Category Archives: dark milk chocolate

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

Thinking Elvish Fantasy Chocolate

The multi-talented husband and wife team of Timothy and Lacy Christ was creating high end fantasy inspired costumes and jewelry before being captivated by the world of bean-to-bar chocolate. One look at their Elf-inspired website will give you a sense of their artistry. They source organic ingredients from Fair Trade purveyors, and their wares are soy-free, dairy-free, and non-GMO.

I sampled three of their bars, starting with the 50% almond milk infused dark milk bar made with Peruvian criollo beans from the Norandino cooperative in the Tumbas region. I have tried and loved many dark milk bars, even one from Dubai made with Camel’s milk, and each is fairly different from the next. By using almond milk, Timothy has created a velvety textured chocolate with caramel and molasses overtones.

Their 70% bar from the Lamas region of Peru transported me into a gustatory reverie with its beautiful, snappy temper, super rich, creamy texture, and multi-layered flavor profile of figs, walnuts, and terroir. The beans are a hybrid of trinitario and criollo. I also loved the slightly dry, tannic finish as a counterpoint to the sweetness and velvety texture preceding it.

Another offering from Peru (Norandino) is their 85% bar. An astonishingly flavorful high cacao content chocolate that, like the 70%, had me from my first morsel. Its crisp temper made an audible crack when I broke off a piece. The beans are just sublime. A deep chocolate flavor that’s earthy, with notes of coffee and plum. This 85% chocolate wakes up whatever nascent chocolate yearnings may be lurking in your unconscious. It would make a fabulous addition to a chocolate tasting, or a gift for your favorite chocophile; especially, one who is just venturing into the 80% and higher cacao stratosphere.

They also offer a quartet of cocoa butter bars with various add-ins: pistachios, cashews, almond milk & vanilla, and coconut.

In addition, they make beautiful small domed pyramids of chocolate that can fit into tiny tins you can take anywhere.

All bars are packaged in 1.4 ounce squares with their logo in bas relief.

If you’re lucky enough to live in Buffalo, take a trip to their Elmwood Village location and where you can taste the actual cacao beans and load up on gifts for all your chocolate loving friends.

Interested in the Norandino cacao farmers? You can read more here:
https://thewellingtonchocolatevoyage.wordpress.com/peru-norandino-3/
https://www.theochocolate.com/node/17356

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.

Dark Forest Single Origin Bean-to-Bar Chocolate

It’s amazing to see how many things conspire to create an overall impression of something, especially food. Take packaging, for example. Dark Forest Chocolate, a new bean-to bar company based in Western New York, has the sweetest logo above its name: dark brown abstract trees on a shiny copper background. Charming and captivating.

Though the bars weigh in at 60 grams, or 2.1 ounces, their division into 24 small rectangles makes it seem as if they are larger.

In the high end chocolate world, there is a never ending debate about whether to add vanilla. Does it highlight cacao’s naturally complex flavor, or not? Dark Forest chocolate makers Joanne and Dan Sundell do not add vanilla to their bars, so the unadulterated flavor of the beans shines through. I find this creates an earthier experience.

It is hard to stop eating their Goat Milk Dark Chocolate (50% cacao). Made of Trinitario-Forastero beans from Uganda, it is deliciously creamy with a depth you can’t find in commercial milk chocolate bars. The wonderful edge of acidity from the goat’s milk gives it even more complexity and interest. If you love dark milk bars, this is definitely one to try.

Dark Forest’s Madagascar Criollo from the famed Akesson plantation in the Sambirano Valley is a 70% bar. I have always been a big fan of Criollo beans and this one is no exception. At first, it may seem like Criollo is the Merlot of cacao because it is so easy to scarf down, but as it lingers you appreciate the beautiful balance of fruity flavors, texture, sweetness, and depth.

Their Tanzanian is a Trinitario from the Koko Kamili Cooperative and is also 70%. I loved the lingering slightly dry finish with its dark fruit and hint of tobacco/coffee notes.

They offer more flavors, like Cinnamon Pepper Milk, in their shop and will soon be able to ship.

Chocolate Naive: Peanut, Tahini, Spices, Dark with Berries, Dark with Hops, Dark Milk with Porcini, and Nicaragua Nicaliso

Lithuanians love their beer; especially, unfiltered, raw beers. Hence, this pairing of dark (67%) chocolate and hops, a very different experience from any other I have ever tasted. The initial leathery flavor reminded me of a stout or porter with their characteristic bitterness and lingering dry aftertaste. A definite roasted flavor of hops and malt predominate. Very interesting. The bar, based on Trinitario beans, is thin, beautifully tempered, and sports that lovely Chocolate Naive logo of a man on a huge unicycle.

Dark Chocolate with Berries (65%) is almost a polar opposite to the one with hops. It is based on a Madagascar Criollo, the perfect choice with blueberries, strawberries, and black currants (all freeze-dried, powdered, and fully amalgamated into the chocolate). This thin, snappy bar with the sweetness of fruit and the fetching tartness of berries delivers a series of exciting berry fireworks in each bite. A real jewel.

Another bar in this range is their Nicaragua Nicaliso (70%), a predominantly Criollo bean. Unlike other Criollos, this has a bit of an acidic edge, nothing harsh, just there to add another dimension to this typically gentle chocolate. The addition of clarified butter is ingenious as it enhances all the inherent flavors of this Central American cacao while adding an extra-velvety texture. Immensely satisfying and more complex than most Criollos.

I sampled three bars in their new organic range: Mulate. Tahini is a dark milk (45%) with tahini and a stage whisper of sesame seeds. A great marriage of super creamy chocolate and slightly chewy-crunchy, roasted sesame seeds, it won the Northwest Chocolate Festival’s Bronze Medal. Unique and delicious.

Their Mulate Peanut with Sea Salt (45%) combines smooth peanut butter with clarified butter to produce a subtle, but still noticeable, peanut taste in a velvety chocolate.

Spices is the name of the third bar in this trinity. On reading the ingredients: dark chocolate (65%) with cinnamon, vanilla, and cayenne, it would be easy to jump to the conclusion that cayenne steals the show. Not so, it was the vanilla that hit me first, then a bit of cinnamon, with the cayenne’s heat and spice finishing everything off and lingering. Since all bars with hot spices have varying intensities, I would rank this heat level as medium. Not so in-your-face that your mouth is burning, and not so mild you don’t notice it. A perfect amount to allow the other flavors, and the creaminess of their dark chocolate (enhanced with clarified butter), to shine.

Design has always been important to Chocolate Naive and they have gone in a completely different direction with this range. Typically, their bar packaging is a clean-looking cardboard envelope with a re-closable plastic sleeve inside. The Mulate bars come in a glossy, stiffer cardboard adorned with fantastical images in a rich palette of colors, with a foil inner wrapper.

In its own category is their Dark Milk (67%) “Back to the Origins” bar with Porcini. Wow. What a surprise. The approachable earthiness of freeze-dried wild porcini mushrooms with clarified butter in this luxuriously silky dark milk chocolate is far from what I would have expected. Not only do the flavors mesh perfectly, they complement each other. Here, 2 + 2 = 10. The woodsy porcini and complex chocolate flavors blend seamlessly to produce something unpredictably lush. You just have to experience it for yourself.