Category Archives: Gourmet 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.

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.

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.

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.

Lumineux Chocolate

Lumineux means luminous, or giving off bright light: glowing. As someone who is constantly looking for great adjectives to describe chocolate, I appreciate this word as it aptly expresses the feeling we chocophiles have when eating a great bar. It’s also the name of a new chocolate company in South Carolina headed by Ben and Becca Snyder.

I sampled three of their tasting bars, 1.1 ounce each and a great way to try a variety of their offerings. All are also available in 2.5 ounce bars.

Semuliki Forest, Uganda Latitude Trade Company (LTC) works in Bundibugyo in the Semuliki Forest in Western Uganda. They build transparent supply chains to create economic stability for their farmers as well as their customers. Their mission is to “sustainably increase incomes and reduce risk for farm households” where they work. The 70% bar I sampled, with cardamom and orange, was redolent with warm spice and perked up by light notes of orange which accentuated the chocolate’s inherent earthiness. All of which was balanced by a creamy texture from a well conched and tempered base.

As most of you already know, Côte d’Ivoire has a long history of issues with forced child labor, and worse. This is why Lumineux only works with farms in this country that are Rainforest Alliance certified. This certification requires farms to meet rigorous standards that protect wages and child well-being, in addition to conservation of natural resources. Lumineux’s 67% bar highlighted the bean’s profile of dark fruits, apricot, and leechee. With all that lovely fruitiness I appreciated the slightly dry lingering finish.

Kilombero Valley,Tanzania. Kokoa Kamili is in the Kilombero Valley, in the village of Mbingu. They take great pride in the quality of their cocoa beans as well as the quality of life for their farmers, paying top price for the beans and providing seedlings. Kokoa Kamili also ferments their cocoa beans centrally, allowing for consistent quality with some of the most interesting flavor profiles among African cacao. This 75% bar was a very different experience and a great counterpart to the previous one from the Ivory Coast. It had woody notes with green apple and what some refer to as “brownie batter” flavor. A bar that will keep you curious as you discover its secrets.

Hnina Gourmet

Some of the most amazing chocolate in the world is made by small batch producers. Making a small amount of something magically infuses it with care and attention to detail that adds to its uniqueness. That said, some mass produced chocolate can be delicious, but the karma that goes into individually made chocolates carries a different, more intimate energy.

That loving attention these artisanal producers put in their chocolate may be elusive, but it goes into the mix, even we experience it unconsciously. There are a plethora of positive unconscious connections that get triggered when we take a bite of something as complex as chocolate. These associations, not only of other chocolate we have eaten but of the circumstances in which we ate them, infuse our experience by adding layers of history and emotion to even the smallest bite. You don’t have to be Proust to know the evocative power of taste. Neurologically, the hippocampus (where we store memories) and the amygdala (where many emotions begin) are so close to each other in the brain that they constantly cross pollinate. An emotion can trigger a memory and a memory can trigger an emotion, which explains some of the power of taste.

I don’t know about you, but I have an abundance of positive emotions related to chocolate, both as a treat and sustenance.

Hnina Gourmet was founded by Vanessa Hnina Morgenstern-Kenan, a self-described FrancoCali artisanal raw chocolatier, and Ron Kenan. Her small batch chocolates are made from organic, Fair Trade, raw chocolate with the addition of sprouted nuts and seeds. They are nutrient dense, pure and delicious.

Just looking at them you can see how that each piece is hand crafted. If you’re reading this, I hope you have a memory of something incredibly satisfying someone made just for you that was saturated with love. These chunks of goodness evoke that feeling.

Hnina Gourmet’s chocolates are sweetened with genuine maple syrup. Who doesn’t like a pure sweetener that comes from a tree? While maple syrup has a flavor, it’s subtle and unobtrusive. In these confections, it adds a richness without being overly sweet that goes perfectly with the 85% chocolate Hnina favors.

