Tag Archives: bean-to-bar chocolate

Harper Macaw

One thing that really captivates me these days in the chocolate universe is a great dark milk bar. Harper Macaw makes one. It’s a 57% Brazilian rainforest direct trade sourced, perfectly tempered, smooth, creamy indulgence that is far too easy to scarf down. Dark milks offer the child in me something a little sweeter and the adult that higher cocoa intensity. If you’re doing a chocolate tasting this would make a great counterpoint to darker, single origin bars.

In that category Harper Macaw has you covered. Their line offers three dark single estate varieties: 74% Vale do Juliana, 75% M. Libânio, and 77% Tomé Açu. I did not sample those, but focused on their limited release 73% Bourbon Barrel Aged bar as a contrast to the dark milk. It was fabulous. Crisply tempered, redolent of bourbon’s lingering presence, rich, velvety, slightly acidic, with a hint of astringency, it sated my craving for a unique chocolate experience. I especially appreciated the slightly dry lingering finish as it etched its flavors into my memory.

Speaking of etching, each bar has a unique design that reminded me of the more angular elements in furniture created by Charles Rennie Macintosh. Just beautiful and unique. The outer wrappers are also works of art, as is Harper Macaw’s logo.

They also have a collection of bars with add-ins related to one’s political leanings. Titled: Tea Party, Left Wing, Red State, Flip-Flopper, Filibuster, and Taxation Without Representation, their inclusions run the gamut from butter toffee to peanuts and pretzels.

Harper Macaw is dedicated to conservation. When you buy their chocolate you help restore and protect deforested or vulnerable rainforest in northeast Brazil. Through partnerships with Instituto Uiraçu, American Bird Conservancy, and Rainforest Trust, they reinvest in the expansion of Reserva Serra Bonita, a cutting-edge rainforest conservation initiative. As Earth’s second most threatened terrestrial biome and the focal point of Brazil’s cacao industry, it is crucial to the survival of their cacao economy and the region’s biodiversity. By supporting innovative approaches in cacao farming Harper Macaw helps insure the health and stability of the region.

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Solstice Chocolate

Scott Query’s Solstice Chocolate in Salt Lake City, Utah, is one of the newest kids on the bean to bar block. His five all organic bars make a handsome present in their brown paper envelopes with wonderful wire closures enabling you to keep your chocolate neat and fresh. Each 2.5 ounce bar is divided into 8 squares and has an attractive stylized sun stamped in the middle. They are beautifully tempered to a shiny, crisp, audible snap. The 70% bars hail from four different provenances: Sambirano from Madagascar, San Martin from Peru, Amazonas from Venezuela, Palos Blancos from Bolivia, and a blend called Wasatch.

There are three levels of color to this chocolate flight. The lightest are from Peru and Madagascar. The darkest is from Bolivia, and the two medium ones are from Venezuela and Wasatch.

The Bolivian bar is just fabulous: thickly textured, full of dark fruit flavors, with a nice slightly dry medium finish.

The Venezuelan bar has a touch of leather, that same slightly dry finish, and a hint of citrus.

Wasatch had a more complex texture, almost chewy, that was wonderfully different, though still very refined. It, too had a slightly dry finish.

The Peruvian was a bit creamier, with a heady combination of flavors from lychee to banana, and an elegant, lingering finish.

Madagascar was velvety, a bit less complex, but very appealing in its gentler flavor profile and more subtle finish.

All five bars are incredibly satisfying. One square is a complete chocolate experience unto itself, and the slightly dry finish most of them sport is like a big period at the end of your chocolate sentence.

Rózsavölgyi Csokoládé

Rózsavölgyi Csokoládé is a Hungarian bean-to-bar chocolate maker that produces some of the most beautifully packaged and delicious chocolates on earth.

Not only do they know their beans, sourcing organic Madagascan trinitarios and criollos from Åkesson’s and Venezuelan cacao from the Franceschi family in San José de Guaribe, but they offer a wide variety of chocolates for both the purist (single origin bars), and wildly experimental types (seasonal bars).

