Friday, July 28, 2017

Summer, Spring, Fall, Hello Cocoa has them all!

I eat a lot of basil. It grows in the backyard garden in the summer. I grow it in pots on my veranda. I also grow it indoors the Aerogarden in the winter time. More often than not, I eat it directly from the plant. I add it to my pasta sauce and make salad dressing from it. And although I have thought about it A LOT, I have not yet added it to chocolate.

So my first taste of basil in chocolate was when I tried Hello Cocoa's 'Spring Fever' chocolate bar. This Arkansas-based chocolate maker has combined dried basil, with basil olive oil and apricots and added them to a 57% dark chocolate.

I thought it might be too sweet before I tasted it. I am, after all, quite used to consuming 70% to 100% dark chocolate on a daily basis. But the sweetness seemed to bring out the basil flavour, while not making the chocolate taste like 'garden herbs'. The sweet and chewy apricot also complimented the flavour. The combination was surprising and lovely, especially since the basil is now growing in pots outside and the anticipation of the herbs in the garden is at an all-time high (we have a late growing season here in Northern Ontario, we are still waiting on, well, everything).

Hello Cocoa's Spring Fever chocolate bar has inspired me to create some truffles this summer out of basil. Stay tuned for recipes!

Hello Cocoa also makes a variety of other chocolate bar flavours, including the lightly creamy Mocha bar with dark chocolate tendencies. It has 52% cocoa solids, and a slightly bitter chocolate taste with a lightly sweetened coffee flavour. The Ooh La Lavender chocolate bar was very floral in its aroma and, well, had a strong lavender flavour. Lavender is not a flavour I enjoy, but the flavours and sweetness were well balanced and the honey flavour stood out. There was also a nice cacao nib crunch from small bits of cocoa nibs tossed into the chocolate's mix. I could see how anyone who likes lavender would love this chocolate bar.

As for the single origin dark chocolates, the 70% Dominican Republic origin chocolate has bright fruit flavours and is quite nice as a dark chocolate. I really enjoyed this bar! The Venezuela 74% dark chocolate has little fruit flavour, and is on the cream and nut side of the spectrum when it comes to chocolate origin flavours. It was true to the Venezuela origin: creamy and perfectly balanced in flavour. The Uganda origin chocolate was much sweeter with 57% cocoa solids, and had a nice flavour balance (it tasted much like a good semi-sweet chocolate chip!).

A cool thing about Hello Cocoa is that they cover all three main bean types in their origin chocolate.  Their Uganda chocolate is made from Forastero cacao, their Dominican Republic chocolate is made from Trinitario-type beans and the Venezuela chocolate is from Criollo beans.

Hello Cocoa also sent me some yummy truffles, which is a new product for them, and a new 75% Haiti origin bar. I ate this bar so quickly because it was beyond delicious.

More About Hello Cocoa Chocolate...

The founders of Hello Cocoa are Preston Stewart and Lauren Blanco. They launched in August of 2014 in Fayetteville, Arkansas, with a passion for single origin chocolate and also seasonal flavours. Their first seasonal chocolate bar was released at that time, called Hello Fall, but has since been renamed to Harvest, and contains toasted pumpkin seeds, dried tart cherries and pumpkin spice and is still their best seller to this day.

Learn more about Hello Cocoa on their website at: or on Instagram: @hellococoachocolate.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Do you like a dark roast, a medium roast or a light? New Montreal-based chocolate maker, Rica Chocolat, brings us choice in our cocoa 'roast'

Do you ever think about chocolate's 'roast profile' in the same way as coffee? If not, you should! When you taste a chocolate and wonder why it has an upfront roast flavour, or perhaps smokiness or a tobacco flavour, consider that it may be because the chocolate maker applied a deep roast to the cocoa beans. Other flavours may come to you as the chocolate melts on your tongue, which can be attributed to the origin of the cocoa bean, but a dark roast can certainly make for an interesting chocolate. On the other hand, if the upfront flavour is very fruity, or perhaps honey-like in taste, or maybe has a raw nuttiness, possibly the chocolate maker chose a light roast for the cocoa beans.
Rica Chocolat in Montreal has chosen to showcase - through their chocolate bars - different roasts on the same cocoa beans. This is such a wonderful opportunity for chocolate lovers to taste the difference between roasts, and decide for themselves which way they like their chocolate, much like coffee drinkers do. As with  Calgary-based McGuire Chocolate, which I told you about last week, the chocolate makers at Rica love to experiment with their cocoa beans. However, at Rica they are using just one origin of cocoa beans (Costa Rica), and trying many different recipes on those same beans, including different roasts and refining times. In fact, their first experiments resulted in 17 different chocolate bars! 

Rica was founded by friends, Philippe Fortier, Renaud Miniaou and Adrien Arnoux. I communicated with Adrien while writing this article, and he shared that the three met while attending business school in Montreal. Philippe was raised in Costa Rica and told the others about his wish to support the cocoa farmers near where he was raised. He had learned about the impact of witches broom on cocoa plantations, and was looking for a way to support the farmers, and have a positive impact on their lives. After considering selling cocoa beans from Costa Rica, they instead decided that making chocolate would have the best impact.

I have tasted two of the chocolate bars made by Philippe, Renaud and Adrien, and based on the quality of their chocolate, I think they will indeed have a positive impact on the farmers in Costa Rica. The texture is quite nice and the flavours are bold, in a good way. Upon opening the package, the Ébène (ebony) N17 chocolate bar, which had a medium roast and 72% cocoa solids, had the aroma of a citrus punch drink. The Sauvage (wild) N15 also had 72% cocoa solids and had a 'Douce et longue' (low roast, but long) roast. It has a smoky aroma with a hint of brown sugar and fruit (like the smell of pie).

The N17 with its 'Moyenne' (medium roast) offers bold fruit flavours that are quite potent. The roast taste is there, but it sits in the background, with a little leather and woody tastes, along with an acidic/citrus punch.

N15, with its 'douce et longue' (long and low) roast, definitely offers a smoke and tobacco flavour profile, with fruitiness as the after-thought.

Because the cocoa bean is so fruity and thereby acidic in nature, this is not a sweet-tasting 72% cocoa bar. This Costa Rica bean, used by Rica reminds me more of the Grenada beans I have been testing: bold, fruity, tropical and definitely best when made at a 70 to 75% dark chocolate. An 85% might be too acidic to bear, but 60% would be like nice fresh fruit with sugar poured over it. All that said, Rica made a good choice with its 72% cocoa solids. The amount of sugar (28%) allows the bean flavour to shine, bringing out those bold fruit flavours, while not covering it up with a sugary-sweet taste.
I look forward to tasting the other 15 recipes someday and see what will come from Rica Chocolat!
More about Rica Chocolat & Where to Buy
Rica's chocolates are currently being made by Adrien, Phil and Renaud in Chocolat Monarque's workshop at 5333 Casgrain in Montreal, Canada. Their chocolate bars are now available at Cœur D'artichaut in Montreal - 1451 avenue Laurier est. Check the website for more information on where you can find their chocolate near you at: or follow on Instagram @ricachocolat.

To read about other new Canadian Chocolate Makers in this Canada 150 series, click the following links:

Part 1: Kasama Chocolate in BC
Part 2: McGuire Chocolate in Alberta
Part 3: Aschenti Chocolate in Winnipeg
Part 4: Qantu Cacao et Chocolat
Part 5: Rica Chocolat in Montreal
Part 6 and Beyond: more of Quebec's newest makers and the East Coast

For a full list of Canadian chocolate makers, visit: