Saturday, April 25, 2015

Whole Foods - Costa Rica 71% dark bar - April 25, 2015

Chocolate of the Day: 

Whole Foods
Costa Rica 71% Cacao Dark Chocolate bar
Good - Good +
Weight: .875 oz. (25 g.) / 3.5 oz. (100 g.) in total bar
Calories: 153 calories in 1/4 bar (2 squares)
Cost: $ lost information
Purchased from: Whole Foods Market

Today was Day #5 of Chocolate and Central America Theme Week.

This Costa Rica 71% dark chocolate bar was made with cacao beans from Costa Rica that were Rainforest Alliance Certified, and carried the "Whole Trade Guarantee" seal from Whole Foods Market (Austin, TX).

Kim's Chocolates, a large chocolate maker in Belgium, likely made today's bar, as well as yesterday's Hageland* Costa Rica 71% dark chocolate bar. The bars were the same size and molded shape.

Large companies are very good at creating consistent flavor from many small batches of cacao beans, that may vary from season to season. Smaller chocolate makers learn to do this too, but have a bit more freedom to experiment with flavors that (like wine) vary from year to year. And there may even be a bit of the notion: "If you can't fix it, feature it," occasionally. And some customers might appreciate more fruit, or more floral aroma, or other flavor characteristics in a given year, as long as a bar is well balanced.

Today's bar was likely produced under very similar conditions, with similar Rainforest Alliance Certified cacao beans, as yesterday's bar. It had some of the same dark, almost smoky flavor, but it was slightly sweeter and smoother, and less nutty than the Hageland bar.

I also used some previously squirreled away Britt Licor de Cafe (coffee liqueur) from Costa Rica and this chocolate to make a small treat. Que bueno.

*Hageland (a region in Belgium) is a brand that was originally developed by Kim's Chocolates for large chain stores (Walmart) -- likely, at least in part, to help introduce single origin chocolate to a broader audience, at an affordable price point.


Friday, April 24, 2015

Hageland - Costa Rica 71% dark bar - April 24, 2015

Chocolate of the Day: 

Hageland
(Kim's Chocolates)
Costa Rica 71% dark bar
Good - Good +
Weight: .875 oz. (25 g.) / 3.5 oz. (100 g.) in total bar
Calories: 159 calories in 1/4 bar
Cost: $1.99 for 1 bar
Purchased from: Grocery Outlet Bargain Market, Palo Alto, CA

Today was Day #3 of Chocolate and Central America Theme Week.

Kim's Chocolates is a large chocolate maker in Belgium that manufactures bars under different brand names in the U.S., including KC, Cachet, and Hageland (a brand originally developed for Walmart).

The Hageland Costa Rica 71% dark chocolate bar, was made in Belgium, with Rainforest Alliance Certified cocoa, and imported into the U.S. and stores in the San Francisco Bay Area, where I bought this bar.

Evolving supply chain, sourcing

Ingredients and commodities are often shipped thousands of miles, as part of our food supply chain, before they arrive, wholly integrated and packaged on grocery shelves. I try to shop local where I can. However, most chocolate I buy has a back-story that started with growing cacao in the tropics, and involved shipping cacao beans to a manufacturer or maker elsewhere.

The good news is that even larger players like Kim's Chocolates are trying to make improvements to their supply chain and manufacturing process. (E.g., they're working to switch to a more sustainable sourcing model, and to power their plant in Belgium with solar and alternative energy sources. Twenty percent of their energy is coming from their own solar panels.)

Today's single region bar was made, as mentioned above, with Rainforest Alliance Certified cacao. What does that mean? It means that beans were sourced from Costa Rican farms that met certain criteria for production and farming methods and treatment of workers. "Cocoa workers and families have proper housing, education, access to medical care and safe working conditions."

So, what did the bar taste like?

The tasting notes on the back of the bar package contained this description: "This strong dark origin chocolate" (has an) "...exquisitely bitter cocoa taste," (with a) "tempting bouquet of smoke and wood."

I also thought this bar had a very "dark" earthy, heavily roasted, smoky (almost burnt) flavor, with a hint of nuttiness as well. Given its strong flavor it was still well balanced and enjoyable to eat. And, very reasonably priced.

