Tag Archives: ecuador

choccie choccie choccie starts with c

10 Feb

So lately, I’ve caught myself singing to my cat several times per day. That’s not so unusual, except that the song is always the same: “Kitty kitty kitty starts with C.”

My melodic genius, which excels at altering the Sesame Street standby from Cookie to Kitty, seems unable to realize that Kitty does not start with C.

But I know what does – chocolate! Considering that my new home has ample room for a chocolate-only drawer, and much of my chocolate is as old as the hills AKA covered in spidery bloom, it’s time to give the old choccie a heave-ho – into my stomach – to make room for some new delights.

Try and keep up – we have a fair bit of ground to cover.

  

Fine & Raw is a Brooklyn-based company that uses low-heat techniques to ‘save the world through silliness and chocolate.’ Kind of strange, but I was willing to give raw chef-turned-chocolatier Daniel Sklaar a chance. I’d had his mesquite bar before (featuring a cowgirl on the wrapper – how silly!), and enjoyed it. Their ingredients are organic, their cacao is fair-trade, and I like that they don’t capitalize their product names.

The bar featured here is the sea salt bar, featuring 70% cacao of Ecuador origin, and a well-mixed dose of sea salt, along with crystal palm sugars. If you aren’t a fan of grainy chocolate (like well-textured Taza bars), you probably won’t like Fine & Raw. The bars are very grainy, due to their ‘raw’ state.

The flavor is also a bit quizzical. At first taste, I would be inclined to say that the chocolate tastes… like nothing. How can this be? The flavors melt into being quickly, though, ushered in by a mild but steady stream of saltiness. Pretty interesting stuff. The chocolate flavor itself is light and fruity, but is well-masked by the salt. It’s definitely a bar to ponder over, but at only 2 ounces (54 g), it goes quickly.

 

With a website that looks straight out of 1997, The Tea Room is a bit of an odd duck, selling conceptual chocolate bars, loose leaf tea, and novelty pairings such as truffles and plush velour terry robes. Okay.

I bought this on a whim when I saw it (and three others of its ilk) in the cafeteria at the University of Maine. How it got there is a mystery that will likely remain unsolved. The Tea Room currently sells twelve organic chocolate bar ‘fusions,’ unifying their equal love of tea and chocolate. This particular offering is the Black Masala Chai, a 38% milk chocolate base that has been infused with black tea, cardamom, cinnamon, pepper, and clove.

It is reminiscent of the wonderful milk chocolate Masala bar from Les Chocolats de Chloé in Montréal, but not as well-made. The chocolate is good enough, but I’m still stuck trying to read all of the writing on the box – it’s crawling with different fonts and information. It’s a good thing you didn’t have to stand next to me when I spied these four Tea Room bars – – it was a long time before I made it to my lunch.

The milky base makes this a good snacking chocolate, but is heavily aromatic of masala chai, or ‘mixed-spice tea.’ There’s not much to say about the flavor profile of the chocolate, but that’s not the niche this chocolate is intended to fill. It is a tasty bar to store in a desk at work for an afternoon sugar craving… or for tea time.

  

TCHO is one of those interesting chocolate companies that I like to keep an eye on. Lurking concerns over the  accuracy of classifying their company as ‘bean to bar’ is just one of the reasons TCHO keeps making waves from its home base in San Francisco. Oprah is another reason. Their substantial amount of hype despite lackluster product innovation is yet another.

They have good marketing skills though, and I can’t help purchasing their products when I see them. I picked this bar up in Minnesota back in August (they have since changed their packaging a bit), and unlike some of my other bars, this shows no sign of bloom. This organic and fair-trade bar, Nutty 2.0, is another bar of Ecuadorian origin.

Silvia liked this one. So did Hannah, once Nutty got all growed up and made it to the 2.0 stage. So what did I think? I think the taste is why I continue to fall for TCHO products. Despite the hype that would normally make me cringe and avoid it, TCHO has some tasty offerings.

The aroma is enticingly deep and earthy. The chocolate melts softly on the palate, and the nuttiness that the bar takes its name from is off somewhere to the upper left of my jaw (or rather, a background note). The taste is fudge forward, with a well-rounded cocoa flavor. It exhibits none of the bitterness that its earthy aroma suggested. A welcome darkness for its 65% cacao content, and one of the only bars that I have successfully been able to re-wrap for future enjoyment.

