Category Archives: dark chocolate

Tabal Chocolate

Like so many chocolate makers these days, Dan Bieser, head of Tabal Chocolate, cares about the provenance of his beans as well as the farmer’s conditions. In 2012, when Dan started his company, he used old school chocolate making tools made from scratch. According to their website, Tabal means: Relationship; anything attached to or connected to another.

In 2017 Dan opened their retail store to a beautiful old building, circa 1929, in the historic village of Wauwatosa, WI.

I sampled five of their smaller, 1.2 ounce bars. All had inclusions, though you can buy their single origin bars in their unadulterated state in a larger 3 ounce size.

70% Chaga is the perfect place to start during COVID time as the mushroom is reported to have great immunity boosting properties. I couldn’t really taste the fungi, per se, though it added an earthiness to this satisfying bar.

Colombia Salted coffee, also 70%, was an amped up mocha chocolate. The salt was a subtle addition, not overwhelming, but enhancing the other two predominant flavors.

70% Peppermint Rooibos, is made with beans from La Paz, Bolivia and tea from Rishi Tea in Milwaukee, WI. Rishi is a well known tea purveyor and makes high quality, fresh products. This bar was enhanced by mint, not overwhelmed with it. The Rooibos tea gave it an extra grassy note.

Costa Rica, 70%, with flaked sea salt had a lovely astringent edge and was made with beans from the Finca La Amistad plantation in Upala, Costa Rica.

Blueberry Rooibos, 70%, was redolent of the acidic fruit, a great counterpoint to the velvety texture of the chocolate.

58% Huckleberry, a cousin of the blueberry, had an intriguing slightly acidic berry taste that perfectly balanced this slightly sweeter bar.

All six iterations were well tempered and very fresh.

Vital Leaf CBD Chocolates

What I immediately liked about the three different iterations of CBD infused chocolate bars I tried from Vital Leaf was the lack of CBD taste. I have tried some CBD edibles, not reviewed on this site, that have tasted like the herb.

The three bars I tried came in a neat little box, each with 30 mg of full spectrum hemp extract. They consider 10mg a serving, but I found I didn’t feel that dose and I am usually very sensitive to things. When I spoke with them they said the bars are divided into three 10mg portions so people can experiment and find the right dose for them gradually. I liked that idea. In general, the best way to enjoy the benefits of CBD is to buy from a reputable company that uses full spectrum hemp, and slowly try different doses.

There is a lot of confusion about CBD and I invite you to do your own research. The current market is complicated by the fact that different companies use different products, and some blend in herbs or other enhancers. Slow experimentation is the name of the game.

Vital Leaf’s CBD is non-psychoactive and only enhanced by the endocannabinoids and phytochemicals already in 73% dark chocolate.

The three bars I tried were all crisply tempered and very fresh.

Classic Dark, without any inclusions, tasted rich, satisfying and sweet enough for my taste.

Toasted Quinoa Crunch was generously covered on one side with super crispy quinoa. This added a large measure of texture to the bar and made it all too easy to scarf down.

Roasted hazelnut was replete with small pieces of hazelnuts which not only added textural interest but extra flavor.

I liked them all. They conveniently make large bars if you love a particular type, or you can try a sampler with all three varieties in half ounce bars.

In keeping with woke sensibilities they ethically source all their organic ingredients for a positive environmental and social impact.

9th & LARKIN

What makes something elegant? I started pondering that as I looked at the beautiful packaging from 9th & LARKIN. Is it the distillation of visuals to something simple yet arresting? Is it the fulcrum where form meets function? Are we wired for aesthetic appreciation, or does it come with exposure, experience and education? I don’t know the answers, but as poet Rainer Maria Rilke said:

“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything.”

Thankfully, I am able to live the experience of tasting extraordinary chocolate from makers who care deeply about their craft.

