Category Archives: organic chocolate

Pascati Chocolate

All of Pascati’s chocolates are organic and made with ethically sourced Idukki beans from India’s Kerala region. Pascati’s mission is to support the local cacao farmers. Through Fair-trade, they pay a premium for the cacao which goes back to the Kerala farming community. This also supports several community initiatives to sustain the ecosystem, and ensures that no child labor is used.

Kerala, a state on India’s tropical Malabar Coast, covers part of the southwest portion of the continent with nearly 600km of Arabian Sea shoreline. It’s known for its palm-lined beaches and backwaters. Inland are the Western Ghats, mountains whose slopes support tea, coffee and spice plantations as well as wildlife.

One of my favorite chemicals in chocolate, anandamide, comes from the Sanskrit ananda, meaning bliss. ˜Pascati” is derived from a Sanskrit word ˜Pascat Parivesya” which translates to a sweet meal.

I sampled eight of their bars. All are 75 grams, have 24 bite-size sections, and boast a snappy temper. Seven of them were 60% and one, the Dark Idukki, was 72%.

The 72% Dark Idukki bar is different from all the other chocolates I have ever sampled. It has a lingering, slightly dry finish, licorice notes, a definite earthy-woodsyness and a silky texture.

The 60% Sea Salt Dark was quite different. The salt perked everything up, as it often does, and played with the extra creaminess of this lower cocoa content bar. Slightly sweeter, it delivered a very rounded cocoa flavor with enough acidity to keep it interesting.

Raspberry and Hibiscus is a delicious combination of fruitiness and floral notes. Subtle, nuanced flavors point up the bean’s depth and making it intriguing.

While we’re on the subject of flowers, Rose Almond Dark is another interesting combination. The almonds are finely sprinkled throughout the bar and the rose gives it that classic Indian culinary rosewater presence.

Saffron Pistachio Dark has a slightly crunchy texture from the nuts, but they don’t dominate. The saffron’s dryness accentuates the bean’s dry finish, all of which is gentled by its creaminess.

Orange Cinnamon Hazelnut Dark is a deft mix of those three warming flavors, not one of which is pronounced. All three work in concert with the chocolate to create another nuanced bar that deeply satisfies.

Lemon Ginger Dark, a classic tea combination at my house, was perfect. Just the right amount of lemon and ginger perked up the chocolate without overpowering it.

Mango dark, with pieces of freeze dried mango embedded on its underside was unique and a bit addictive. Again, in a counter-intuitive way, the dryness of the mango accentuated the dry finish of the bean, which was enhanced by its velvety texture.

Advertisements

Brooklyn Born Chocolate

Brooklyn Born Chocolate has been around for ten years, which is no surprise as they cater to a wide variety of tastes, including special orders for businesses.

Before I regale you with a partial list of their wares and my tasting notes, let me tell you about their company values. Many members of their staff are given a second chance through community based programs such as Strive, Goodwill and The Fortune Society. Every Brooklyn Born Chocolate employee understands that he, she or they are an integral part of the business’s growth and success. A socially conscious company that makes a wide range of standards, riffs on classics and new concoctions. Sounds great, n’est-ce pas?

Executive Pastry Chef Jean-François Bonnet uses all natural ingredients and organic chocolate sourced from Agostoni Chocolate from beans harvested in Central and South America for their Paleo line.

Their non-organic chocolate bars use a custom blend of Ecuadorian and Peruvian beans from Republica de Cacao.

As you might imagine, I have sampled thousands of chocolate bars; so, it is always a delight to me to taste something utterly new and delicious. One of my favorite offerings from Brooklyn Born Chocolate is their PB & J bar: 72% dark chocolate covering peanut praline with a layer of raspberry pâté de fruit. This is an adult version of a classic combo. A thin layer of chocolate encases a thicker layer of peanut praline with the slightly chewy, ever so gently acidic raspberry pâté de fruit. A fabulous contrast of texture, taste and flavor…and not too sweet!

