Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Tastes of California-Made Chocolate: Dick Taylor Craft Chocolate

If there are 'giants' in the craft chocolate world, Dick Taylor Craft Chocolate is certainly among them. And it has less to do with their fantastic packaging and more to do with taste. Dick Taylor consistently delivers on taste and flavour design.

During a 'blind' tasting led by Chloe Doutre-Rousell at the Chocolate Maker's Unconference, we experienced tasters immediately knew from the beautiful design on our tiny pieces of chocolate, as well as the powerful, wonderful fruity flavour punch, that Dick Taylor's Madagascar bar was among the line-up of chocolates. The gorgeous mould may have given it away, but the wonderful flavour confirmed it.

My first taste of the Northerner Blend, a DT chocolate bar that I've heard a lot about over the last year, was a few weeks back. I opened my stash from the NW Chocolate Fest and found the Dick Taylor bars that I had forgotten were among my purchases. I've been peeking into the virtual window of Dick Taylor's shop (ahem, that pretty much means stalking the business on Instagram) and seeing this 'Northerner Blend' chocolate. As a customer from 'Northern Ontario' who considers herself a Northerner, I have trouble imagining such a name could be applied to anything in sunny California. But regardless, the name spoke to me, and I had to taste this bar.

In craft chocolate terms, a blend is a bar that has been made of carefully chosen beans from different growing regions. Blending is a chocolate maker's art, and perhaps an expression of their ideal flavour composition. In the case of the Northerner Blend, it immediately reminded me of the Madagascar chocolate bar by Dick Taylor. Full of fruit flavours, potent, and a real punch of flavour. The blend was no different. It had all those flavour components of the Madagascar cacao, and some fruit from the Brazilian cacao that the Madagascar was blended with. The chocolate makers noted honey and dried apricot as tasting notes, but the flavour elements seemed much richer than those two things. Perhaps a rich, dark honey, and there were definitely some acidic fruity notes. It is a bold chocolate that makes a statement. And it quite addictive.

At the Festival, I also picked up Dick Taylor's other relatively new release: their Brown Butter, Nibs & Sea Salt chocolate bar. I quickly learned that this chocolate delivers a powerful punch of flavour upon first bite. Made using the 73% Northerner Blend, this fruity chocolate offers a potent flavour kick, with some upfront acidity that makes way to creamy, buttery notes and texture. The crunchy nibs and salt leave an after taste of pure cacao that lingers, and bursts of salt that quickly melts away.

The Brown Butter chocolate bar is easy to eat quickly, thinking that with each bite you'll figure out its complexity, and be able to describe its flavour with a simple word or phrase. Soon enough, the bar is gone and you are left wanting another so you can fully understand it. Perhaps that can never happen, even if you eat 100 of them. But you'll enjoy every single one.

With nibs in every bite, this bar I complex - is it buttery or crunchy?
Tart or sweet? Fruity or just plain cocoa-y? 
And look at the beauty of that chocolate mould pattern!

In a later post, I will tell you more about the Dick Taylor's limited edition Solomon Islands chocolate bar: a special release bar that changes each year, depending upon a contest held among cacao farmers of the Solomon Islands. The best cacao is chosen by chocolate makers like Dick Taylor and Madre, and a few others. I picked one some at the 2016 NW Festival, and in 2017 I bought Dick Taylor's, along with a Madre's and Zokoko's. What a treat to experience how different chocolate makers approach cacao from the same region, so stay tuned for that in the coming weeks.

For now, here is more information on the bars that I wrote about today:

Brown Butter with Nib & Sea Salt in a 73% Northerner Blend
Maker: Dick Taylor Craft Chocolate, Eureka, California
Ingredients: Cacao*, cane sugar*, butter*, fleur de sel (Cacao solids: 73% minimum). *Organic. Contains dairy. May contain traces of nuts.

Northerner Blend, 73% Dark Chocolate
"A balanced blend of Madagascan and Brazilian Cacao."
Maker: Dick Taylor Craft Chocolate, Eureka, California
Ingredients: Cacao*, cane sugar* (cocoa solids 73% minimum). *Organic. May contain nuts and milk.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

The Chocolate Project: A Great Place to Buy Craft Chocolate Online

Throughout my many years writing about chocolate online, and tasting all that this world of chocolate, and particularly craft chocolate, has to offer, I've heard about The Chocolate Project. I visited the website many times, and always noticed that they have over 300 chocolate bars at their location in Victoria, British Colombia. I have been to nearly all parts of Canada, but Victoria is still on my bucket-list.  A faraway place on the other side of the country, on an island (like myself, only surrounded by salt-waters rather than the very unsalted waters of a Lake Huron). So I guess I put off ordering chocolate from this famous-in-the-chocolate-world shop because it just seemed so far away.

Then I had a phone conversation with the amazing Joanne Burns, a chocolatier who owns Chocolate Beach on Salt Spring Island, BC (another Island-er who understands what it is like to have a passion for international bean-to-bar chocolate), and she told me again how wonderful The Chocolate Project is. And I met the super awesome Stephanie from Uncouth Chocolate in Victoria, who was representing The Chocolate Project at the Northwest Chocolate Festival in Seattle. So I decided 2017 was the year for me to try The Chocolate Project.