The company was started by Zsolt Szabad and his wife, Katalin Csiszar, in 2004. Their first products were a line of chocolate bonbons and some seasoned bars. All bonbons were created by Katalin in their small workshop. Over time, she learned the tricks of the trade from a few master chocolatiers (Lionel Gauvin in France, Roberto Catinari in Italy and Michael Recchiutti in San Francisco). Initially, she ran most of the operations, as he still had a full-time job that he later quit to open their first (and still only) shop in downtown Budapest. It was then they started to make their own bean-to-bars. They already had a good relationship with the Franceschis, having visited their plantations in Venezuela where Zsolt studied bean varieties, quality assessment, cultivation, and fermentation practices. From 2008, they gradually introduced their bean-to-bar chocolates. Currently, they produce eight different single-origin tablets, more than 40 bonbons, 20 seasoned tablets, dragees, and other products to tempt every segment of the chocolate loving world.

This year, they won two awards from the Academy of Chocolate. In the seasoned bar category they took a bronze medal for their amazing Olives and Bread bar, which is made with trincheras chocolate, toasted olives, bread and a little hint of olive oil. And, another bronze in the packaging category for the 95% Trincheras.

Frankly, I would give them a gold award for almost all the packaging, as it is both whimsical and elegant. The square bars themselves deserve more accolades for their artistic bas relief designs. Even their stickers are adorable, drawn with a funny little hat askew on a heart sprouting arms and legs. According to Zsolt, the logo has many meanings; among them: “chocolate with love.” The valley shape that the heart is standing on symbolizes Rose Valley (Rózsavölgyi in Hungarian). This where they live, and where the business started. Katalin has degrees in animation and illustration from Manchester Metropolitan. Her artistic flair is evident in everything they produce.

I sampled a variety of their bars, 70 grams each, both single origin and seasoned, and a box of their candied Bergamot in dark chocolate.

Trincheras, is a 70% Venezuelan square slab, which, like all other single origin bars in their range has only three ingredients: cocoa beans, organic cane sugar, and cocoa butter. It was awarded a Silver Medal by the Academy of Chocolate in the “Bean-to-Bar Best Dark Bar” category. These cocoa beans from Trincheras, Venezuela are roasted at very low temperatures to preserve every bit of their natural taste. It is beautifully tempered to a high gloss and firm snap. the flavor is almost Criollo-like with some slight leathery notes and plenty of plum. Its creaminess is balanced by a slightly dry finish.

Criollo 71%, from the Åkesson estate, was a lovely, smooth, lighter chocolate with a wonderful undercurrent of hazelnut. It tasted more complex to me than other criollos. This particular bean is a rare and wonderful find from the Sanbirano Valley of Madagascar.

Madagascar 72% is an Åkesson Trinitario bean from that same valley. It is far edgier than its criollo cousin and looks darker. Again the addition of cocoa butter makes for a silky texture allowing the chocolate to linger longer on the tongue. In my experience, this bean has often had a more pronounced flavor profile than the one from Åkesson’s plantation which had a dry finish and a more gentle, yet still interesting, taste.

Olives and Bread is a stellar 77% bar with roasted green olives, toast, and olive oil. The texture is truly amazing: bits of smokey, chewy olives, and slightly crunchy toast are deliriously happy in their creamy dark chocolate home. This bar seamlessly blends all the flavors while allowing each to have its moment in the spotlight. Though made with 77% chocolate, it is like no other I have ever tasted. Perhaps, spiking it with olive oil gives it such a dreamily smooth texture. The toast crumbs add interest without being hard or too crunchy, and the barely briny olives intensify the whole experience. Truly memorable, wildly original, and an Academy of Chocolate Bronze winner this year.

Cardamom is another in this category of “seasoned bars.” They come in thin cardboard boxes adorned with back and white prints of cacao pods, leaves, vines, birds, with the sweetest little face in the middle. That’s just the beginning, inside you find another insanely beautiful bar with a bas relief that is reminiscent of heraldic designs or crests, breaking into 12 lovely angular shapes, with a circle in the middle. The warm cardamom flavor permeates 77% chocolate without overwhelming it, while a long finish allows you to savor this combination.

Caramelized Lavender with Star Anise is a 40% milk bar that will wake up your taste buds, even if milk chocolate is not typically your first choice. The caramelized lavender is a tour de force of slight crunch, light caramel notes, and a soupçon of anise. Just as the caramel lulls your taste buds into a gentle stupor, star anise kisses them awake.

