Monday, May 18, 2015

SOMA released two luxury chocolate bars: one made from the coveted Porcelana beans, and the other a hybrid

A few weeks back, SOMA Chocolatemaker announced that they have gotten their hands on some of the infamous 'Porcelana' beans.  These highly coveted beans from Venezuela have been sought after by many chocolate makers for years. But they were just not available to buy.

'Porcelana' refers to the type of cocoa bean used to make chocolate. It is sought after by chocolate makers because of "its refined flavour profile, a perfect balance of acidity/fruit and lower levels of astringency and bitterness" (ref). Porcelana chocolate is considered to have a delicate flavour with mild nut, caramel and spice, but no one flavour is overwhelming, like in some origin chocolates.

The 'Porcelana' name comes from the colour of the unripe beans inside the cocoa pods, which are translucent-white, different from the brown colour of other cocoa varieties. The resulting chocolate made from these beans is still a brown colour, but even the darkest bars made from the beans look more like milk chocolate, than the dark chocolate that we are used to seeing.

Porcelana is a Criollo cacao type that grows only in one region in Venezuela - South of Lake Maracaibo. It is difficult to farm because it is fragile, and susceptible to disease and insects. So farmers began to grow other, sturdier varieties, which resulted in the very small supply we have today. But chocolate connoisseurs want more!  So in order to preserve pure Porcelana, a working plantation has been devoted to preserving pure Porcelana, as well as providing seedlings to farmers who want to try to farm it.

Soma received some pure Porcelana and a 'Porcelana Ocumare', a hybrid from a project called Criollo Santa Barbara (CSB), which, from what I understand is out of the preservation project. With that cacao, Soma made two bars: a Porcelana 75% chocolate bar, and a bar called the CSB Chama 70%.

I tasted the chocolate before I read Soma's informative blog post on how these two chocolate bars came to be.  I found I was having trouble distinguishing what made these two bars different from one another. They were very similar except for a slightly more cocoa-y flavour of the Porcelana, which could be explained by it being a 75%, instead if the 70% CSB. However, there was something a little...fruity, like the slight acidity of ripe berries in the Porcelana. Both bars were delicate like a nice cream (like half and half cream for coffee) flavour.

I could rarely taste the nuttiness that was promised on the package, but it was there and showed up more so in the Porcelana when I paired the two chocolates with an Alamos 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon (Argentina wine).  But it truly bothered me that I was not finding discernible differences between these chocolates.  I wondered if I had damaged my taste buds in some way?  But then I read Soma's article and felt better when they wrote: "The two bars sing a slightly different tune yet are clearly related." That was exactly what was confusing me. These are related. They are supposed to be similar.

Both chocolate bars are delicate, creamy and slightly nutty. Porcelana has an almost spice-like after taste. Because of the mild flavours of the two chocolate bars, I found I was drawn to the bolder flavoured Peru Nacional bar by Soma, which I also tasted (for the third time) at the same time. The Porcelana and CSB chocolates' mild flavours also highlighted the extreme nuttiness in Soma's Camino Verde Ecuador 70% bar (see notes on these chocolate bars below). But the Porcelana and CSB both grew on me over time, as I began to appreciate the creaminess and delicacy of this chocolate.

Traditionally very few chocolate makers have made Porcelana bars, but there are more available to taste these days. Namely, one by Italian chocolate maker, Amedei's Porcelana bar, is the most well-known world-wide and really had cornered the market for a long time. Rogue Chocolatier has a Porcelana bar ($18 U.S. for the 60 gram bar) that is renown within the U.S. craft chocolate arena. Also, Choklat in Calgary has made a Porcelana bar too.

You can buy Soma's Porcelana bar (for a very limited time) in either of their two Toronto locations or by e-mailing your order to them to be shipped to your door.  Learn more here: http://www.somachocolate.com/pages/plain-and-simple.


Some tasting and product notes...

All four bars made by Soma (that I tasted  in the last two weeks) had the following ingredients:
Cacao beans, organic cane sugar and cacao butter (except for the Peru Nacional, which had just cacao beans and sugar; no added cacao butter).  Soma's bars all have a 'May contain' warning for trace amounts of nuts, dairy, soy and wheat.

SOMA's Porcelana 75%, Bean type: Criollo
This chocolate was delicate tasting with a lot of light cream flavour.  Some nuttiness and slight spice undertones. One might say this is a very relaxing taste, for times when you are in the mood for tea with cream and a little sugar.