Turns out, distance is nothing in this age of technology and fast-shipping. I ordered a Christmas present for myself online from The Chocolate Project just a few short weeks before the big day. The chocolate travelled across the country quickly and arrived at my door with days to spare (and somehow Santa got it into my stocking for me!).

The packaging was simple - no need for fancy extra's telling me about The Dark Collection that I ordered. Simply the four bars, in a box rolled with insulated wrapping to control any external factors. It was perfect for someone like me: arrives quick and to the point, letting me taste the chocolate for myself without unnecessary extras.

The Dark Collection from The Chocolate Project,
in December (January's Dark selection has changed,
but customers can ask for a custom box of chocolate bars from
any of the 350+ chocolate bars they stock).

I chose the Dark Collection because it contained bars from four chocolate makers that I had not had the opportunity to taste before. You may be surprised (if you follow the craft chocolate movement) to learn that I've missed out on omNom from Iceland, and Letterpress Chocolate from Los Angeles. But in my defence, Letterpress has not been selling widely for long, and omNom is, well, in Iceland. And I live on an Island in the centre of Canada, so I guess I have an excuse. I also had not tasted Shattell Chocolate from Peru, and I only tasted one bar from Brasstown in the past, when they sported different packaging. So this group of chocolate bars was a perfect fit for me.

The Collection was nicely set up for a chocolate tasting party, should Chocolate Project's customers want to hold one with friends. The Shattell Chocolate is made in Peru, with Peruvian cacao and offers extreme floral notes, whereas the OmNom is a made from Nicaraguan origin cocoa beans that have a citrus kick to it. Brasstown's bar is the Elvesia 70% made from Dominican Beans and very full of red fruit flavours (although as time goes on it seems to also have some floral notes, perhaps I've stored it too close to the Shatell). And finally Letterpress Chocolate's Tanzania 70% Dark bar, the star of the show, offered tart notes of banana, and yet citrus that almost tastes of mandarin or under-ripe orange, with a clear taste of the roast on the cocoa beans. Overall, these chocolate bars showcased a full range of single origin, natural cacao flavours.

So why was LetterPress the star bar? For starters, I finished it first, surprised by how good it was, how the texture was smoother than the rest and stood out, yet the chocolate only contained two ingredients, with no cocoa butter added. The combination of fruity flavours and roast were well balanced, and really intriguing. What a treat. I WISH I had another bar.

This Letterpress Chocolate Tanzania 70% dark bar was
the star of the collection!

So what did I finish second? The Brasstown. The fruity punch from the Dominican cacao made it interesting to come back to time and gain. It was also a stately bar, long and slender and classic.

The OmNom was good, but I have tasted many Nicaragua origin beans, and made quite a few bars myself from Nicaragua beans, and over time have discovered that I am not personally partial to that overly acidic citrus kick with few other flavours (although the website lists tasting notes of mushroom, red wine (for the acidity & tannins I assume) and rye bread. Some people love it, but it is just not my thing. I did enjoy the aroma of coffee and cocoa, and the fantastic snap (the tempering was perfect and the bar shiny and gorgeous).

omNom's Nicaragua bar was shiny and had a good snap.

However, the most impressive part of omNom's chocolate, was the bar mould and packaging - the overall look and pattern on the chocolate itself, and the packaging and marketing around this chocolate hit the mark. The outer sleeve did not have a lot of writing, nor tasting notes, nor long descriptions of cacao origin, but the image of the wolf, and the imagery of crocodiles, certainly had a menacing yet wild effect.

omNom Chocolate has the most incredible packaging!

It is rare to see the inner foil printed. omNom has thought through
every step of their packaging to give the customer a consistent experience.

And combined with dangerous creatures was the mountain peaks that peaked out from the inside of the pointed flaps of the box. It evoked a certain power to the chocolate that is inside. Even the foil had images of the wolf, coming from two sides, which created a pattern that needed to be searched for the wolves within. I will come back to OmNom chocolate time and again to try all their other origins. The quality was there, not perfectly smooth texture but a good product. And the overall experience was worth it.

The Shatell Bitter 70% Cacao Ayacucho bar was just too floral for me. It really had a lot of interesting notes in it, once I got past the floral thing, and some balanced acidity with a punch of flavour and some fruitiness. The aromas were quite powerful and I can imagine how fun it would be to eat the raw cacao at the farm with all those notes in it. If you are into Lavendar chocolate or rose-flavoured ganache, that sort of thing, this may be jut the bar for you. The aroma and taste certainly reminded me of where cacao comes from - a plant that flowers and grows fruit. 

Shattell has a Chuncho 70% dark chocolate bar that won 2017 Gold at the International Chocolate Awards. I have tasted a Chuncho origin chocolate before by Qantu, and it was good (also an award winner), so I am looking forward to tasting Shattell's Chuncho dark chocolate someday.

Overall, I am quite happy with my choice of chocolaty Christmas gifts this year. I will return again to The Chocolate Project's website, and also will be likely to e-mail David Mincey again in future to order any of the 350 bars he now has in his collection. He even carries a Rogue bar, which might be the only place to buy one in Canada.

For more information on The Chocolate Project, visit the website at: http://www.chocolateproject.ca.

To learn more about the four craft chocolate brands listed above, visit their websites through the links below:

http://www.shattell.com/ (this will lead you through to Shattell's facebook page).

Happy New Year Everyone!