Category Archives: chocolate and coffee

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.

Endorfin Foods Chocolate

Years ago, when I was raising my children, we belonged to a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture program). It was a wonderful experience that brought us closer to the farmers who grew our food. Apparently, the idea appealed to bean-to-bar maker Brian Wallace, founder of Endorfin Foods, and the world’s first Community Supported Chocolate (CSC) box. Just like a CSA, it creates a relationship between the grower and the consumer. Brian’s program sends out a box of chocolates every month with your subscription. These are a combination of products made exclusively for the CSC, like: chocolate covered exotic fruits, truffles, barks, their whole bean drinking chocolate, and a couple of bars from his regular range. Of course, you don’t have to belong to his CSC to enjoy his chocolate as it can be purchased any day from his website.

Brian’s beans are never roasted. They are: fermented and dried on site, then cracked and winnowed, crushed, and stoneground with coconut sugar and coconut mylk before being milled, tempered, then molded into bars.

Like other bean-to-bar companies, Endorphin Foods is trying to be the change it wants to see by paying farmers higher rates for their beans and working only with cacao grown by small farmer cooperatives and estates in Ecuador, the Dominican Republic, and Madagascar. This, as you know, bypasses the slavery and child labor used by 70% of cacao farmers in Western Africa.

I sampled five of Brian’s bars, all of which are sweetened with coconut sugar, dairy free, soy free, gluten free, agave free, and GMO free.

From the 80% single origin line I tried the Madagascar bar. Made from Criollo beans, its creamy texture enhanced a dark, fruity flavor profile.

Dark Coconut Mylk Chocolate, 56%, is sweeter with a melt in your mouth texture. It’s a completely different experience from traditional milk chocolate as it has a higher percentage of cacao solids. The coconut milk does not taste like coconut but somehow creates a milkier bar.

Dark Coconut Mylk Chocolate with Coffee and Cardamom, 60%, is a delicious combo of warm spice and coffee.

Dark Coconut Mylk Chocolate with Ginger and Rose, 56%, woke up my palate with its lovely gingery edge and floral essence. Unusual, creative, and very satisfying.

Dark Chocolate Coconut Mylk with Anise and Wormwood, 70%, used a darker base to balance out the heady flavors found in Absinthe liquor: Grand Wormwood, Anise, Sweet Fennel, Melissa (Lemon Balm), and Mugwort. The resulting bar is complex, rich, and slightly addictive.

At the time of this review, you can use the discount code “farmtotable” to get 30% off the first month of your own subscription box at http://www.endorfinfoods.com/subscriptions

Georgia Ramon Bean To Bar Chocolate

While Keats once said, “A thing of beauty is a joy forever,” when it comes to chocolate it’s all about the ephemerality of the experience. Perhaps, the beauty that fades quickly is precious because of its fleetingness. When I eat a piece of amazing chocolate and know the flavor, texture, and aroma are with me for only the briefest moment, I can savor them with a different kind of attention. Chocolate from Georgia Ramon reminds me how great chocolate can bring me fully into the moment. The visual joy of their packaging, the tactile and auditory pleasure of the reclosable interior cellophane sleeve, and the quality of their beans all invite a gustatory reverie.

Georg Bernardini and Ramona Gutmann founded Georgia Ramon in 2015, but this is no novice chocolatier. Bernardini has over 27 years experience in chocolate, patisseries & confiserie. His career has taken him from Bonn and Munich to Paris and Toulouse.

In 1992 he and Oliver Coppeneur founded Confiserie Coppeneur et Compagnon. While there, he set up the company’s bean to bar chocolate line. Ramona spent two years working at Confiserie Coppeneur in Bonn as a shop manager.

Georg wrote the definitive book on artisanal chocolate: “Chocolate – The Reference Standard.”

Georg and Ramona value sustainability using many organic ingredients and beans sourced from cooperatives, or plantations Georg has been working with for years.

Before I even tasted any of the eight bars they sent me, I was captivated by the flat, rectangular cardboard envelopes adorned with unique designs that went from an insanely beautiful Dia des Muertos themed painting on their Haitian 80%, to a floral hippie-inspired pattern on the 100%.

Each bar is 50 grams, but the packaging, flavor intensity, and lovely bas relief of Mondrian-like squares made me think it was larger.

Let’s start with the wildest chocolate combo I have ever eaten: Broccoli and Salted Almonds in White Chocolate. This khaki green beautifully thin slab is conched with de-oiled almond flour and air-dried broccoli powder. Then, they add Sicilian roasted and salted almonds. There are 42% cocoa solids. It tastes creamy, green, fresh, and comes studded with tiny bits of crunchy nuts. If you have a curious palate I would highly recommend experiencing this unique vegan bar.

