was used judiciously making the final product still very choco-centric.

VIBRANCY has a very lovely aroma of lavender and rose petals along with its add-ins of sunflower seeds, blueberries, nettle leaf, and damiana. Historically, damiana has been used as an aphrodisiac and sexual potency booster by the native peoples of Mexico, including the Mayan Indians. It also increases energy, and helps asthma, depression, and menstrual problems.

RECOVERY has a chewier texture as it is full of organic cherries, ginger, and banana. There’s also a crunchy undertone from organic pecans, sesame seeds, and hemp seeds. A very yummy combo.

VITALITY was another bar chockfull of fruits and nuts including sunflower seeds, figs, dates, hemp seeds, maca root, Siberian ginseng, ginkgo biloba, and horny goat weed. (Here’s a link to more information on horny goat weed: http://www.webmd.com/vitamins-supplements/ingredientmono-699-horny%20goat%20weed.aspx?activeingredientid=699&activeingredientname=horny%20goat%20weed)

Clearly, it might not be wise to scarf down bags and bags of these nutritionally enhanced chocolates at one sitting. I sampled some of each one at the same time and felt no adverse effects. Of course, chocolate itself has 300+ phytochemicals, so anytime you’re eating a 70% or higher bar you are already getting myriad health benefits. The additional ingredients in ChoN’anga are wonderful if you are looking for specific enhancements.

The company is also happy to create custom blends and bulk orders if you have specific dietary goals or requirements.

Chocolate Inspirations: Sweet Buddies

Are they called Sweet Buddies because there are two to a pack? Or, is it because they will be your chocolate pals? Maybe, the ingredients are good buddies? Beats me. All I know is they are another great creation from Chocolate Inspirations.

My favorite of the trio has salted vanilla bean caramel paired with roasted peanuts and enrobed in 58% dark chocolate. What makes these extra delicious is the perfectly chewy texture of the caramel. It allows each bite to last a satisfyingly long time. I am always amazed at how a little sea salt can both highlight the individual flavors and then corral them into a fiesta of complex flavors. Heaven!

I liked the sublime combination of salted vanilla caramel and marshmallow in the next bar because the coconut cream came through more strongly. A completely different experience, it seduced me with silky, slightly chewy marshmallow enhanced by the chewier caramel and thick chocolate couverture. Since there are not many marshmallow and chocolate confections available, I would suggest trying these if you love that combo.

Though not enrobed in chocolate, the last duo was salted vanilla caramel and peanut. Even though I am a chocophile, this bar was just wonderful. Without couverture, the saltiness of the caramel was accentuated and highlighted by crunchy nuts.

There was not a weight on the wrapper, though each bar is about 2 ounces, giving you two big portions in each package.

Amore di Mona

In our current chocolate laden world it is difficult to create something that stands out. Chef Meagan of Amore di Mona has managed to do that with her Madhava agave sweetened dark chocolates and caramels. Using agave gives them a much lower glycemic index and is particularly well suited to caramels.

I sampled the plain dark bar first. With only four grams of sugar in a 35 gram portion, the whole bar, it was just sweet enough to make it a treat, rather than a health food. The agave has an interesting effect on the temper, giving it a slightly creamier texture.

Next up were the two Caramela bars, each weighing in at 64 grams. It’s hard to believe there are only two grams of sugar in each 21 gram square, as they taste rich and immensely satisfying. The very fact that there are three large squares per box makes them a super portable way to enjoy dark chocolate coated caramels. I can easily see taking these along with me to the movies, as their perfectly chewy centers prolongs your enjoyment. The one with cranberries adds an extra layer of sweetness and texture. Using apple juice sweetened cranberries makes these even more crave-worthy, while the addition of organic ground vanilla beans beautifully rounds out the caramel-chocolate flavors.

I also tried their box of assorted chocolates: dark, caramela, caramela with cranberries, caramela with cherries, caramela with crunchy coffee beans, dark with currants, and dark with crunchy coffee beans. The dark chocolates are heart-shaped and very visually appealing. The caramelas are more rectangular. Slightly chewy, creamy caramel blends wonderfully with all the add-ins, though the one that really woke up my taste buds was studded with crunchy coffee beans. What a great juxtaposition of flavors and textures.

Always one to pay attention to packaging, I appreciated the ribbon and seal adorning both boxes.

Artisana Organics Criollo Chocolates

Artisana chocolate has a history that goes back to 1700. The family has been farming cacao in Venezuela for over three hundred years, long before we even conceptualized an “organic” food label. It was always organic and still is, though now it’s USDA certified, Non-GMO, vegan, and gluten free.

I happen to have an on-going love affair with criollo beans and all three of their bars are made with this complex, yet mellow chocolate. There are three iterations: 65%, 75%, and 85%. Each 50 gram bar comes in a pretty cardboard envelope with a foil liner. The bars themselves are divided into six rectangles with a lovely bas relief of a cacao pod. Each rectangle has raised sides and an indented middle. For the life of me I don’t know why this design is so satisfying. Perhaps, because it accentuates the beautiful shiny, crisp temper?

Fifty gram bars are not typical, and unlike so many other companies that use small portion sizes to make nutritional information seem healthier, Artisana deems that one portion. It’s certainly not out of the question that you would eat the whole bar in one sitting; however, two large pieces are quite satisfying.

If you do decide to scarf down a whole bar you will get a whopping amount of iron. The 65% has 40% of your daily requirement, the 75% has 50%, and the 85% has 60%. For comparison, 135 grams of tenderloin has 9% of your daily iron needs.

Even though the bars sport the same criollo bean, they are vastly different in flavor. The 65% is sweet, but not too sweet. There is a tantalizingly dry edge that appears just as it melts in your mouth and continues through the finish. The combination of silkiness with that hint of dryness is deliciously balanced.

The 75% bar has an earthiness complemented by its creamy texture. Dark fruits, plum, cherry, and raisin round out its profile.

Not for the faint of heart is the 85% bar. An intense bittersweet chocolate with just 7 grams of sugar in a 50 gram portion. The dry edge is most pronounced here. If Carl Jung were a chocophile he would talk about this being the shadow side of criollo, as its sweeter incarnations look so innocent, while this super dark version challenges you with its intensity. It’s designed for those of you who want the full metal jacket of cacao’s chemical bounty.