I was also quite enraptured with their Mint Crunch bar, 72% dark chocolate with peppermint oil and nibs. What a great blend of super smooth chocolate, perky mint and crunchy nibs.

Holy Molé combines 72% dark chocolate with toasted almonds, toffee, Molé spices, and fleur de sel. The add-ins are subtle, infusing every bite with different flavors and textures.

Though white chocolate is not my go-to, I especially liked their 35% Café Au Lait bar. With its finely ground coffee beans amalgamated so completely they actually colored this bar brown, it was redolent of mocha. A bit surprising visually, as I would have expected it to be a white bar with flecks of coffee. This was actually more appealing and somehow made the bar taste “darker.”

They also offer a range of 42% milk chocolate bars. The Sweet and Salty is a lovely mix of peanuts, pretzels and toffee. Dulce de Chile has a blend of toasted rice crisps, cascabel pepper and a hint of sea salt. The pepper here isn’t overly hot, yet it enhances and perks up the milk chocolate. Salted Peanut was a delicious filled bar of velvety peanut praline studded with bits of rice crispies.

I was intrigued by their Paleo Bars made of only four ingredients, the base of which are 70% organic cacao and coconut sugar. All of these are very adult and healthy. My two favorites were the Coconut Chia (all organic) with its crunchy/chewy texture and the Coffee Hazelnut, an inspired pairing of mocha favors with toasted nuts. Unique and delicious.

In addition, there is a creative assortment of nut butter cups, none of which was high in sugar. The Peanut Butter cups come in milk, dark and white chocolate; and, even though the sugar content was the same for all three, the white version tasted much sweeter to me, probably because of its extra creamy texture.

Brooklyn Born Chocolate creates a wide selection of chocolate treats made with nuts, pretzels, animal crackers, toffee and figs…though not all mixed together. My top picks were the Peppermint Pretzel Balls, lovely pink speckled orbs of white chocolate infused with peppermint oil surrounding a small salty pretzel. The juxtaposition of crunch, mint, and silky chocolate was delicious fun. Chocolate Toffee Peanut Rocher was a mound of milk chocolate mixed with lightly salted peanuts and caramelized rice crispies.

The bars are all packaged in reclosable envelopes that open at the top with a cellophane sleeve inside. This keeps everything neat and fresh.

I couldn’t possibly taste all their offerings, but you might enjoy their Nostalgia chocolates including S’mores, Chocolate Caramel with Créme Fraiche, Chocolate Caramel Pecan Pie, Chocolate Caramel Key Lime Pie, and Chocolate Covered Toffee Crisps.

There are gift baskets, beautiful mosaic-like Fruit and Nut Bars, Bonbons, and Caramels. Check out their website for a full description.

 

Firefly Organic Bean to Bar Chocolate

I am always in the mood for something different from the chocolate world and Firefly organic bean to bar chocolate provides that new experience. This is an earthy line of bars, all of which, no matter what their cocoa content, speak a chocolate language developed centuries ago before the bean became so intertwined with sugar. More like a food, less like a confection. Because the beans are roasted and coached at the lowest possible temperature this is a perfect choice for someone who loves raw chocolate.

I like the phrase Jonas Ketterle, founder of Firefly Chocolate, uses on his wrapper: “This is not sweet chocolate, nor is it bitter–it is simply high vitality chocolate lovingly made in small batches from the bean…”

I sampled six of his bars, the most unusual of which was a wild harvested Bay Nut bar with 40% cacao, 30% bay nuts and 30% coconut sugar. While never having experienced bay nuts, I found the chocolate quite intriguing with its hickory-like, smokey flavor in a super creamy texture. The lingering taste reminded me of lychee nuts, and it was surprisingly un-sweet for its 40% cocoa content. Apparently, bay nuts were eaten by native people of California. They had a super long shelf life and once dried, stored well for years. The nuts were then roasted in ashes.

Firefly’s 85% dark chocolate with almonds and sea salt had chunks of nuts on the underside of the bar and was made with beans from Tanzania. The chocolate was intense, as you might expect from an 85% bar, and accented well with the roasted almonds.