Tomorrow I'll taste and feature a very similar Costa Rica 71% dark bar, also made by Kim's Chocolates, for Whole Foods Market (with a Whole Trade Guarantee symbol). The ingredients were just a tad different, but the tasting notes on the back look very similar (dark, smoky). 

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Escazu - Costa Rica 65 percent bar - April 23, 2015

Chocolate of the Day: 

Escazu Artisan Chocolates
Single Origin Guapiles Costa Rica 65% bar
Good++
Weight: 1 oz. (28.3 g.) / 2.82 oz. (80 g.) in total bar
Calories: 150 calories (estimate) for 1 oz. (28.3 g.) serving)
Cost: $ lost information (approximately $7.00)
Purchased from: Escazu Artisan Chocolates (at an event)

Today was Day #2 of a theme week highlighting single origin chocolates from three countries in Central America: Guatemala, Costa Rica and Panama. (I featured chocolates from Nicaragua last month, and will be writing about Belize next week.)

Central American cacao culture and history stretches back thousands of years, to the Olmec, Aztec, Maya, and others, to regions with boundaries that pre-dated today's countries. The "birthplace" of cacao lies in the equatorial forests of South and Central America.

Today's 65% cacao dark chocolate bar from Escazu* Artisan Chocolates LLC (Raleigh, NC) was crafted using Rainforest Alliance Certified cacao beans from Guapiles, Costa Rica.

This single origin bar had a pleasant aroma and well-balanced, pleasing chocolate flavor profile. The bar was also lactose-, soy-, and gluten-free.

*Escazu is the name of a capital city, and also a district (San Miguel de Escazu, or simply San Miguel, district) in the province of San Jose in Costa Rica. It is also the name of today's chocolate maker based in the U.S. Guapiles is located in the province of Limon, further east (closer to the Caribbean coast).

Note: This bar is currently (April 2015) unavailable on the Escazu website.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Diego's - Chocolate with Cardamom - April 22, 2015

Chocolate of the Day: 

Diego's Chocolate
Chocolate with Cardamom
Good - Good +
Weight: .5 oz. (14.1 g.) / 1.8 oz. (50.94 g.) for 1 roll
Calories: 75 calories (estimate) in .5 oz. (14.1 g.) serving
Cost: $6.00 for 1 item/roll
Purchased from: The Chocolate Garage, Palo Alto, CA

Today was Day #1 of Chocolate and Central America Theme Week.

Last month I devoted a theme week to one Central American country: Nicaragua. Today, I'm following that up with week devoted to chocolates from 3 other countries in the region including Guatemala, Panama and Costa Rica. (I have yet to find chocolates from Honduras.)

It's common to see carefully wrapped, chocolate "rolls" with twisted ends in parts of Mexico and Central America. Diego's Chocolate (San Pedro La Laguna, Guatemala) cigar-shaped, chocolate rolls can be sliced into penny-sized servings of rich chocolate goodness.

Rustic in style, and slightly rougher in texture than your average chocolate bar, the flavors of today's fudge-y Chocolate with Cardamom offering remained bold, i.e. the flavors hadn't attenuated with processing. Tiny grains of chocolate, sugar and cardamom danced around in my mouth to create an authentic tasting treat.

Mayan grown and made in-country (tree-to-finished product in Guatemala), Diego's* Chocolate is imported into the U.S. by GlobeWright, LLC, and can be found on Etsy, and in the SF Bay Area at The Chocolate Garage (Palo Alto, CA); or in San Francisco at the Delores Park Cafe, Precita Park Cafe, or Duboce Park Cafe.

*And, yes, in case you were wondering, there really is a Diego. He and his family are continuing a chocolate-making tradition that began thousands of years ago in Latin America (the birthplace of cacao).






Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Arete - 75% dark Brazil bar - April 21, 2015

Chocolate of the Day: 

Arete Fine Chocolate
Brasil Fazenda Camboa 75% Organic Dark Chocolate bar
Good ++ - Very Good
Weight: 1.1 oz. (31.13 g.) / 2.2 oz. (61 g.) in total bar
Calories: 165 calories (estimate) in 1/2 bar
Cost: $12.00 for 1 bar
Purchased from: The Chocolate Garage, Palo Alto, CA

Today was Day #14 of Chocolate and Brazil Theme Weeks.

Arete Fine Chocolate (Milpitas, CA) recently launched their bean-to-bar chocolate offerings. This week I tried both of the company's single origin dark chocolate bars carefully crafted from Brazilian cacao beans.