At the opposite end of the cacao spectrum is their 100%, Mountains of the Moon. Made with a combination of Forastero and Trinitario beans from the Congo, it is well-tempered and incredibly intense. The earthy flavor redolent of coffee, spices, and leather.

Georgia Ramon’s 80% made with Haitian Trinitario and Criollo beans is crisply tempered, almost black, rich, and balanced. I am a fan of the 80% range and find products differ greatly. This one is so satisfying that even a small rectangle sated my craving for an exquisitely smooth chocolate with flavors of fig, roasted nuts, and cognac.

Their 70% dark from the TCGA Cooperative in Belize is a gentle, sweeter bar. Like its siblings, it’s beautifully tempered. The flavor is earthy and more straightforward with a slightly dry finish.

If you love the combination of dark chocolate and sea salt, Georgia Ramon offers a 70% with sea salt flakes from the Isle of Anglesey in Wales. It has the same amount of added sugar as the plain 70%, but a vastly different flavor profile. The salt is subtly added, achieving the exact right balance. Enough to perk up the essence of the beans while not overwhelming them.

Super finely ground coffee from the jungles of Ethiopia and cocoa nibs infiltrate every bite of their 55% bar. Unlike many others in this cacao content range, it is not particularly sweet, with 13 grams of sugar in the whole bar. An inventive, perfect combination that once tasted seems as if it should have been ubiquitous for years.

38% white chocolate never dreamed it could embrace beetroot and coconut, but it all deliciously comes together in this bar. The dark ruby-amethyst color looks amazing while the flavor and texture surprise your taste buds. Crunchy-chewy coconut pieces are a perfect counterpoint to the beetroot’s sweetness and ultra creamy texture.

Their 66% Brazilian Trinitarian dark milk bar was delightfully deep, full of terroir, and ground but not conched. Its mildness combined with memories of the bean’s earthy origins, making it another original from Georgia Ramon.

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.

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.

Chocolate and Love

To a chocolate sybarite there is something exquisite about discovering a truly delicious and intensely satisfying 80% bar. I just had that wonderful experience as I dove into Chocolate and Love’s 80% Panama single origin chocolate. Beautifully tempered, it makes an audible snap when you break off one of the 24 little rectangles. Creating a great super dark chocolate takes real talent, as you can’t distract the palate with add-ins (even though I love them, too), like nuts, fruit, nibs, coffee, milk, cream, or sweeteners. This bar delivers one of the most balanced chocolate flavor profiles I have ever had. With its ultra smooth texture, raw cane sugar and vanilla pods, and only seven grams of sugar in a 37 gram portion, you have a winner on all fronts.

To make things even more appealing, Chocolate and Love houses their bars in beautiful wrappers with images of flowers, Chinese symbols, cocoa pods, hearts, peacock feathers, fruits, and leaves making them a joy to behold and give as gifts.

The beans are Trinitario, and my favorite: Criollo.

After my ecstatic 80% Panama experience, I thought I would try their 55% bar with Caramel and Sea Salt. Here, the caramel comes in a subtle crunchy form with the sea salt a zingy counterpoint.

Also in their 55% range is Dark Chocolate with Coffee. I really enjoyed the mocha flavor and appreciated their choice of 55% cocoa for its creamier texture.

At 65%, the Orange bar gives you a foretaste of what’s to come with its citrus scent.

67% Mint is a gentle presence in the form of tiny bits of peppermint crunch.

My last sample was their aptly named Filthy Rich 71% bar. For a 71% chocolate it was very mild, so if you are looking for a higher cacao content that won’t hit you upside the head, this is it.

The company is owned by Birgitte Hovman and Richard O’Connor. They are committed to making chocolate in an ethical manner and running their company similarly, So far, they have planted 22,000 trees in Ethiopia through the Weforest organization. In addition, their cocoa comes from small scale family farms through COCABO cooperative, a pioneer in sustainable management and conservable resources.

Baroness Chocolates

There are over 360 reviews on this site, and for almost all of them I have relied on my own opinion. Once I sample the chocolates I typically share them with friends and family. Last night, however, I deviated from that routine and enlisted the help of six chums to tell me what they thought of Baroness Chocolates. I had already tasted the bars a few times and found them immensely appealing visually and full of wonderfully crunchy, chewy, creamy textures. Everyone thought the bars looked tantalizing and kept coming back for more, always a good sign.