As you have no doubt discovered, these lovingly made, small batch chocolates are an indulgence. If you have the means to gift yourself, or someone else, the gustatory delight of a bar with this provenance, lucky you. In my hedonic calculus, saving on other things allows me to splurge on chocolate that truly makes me happier. If you’re not a chocophile, there are numerous delicious, less expensive options at your local food co-op, Whole Foods, or Aldi. If you’re a regular reader of this site, you know I’m an equal opportunity reviewer. I can enjoy a great, less expensive bar from TCHO, Equal Exchange, Endangered Species, and others, while swooning over something less ubiquitously available.

I would like to think I mindfully eat all the chocolate that passes my lips, but I know that’s not always the case. When tasting bars like these from 9th and LARKIN, I want to devote my full attention to the experience. Sharing it with you, helping spread the word about new makers, and touting the potential multifarious benefits of chocolate for ourselves, the farmers, and the environment is the unstated mission of this site.

We’re living in especially difficult times now. Savoring what is good is a way to find a simple, sensual delight in the midst of chaos. Like meditation, it offers up an opportunity to slow down, pay attention and ground yourself in the present moment.

9th & LARKIN’s chocolates are made by only two people, Lan and Brian. They hand select the beans, experiment with various roasting times, crack, winnow, grind and refine until there emerges a bar worthy of savoring. The chocolate is sublime. I sampled five of their offerings, all of which were beautiful and delicious.

There were two sizes: the first three were the smaller, 1.2 ounce squares, and the last two larger ones were 2.3 ounces. The smaller bars were a bit thinner and divided into 16 small squares. The larger bars are a little thicker and scored into 8 triangles. I liked both styles, though the package design for the larger bars is particularly stunning and makes for a very special gift. (They painted a dry cacao pod and rolled it onto a paper which was then screen-printed onto the wrappers.)

Öko-Caribe, Dominican Republic, 72% is a fruity rich, fudgy experience with a slight nuttiness. A fantastic choice for someone hesitant to dive into the deeper depths of cacao content.

Kokoa Kamili, Tanzania, 72% had dark fruit notes of plum and raisin. I liked the slight edge in the finish.

Wampusirpi, Honduras, 72% had similar fruitiness with undertones of caramel.

Tien Gang, Vietnam, 70% was a super satisfying bar with its nutty, brown sugar notes and drier lingering finish.

Matasawalevu, Fiji, 74% was my favorite as it combined the fruitiness of the first three with flavors of caramel and molasses. The slightly dry finish cemented the deal.

JOJO’S Chocolate

Nutritious chocolate is not an oxymoron. These bars from JOJO’S Chocolate are a case in point. They come seven to a bag, are large thick rectangles of bittersweet chocolate and are topped with various nuts and dried fruit. The one I sampled, 70% chocolate with almonds, cranberries and pistachios was fresh and satisfying. Even though the bars come in one bag, they were intact. The added protein from hemp adds a substantial nutritional boost while being soy free, gluten free and low in sugar (only 8 grams in a bar).

Chocolate is the major player here with fruit and nuts adding just the right amount of chewy texture and crunch. There are four different flavors: Original (the one I tried), Hawaiian, Raspberry and Peanut Butter.

I liked their phrase “kick the craving.” It’s definitely true for these bars. While they are chocolate, eating them does not activate a sugar craving. I felt as if I was eating something really good for me that was also satisfying: full of flavor and texture.

Dick Taylor Chocolate

There is something primal and beautiful about feeling loved. It settles our soul, grounds us in our self and lets us know everything will be OK.

While we can feel nurtured with a warm touch or kind word, food has historically been a gift that nurtures all our senses and helps us feel safe.  Chocolate, with its 300+ phytochemicals working diligently to boost both energy and mood, creates its own loving sustenance.

It’s easy to feel suffused with peace when the right chocolate comes along at the right time. That was exactly how I felt when I read the wrapper on Dick Taylor’s Dark Milk Bar.

It’s truly amazing how words can transport us. It doesn’t have to be a poem, great literature or a rousing speech. Heartfelt sentiments on a chocolate wrapper can create solidarity and connection.