Today's Arete 75% cacao dark bar was made with organic cacao beans from Fazenda Camboa (a large organic farm/plantation in the state of Bahia, Brazil). This bar was made with the same beans as yesterday's 70% dark roast bar, but tasted slightly less sweet, and slightly darker. Hard to tell them apart unless you're eating them side by side.

Both Arete Brazil bars had a pleasing chocolatey aroma, broke with a hard snap, and had a complex but well-balanced flavor profile.

As I re-tasted this 75% medium roast bar throughout the day and evening, different flavor notes came forward. I got more of a slightly bitter jungle flavor than yesterday's 70% deep roast bar. And at certain times I picked up a few tropical fruit notes (lychee + peach/nectarine), citrus caramel.

Cacao beans are a bit like coffee beans -- both are surrounded by a fruit, and are fermented, roasted and ground before they are consumed. However, cacao beans need to be roasted more carefully -- often at slightly lower temperatures and for less time than coffee beans. Also cacao beans have a light husk surrounding them that can be flammable, and that isn't winnowed away until after beans are finished roasting. 

Monday, April 20, 2015

Arete - Brasil 70% dark bar - April 20, 2015

Chocolate of the Day: 

Arete Fine Chocolate
Brasil Fazenda Camboa 70% Organic Dark Chocolate bar
Very Good
Weight: 1.1 oz. (31.13 g.) / 2.2 oz. (61 g.) in total bar
Calories: 165 calories (estimate) in 1/2 bar
Cost: $12.00 for 1 bar
Purchased from: The Chocolate Garage, Palo Alto, CA

Today was Day #13 of Chocolate and Brazil Theme Weeks.

Arete Fine Chocolate (Milpitas, CA) is a relatively new entrant to the bean-to-bar chocolate scene in the San Francisco Bay Area. The owners, David and Leslie, have been working to perfect their chocolate for some time, and started selling their bars earlier this year (2015).

I was able to pick up two Arete bars, made from Brasil Fazenda Camboa organic cacao beans, from The Chocolate Garage, near where I live.

These two Arete bars were made with the same beans (from the same large farm or plantation in Brazil), yet were created with different roasts and percentages, yielding noticeably different results in terms of flavor profile.

Today I'm featuring their 70% dark roast bar; and tomorrow I'll try the 75% medium roast bar. I've learned a lot about the complexities of chocolate (and roasting) by eating two similar bars like this side-by-side. I highly recommend doing so if you're interested in learning more about how chocolate is made.

Today's 70% darker roast bar had a pleasant chocolatey, almost fruity aroma. The flavor profile: malty, well balanced fruit-acid, nutty. Very nicely done. 

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Brazil Sundae + Fox's U-Bet Chocolate Syrup - April 19, 2015

Chocolate of the Day: 

H. Fox and Co., Inc. (aka Fox's)
U-Bet Original Chocolate Flavor Syrup
Good
Weight: 1 teaspoon / 22 oz. (624 g.) in 1 bottle
Calories: 20 calories in 1 teaspoon
Cost: $2.00 (estimate) for 1 bottle of syrup
Purchased from: Saul's Restaurant and Deli, Berkeley, CA

Today was Day #12 of Chocolate and Brazil Theme Weeks.

When the weather gets hot, I start thinking about ice cream. What would a Brazilian-inspired acai ice cream, or a Brazilian ice cream sundae taste like? I wondered. Since it was Sunday, I made the latter.

The "Brazil" sundae had layers of coconut granola and chopped Brazil nuts, chocolate coconut ice cream, caramel rum tres leches ice cream, and coffee liqueur from Latin America. It was topped with a light drizzle of American-made Fox's U-Bet chocolate syrup.*

*H. Fox and Co., Inc. (Brooklyn, NY) is a century-old company that makes ice cream syrups and several other items. I had picked up a plastic squeeze bottle of Fox's U-Bet Original Chocolate Flavor Syrup during a deli visit in Berkeley, CA. U-Bet chocolate syrup is also famous for being a key ingredient in chocolate egg cream sodas.

New York Egg Cream
In a tall glass, pour...
1/2 inch of Fox's U-Bet Chocolate Syrup
3/4 inch of whole milk
Add carbonated water, and mix briskly


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