Category Archives: Vegan Chocolate

SmartBARK!

I love chocolate bark so much I regularly make 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.

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.

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

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.

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.