Since 2008, Original Beans has taken the “bean to bar” idea full circle with their “bar to bean” commitment to plant a seedling for every chocolate bar sold. Details of their Grand Cru Blend No. 1 80 percent organic dark chocolate are kept secret, but they claim to use some of the rarest cacaos from South America and Africa. And with only raw cane sugar added, the bars are also vegan.
Savoring each bite of bold, innovative and flavorful hand-made chocolates is without a doubt the best part of being a member of The Gourmet Chocolate of the Month Club™. Discovering chocolatiers and chocolate creations you’ve never tried before makes that even better. But why stop there? Each month you’ll read all about the origins and histories of each featured chocolate, what kinds of time-honored or innovative processes were used to make them, what creative ingredients were used to make them and most importantly, what to look for when you taste them.
Run by master chocolatier Jin Caldwerll, Las Vegas’s JinJu Chocolates uses fresh, seasonal and local ingredients to craft their artisan chocolates. Highlights at this Nevada-based mom-and-pop shop include their sea salted caramels (which come in a variety of flavors, including lemon, chipotle cinnamon and espresso) and the Fortunato No. 4 Chocolate Bar, a single-origin Peruvian chocolate that contains multitudes you can only dream of.
We have five words for you: Caramel Crunch Chocolate Chip Cookie. We know you may be shopping for classic chocolate chip cookies, but trust us when we tell you this is your even-better-than-chocolate-chip-cookie alternative. Why? Because this gourmet cookie starts with a chocolate chip cookie batter and then adds crunchy toffee/caramel/salty chunks that takes this cookie to the next level of craveability.
Dandelion Chocolate bars contain only two ingredients: cocoa beans and cane sugar. For the dark variety-favoring purist, their unadulterated bars are a direct reflection of the quality and unique characteristics of the bean. Constantly on the hunt for the best cacao crop, Masonis and Ring work directly with farmers from around the globe. Dandelion Chocolate also gets top points for presentation. Luxuriously wrapped in gold foil and handmade paper, each of their bars is signed by the chocolatier and printed with its unique origin story.
The Peanut Crunch started with a good light crunch and revealed distinct but light toasted peanut flavor. That was my favorite, and I also enjoyed the Apricot Cream, Marshmallow Cream, and Tart Cherry. I would prefer stronger chocolate flavors in Anette’s chocolates. The Dansk Bar sounded promising with “chocolate truffle layered over marzipan and vanilla caramel,” but I was disappointed. The flavors were not brought out well, and the texture was firmer than I expected. I also found the Triple Berry Cream too sweet to enjoy the fruit and chocolate flavors, so I recommend you select your favorite pieces from the case if you are in the store.
Chocolat Céleste is a mixed bag; I have enjoyed some pieces but not all (relative to experienced expected for the price), and prices have escalated. I suggest the Grand Cru collection. Although pricey, $139/lb. in 2012, it is a rare opportunity to taste criollo (a type of cacao, from which chocolate is made). I enjoyed the criollo pieces in the collection. They should be approached as a tasting experience: Cleanse your palate with water, smell, taste, let the chocolate dissolve, and take the time to experience it. The collection also has non-criollo pieces that I found a bit flat and dry compared to the criollo.
For $260, in late 2014, you could've gotten yourself a To’ak 2014 Rain Harvest 50s gram Chocolate Bar. It was Fair-Trade, USDA certified, 81% dark chocolate and came in a box made from Spanish Elm engraved with the specific bar number, as only 574 were made. There was also a 116 page booklet included, so you could read it and remind yourself why you spent $260 on a chocolate bar. The only ingredients, by the way, were cocoa and cane sugar.
Cecilia asked me to put on a hairnet, a plastic jacket and disposable blue booties, then led me downstairs to the factory. The machines, Swiss, Italian and German models painted ivory, clacked and hammered away, sounding like an orchestra of conga drums. A young guy with tattooed forearms strained to push sweetened cacao paste through a screen with a paddle. For some reason, the floor was painted blood red. The chocolate smell was so strong and pure I could barely think. Somehow I managed to remark to Alessio that these antique machines must limit the quantity of chocolate Amedei can make.