I felt an immediate kinship with Dustin Taylor and Adam Dick, founders of Dick Taylor Chocolate, as I read the message on their microbatch offering of Vanilla Milk, 55%. Let me share what they say on the package:
“April is upon us, and Spring is in full swing! We usually find ourselves dreaming about warmer weather and summer adventures during this season. This year, however, we are faced with a mixed set of emotions. It’s in times like these that we really need a special treat- something comforting to take our minds off of the uncertainty around us. For many of us, a simple milk chocolate brings about a certain sense of familiarity and calm. The bar this month is a 55% dark milk chocolate, featuring our Brazilian cacao, and a very special A2/A2 whole milk powder made by our friends at Alexandre Family Farm. Old fashioned milk that is most natural to the body and easily digested. To finish it, we have added a healthy dose of vanilla bean, providing that wonderful aromatic quality that we remember from our favorite childhood chocolates. I hope this bar will provide you refuge in the present storm. With good chocolate, we will all make it through this trial together!”

The Brazilian bean Vanilla Milk bar is full of caramel and toffee flavors. While it’s definitely sweet, it’s not too sweet owing to the high, 55%, cacao content. Great by itself or with a cup of black coffee.

Limited Release, 75% Jamaican Bachelor’s Hall already has a cult following and I can easily understand why. The scent is clean, almost citrusy. The texture, like all their bars, divine. It’s the quintessence of chocolate. Complex, but not challenging. Layered flavors of coffee, roasted nuts, and persimmon all in a cracking temper.

All Dick Taylor’s bars are enticingly beautiful with their intricate scroll work design on the surface. Opening each reclosable cardboard package immediately sent a tantalizing chocolate aroma into the air.

Black Fig, 72%, made with beans from Madagascar was a revelation. I didn’t expect to like it as I thought it would contain chunks of dried figs. I couldn’t have been more mistaken. I have no idea how they made the tiny bites of fig at once both slightly chewy and crunchy, but they did. I don’t mean there was crunch from the seeds, that’s to be expected. I mean how sweetness and figginess was magically muted and transmuted to enhance the dark fruity notes of the chocolate. It’s somewhat astounding how just three ingredients can create such incredible flavors and textures.

Bee Pollen & Fennel in 70% dark Brazilian chocolate was a completely different experience. How did they come up with the idea for this creative combination? Bee pollen is famous for energizing you, which would just amp up the caffeine-like theobroma already in chocolate, and fennel is a great digestive. Chemistry aside, it’s an unusual bar. The chocolate itself is ultra rich and creamy, a good foil for the two fairly strong add-ins. The little spheres of pollen have a soft texture, like marshmallow, while the fennel seed’s chewiness slows down the process and enhances the lingering licorice finish.

Dick Taylor Chocolate has a large and tantalizing range of bars, drinking chocolate, chocolate coated almonds and caramels.

Right now, during COVID-19 time, they are offering free shipping on all orders. What a wonderful time to stock up.

TC Chocolate

It wasn’t that long ago that you shopped for high end chocolate in Paris or Belgium. Thankfully, the burgeoning of single origin artisanal chocolatiers has gifted us with an embarrassment of riches right here in America. A good example is TC Chocolate, a small batch organic producer in Fergus Falls, Minnesota.

All TC’s bars are perfectly tempered to a reflective polish artfully enhanced by little spherical indentations in each of the 24 mini squares that make up their 57 gram bars. A pet peeve of mine is chocolate bars that don’t break where they’re scored, these do. Yes, in the pantheon of human issues this is but a gnat’s knee, but I do appreciate when things work well. The bar’s design is like a piece of modern art housed in a resealable cardboard envelope with a foil liner. The tiny effort required in opening the package allowed me to anticipate its contents even more.

I sampled eight from their line, starting with the Lemon Poppy 38% white. This was a mini, half ounce bar, but it still had their signature design of little squares. Studded with poppy seeds and infused with essential oil of lemon, the light acidity and subtle crunch played against a creamy base.

Café au Lait was a 60% dark milk with finely ground Stumbeano’s coffee beans. It had a perfect balance of mocha flavor and a silky texture. All their chocolate was conched into ultra smoothness.