The nut clusters were my favorite of the three different products I tried. They are made from raw cacao, sprouted nuts, caramelized pure maple syrup and vanilla bean.
Caramelized maple syrup adds depth without being overly sweet. It also accentuates the crunchy nuts. There are a variety of nut combinations using almonds, hazelnuts, coconut cashews and pecans. Each one felt like a treat that fed my body and mind.

Hnina Gourmet’s Raw Cacao Sprouted Truffles are an entity unto themselves. Fairly large, like the nut clusters, and enrobed in 85% dark chocolate, their interior is made with raw and lightly roasted nuts and seeds, raw cacao, raw cocoa butter, pure maple syrup and vanilla bean. Each one is a complete dessert or decadent snack. The center is softer and creamier than many other truffles you may have eaten. This gives you three predominant textures: a firm, tempered shell, a roasted nut on top, and a silky center with pieces of nuts and seeds for extra crunch.

They also make Raw Dark Chocolate bars with one gram of sugar in each half ounce portion. These are more geared towards the food purist who wants only three ingredients in their chocolate: raw cacao, pure maple syrup and vanilla bean.

There are other treats on their website including sprouted nut and seed mixes. If you love nut butter, they have a line of Raw Cacao Sprouted Spreads that are the quintessence of healthy, in comparison to some mass produced chocolate-nut spreads that are made with far less healthy ingredients.

Vanessa and Ron also offer a weekly newsletter with sales and special offers at the bottom. You can subscribe on their website: https://hninagourmet.com/

River-Sea Chocolates

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.

Firetree Chocolate

Firetree was founded in 2017 by David Zulman, Martyn O’Dare and Aidan Bishop. Their chocolate bars are vegan, dairy free and from single estates in Madagascar and the Pacific Islands. The beans are grown in unique volcanic soil.

I wholeheartedly agree with Zulman who has been quoted as saying: “Mass-market products are often paraded by companies that are superior in marketing, but premium chocolate thrives on quality. When customers eat the latter, they consume less than they would a mass product with more sugar. For example, a person could finish a store-bought bar in a single sitting, but they are unlikely to do so with a premium chocolate because it tastes so much richer.” And, it’s so much more satisfying.

For my Japanophile readers, three of Firetree’s chocolates from estates on Vanuatu (Malakula Island), Papua New Guinea (Karkar Island) and The Philippines (Mindanao Island) are now enrobing very special Volcanic Chocolate KitKat bars only available in Japan.

Firetree’s chocolate is tempered to perfection, super crisp, glossy and audibly snappy. The scent is redolent of the bean and whets your appetite before the first bite.

The bars have a light bas-relief of gently swirling lines that look like the layers of lava after it has cooled on the ground. Packaging is incredibly user-friendly with gold lettering on resealable black cardboard envelopes adorned with evocative abstract art by Berlin-based artist Andreas Nicolas Fischer.

Just for a change I decided to taste this flight in reverse order, starting with the most intense bar.

100% Solomon Islands, Guadalcanal. This bar won the Academy of Chocolate Silver award in 2019. It was amazingly eatable for chocolate without a trace of sugar. Perhaps, it’s my imagination, but I could taste the lava from eons of erupting volcanos. While not everyone wants a bar with 100% cocoa, it’s an interesting experience and a worthy candidate for any chocolate tasting.

84% from the Sanbirano Valley in Madagascar was still quite intense but had the addition of a gram of sugar in each generously sized square. Like the phosphenes you can see if you press your eyelids when closed, there were sensual echoes of dried dark fruits.

75% Solomon Islands, Makira Island had captivatingly complex flavors of raisin and caramel. I liked the lingering dry finish as it’s a beautiful balance to the incredibly smooth texture.

73% Philippines, Mindanao Island, was memorable for its combination of general fruitiness, toffee, hint of citrus, and honey. While the finish wasn’t particularly dry, its mix of citrus, sweetness and dense chocolate flavor stayed with me.

73% Vanuatu, Malekula Island 72% tasted of cherry with a hint of lemon and a whisper of tobacco.

72% Papua New Guinea, Karkar Island, was a fetching mix of black walnut, wild mushroom, and essence of volcanic soil. Unusual, distinctive and mysterious.