The LA Reader says Milk Jar Cookies are “Possibly the best fresh cookies in town.” Oh yeah? We sent our Los Angeles taster to go see. A half a dozen warm cookies later, he texted in to Eat Gift Love HQ that they were indeed fresh and really good. Well, that’s what we translated from the one word description he actually texted: “Deece!” (We apologize his description is lacking. He’s young and works for cookies. He’s not yet reached the descriptive heights of, say, an Anthony Bourdain. But we are confident in his judgment.)
With five café locations—including one at their factory—this chocolate company handcrafts signature treats that taste exquisite but also look exceptional. Their assortment of bars pep up traditional milk or dark choices with options like a Milk Chocolate Crispy Orange Brulee Bar, Dark Chocolate Espresso Bean, or even the Dark Chocolate Raspberry and Fennel Bark. The gourmet dark, milk and ivory truffles feature fun sweets like the Strawberry or Raspberry Love Bug and Cookies and Cream Cone. Caramels and toffees are touched with sea salt or vanilla, and gourmet hot cocoa mixes go from simple to spicy. A specialty line of liqueur truffles are derived from Oregon’s finest craft distillers. Plus, their tumbled chocolate balls taste of blueberry, hazelnuts, sea salt caramel and even a German roasted malted wheat berry used in beer making.
In the lofty strata where Tessieri operates, “making chocolate” means that you make the chocolate. You import cacao beans from plantations. You roast them and husk them and grind the cacao nibs into a fine paste. You add sugar and grind some more. Finally you swirl the mixture in open tanks called conches, which smooths the texture while helping to blow off acids and other nasty flavors. It’s complicated, demanding work, and few small companies even attempt it.
Owner and debonair chocolatier Giorgio Demarini took the skills he learned as a graphic designer and applied his artistic talent to something sweeter. Now he makes chocolates with his mother at Roselen, hand-painting playful designs to turn into delectable, unique masterpieces. His jungle-style flavor blends, like passion fruit lemongrass or lychee with geranium petals, can be found nowhere else. Try to catch a tasting class, where Demarini pairs his handcrafted Peruvian chocolates with various local libations. If timing isn’t right, pick up the perfect gift box with 16 carefully selected bonbons, a wine glass, and small bottle of Pisco Portón. Chocolate shop and tasting parlor in Lima, Peru.
Chocolate contributes more than $700 million to the Ecuadorian economy. A single 1.8 ounce bar of the finest chocolate divided into 12 squares will set customers back more than $250. For the adventurous chocoholics who want to see chocolate production from seed to bar, the Cacao Route offers the opportunity to visit cacao farms and eventually eat chocolate in a number of dishes as well as sweet and bitter bars. Cacao Route tours take place near the Pacific coast, with options to tour the Organic Cacao Museum, horseback ride along the path and visit plantations and packing facilities, as well as in the Amazon, which features spa treatments at the Papallacta
Chocolate Museum in Bruges, participate in a workshop in Brussels, and even stay in hotels with chocolate bath products. Walking tours of the many chocolate shops will help shave off a few calories. Schedule a factory tour at select producers such as Le Chocolatier Manon, Cyril Chocolat or Chocolaterie Defoidmont, or take in a chocolate- and praline-making demonstration at one of the shops.
If you get a huge box of chocolates and can’t finish them in two weeks, you can store them in the refrigerator for up to 1 month. After that, the flavors of the creams and ganaches can turn stale. When storing chocolates in the refrigerator, take the same steps you would when refrigerating chocolate bars. Be sure to wrap the box very well in plastic wrap, and seal in a zip-top plastic bag. Prior to eating, let the chocolates come to room temperature before unwrapping to avoid any condensation.