Salty Nibbler, 60%, dark milk, was another refined experience. Himalayan pink salt added astringency while crunchy nibs intensified the bar’s chocolate presence.

Haiti, 72%, was deliciously fruity with lingering flavors of dark, dried berries that became more apparent in the lingering finish.

Masdagascar, 75%, immediately impressed me with its rich, deep chocolate flavor grounded in undercurrents of fig and chestnut.

Belize, 77%, struck me with its marshmallow, caramel and nutty flavors all complemented by the slightly dry finish.

Oko Caribe, 77%, was just beautifully nuanced and intriguing. A luscious combination of apricot, leechee, melon and a hint of coffee complemented the velvety texture here, a calling card of this brand.

Alto Beni, 77%, had a light licorice first impression immediately backed up with butterscotch.

All their dark bars beckoned to me as their complex flavor profiles kept revealing new secrets.

I also tried TC’s Maple Toffee with Cocoa Nibs, touched with sea salt and topped with a layer of rich milk chocolate. Just throw away any preconceived notions you have about toffee. This is a beautiful rendition of what can often be a too-sweet confection. The scattering of crunchy nibs embedded in crisp, buttery toffee is inspired. As a perennial fan of maple syrup I love its addition here. The toffee doesn’t taste like maple, it just adds depth and interest.

TC Chocolate also offers a Broad Spectrum Smoked Alderwood Sea Salt Chocolate bar called Hemp Rich. A half ounce portion provides 20mg of hemp. Because broad-spectrum extracts contain multiple cannabinoids, they also produce the “entourage effect,” but without the THC. Oversimplifying it for brevity, broad-spectrum CBD is like a mix between full-spectrum CBD and CBD isolate. It contains the entire spectrum of cannabinoids EXCEPT for the THC, the part that gets you high. The flavor was less hemp-y than other similar products I have tried and the lusciousness of the chocolate made it all-too-easy to eat.

Tony’s Chocolonely

I had seen these at Whole Foods but passed them by. Frankly, the wrapper looked too silly to be hiding serious chocolate. I was wrong. Teun van de Keuken, the founder of Tony’s Chocolonely, started with a very serious mission that’s close to my heart: 100% slave free chocolate.

In my experience, the Belgians like sweet chocolate. That theory was supported when I learned Tony’s Chocolonely’s best selling bar in Belgium is their 32% Milk Chocolate Caramel Sea Salt. It, like the other two bars I tried, is tempered to an uber-crisp level. There are many crunchy, friable bits of caramel and it’s quite sweet with 14 grams of added sugar in each 30 gram portion. If the little child in you seeks chocolate solace they can find it here. (In the U.S. caramel usually means something chewy; here, it means more crunch.)

All Tony’s bars are very fresh and clock in at 180 grams, or 6.35 ounces. They feel even heftier because they’re scored into uneven huge chunks which break off fairly neatly as the grooves between sections are deep.

The 42% Dark Milk Pretzel Toffee was my favorite. Yes, it’s sweeter than my usual fare, but the big pretzel pieces provided great textural interest against the creamy chocolate. I found myself regressing to my teen years when sweet, creamy chocolate was the coin of the realm.

52% Dark Chocolate Almond with Sea Salt was studded with good sized pieces of roasted almonds enhanced by tangy, salty notes.

They have a wide assortment of offerings, including a 70% bar with 8 grams of sugar per serving; and, they are always creating something new, like: white turmeric chai coconut 28%, dark chili fudge peppercorn 51% and milk honeycomb thyme 32%.

If you want to see some lovely scenes of Belgium, take a virtual chocolate tour of their factory, and visit Tony’s Chocolate Fair watch the following video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uUBCHMGGGtE

La Maison de COCO

Michele De Luca-Verley, the chocolatier and founder of La Maison De COCO, has a particular affinity for chocolate and tea. She started combining these robust flavors in 2002 by infusing chocolate with organic teas from family owned estates in China, India, Thailand, Japan and beyond.