  

One bar remains, and I hope you’re still with me. I’m powering through the review with the help of Slayer’s live disc Decade of Aggression. But hopefully the depth and length of this review have not felt like a decade of aggression to you.

We turn lastly to Christopher Elbow Artisanal Chocolates out of Kansas City, Missouri. I’m all for Midwesterners making it big in the chocolate word. This once-pastry chef now produces an innovative line of truffles, chocolate bars, pâte de fruit and luxury candies, of which I sampled the No. 2 Dark Spice chocolate bar. A 63% cacao content (labeled 61% on my bar) is infused with Ancho chilis, Chipotle chilis, cinnamon, and additional spices, to give a deeply-flavored tasting experience.

My bar had bloomed severely since its purchase last summer, but the aroma sent nice flavor chills down my spine. This sounds painful, but was in fact quite exciting. The aroma was evocative of lazy evenings spent grilling spicy meats out of doors, and of a hot summer sun heating up the pavement in the street.

Unfortunately, the initial taste was a bit of a let-down, proving nearly identical to the aroma, but much more muted. Within a few seconds, the spice of the chilis kicked in, and I was able to appreciate the well-integrated chili heat mingling with bright, fruity flavored chocolate. I enjoyed the chocolate and its aftertaste, but found the initial taste disappointing, and enough to make the chocolate seem a bit second-rate. In addition, its texture was a bit chalky, despite having a clean snap. Not terrific, but a good effort by Christopher Elbow.

Learn more about these chocolate companies:

Fine & Raw

Check out their occasional blog, or buy chocolate here.

The Tea Room

Find them on the twitters and Facebook. If you can handle the ugly website, learn where to buy bars here.

TCHO

Take a tour if in SF, peruse their tweetaroos, or look for them in Oprah’s cupboard. Purchase bars here.

Christopher Elbow

Follow Elbow on twitter and Facebook.  Purchase products here.

the high-water mark of the rebellion, and askinosie chocolate

7 Jun

For those of you who don’t remember learning much about the American Civil War (or for those of you who never learned much of it), you can read about it in historical nonfiction, such as I have been doing. I found a plethora of exciting reads at my local library, of which I’ve cultivated my interest especially from

  1. Highways and Byways of the South, by Clifton Johnson. Published in 1904 and available here.
  2. So you’re going south!: To the south Atlantic states, and if I were going with you, these are some of the places I’d suggest, by Clara Elizabeth Laughlin. Published in 1940 and previewed here.
  3. The desolate South, 1865-1866: a picture of the battlefields and of the devastated Confederacy, by John Townsend Trowbridge. Published originally in 1866 under a title just shy of 100 words.

Or, also like me, you could visit one or more of the countless historic locations mentioned in these hallowed tomes. For my most recent trip, this venerated location was none other than Gettysburg.

Stopping at Gettysburg was a spur-of-the-moment detour between Gifford Pinchot State Park (in Pennsylvania) and Seneca Rocks (in West Virginia). And what a fantastic detour it turned out to be. Labeled as a “National Military Park,” Gettysburg offers visitors a self-guided auto tour through the town and surrounding countryside, all of which played host to the very bloody Battle of Gettysburg. Taking place over three days in 1863, Union and Confederate forces each lost over 23,000 troops. Definitely bloody.

This battle is also remembered as the “high-water mark of the rebellion” or Confederacy, because of its strategic location in the North. Had the Union not prevailed after three days’ time, the United States could look very different today. Perhaps the territorial integrity of the US would not have been preserved (land sakes alive!). Perhaps I would not be ashamed to bring my offensive Rebel flag beach towel out into public with me. Perhaps I would instead be reading books entitled So… you’re going North, eh?

Gettysburg was a terrific place to visit, filled with touching monuments and mementos of a lost time that I today can only marvel at in the literature. It was a cheap visit (all it cost us was one pressed penny – of General Lee – and the fuel to motor the car around the park), the scenery was enthralling, and it motivated me to learn more about US history.

Of the books I’m reading, John Townsend Trowbridge in particular has motivated me to praise the Union’s valiant efforts. Side note: did you know that Missouri, Kentucky, and West Virginia were all Union states, despite allowing slavery? So, in honor of the Union, I am praising the efforts of Askinosie Chocolate, a Missouri-based company.

I haven’t talked much about Askinosie here, but I will tell you this: my all-time favorite chocolate taste test (maybe) was Askinosie’s dark chocolate Soconusco bar, which originated in Mexico. That is not what you will see here, though; this time around, I’m reviewing the San Jose Del Tambo bar, out of Ecuador. First up, a few thoughts about Askinosie Chocolate. I will organize them in list form, because I decided eleven words ago that this will be a post of lists.