The 60% Coconut Cream bar, made with Jonas’ stone ground coconut butter, was very creamy and less sweet than you would expect a 60% bar to be.

Maca is known in Peru as a stamina builder and hormone balancer. Firefly’s 77% bar with Maca was similar to the other chocolates in this range from Tanzanian beans: intense, full of terroir, and very earthy.

Last but not least, was the 77% Wildberry with beans from Belize. The berry notes were very light but enough of a presence to add another layer of flavor.

Jonas has a free monthly give-away you can sign up for on his website at the bottom of this page: https://fireflychocolate.com/handcrafted/vision/

Santa Barbara Chocolate

I have just tasted one of the best single origin chocolates, and that’s saying a lot, as there are plenty of excellent options out there. It’s a 73% bulk wafer from Vietnam offered by Santa Barbara Chocolate. The flavor is round, full, fruity, floral, balanced, and complex with a slightly dry finish. Like an edgy criollo. I love criollo beans, but they can sometimes seem a bit too gentle and predictable on the palate. This chocolate, which contains cocoa butter and vanilla, delivers all its fascinating flavors in a velvety texture.

Making this a 73% was inspired as it heightens all the nuances of the cacao with just the right amount of sugar. At $39 for a three pound bag it’s also an incredible bargain. One two ounce bar tempered into an ornate mold in fancy packaging would easily fetch $10, or more. I would suggest transferring some straight from the bag into a pretty glass jar and giving it as gifts…economical, unique, and luxurious.

While I temper chocolate as a moving meditation, I found these Vietnamese wafers almost impossible to adulterate with anything. They’re irresistible right out of the bag; and, their size and shape couldn’t be better for a perfectly timed melt at body temperature. At some point, I will make mendiants with maple glazed pecans or pistachios and thinly sliced dates or dried mango, but not now. Today I want to bask in the glory of this bean. (Two days later…ever the experimenter, I tempered some of this extraordinary chocolate and added dehydrated raspberries. The acidity of the fruit brought out even more floral fruity notes from the chocolate. So, even though it stands alone, it also plays well with others.)

I also sampled their organic Hispaniola 100% chocolate wafers sourced from the Dominican Republic. They have a very robust, intense, super chocolatey flavor noticeably without leather, soil, licorice, or tobacco notes that makes them perfect for baking. I tempered some and added 25% demerara sugar. The slight sweetness and crunch of the crystalized sugar was a fascinating foil for the Hispaniola flavors.

The 60% version of this bean is very versatile with its lush fruity flavor and lends itself to tempering, baking, or just eating out of the bag. A fun fact about this bean: it was the first cacao Christopher Columbus tasted when he arrived in the New World.

Then there were the 70% organic dark chocolate chips without soy lecithin. I can’t remember having mini-chips with such a deep, refined chocolate presence and a sublimely balanced flavor profile. They were a great addition to a batch of maple tahini chocolate chip cookies.

My last treat was their Caribbean 67% which also had a fruity presence and a slightly dry, lingering finish. In my experience, these fruitier beans are just excellent for couverture and desserts as they support a galaxy of flavors, like citrus, berries, nuts, seeds, coffee beans, and spices.

In addition to a great selection of products for the professional or avocational chocolatier, Santa Barbara Chocolate makes beautiful large organic truffles. Mine arrived in a stunning tall red faux leather box adorned with a sumptuous black silk ribbon. The box itself opens up sideways to form four smaller boxes that each contained four truffles. These are incredibly rich, vegan, and infused with organic coconut milk and organic honey. A memorable gift for someone you love or want to impress.

Santa Barbara curates a very special collection of cacao. Each item is handpicked for its unique properties, whether organic, Rainforest alliance certified, or coconut palm sugar sweetened, you can be sure it will be both high quality and a good value.

I focused this review on their dark offerings, but they also have milk, white, and compound chocolates, cocoa, drinking chocolate, and beans.

