At the 2017 Northwest Chocolate Festival in Seattle, WA I enjoyed an experiment of sampling Dandelion Chocolate bars made from the same beans in both the USA and Japan. Each bar really did taste different! At the same show in 2018 I purchased 70% and 85% bars made in the USA and a 70% bar made in Japan. Each bar is made bean-to-bar with beans from Maya Mountain, Belize. Will there be a difference in taste this time? Let’s find out!
Kekao Chocolate Purveyors offers a dark chocolate subscription box featuring three different bars for $29.99 a month. The bars are often a mix of bean-to-bar and some non-bean-to-bar, but excellent quality (often organic) chocolate. They are offering a discount code for my readers for $5 off the first box when subscribing. Discount code: DARKMATTERS5.
Per Kekao website’s “About Us” section, the founder and CEO, Dino Hodzic, missed out on a hiking trip to Machu Picchu due to a fractured knee. When Dino’s friends came back from Peru they brought back gifts including chocolate bars. This lead to Dino researching dark chocolate and it’s health benefits and thus Kekao.co was born.
I was given this particular box from Kekao. I had no idea in advance which bars would be included in it. I’ve included my own nose/taste notes for each bar in this post.
Marou, a bean-to-bar maker in Vietnam, recently launched their Provisions Marou line which includes cacao powder, nibs and cacao spread. This post focuses on the cacao powder, that is 100% cacao as well as flavor and thoughts on how single-origin cacao powders might effect baking/recipes.
Diego’s Artisan Chocolate is a craft chocolate maker located in Guatemala. The chocolate is very fudge-like in texture and comes rolled in colorful tissue paper. (My favorite is the one with whole coffee beans). At Diego’s Chocolate everything is done by hand from roasting the beans in very tiny batches, hand peeling the beans and even coloring the labels by hand.
I recently had the pleasure of meeting Nicolas Silverman, who represents and distributes Diego’s Chocolate in the USA, at the Northwest Chocolate Festival in Seattle this past November, 2018.
Victoria Cooksey: How long has the Diego family been making chocolate?
Nicolas Silverman: Diego and his family have been making chocolate for almost 30 years. While the recipe and packaging went through some changes in the early years, it has been more or less the same for decades. In the past year, we opened our own retail store in San Juan la Laguna, Guatemala, where customers can come learn about chocolate making, buy our products, and even try making chocolate themselves. We are very excited about being able to welcome visitors – please come and see us!
Another year full of even more chocolate has come and gone bringing us to the 3rd annual Dark Matters Craft Chocolate awards for 2018.
The same rule from the past applies to these awards: Only bars I have purchased are eligible for awards. As usual, some of these bars might still exist in a makers collection and some may have been limited edition only. (Keep in mind that each year/harvest is different and as chocolate makers tweak recipes, bar tasting notes are subject to change). Full tasting notes for each bar may be found on this blog, or on my Instagram account.
And now the winners are…
Best Coffee Chocolate Bar:
I tried several bars with coffee in them this year. What made the top 3 stand out the most, besides the overall great flavors, was that while often coffee can end up a bit stale-tasting in bars, these 3 managed to convey the feeling of having a fresh cup of coffee.
3rd place goes to Hogarth’s Espresso Bar with Dominican Oko Caribe cacao & Pomeroy’s Coffee. This bar has tastes that included lemon, grape, lavender, mocha and bright coffee.
Hogarth’s Espresso Bar (The packaging has changed since I took this photo)
Cacao Review has outdone themselves this year with Collection No. 2, a very limited (only 200 made of each item, ever) chocolate set featuring Chocolate Naive, Marou, Omnom, Ritual and even a bar by Cacao Review. While a few of the chocolate bars are available for individual purchases (50 individual and 150 box sets) the only way to try Chocolate Naive’s Nano_Lot drinking chocolate is by going for the whole collection (ahem…holiday gift perfection, just saying).
Just a glance at Bella Sophia Chocolates Instagram page is enough to give a sense of what an amazing artist Steph Shafer is! Steph manages to offer great flavor, visual appeal and creativity to all her creations and embodies the qualities of an empowered woman as well! (Read on to find out Steph’s definition of an empowered woman).
Bella Sophia Chocolates was founded by both Steph and JD Shafer and was named after their daughter Bella Sophia. From making their own vanilla extract to using cacao from small family farms from the Dominican Republic, Peru and Ecuador when available, Bella Sophia focuses on quality ingredients to create their small-batch award winning luxury chocolates.
Steph Shafer of Bella Sophia Chocolates
Victoria Cooksey: How did you get started making chocolates/bonbons?
Steph Shafer: Making chocolates actually was by accident, it was not planned. I’m an artist and one evening I wanted to paint, however, my large canvas was too heavy for me to carry into the house, I had a piece of chocolate on the counter, so I decided to paint it for fun. I took a picture of the painted chocolate and posted it on Instagram and the next morning I had several people asking me where they could buy that chocolate. It was from there that I learned all about chocolate, where it comes from and how it’s made. I have always been in love with fine chocolate! I love everything about it, the texture, the taste, the smell, I love how it melts in your mouth, it’s so smooth and luxurious. I wanted this type of chocolate for my business, so I researched and created what I think is the best chocolate.
In 2005 Ana and Jason Willenbrock opened Posh Chocolat in Missoula, Montana. Per their website their chocolates are made from “single-origin chocolate from the South American region”. Ana is originally from Brazil and Jason is from St. Louis , Missouri. They met while attending The Culinary Institute of American in New York. Both have culinary experience working in Europe and in the USA prior to opening Posh Chocolat.
Ana recently sent me some of their chocolates, caramels and chocolate bars to sample.