  1. In a world of trendy chocolatiers and chocolate makers, Askinosie has both an original chocolate bar look, and unique chocolate bar packaging skills. They are artfully done, and to me, they stick out quite nicely. Their appearance outside makes me want to purchase them, only in part due to what I know lies inside the crinkly wrapper.
  2. Askinosie Chocolate has recently won quite a few awards, including Best Dark Bar (in the bean-to-bar category) at the 2011 London Academy of Chocolate Awards. Which bar won gold, you may ask? That’s right, San Jose Del Tambo! Will I find it worthy of such prestige? Read on!
  3. I believe Askinosie is in part so successful because its founder, Shawn Askinosie, has already made a name for himself (and for two Dateline specials) as a criminal defense lawyer. Dun dun [Law & Order sound effect]. I’m sure obtaining capital wasn’t the most difficult aspect of starting this business.
  4. The website is pretty cool. It includes a search box labeled “Choc-o-Lot,” where after entering a number found on your bar’s packaging gives you specific information about the invaluable specimen you are holding in your hands – or between your teeth.
  5. Despite being a pretty cool website, it has been spiced up with lots of Christian-based gems. I have to be honest, this turns me off of the product quite a bit. I don’t look for prayer and good Christian morality when shopping for chocolate. Wait, are you suggesting I should only eat devilish chocolate bars such as Lille Belle Farms’ Do Not Eat This Chocolate chocolate? Perhaps you are.
  6. The only science class Shawn Askinosie took in college was a forestry course. Okay, he’s back on my good side!

This Askinosie bar, San Jose Del Tambo, originates in Ecuador. It has a 70% cocoa content, which is made up of 68% cocoa liquor and 2% cocoa butter, if you consult my Choc-o-Lot. The bean is of the Arriba Nacional variety: Nacional beans grown in a region of Ecuador now known as “Arriba.” I’m not a cacao genetics expert; hence, I can’t make claims about Nacional’s distinction from other cacao such as Forastero. Perhaps I should become a cacao genetics expert.

My first thoughts of San Jose Del Tambo were that it had a bitter and fudgy aroma. It took the chocolate at least 10 or 15 seconds to melt on my palate before I tasted anything, which seemed extraordinarily long. These flavors were the same as the chocolate’s initial aroma.  When bitten, the bar was tangy, and I found myself licking my chops like a cat trying to shrug an aftertaste. Except I wasn’t trying to shrug it, I was trying to taste it more fully. Compared to other chocolate I’ve tried recently, this bar was awfully bitter for having a 70% cocoa content. Amazing.

My second taste was more mellow than the first, and was earthy and a bit fruity. I was relatively unimpressed, honestly, until I chanced to eat more of this chocolate while accompanied by a cup of jasmine tea. Something about the flowery nature of the tea brought out an awesome, amazing, super incredible, I-can’t-truly-describe-it fruitiness in the midst of all this dark and bitter. I was floored. Askinosie mentions that this bar has “a stout flavor with notes of dried fruit and citrus and hints of coffee.” I didn’t taste anything reminiscent of stout beer, and I wouldn’t describe it as bulky in figure, corpulent, or thickset. However, it was firm and resolute in flavor – until I unlocked the key to some of its hidden character. I didn’t notice any coffee in the bar either. And while I liked it – much more after discovering it offered more than lurks on the surface – I don’t think I would choose it as my favorite bean-to-bar dark chocolate. I might reserve that label for the Soconusco 75% dark bar, which is unfortunately not currently available.

To decide for yourself (you really should):

Askinosie Chocolate

514 E. Commercial St.
Springfield, MO 65803

Factory Store Hours
Monday-Friday 10h00-18h00
Saturday 11h00-15h00

Or if you’re in the Asheville area, you can purchase this (and more, such as my recently enjoyed Olive & Sinclair Sea Salt bar) from:

French Broad Chocolate Lounge

10 S. Lexington Ave.
Asheville, NC 28801

Hours
Sunday-Thursday 11h00-23h00
Friday/Saturday 11h00-24h00

And if you ever find yourself in south-central Pennsylvania, with a desire for a double dose of wide-open country and bloody historical nonfiction, I highly recommend steering yourself over to:

Gettysburg National Military Park

1195 Baltimore Pike, Suite 100
Gettysburg, PA 17325

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