Category Archives: Bean-to-bar chocolate

Madecasse’s Impact Report on Chocolate Farmers in Madagascar

I was so heartened to read this report (see link below) from Madecasse about improving conditions for cocoa farmers and workers. Thankfully, they, Singing Rooster, and many other chocolate companies are changing the economic landscape of the industry. It may seem like a drop in the ocean compared to the impact of huge chocolate companies, but they are all doing what Gandhi suggested: Being the change they want to see, and I am grateful.

https://madecasse.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/Madécasse-2017-Impact-Report.pdf?utm_source=Consumer+E-mail+List&utm_campaign=8fc9f743ef-Impact_Report&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_225ed42655-8fc9f743ef-108196097

L’Amourette Chocolat

Apparently, L’Amourette means a little love affair in French. Perhaps, the intensity of a fling is a good way to describe the allure of these bars, but I could easily turn them into a long term relationship.

Andre V., founder of L’Amourette, says their company’s driving philosophy is the belief “in the uncompromising production of quality chocolate and confectionery, while not limiting our customer base to the wealthier layers of society.” In this day and age, when high quality, artisanal chocolate bars often go for $10, or more, for a 1.25-2 ounce bar, Andre offers a plethora of choices starting at $5 for large 3.5 ounce bars.

I often think of chocolatiers as gustatory explorers, and Andre is no exception. His Grenada Criollo Fine Estate 75% bar a case in point. He found a new Criollo that captivated him so much he experimented with making a small batch. If it garners the same interest in other chocolate lovers he will continue producing it. It’s that innovative and flexible attitude that distinguishes small batch producers from larger companies that can’t afford to take a chance on a smaller run. This aspect of bean-to-bar chocolate making is fairly new and incredibly creative. As consumers, we get the opportunity to refine and broaden our taste as new beans get added to the larger chocolate repertoire.

While I didn’t sample the Criollo bar, I did try two bars that point up both Andre’s desire to produce wonderful chocolate at an accessible price while also offering higher end single bean bars. I sampled one of each, starting with the estate variety: Arauca. This Columbian bean hails from the banks of the Arauca River, and has a very fresh, clean scent. It’s redolent of petrichor. (According to the Oxford Dictionary this means “a pleasant smell that frequently accompanies the first rain after a long period of warm, dry weather.”) The 80% Arouca bar has beans that were coached for 48 hours, which makes it incredibly creamy. The flavor is as chocolatey as it can get and lingers with a sustained full, dense, rich presence that seems to be intensified by using only two ingredients: cacao and sugar.

The Dark Chocolate bar with Pomelo Peel, 72%, is made from a combination of Rio Caribe and Carenero Superior beans from Venezuela. The Pomelo flavors, similar to grapefruit, are a wonderful contrast to the mellow and intriguing notes of the two beans. With a velvety texture and a deliciously lingering finish, this is a definite keeper. The candied Pomelo is very well integrated into the bar, so there are not big chunks of it…just enough to enhance the chocolate’s fruitiness. I also have to mention the bright turquoise inner foil wrapping that contrasts to the yellow cardboard box adored with an Art Nouveau design. Just lovely.

Andre offers a cornucopia of 3.5 ounce bars with add-ins including: 72% Dark Chocolate Flavored with Bacon & Salami, 72% Dark Chocolate with English Toffee, 72% Dark Chocolate with Cayenne Chili & Cinnamon, and 72% Dark Chocolate with Dried Figs.

K’UL Chocolate: 4 New Bars

I was delighted to see K’UL Chocolate has four new bars, and even happier to sample them. Their product development is our collective joy.

The most intriguing of the four is 70% Golden Spice with Turmeric (600mg per 1.45 ounce bar), Ginger, Ginseng, and Goldenberries. As someone who adds turmeric to my vinaigrette, rice, and morning porridge I was already a convert to its health benefits. Here, it adds extra depth to an already great base chocolate. The ginger and ginseng are delivered with a light hand, and the goldenberries add a delightfully chewy texture. Another winner, especially if you have been wondering how to get more turmeric into your diet.

70% Espresso Crunch with nibs is aptly named, as the crunch is evident in every bite. Looking for an afternoon shot of energy with only 9 gams of sugar in 1.23 ounce bar? Well, here’s a great option.

70% Matcha Mint with matcha green tea and peppermint is for those who want a pick-me-up from a little caffeine but aren’t in the market for an espresso buzz. Enlivened by mint, this bar is creamy, dark, and refreshing.

85% Dark is a blend of Caribbean and Latin American beans. With only 5 grams of sugar in a 1.23 ounce bar it has a very silky texture, balanced flavor profile with only a hint of acidity, and plummy/raisin notes. In addition, it offers a nutritional powerhouse of 30% of your iron, 4 grams of protein, and 5 grams of fiber. If you love super dark bars I wouldn’t miss this one.