Pistachio Gianduja, 77%, comes wrapped in another highly adorable, lovely green paper painted with flowers and birds. I especially appreciated this bar’s firmer texture, as many giandujas are somewhat soft. Here, 77% chocolate takes a backseat to intense pistachio flavor. Fabulous.

Venezuelan 72% dark chocolate covered matchsticks of candied bergamot are called Sailor Mustache. They are incredibly fresh, chewy, and complimented by this very dark chocolate. The fruit is harvested by local farmers from January to March on the sunny hillsides of Calabria. A Sicilian confectioner personally picks the best bergamot for candying, which is then cut into mustache-sized slices and dipped. Bergamot is different from candied orange peel. It is a bit more citrusy, has a slightly sour edge, and goes well with their super creamy dark chocolate.

Rózsavölgyi Csokoládé is certainly one of the best new chocolate companies I have come across. Their attention to detail, originality, careful provenance of ingredients, and truly beautiful molds and packaging promise a bright future filled with worldwide appreciation.

Cacao Prieto Organic Bean to Bar Chocolate

In this day and age, when chocolate shops dot the landscape like poppy seeds on a bagel, it’s a huge challenge to create a new artisanal line that not only gets people’s attention, but also merits multiple return engagements. Daniel Prieto Preston has achieved both. The large bars he produces are lovely and delicious, with their scattering of fruits and nuts on a base of seductively glossy super dark chocolate.

The company was founded by Daniel, an inventor and aerospace engineer, whose family has been farming organic cacao in the Dominican Republic for more than 100 years. The Prieto family owns Coralina Farms with over 2000 hectares in the Nagua area of the Dominican Republic. They provide all the cacao for Cacao Prieto’s chocolates. Coralina Farms is also the center for long range experiments in self-sustainable and organic farming methods, and the repository and preservation center for Dominican Cacao biodiversity.

The five bars I sampled were all 72% cacao and weighed 4.2 ounces. Each came adorned with a lovely retro-looking postcard that could easily be removed for mailing.

The flavors were: Hazelnut and Raisin, Cashew and Cranberry, Almond and Salt, Pistachio and Apricots, and Pecan and Sour Cherry. At first glance, I thought the chocolate had more sugar than other dark bars with a similar cocoa content; then, I read the label more carefully, and saw it was for a 55 gram portion. Most bars suggest a 40 gram portion and their sugar content would be about 12 grams. Here, it’s 16 grams for a heftier amount. The sugar is organic and also sourced from the Dominican Republic.

I loved all their flavor combinations. The super fresh crunchy nuts and slightly chewy fruits married beautifully with the perfectly balanced intensity of their chocolate. This is a refined intensity with fruity notes, a touch of terroir, enough edge on the finish to keep your interest, and a captivating shiny crisp temper.

They also create a lovely array of 72% Criollo bars from various vintages starting with June 2010 through December 2012. Apparently, these are produced from some of the oldest and finest criollo strains on their farm, the genetics of which date back to those brought to the island by Christopher Columbus.

Marou Faiseurs de Chocolat

Marou Faiseurs de Chocolate, a Vietnamese artisanal chocolate company founded by two Frenchmen, creates exquisite bars in the 70-78% range. What makes them so marvelous? Everything. Their single-origin beans are grown and sourced locally by farmers who are paid a fair wage, with no middlemen. Even the cane sugar is from small Vietnamese farms.

There is a wonderful piece on their website detailing their philosophy on organic and fair trade that I heartily agree with. (Here’s the link: http://www.marouchocolate.com/?page_id=46 )

Let’s start with the packaging. The background color of each wrapper is inspired by the color of the cocoa pod the chocolate comes from. A silk-screened gold overlay, reminiscent of fin de siècle design, is just beautiful. No matter how great the chocolate, I find my anticipation is heightened with captivating packaging.

Upon opening the outer paper you find a gold foil inner liner sealed with an attractive “M” logo. Just one more example of their attention to detail I find noteworthy as it’s a harbinger of the Marou chocolate gestalt. In every aspect of manufacture, from sourcing the beans to final presentation, Samuel and Vincent share their vision for what a wonderful chocolate experience can be.