68% Solomon Islands, Guadalcanal single estate was a block party of flavors: plum, red fruits, and that underlying earthy presence that, in the context of superb conching, felt anything but rustic.

All the bars from Firetree are the epitome of elegance in silkiness, sheen and nuance.

This is serious chocolate. You don’t scarf it down, you savor it; and, like anything worth savoring, you attend to all five senses along with your thoughts, feelings and emotions.

Flair Chocolatier

I’m completely convinced there are cellular receptors in my brain specifically designed for chocolate. Actually, everyone has them. They are cannabinoid receptors that bond with certain chemicals in cacao and improve one’s mood.

Apparently, more women eat chocolate than men. Bee Wilson, a British food writer and historian cites a 2006 study on gender and chocolate cravings that compared male and female students in the US and Spain. Her findings showed 59% of American males and 91% of females admitted to chocolate cravings.

Ruby chocolate, developed by Barry Callebaut, is the new rage in the cacao world. It is incredibly pretty and pink. To think it’s chocolate, and not white chocolate with pink coloring, almost makes me feel as if I’m living in another dimension. It upended all my preconceived notions about what chocolate should look like.

But it isn’t white chocolate, it’s made from what they call ruby cocoa beans.These are existing botanical cocoa bean varieties. While the exact production method is a trade secret, industry speculation is that ruby chocolate is made with unfermented cocoa beans of Brazil Lavados, which can have a natural red-pink color. Barry Callebaut registered a patent in 2009 for “cocoa-derived material” from unfermented cocoa beans, or beans fermented for fewer than three days.

To me, it tasted like a fruitier, high quality white chocolate.

Apparently, it isn’t a myth that women like pink better than men. Anya Hurlbert and her colleagues tested color preferences in 171 British adults and 37 recent immigrants to the UK from mainland China, with almost equal numbers of men and women. The idea of testing the two groups was to separate out whether culture or biology might influence gender color preferences. Each participant viewed about 750 different pairs of colors spanning the entire rainbow, and in each case had to indicate which of the two shades they preferred. As expected from previous work, both sexes rated blues the best. But analysis of all the color comparisons revealed that the women had a significantly higher preference for blues with “pinkish” undertones – such as lilac – whereas men tend to lean towards purer blues. Hurlbert thinks that women might prefer pinker shades because – in cultures where pink represents girlishness and femininity – they have learned to identify with it. But the Chinese women in her study, who grew up without commercial toys such as Barbie that promote pink to girls, showed an even greater liking for pinkish hues than their British female counterparts. So Hurlbert believes that women’s attraction towards pinkish colors is innate.

Flair has created three sumptuously beautiful ruby chocolate bars. Not only are they a delight to behold, but they have textural interest that I think suits ruby chocolate to a T. The retro lettering on the cardboard package is perfect for the bejeweled pink chocolate inside.

Each bar is named after a chic city: Tokyo, New York and Paris. They are embedded with various toppings applied with a generous hand and pressed deeply into the chocolate so they don’t all fall off in your lap.

The Tokyo, my favorite, has a funky, crunchy topping of green matcha, mixed with white chocolate and genmai rice. The texture of the matcha/chocolate clusters is divine, and the tannic qualities of the tea add an extra dimension of flavor.

New York has Fuji apple, dark chocolate pearls & cocoa nibs. The nibs add a wonderful hit of intense chocolate crunch while the acidity from the apple is a great counterpoint to the sweetness of the base.

Paris features French reserve fig & pralines. This is the most dessert-like of the bars as it is the sweetest. Chewy, super fresh figs mixed with the creaminess of the chocolate reminded me of strawberries and cream: the delicious, tiny crunch of fig seeds with the velvety texture of the chocolate.

Flair’s unique ruby chocolate trio is bound to make a hit with anyone who loves a sweeter bar. It’s a perfect gift for Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, birthdays, chocolate tastings, or anytime you want to make a splash. These bars will undoubtedly become the topic of conversation.

If you need an extra reason to try their creations, and there are more offerings on their website, they provide free two day shipping with a minimum order of $40.