If, like me, your love of chocolate extends to its manufacture, you might want to check out this great video of the K’UL factory tour: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-uV-Vd3Q-sY

Firefly Organic Bean to Bar Chocolate

I am always in the mood for something different from the chocolate world and Firefly organic bean to bar chocolate provides that new experience. This is an earthy line of bars, all of which, no matter what their cocoa content, speak a chocolate language developed centuries ago before the bean became so intertwined with sugar. More like a food, less like a confection. Because the beans are roasted and coached at the lowest possible temperature this is a perfect choice for someone who loves raw chocolate.

I like the phrase Jonas Ketterle, founder of Firefly Chocolate, uses on his wrapper: “This is not sweet chocolate, nor is it bitter–it is simply high vitality chocolate lovingly made in small batches from the bean…”

I sampled six of his bars, the most unusual of which was a wild harvested Bay Nut bar with 40% cacao, 30% bay nuts and 30% coconut sugar. While never having experienced bay nuts, I found the chocolate quite intriguing with its hickory-like, smokey flavor in a super creamy texture. The lingering taste reminded me of lychee nuts, and it was surprisingly un-sweet for its 40% cocoa content. Apparently, bay nuts were eaten by native people of California. They had a super long shelf life and once dried, stored well for years. The nuts were then roasted in ashes.

Firefly’s 85% dark chocolate with almonds and sea salt had chunks of nuts on the underside of the bar and was made with beans from Tanzania. The chocolate was intense, as you might expect from an 85% bar, and accented well with the roasted almonds.

The 60% Coconut Cream bar, made with Jonas’ stone ground coconut butter, was very creamy and less sweet than you would expect a 60% bar to be.

Maca is known in Peru as a stamina builder and hormone balancer. Firefly’s 77% bar with Maca was similar to the other chocolates in this range from Tanzanian beans: intense, full of terroir, and very earthy.

Last but not least, was the 77% Wildberry with beans from Belize. The berry notes were very light but enough of a presence to add another layer of flavor.

Jonas has a free monthly give-away you can sign up for on his website at the bottom of this page: https://fireflychocolate.com/handcrafted/vision/

Harper Macaw

One thing that really captivates me these days in the chocolate universe is a great dark milk bar. Harper Macaw makes one. It’s a 57% Brazilian rainforest direct trade sourced, perfectly tempered, smooth, creamy indulgence that is far too easy to scarf down. Dark milks offer the child in me something a little sweeter and the adult that higher cocoa intensity. If you’re doing a chocolate tasting this would make a great counterpoint to darker, single origin bars.

In that category Harper Macaw has you covered. Their line offers three dark single estate varieties: 74% Vale do Juliana, 75% M. Libânio, and 77% Tomé Açu. I did not sample those, but focused on their limited release 73% Bourbon Barrel Aged bar as a contrast to the dark milk. It was fabulous. Crisply tempered, redolent of bourbon’s lingering presence, rich, velvety, slightly acidic, with a hint of astringency, it sated my craving for a unique chocolate experience. I especially appreciated the slightly dry lingering finish as it etched its flavors into my memory.

Speaking of etching, each bar has a unique design that reminded me of the more angular elements in furniture created by Charles Rennie Macintosh. Just beautiful and unique. The outer wrappers are also works of art, as is Harper Macaw’s logo.

They also have a collection of bars with add-ins related to one’s political leanings. Titled: Tea Party, Left Wing, Red State, Flip-Flopper, Filibuster, and Taxation Without Representation, their inclusions run the gamut from butter toffee to peanuts and pretzels.

Harper Macaw is dedicated to conservation. When you buy their chocolate you help restore and protect deforested or vulnerable rainforest in northeast Brazil. Through partnerships with Instituto Uiraçu, American Bird Conservancy, and Rainforest Trust, they reinvest in the expansion of Reserva Serra Bonita, a cutting-edge rainforest conservation initiative. As Earth’s second most threatened terrestrial biome and the focal point of Brazil’s cacao industry, it is crucial to the survival of their cacao economy and the region’s biodiversity. By supporting innovative approaches in cacao farming Harper Macaw helps insure the health and stability of the region.

Wm Chocolate

Will Marx is young, creative, entrepreneurial, and dedicated to his craft. Pairing ethically traded single origin cocoa beans with a passion for chocolate that excites the senses, he has crafted a line of bars to tempt even the most jaded palate.

Here’s a rundown of the four I sampled, none of which had lecithin or vanilla.

68% Belize Moho Valley 2016 harvest bar: In a word, excellent. Very rounded and super satisfying with fruity, caramel flavors, a slightly dry finish and a ridiculously smooth texture. Beautifully tempered.

75% Ghana Rainforest Alliance 2016 Harvest: Another audibly tempered, glossy finish bar, equally delicious, but quite different. Light coffee notes, a hint of roasted chestnut; rich and supremely satisfying. Just the right amount of unrefined cane sugar for that butterscotch undertone.

70% Honduras Wampusirpi 2016 harvest bar with Hawaiian Red Salt: If you love salted chocolate you have to add this to your stash. The beans hail from a remote part of northeastern Honduras. The Hawaiian Red Salt, sprinkled with a deft hand on the underside of the bar, adds a note of astringency to a fairly creamy chocolate.