The glossy dark bars are scored into irregular funky shapes with that “M” set off in a square in the middle. The bar itself snaps to attention when broken as its perfect temper gives off a heady chocolate scent. All five varieties in their current range possess a deeply satisfying texture that has a chewiness I always find quite fetching.

The 100 gram bars range in cacao content by 2% increments from 70-78%.

Tien Giang starts this flight at 70%. Immensely complex, yet with gentle undertones, this bar, made with Trinitario beans, has a slightly spicy character and a bit of a dry finish.

Dong Nai, 72%, seemed creamier, had a subtler profile, and just a smidgeon of dryness to its finish.

Lam Dong, 74%, a rare chocolate made in mico-batches, was a little less complex with more memory of soil.

Ba Ria, 76%, is also made with Trinitario beans and tasted woodsy.

Ben Tre, 78%, seemed to incorporate many of the qualities of the previous four bars at once, though it was a bit more fruity, and had an earthier presence.

All five bars tasted different from other single-origin offerings I have sampled, and would make an exciting addition to a chocolate tasting.

Though the company is based in Ho Chi Minh City you can buy Marou from Dark Chocolate Imports: http://darkchocolateimports.com.

Stirs The Soul: Fairly Traded, Raw, Organic Chocolate

If you love raw chocolate you will want to check out Portland Oregon’s Stirs the Soul. Their 82% and 84% chocolates are intensely nutritious and surprisingly gentle on the palate. I even like their motto: Bean to bliss.

Daren Hayes, a culinary school graduate, is the talent behind these treats. His passion for fairly traded, organic, sustainable, and wild-crafted cacao, combined with his choice of in house stone-ground 100% un-roasted Criollo & Trinitario beans infuses his creations with quality. In addition, Daren works in a facility that is nut, tree-nut(except coconut), soy, gluten, egg and dairy free, which makes their chocolate suitable for vegans and people with allergies. If that’s not tempting enough, their lines are gluten free, and offer a low glycemic index.

I sampled three of their products. A sweet little two ounce muslin bag full of chewy, fresh 84% coated dried bananas, figs and currants. I liked this combination of flavors and textures. Raw chocolate always feels super healthy, and a bit more like food than confection; so, I ate these with abandon knowing I was saturating myself with antioxidants.

Their Goji-orange bar, sweetened with raw dates offers up both dark 82% chocolate with chewy goji berries and an undertone of orange that beautifully enhances the whole experience. Gogi berries are known for their high levels of antioxidants, 21 trace minerals, 18 amino acids, and are believed to curb your appetite, promote restful sleep, and create a sense of well being.

Just one rectangle from the 84% plain bar sweetened with coconut palm sugar really satisfied my chocolate craving and offered a great pick-me-up before lunch.

These two bars weigh in at one ounce each, which helps with portion control, and makes them fit a pocket perfectly.

There are a plethora of creative options on their website. The bars are divided into four categories based on which sweetener is used: raw agave, coconut palm sugar, raw honey, and raw dates. I can’t think of any other company offering such an incredible diversity of sweeteners.

In addition to being able to buy these online, you can also find them at a number of co-ops and markets.

Woodblock Chocolate 70%

These superbly tempered bars by Jessica and Charley Wheelock in Portland, Oregon, are so shiny I could almost see myself in their reflection. Their snap is audible, and the 25 gram size is just perfect for one decadent gustatory exploration.

I sampled three, two from Costa Rica, and one from Ecuador. All were memorable.

One of the Costa Rican bars was enhanced with sea salt. I say enhanced because a very deft hand gently sprinkled some crystals on the bottom of this bar. The result was just a hint of salt, enough to bring up all the deep, complex, earthy, yet sophisticated flavors with notes of leather, plum, and raisin. The texture was creamy, and the finish a bit dry and lingering.

The second Costa Rican 70% was sprinkled with sea salt and nibs. Again, the restraint with which these were added provided enough crunch without overwhelming the delicious chocolate.

The Ecuadorian bar with nibs and salt had a gentler flavor profile. The chocolate was fruitier and gentler, but still held my interest. The finish a bit shorter and a tad less dry.

The Wheelock’s have a bean to bar operation. They source, roast, crack, winnow, conch and age their chocolate, and their enthusiasm and attention to detail is obvious in each satisfying bite.