I sampled two crisply tempered 2 ounce shiny squares. This is chocolate to savor. The flavors are layered and took turns emerging on my palate. A lingering balanced finish kept my attention after the last morsel was gone.

Brandywine Tea 64% dark chocolate had a front and center fruitiness, a very plummy flavor and no discernible tannin from the tea, though there were teensy bits of actual tea leaves here and there. The criollo beans hail from Madagascar and are sourced from Valrhona, one of the earliest purveyors of fine chocolate. The tea comes from another stellar producer: Rishi.

Sea-Salted Caramel Tea 64% dark chocolate was exquisite, too. Super luxurious in its silky texture, accented with sea salt, tea leaves and vanilla. It was another gustatory voyage.

I eat a lot of chocolate and have sampled literally hundreds of bars from around the globe. These two from Michele are in a class by themselves. Originality in the chocolate world is not hard to come by as there are many incredibly talented chocolatiers making memorable bars. These two charmed me with their nuanced flavor and elegance.

The Caribbean Lime Truffles I sampled were made with heavy cream from Arruda’s Dairy in a nearby Rhode Island town. They came in a beautiful, yet simply designed cardboard box adorned with ribbon and an actual wax seal with La Maison De COCO’s “C” insignia. Their subtle lime flavor, with its hint of acidity, amped up the chocolate and cream, while the chocolate shell added contrasting texture.

In addition to the items I tried, Michele makes Les Mendiants Dorés (dark chocolate disks topped with dried fruit and nuts with gold leaf), other COCO chocolate bars and chocolate Carrés cookies (warmly spiced cookies made with nut flour, chocolate and eggs). You can get a monthly subscription that includes her classics as well as seasonal truffle offerings, like Citron Oolong Bittersweet, enrobed in white chocolate with lemon curd; La Vie en Rose, rose with a touch of mint; and Berry Bramble.

Zazubean Organic Chocolate

It was almost exactly eight years ago that I first reviewed Zazubean’s bars. I was smitten then and have fallen for them even harder this time around.

Tiz and Tara, founders of Zazubean, have a compelling motto: “Good for the growers, good for the planet, good for you.” While most smaller chocolate companies are tuned in to environmental and farmer conditions, and buy ethically sourced beans, these two women were doing it years ago.

Choosing to help farmers and their families by ensuring fair wages and working conditions was a no brainer for them. Zazubean provides all of its hard-working producers and growers with fair and just compensation for their cacao and other ingredients via FairTrade standards.

Their partners, such as Aliet Green in Indonesia & Machu Picchu in Peru, purchase school supplies for farmer’s children.

Zazubean’s Fair For Life certification also guarantees the conservation of human rights during all stages of production — meaning their growers (including smaller scale farmers) are provided with fair working conditions and wages to provide for their families while also benefiting surrounding communities.

Their beans are organically-farmed using traditional shade-grown agriculture, protecting the farmer’s health, customers and native flora and fauna. The beans are sourced from a variety of locations including: the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Peru, Indonesia, and Panama.

There are three major ranges of offerings on their website: Superfood Chocolate, Coconut Sugar Chocolate and Limited Edition bars.

I sampled nine of their bounty. All are beautifully tempered, offer up a visual sheen, an audible snap, and that irresistible chocolate aroma that whets your appetite for what’s to come.

The following five bars are all sweetened with coconut sugar.

The “Sassy” bar with Pomegranate & Hazelnut, 55%, was an unusual combination that really worked. I loved the crunchy roasted nuts, bits of chewy fruit, and the extra creaminess provided by coconut milk. The 55% chocolate brought a hint of sweetness that was beautifully offset by the tang from the pomegranate.

“Kiki” bar with Fig & Sea Salt was another inspired combo. Here, rich 65% dark chocolate is studded with small pieces of a fig confection made with figs, apple juice concentrate, rice flour and pectin. I thought this was inspired. It provided textural interest and a hit of figgy flavor without the seeds. All those sensations coalesced to really compliment the chocolate.

Their “Saltry” bar with small roasted almond pieces and sea salt was a well executed rendition of this classic combo. Crunchy nuts and a generous sprinkling of sea salt woke up my taste buds and accented the 65% chocolate’s inherent depth.