SOMA's CSB Chama 70%, Bean type: Criollo
This delicate chocolate was sweeter than the Porcelana, but had the same very milky colour due to the translucent colour of the beans before fermentation and roasting (see the colour difference in the picture on the right - the CSB looks like milk chocolate compared to the other Peruvian 70% bar with it).  The flavour was creamy and lightly nutty and overall a very mild chocolate flavour.

SOMA's Peru Nacional 70%, Bean type: Nacional
This is an International award winner, and I can see why.  There is an upfront spice-like flavour that opens up to a delicate and sweet chocolate flavour, with a lingering cocoa and fruit taste. It has a bolder and more distinct flavour profile than Soma's two new Venezuelan bars: Porcelana and CSB. I wrote a little more about the Peru Nacional bar last Fall, just before it won it's grand award.

SOMA's Camino Verde Ecuador 70%, Bean type: Nacional
A heavy flavour of roasted nuts hit me upfront, particularly walnuts.  I almost wondered if it was made while Soma's flourless walnut cake was baking. There is still a delicate sweetness to the chocolate bar though.  Although not as enjoyable to me as the Peru Nacional, this one grew on me every day until I found myself very sad to be eating the last piece.

Monday, May 11, 2015

New Chocolate Fudge by President's Choice with Natural Ingredients

I used to love chocolate fudge as a child. However, as an adult, I pay attention to the ingredients in my food. And the fact is, most manufacturers of fudge, even the ones we believe to be local, tend to add all sorts of unnatural ingredients like hydrogenated oil and artificial flavours. That is why I never buy it. 

So when I was shopping at the grocery store this weekend, I was delighted to see that President's Choice, a Canadian brand, has launched a new Chocolate Sea Salt Fudge with no artificial colours or flavours.  And when I read the ingredients list, I couldn't resist trying it because there were no funky (or junky) additives.

The fudge was quite tasty.  Certainly it was not overly salty, and it was very sweet as fudge normally is.  It could have been a bit more chocolaty (more...cocoa-y?) for my liking, but then, I am a regular eater of bitter chocolate. My family really liked it.

Here are the package details of this new chocolate product that I tasted this week:

President's Choice Chocolate Sea Salt Fudge, 200g
Loblaws, Inc. (PC brand, but Product of United Kingdom)
www.pc.ca
Ingredients: sugar, butter, sweetened condensed milk, golden syrup, dark chocolate (unsweetened chocolate, sugar, cocoa butter, soy lecithin, natural flavour), glucose syrup (contains wheat), water, sea salt. May contain peanuts, tree nuts, egg and sesame.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Want a Good Laugh While Eating Chocolate?

While tasting two of Newfoundland Chocolate Company's products the other day, I decided to visit the website. What I happened upon was a good laugh. On the Home Page, there was a picture of a chocolate bar wrapper that said 'Stunned as Me Arse'. Now being Canadian (although not from Newfoundland), 'arse' is a word that I grew up hearing. And it has always made me laugh whenever I hear it, no matter what the context. But certainly, it was never said before in the context of chocolate.

According to the website, for a limited time you can buy the company's Milk Chocolate with Caramel and Sea Salt chocolate bar in a variety of wrappings that have phrases commonly heard in Newfoundland. The bars are 50 grams each and cost $5.00 on the website.  I have not tried this yet, but I am tempted because, well for starters, who doesn't love caramel, milk chocolate and sea salt?  Plus, the word 'arse' is in print, which is just plain fun.

What I have tried from Newfoundland Chocolate Company is their Low Sugar Milk chocolate bar and their Dark Mint chocolate. These little bars are great for portion control and the flavour balance is very nice. The 'Low Sugar Milk' is actually made with maltitol, so it is favourable to diabetics or those wanting to reduce their cane sugar intake. It tastes like regular, sweet, melt-in-your-mouth milk chocolate with no difference in taste from the usual stuff made with sugar.

The Dark Mint bar has 54% cocoa solids, which is a little sweet for my extra-dark chocolate taste buds, but the sweetness does balance well with the mint flavour.  All too often I open a mint chocolate bar and the mint is overwhelming, but that is not the case here. Newfoundland's mint chocolate has the perfect amount of, well, minty-ness. The overall flavour reminds me of an After Eight, a childhood favourite of mine. So if you like After Eights, you will probably like this chocolate bar.

These two chocolate bars, packaged with designs of the brightly coloured houses in St. John's, were picked up at JoJo Coco on Hazeldean Road in Ottawa. However, you can buy Newfoundland Chocolate Company's products in their flagship store on Duckworth Street in St. John's, Newfoundland, and in a variety of retailers, or you can buy online.


