Nicaragua, Tanzania, Vietnam, Brazil, Fiji, Peru and India. These are the plantations of River Sea Chocolates and each one has a unique and compelling story of sustainability, fair wages, support of small share-holder farmers and family owned farms, cacao revitalization projects, and giving farmers alternatives to growing cocaine. Here’s the link if you want to read more about the work being done in each location: https://www.riverseachocolates.com/the-cacao-farms.
Krissee and Mariano, founders of River-Sea, didn’t know anything about chocolate’s origins or farmer’s conditions when they both found themselves unemployed from corporate jobs. What a perfect time to take the kids to Brazil for a summer sabbatical and visit family they hadn’t seen in 5 years.
While down there, they were invited for a typical Brazilian weekend bar-b-que at Mariano’s cousin’s house. In the backyard was a giant cacao tree.
This tree was the beginning of the quest to make chocolate. They took knowledge from interior communities, local chocolate makers, and supplemented it with internet research to turn those beans into chocolate with very rudimentary tools (think mortar and pestle, and a broken blender). But, it worked.
They heard about a family friend’s farm in the fertile delta and traveled there to see about opportunities to purchase cacao. In Brazil, a phone call is never good enough to make a deal, you need a face-to-face encounter to get any type of information. The drive took hours through traffic, over bridges, potholes, dirt roads, past a Japanese settlement community, and to the farm with papaya, black pepper, cacao, and cumin. While touring the farm they learned it had been robbed twice at gun point, this greatly traumatized the owners, and shows the challenges of being successful in a country with corruption and violence.
They bought 10 kilos of cacao beans and stopped for lunch at the equivalent of a truck stop restaurant—except in the jungle with monkey noises, that served deep purple bowls of açaí with fried fish and tapioca.
While a multitude of social and environmental stresses saturate the beautiful culture of Brazil, craft chocolate is an eco-friendly force for social change that can improve the lives of people in the region while turning them away from the need to destroy the forest. Stories of bean-to-bar social and environmental impact victories in regions like Peru, Tanzania, Grenada, and Vietnam demonstrate the incredible positive influence enlightened leadership in the chocolate industry can have.
Once returning to The States, Krissee and Mariano started making bean-to-bar craft chocolate in a small, shared kitchen in Sterling, VA.
I sampled a cornucopia of their flavored and salted bars:
Rum Caramel, 60%, dark milk was one of my favorites. Its creaminess and deep chocolate flavor were a perfect foil for the rum.
Another dark milk, 55%, is their Coconut. It tastes more like a milk bar than the rum version and has a nuanced coconut profile.
The green colored Matcha bar was deeply infused with matcha powder. If you love that super green tea flavor you will adore this velvety white chocolate.
I put turmeric in many things I cook as it has anti-inflammatory properties and I like the flavor. River-Sea’s white chocolate Tumeric bar is a sunny yellow and boasts that turmeric plus cardamom, black pepper, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and allspice. Despite the addition of all those warming, spicy ingredients, it is a mellow experience.
Cherry Blossom Milk, with cherry, vanilla and rose, is unique. A super interesting blend of floral, fruity and caramel/vanilla flavors. It’s made with organic acerola powder, rose flowers and vanilla extract.
Salted Caramel Milk was a solid bar with caramel extract. Milky and smooth it should satisfy any of your inner child’s cravings.
70% Hawaiian Lava Salt chocolate was a rich, satisfying experience. The salt, as it almost always does, upped the ante of the chocolate.
72% Kona chocolate was an earthier bar. It hd a slightly dry finish that maintained my gustatory interest.
77% with Cayenne, Cinnamon and Hwaiian Red Salt was a very dark milk with roasted hazelnuts. Having the nuts thoroughly incorporated into the chocolate created a seamlessly creamy texture.
I also sampled three of their single origin bars, each of which only had three ingredients: cacao beans, organic cane sugar and cocoa butter.
72% Colombia, made with Criollo beans, was mix of tamarind, apricot and coffee. The short finish was rich and satisfying. (The beans arrived in the US via a wind powered cargo ship. The first emission free import voyage to the USA.)
72% Tanzania, made with beans from the Kokao Kamili cooperative, had just the right memory of terroir to mix with cherry and roasted nut flavors.
72% Fiji was saturated with cashew, vanilla and a hint of caramel. The nutty, satisfying finish was a perfect coda to a delicious round of chocolate tasting.