The “Nudie” bar clocked in at 80% and is a wonderful lower sugar option if you want a purer chocolate experience.

“Buff’d” clearly references the body you’ll have if you choose this 90% bar with only 3 grams of sugar in a 43 gram serving. I have been eating more chocolate in the 80%-100% range and this one was intense but smooth and eatable.

The following two bars have the addition of Maca. I have written about Maca root before, but here’s a quick refresher course: https://www.webmd.com/diet/ss/slideshow-diet-maca-root.

“Cheeky” was love at first bite. This combination of not-too-sweet toffee and banana was creative and super satisfying. The underlying 70% cacao created a fully adult experience that was enhanced by little bits of crunch. With 45% of my iron in 40 grams I can convince myself it’s a health food. Of course, as Freud said, defense mechanisms, like my rationalization, work best when one is unaware of them…still.

“Lunatic” was enhanced with mint and nibs. I love adding nibs to my own tempered chocolate creations, and was eager to taste this 73% bar. The texture was perfect: tiny pieces of nibs mingled with maca and mint to wake up all my senses. The aroma of mint and chocolate reached back into my childhood with Peppermint Patties, but in a wonderfully bittersweet rendition that seduced me from the first taste.

“Nutbar” with 70% cacao, coconut and almonds, had the addition of camu camu, which is very high in vitamin C and offers other benefits you can read about here: https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/camu-camu. The bar is full of coconut flavor and texture, a great mix with bits of roasted almond.

“Naked” was a 73% bar featuring nibs and vanilla. With no other add-ins it allowed the flavor of the Dominican Republic and Ecuadorian beans to shine through. This is a great go-to bar that easily quenches my desire for a hit of chocolate with an extra flash of chocolate intensity and crunch.

Zazubean’s bars have clearly stood the test of time. Tiz and Tara offer up an enormous bounty of choices, no matter what your dietary preferences or chocolate inclinations.

Hnina Hemp: Full Spectrum Hemp & Raw Chocolate

NOTICE: I am not a doctor and any information on CBD is for educational purposes only.

That said, what better time to try CBD than in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic?

Just to be clear: Hnina’s full spectrum hemp extract does not contain THC and will not get you high. When mixed with adaptogenic herbs like ashwagandha and calming herbs like chamomile, it can soothe your nerves and help lower anxiety. It’s also an excellent sleep aid. (Note: Full-spectrum can have up to .3% of THC by law. Not enough to get you high, but it’s there. Full-Spectrum is a whole food with all the cannabinoids and terpenes nature intended, and the highest efficacy. As CBD gets refined into isolates & distillates, it starts losing its therapeutic strength.)

From what I have heard, different people react to CBD differently and your reaction may depend on the dose. Some experimentation is probably a good idea, starting slowly.

Portion control might seem a bit daunting when you are faced with an enormous chocolate truffle, like the one I tried from Hnina Hemp with sprouted almonds and hazelnuts; but, each is actually 2.5 servings. Covered with their signature 85% raw dark chocolate, it contains a soft truffle center and tons of nuts. The combination of a little sweetness from the pure maple syrup, the super dark chocolate and the crunchy nuts makes it a textural paradise.

You can also buy their mini chocolate bar with full spectrum hemp, vanilla, maple syrup and herbs. This is less sweet than the truffle.

I also sampled Hnina’s Raw Cacao Sprouted Spread with Hazelnuts and Almonds. Their version of the uber-unhealthy ubiquitous hazelnut-chocolate spread is far less sweet and has a softer texture. I put mine in the fridge and eat it as ganache. It’s a very grown-up version of the other one made with the best ingredients you can find.

Last but not least, in a non-chocolate category I tried their Sprouted Seeds with pumpkin, flax, sunflower and sesame. I had to mention it as it’s incredibly crunchy and healthy. These are thin, flat pieces of slightly sweet, fiber rich and protein packed deliciousness. A perfect choice for anyone who craves an energizing snack that loves you back.