In the let’s get creative category I tasted a limited release 80% Markham Valley bar with Sweet Corn and Ancho Chile. Apparently, in Papua, New Guinea they dry their beans by a wood fire. You can definitely taste the smokiness in the chocolate, making it a perfect foil for the Ancho powder (medium heat) and crunchy morsels of corn scattered on the underside.

Will also offers drinking chocolate and tasting squares. As someone who has hosted a number of chocolate tastings I can attest to the good karma they generate. Everyone seems to leave happy.

Nuance Chocolate

Nuance. What a great name for a chocolate company. After all, nuance celebrates the subtle differences between similar things. Isn’t the awareness of different aspects of chocolate what we seek to discern and appreciate? What accounts for those differences that we gradually train our senses to notice? Is it the terroir, the bean’s handling, the phase of the moon when the beans were harvested (thank you, Rudolph Steiner for biodynamic farming), fermentation conditions, storage, shipping, conching, the addition or omission of vanilla, packaging, and other multifarious causes and conditions? Clearly, all contribute to the ultimate arbiter of taste: one’s own body-mind state when eating chocolate. Your internal conditions are affected by externals, like: climate, whether you’re tasting solo or in company, the aesthetics of your surroundings, ambient sounds, aromas, darkness, light, time of day, etc.

A Hershey bar might taste like manna from heaven in a prison cell, while the most beautifully packaged, carefully sourced, and perfectly tempered chocolate could taste like ashes if eaten after bad news.

The nuances are where it’s at. Kudos to Toby and Alix Gadd, creators of Nuance Chocolate, for coming up with such a fitting and inspirational name. Their bars are worth the time it takes to cultivate discernment. To eat this chocolate mindlessly would be sacrilegious.

Toby and Alix use premium cacao beans from ethical sources, which they roast in small batches and grind for up to three days. The dark bars I sampled had no added vanilla. If you’re looking for a super luxurious mouth feel it’s necessary to grind the beans a long time.

They have a huge assortment of bars on their website (www.nuancechocolate.com). Here are the ones I sampled:

Marañón 70% Peruvian bar, made from rare cacao from the Marañón River Canyon. I have tasted this bean on numerous occasions. It’s highly touted because of the fruity, slightly floral notes and gentle presence on your palate. Nuance’s rendition is velvety and full of those subtle layers of flavor that distinguish this bean from many others. When tasting something so refined I like a thinner bar, and that’s exactly how they made it.

Toby sent me a tasting flight of 16 gram batons with six squares each. I followed his suggestion for the order in which to try them:

Uganda 70% Dark, Forestero. Astonishingly good, I was struck with it’s creamy texture, beautiful temper, no acidity, and rounded flavor. If you’re searching for a 70% bar that doesn’t scream of soil, earthiness, coffee, or leather, this is it.

Next up was the 90% bar from Ghana, another Forastero, but far more intense with a much drier finish. If you’re exploring super dark chocolates I would suggest you give this a try. It had a definite presence from a long fermentation, and plenty of depth. I found the finish lasted for minutes and left me quite sated.

Number three was the 70% Fiji bar from Mataswalevu farm. Also Forestero beans, this one was fruitier with definite caramel notes and a very round finish. No bite or acidity.

Their 70% Criollo bean bar from the Ocumare Valley in Venezuela had a creamy texture, nuttiness balanced with floral notes, and finished with a soupçon of acidic edginess.

The bar from Papua New Guinea, a Forestero, has beans that were dried over an open fire. This is quite unusual, as most beans are dried in the sun or on racks. I definitely tasted the smokiness, which surprised my senses but not to the point where I missed the ultra-creamy texture or complex layers of dark fruitiness and terroir.

The 70% from Cuyagua, Venezuela is a more assertive Criollo. It intermingles acidity, dark fruits, earthiness (atypical for a Criollo), and hints of nutmeg for a complex, intriguing experience.

The 70% Moho Valley, Belize Criollo/Trinitarion bar is fascinating. It’s full of cherry, lychee, and walnut. The lovely dry finish is perfect against the chocolate’s creaminess.

Dark Milk bars are the darlings of the current chocolate scene and for good reason. They take milk chocolate into adult realms. Nuance’s 55% Chantilly Cream bar with Forestero beans from Ghana, is made with heavy cream, not milk, and the result is just ambrosial. Lush, rich, balanced, and satisfying, it’s different from every other dark milk I have ever sampled. If you love dark milks, this will vastly expand your repertoire.

Nuance’s 55% Dark Zurich Milk bar, also a Forestero from Ghana, evokes Dulce de Leche with its creamy caramel flavors and soothing finish. Here, the milk is full-fat from Holland. Both these dark milk bars have vanilla beans added for an extra layer of interest.

For you mocha lovers, they offer Bean Cycle #1, a collaboration bar of Ethiopian coffee beans and Trinitarian cacao from Madagascar. Unlike many other coffee and chocolate combos, Nuance’s rendition is smooth as silk. Coffee here is a presence, not a crunch. Different and delicious.

This is a company to watch. Their exacting standards, ability to coax a bean’s personality from its natural state, and know when to mix things up, makes them respectful of nature but also creative chocolatiers.