The first thing I noticed about Baroness was the beautiful type-face of the company’s name. Reminiscent of the 1940s, its curvilinear, chubby letters evoked a sense of sumptuousness. Then, I spied a very creative coat of arms with two dogs, a unicorn, lion, fish, diamond, maple leaves, and a crown, beneath which is written “Invictus,” or undefeated. (You can read more about the coat of arms at the end of the review.)

The company’s motto, “Act with sincerity, Live with joy,” reflects their belief that chocolate should create joy and excitement. Any chocophile knows how even a whiff of cocoa can instantly lift someone’s mood. In keeping with their motto, they make sure the chocolates are sourced from Rainforest Alliance certified farmers in São Tomé, Ghana, Nigeria, Cote D’Ivoire, Peru, Colombia, Cameroon and Brazil. The farmers take steps to maintain or increase the tree cover, conserve soil quality and prevent erosion, reduce chemical use, protect wildlife, and ensure the well being of workers and their families by facilitating access to education and health care. In addition, they use only Tahitian vanilla, pure cocoa butter, whole cane sugar, muscavado sugar, agave syrup, and Dead Sea Salt. Their cream comes from cows living in open pastures. Even their gluten free cookies, caramel, butterscotch, sponge toffee, and brittle are made in house. The people at Baroness are committed to creating good chocolate karma.

The seven bars we all tasted were very appetizing with their generous mélange of nuts, cranberries, or drizzle on top.

Here’s the scoop:

AIyaaaa!, dark milk chocolate with almonds, sea salt and butterscotch. This is one of the five organic and Fairtrade bars. It is sweet, crunchy, and perked up with a touch of salt.

Love and Blessings, also organic, is a creamy blend of 50% milk and 50% dark. It offers both the richness of dark chocolate with the creaminess of milk.

Mocha Krunjay, organic, is a medium dark chocolate with coffee, toffee, sea salt and almonds. The coffee is noticeable but not overpowering, allowing it to take its fellow ingredients into adult territory. Quite yummy.

Subversive Squirrel, organic, is a not-too-sweet bar with very dark chocolate, peanuts, and brittle. I swooned over this combo.

Tantric Tiger, organic, is a semi-sweet base with roasted almonds, cranberries and sea salt, a decadent combination of flavors and textures.

Dob Dobs is semi-sweet chocolate with a filling of caramel topped with pecans. This is a more dessert-like bar and would be fabulous with Turkish coffee or espresso.

Tummy rub is a milk base with crunchy chocolate cookies in the middle. The combination of smooth, creamy milk chocolate and almost friable cookie is another dessert contender.

I was intrigued by the coat of arm and asked Billy Macy, the president of Baroness Chocolate, what each image symbolized.
Here is his reply:

“I started by first considering what was included in the Canadian Coat of Arms.
At he top of Baroness’s coat of arms is the maple leaf. Nothing says Canada quite like a maple leaf.
I then took the lion and unicorn from the sides of the Canadian Coat of Arms, moved them to the top and added wings. They represented courage and strength and a little magical fantasy (unicorn).
Then, I took the crown and put it on an angle to show royalty with whimsy (Canada is part of the the British Commonwealth).
I added the dogs on the side of the shield. They are Weimaraners, the dogs I have had throughout my life. They are very loving and do not know they are a dog. My 100 lb lap dog likes to sleep in the bed with or without the cat. Crazy but true.
The dogs are wearing a toque which I unfortunately am required to wear for 6 months a year in Canada. It also looks like a traditional baron’s headgear.
The shield has the B for Baroness, a diamond to represent all the bar logos which are based on the facets of jewels. And there is a fish. First off my wife Kaye is an artist who did a series on fish. She also believes, as she is Chinese, that fish are good luck. I thought once I have a horse, a cat, wings for birds and dogs I might as well have fish, too.
The last element is the word Invictus at the bottom. Invictus is from a poem about an unconquerable soul that is made to suffer. The poem was recently made more popular by Nelson Mandela. He read it over and over to give him strength during his imprisonment. More importantly to my wife and me, our late daughter Kaila had the word tattooed on her shoulder, as she found solace from the poem. Kaila was born with an aggressive form of cancer. She lived through the treatment but it left her with many medical issues that needed to be addressed during her life. She had 17 major surgeries including a heart transplant at the age of 14. She never burdened the world instead bringing joy and strength to others until she passed at the age of 19, 4 years ago. I guess after we lost her I needed to change my life to something more joyful, I found it was hard for my wife to cry when her mouth was full of chocolate. So I kept making her try everything I created. Eventually we decided to make our hobby a business. We concluded our Kickstarter Campaign on November 27th, 2013. In just one year we went from Kickstarter to being in Whole Foods across Canada, by the end of next week our bars will be available for sale from Coast to Coast in Canada.”