Category Archives: Chocolate & research

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/

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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.

K’ul Chocolate II

I am truly smitten with the single origin Farm to Bar offerings from K’ul. The four bars I sampled would make a fabulous addition to any chocolate tasting with their combination of depth, character, beautiful tempering, and subtlety…assuming I wouldn’t scarf them down before the guests arrived.

Their Marañón River Peruvian Fortunato No.4 (also known as Nacional) made from the world’s rarest white cacao beans is just sublime: fruity, fresh, with a hint of acidity, it showcases the nuances of this special bean.

Fazenda Camboa, Bahia, Brazil is another wonder. Actually, I have had my share of Nacional and always love it. This organic Forester bar was more of a revelation: super creamy texture, caramel undertones, and a lovely finish.

Hacienda Limon, Los Rios, Ecuador is another delectable treat made from heirloom cacao. Like the Fazenda, it delivers its buttery rich flavors in an über creamy base.

Kafupbo, Petit Bourg, de Borgnes, Haiti is an organic chocolate with complex licorice undertones perked up by red fruits in a velvety texture. It could easily become my new favorite. Super luscious and satisfying.

In the realm of K’ul’s add-in creations is the Electrobar, beguiling me with bananas, evaporated coconut water, toasted coconut, electrolytes, and Cyprus sea salt. Its crunchy, chewy, immensely satisfying and rejuvenating. When K’ul adds ingredients, they do it with a very generous hand. This bar is chock full of flavor and textures, making each bite a slightly different gustatory adventure.

Their hand-roasted Marcona Almond bar in 70% dark chocolate is also easy to scarf down and great for an outdoor adventure.

I strongly recommend you get on their email list as they offer various promotions throughout the year, and you can keep up with their new products.

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.

Desbarres Chocolate

What do you really want from your chocolate? An energy boost? A calming break in your day? A gustatory joy? I expect a lot from my chocolate. Deep, rich taste, snappy tempering, a texture that enhances all the above, appealing packaging, and ethical sourcing. Quite a tall order.

Luckily for me, there are many incredible options out there. One of the newest is Desbarres from Uxbridge, Ontario, Canada. A micro-batch bean to bar manufacturer and brainchild of Ariane and Erik Hansen. They currently offer six different bars from Madagascar, Ecuador, Tanzania, and Trinidad, all in the 72-85% range. A distinguishing characteristic of all their chocolates is the two ingredient factor: the bars contain only chocolate and organic cane sugar. This, combined with their penchant for higher cocoa percentages, enables you to taste the bean in its least adulterated form.

Ariane designed all the packaging and it is lovely. The inner cardboard sleeve has a reproduction of a map drawn by Giovanni Batista from the 16th century. It shows the Tropic of Capricorn as a reference point, since chocolate is grown between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn, 10 degrees north and south of the equator.

All four of the bars I sampled were beautifully tempered with a nice gloss, and a satisfying snap. Each weighs 38 grams. That may sound like a small portion, but the chocolate is so satisfying I found a few bites truly sated my cravings.

The 72% Ambanja from Madagascar tasted of citrus and berries with a slightly dry finish. The circus was non-acidic, just there to add some complexity and balance to the berries. The beans are lauded by other chocolatiers and hail from the Akesson Estate in northern Madagascar.

The Ambaja 85% bar was a different cat altogether, even though the bean was the same. Here, the citrus berry combo was accented with a deep earthiness. If you are looking for an intense, uber chocolate experience, this is it.

Kilombero, from Tanzania, 78%, was also earthy, with coffee and caramel notes.

Camino Verde, also 78%, from Ecuador was the fruitiest of the four, and had a creamier finish.

All delivered a satisfying chocolate experience designed to highlight the nuances, complexities, and unique characteristics of each bean.

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.

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.