Category Archives: ethically sourced 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

Singing Rooster Haitian Chocolate

If you regularly read this site, you already know I was totally blown away by K’UL chocolate. A few days ago I received an email from Molly Nicaise, the CEO of Singing Rooster, the company that exports fermented cocoa beans from Haiti used in K’UL’s bars. Once I started reading about their mission I became even more enraptured. Not only is the chocolate divine, they are an über socially responsible company that is making a difference in the world. As I believe their work deserves more attention, I want to review Singing Rooster’s chocolate bars, and share a bit about the way they work their magic.

Singing Rooster was established in 2009. They partner with small-holder growers of coffee and chocolate to alleviate poverty in Haiti.

They serve as:
Agricultural and business consultants
Organizers of pre-harvest financing
Primary buyers of crops and products at premium prices
Product transformation: creating higher value items (like roasted coffee or chocolate bars)
Business guiders, developers, and cheerleaders
Equitably distributing economic gains
Creating new markets and special sales opportunities

Singing Rooster offers an opportunity to directly support vulnerable farmers, help reforest Haiti, and build rural economies.

Singing Rooster exceeds every aspect of fair trade: they pay farmers a minimum of $3/lb for coffee crops & return another .50 cents from sales.

They use proceeds to help farmers with agriculture improvements, business management, and replanting Haiti’s deforested lands with tens of thousands of coffee and cacao trees. Haiti gets a whopping 66% from every sale!

There is minimal job stability in Haiti with 70% of Haitians unemployed; sustainable jobs are required for autonomy. Haiti’s potential as a self-sustaining country rests, in part, with economic development: job creation, product improvement or design, and opening up international markets for Haitian goods like coffee, art, and chocolate.

Meaningful employment is one path to autonomy, self-sustainability and dignity.

According to The World Bank, economic growth in agriculture is more than twice as effective at reducing poverty as growth in other sectors of the economy. Coffee and cacao play important roles in Haiti’s rural economy: they provide income diversification. There are thousands of jobs in coffee and cacao, and new seedlings are environmentally essential for reforestation and soil management.

So far, Singing Rooster has put over $1,000,000 directly into the pockets of farmers.

Unlike the bulk of the world’s cacao, Haiti’s organic crops represent the top 3% of cacao produced on earth.

I sampled three of their bars, all of which were made with Kafupbo single origin chocolate, a luscious Criollo/Trinitario hybrid.

Orange Crunch, a gustatory celebration of vibrant citrus flavor with roasted nibs, is complex, wildly textural, and full of super rich chocolate flavor. Each aspect of this bar compliments the others, creating a unique combination of sweet and slightly acidic flavors in a velvety chocolate base.

Lemon Ginger is a delicious blend of organic cocoa beans, organic cane sugar, organic cocoa butter, sunflower lecithin, and natural crystalized ginger with lemon oil. It’s positively addicting with the yin/yang play of sweet crunchy ginger and slightly tart lemon. Deep, dark, creamy Haitian chocolate rounds out the experience.

70% Pure Dark offers an unadulterated experience of that lovely smooth texture, hints of licorice, red fruits, and jasmine.

You can buy those, plus other chocolate bars, nibs, and coffee from their website: http://www.singingrooster.org.

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.

Kirkland Signature Dark Chocolate Covered Almonds with Turbinado Sugar & Sea Salt

I have never been to a Costco, but I heard about these almonds and bought some on Amazon. They are so amazingly delicious I have been buying them monthly ever since.

What makes them crave-worthy is the perfect amount of 70% dark, ethically sourced chocolate encasing each crunchy roasted nut. Apparently, some great chocolatier calibrated the exact right ratio of creamy chocolate to nut. Believe me, it’s not easy to do. Too little chocolate and I’m left wanting more. Too much and it overwhelms the nut presence.

Then, they add just a touch of sea salt and turbinado sugar crystals, both of which amp up and balance out the other flavors and textures. The result is divine.

Adding to my joy is the relatively healthy nutritional profile for dessert: 1/4 cup (40 grams) has 14 grams of sugar, 3 grams of fiber, 55 mgs of sodium, and 4 grams of protein. Not so bad for something so incredibly satisfying.

By the way, I have tried similar products from other makers and they are not as good.

At the time of this review (6-22-16) a 32 ounce bag was selling on Amazon for just under $25 with free shipping.