While I didn’t sample the Belgian Dark Chocolate Grand Aroma, I thought you might enjoy the following recipe from Santa Barbara’s owner and chocolatier Jason Vishnefske.

INGREDIENTS FOR BELGIAN BEER CHOCOLATE TRUFFLES

Beer Ganache:

8oz. Belgian Beer
3oz. Honey
1lb. 4oz. of our Imported Ever the experimenter, I tempered some of this Vietnamese chocolate and added dehydrated raspberries. The result was just what I had in mind: the acidity of the fruit brought out even more floral fruity notes from the chocolate.
3oz. Butter

Additional Chocolate Ingredient:

Belgian Milk Chocolate Couverture

PREPARATION OF BEER TRUFFLES:

Boil the Belgian beer with honey.
Pour onto the Belgian Dark Chocolate and mix so it is smooth.
When the ganache reaches 87F add butter and mix with a hand mixer.
Pour ganache into a parchment lined sheet pan and let it crystallize for 14 hours at 60F.
Temper the milk chocolate couverture and spread a thin layer of the tempered Belgian Milk Chocolate on the ganache side.
When it’s crystallized, turn the ganache and spread another thin layer of tempered Belgian Milk Chocolate on the other side.
Cut into 1/2″ by 2″ rectangles.
Lastly, dip each ganache rectangle into tempered Belgian Dark Chocolate Grand Aroma.

SmartBARK!

I love chocolate bark so much I regularly temper my own, but when I don’t have the time there’s SmartBARK! They use the same great ingredients I would use at home: organic, Fair Trade, 70% chocolate, real vanilla, with high quality nuts, grains, seeds, and dried fruit.

Each bag of SmartBARK! is 4 ounces and contains three generous servings of 40grams each. They’re fairly low in sugar, ranging from 10-14 grams per serving, contain 15% of your daily requirement for iron, 3-4 grams of fiber, and have between 3-4 grams of protein.

A tiny pet peeve of mine has been the dearth of fruit juice sweetened cranberries. SmartBARK! uses apple juice sweetened cranberries in their Cranberry Bark and it makes a big difference. The plump, fresh, chewy fruit is still a bit tart, with just enough sweetness to take the edge off. This bark is thicker than the others I sampled which initially surprised me until I saw how the fruit really benefited from a higher ratio of chocolate.

Their thinnest bark is Quinoa, chock full of crispy puffed quinoa. I loved it. The way the well-tempered chocolate riffed off the tiny grains of quinoa was like a gustatory celebration.

Almond bark had both thinner and thicker pieces of chocolate and crunchy whole roasted almonds.

Trail Mix was crammed with currants, pumpkin seeds, cacao nibs, and sunflower seeds. Their recipe had just the right balance between the slightly chewy-sweet currants, crunchy seeds, and delicious dark chocolate. Like the Quinoa variety, it was slightly thinner. Of course, as SmartBARK! feels, looks, and tastes like an artisanal product the thickness of each batch might vary.

Everything was fresh and conveniently packaged for tucking into a briefcase or bag. All four options would make great travel companions without taking up too much space.

If you check out their website: http://www.sweetdesigns.com, you can find other interesting bars, like the one with ginger and walnut, and specialty items like Chocolate Truffle Filled Figs.

I have always loved sci-fi, science, and space exploration, so I have to share this fun fact: NASA astronauts ate Sweet Designs Chocolates on the Space Shuttle.

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 four of their bars, all of which were made with 70% 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.

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

Cinnamon was just fantastic, but I love a little heat with my chocolate. The combination of chile and cinnamon was like a far more complex Red Hot with creamy dark chocolate. A real winner.

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

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.

NEW! Thinking Elvish just came out with a new bark: Yggdrasil’s Seed with pumpkin and sunflower seeds on 70% dark chocolate. Just fabulous! The bark is very thin so the proportion of toppings is perfectly balanced with the chocolate. Be warned, though, it’s highly addictive.

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