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This was not sponsored in any way by Newfoundland Chocolate Company.  As with many of my articles, the producers had no idea I was writing this post. I paid for the chocolate and since I am a true Canadian, and I want to share with you a very Canadian chocolate company.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Bean-to-Bar Chocolate at Home: Costa Rica versus Peruvian Origin Chocolate

Every now and then I make a batch of homemade chocolate. All of which is eaten by me. Yup, I share with no one. Mostly because I make the chocolate to suit my own occasional cravings for 80+ dark chocolate, and since there is no where to buy my kind of dark chocolate on this Island that I live on, I must make it myself.

I also like to play around in the kitchen and see what equipment will work for making chocolate at home. Lately, I've been using my Ninja blender. This produces a good-sized batch of chocolate with a distinct light grittiness, much like the stone-ground chocolate made by Taza or Toronto's ChocoSol Traders.  The chocolate is also bold and sometimes acidic, because it lacks that nice long conche that a smooth chocolate bar has. But this crunchy acidic taste can easily become a regular craving.

When friends recently handed me some Costa Rican cocoa beans, purchased while traveling to the country, I thought, 'oh good, now it's time to learn, taste and compare some homemade chocolate made from different origins.'

So I roasted the Costa Rican beans (I gave it a fairly dark roast at 325F for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally) and then I also dark-roasted some raw Peruvian nibs sold under the Nativa brand. From the taste of the beans, I could tell that the Costa Rican chocolate would be less acidic, as they clearly had more cocoa fat in the beans. The extra cocoa butter could be both tasted and seen in the rippling on the outside of each bean before being broken into nibs. 

Since I had only 6 ounces of Costa Rican nibs (what's left after the shells were removed and the beans broken) and 3 ounces of Peruvian nibs, I had to spend a little time calculating to get the same percentage of cocoa solids in my final chocolate. So for an 82.3% dark chocolate, I used these amounts:

Peruvian Dark Chocolate:
3 oz Peruvian nibs
0.692 oz organic raw cane sugar
0.3076 cocoa butter, melted

Costa Rican Dark Chocolate:
4.875 oz of nibs (I admit it, I ate a lot of the beans, these ones were delicious)
1.125 oz organic raw cane sugar
0.5 oz cocoa butter, melted

When you add the cocoa butter to the cocoa nibs, you get the total amount of cocoa solids. Then add up all the ingredients, and divide the cocoa solids by that total to get the percentage of cacao.

What I learned this time with the Ninja, was that for a small amount of chocolate I had to use the smoothie attachment, because the Ninja has a 6-blade system that runs from bottom to top, so the blender would need to be at least half-way full to do a good grind.

The smooth attachment worked well for a smaller amount of chocolate. But it worked best for the slightly larger Costa Rican batch, making smoother chocolate. There just wasn't enough Peruvian to make the blades work the way they were supposed to and I had to stop it to stir often. In future, I would double the recipe to make this work better.

Once the chocolate was blended, I then tempered it and poured it into the nifty molds that I purchased from Chocolat-Chocolat last year.  With an immense amount of shaking and banging the mold on the counter, I got out most of the air bubbles.

Once the chocolate chilled a little, I extracted some very beautiful chocolate bars. The Peruvian was very light in colour, reddish and milk chocolaty in appearance. The Costa Rican chocolate was very dark - nearly black. And as suspected based on the bean flavour, it was less acidic and better tasting than the Peruvian.

For both, there is an upfront heavy roast flavour. The Peruvian was acidic but lightly fruity. I am aware that these should be aged for a month or so before molding, but really there isn't enough to wait (I guess I will save a little for aging to taste the difference in a month).

Either way, I am enjoying my homemade chocolate. And I am proud of how it turned out. Each batch is better than the last, and I am now able to taste the differences in beans, and know how a chocolate might fair once ground up (I also know how good it might be if I invested in a melangeur)!

And this time, I might just have to share with those lovely friends who gave me the beans.


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This post was not endorsed in any way by any company, but if you would like to learn more about the Ninja blender, click here to find out where I bought mine.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Sirene Chocolate: A Unique and Exciting Addition to Canada's Craft Chocolate Scene

We have 17 bean-to-bar craft chocolate makers in Canada. Well, I think so. Maybe. This number is always a moving target and I have been trying to hit that target with my mouth for a few years now. And just when I think that I've tasted the last one, a new one opens up for business.

Sirene Chocolate of Victoria, B.C. is one of the newest additions to Canada's growing craft, bean-to-bar chocolate movement, and, I believe, is emerging as a most interesting contender.

Why so interesting? Sirene has come out with chocolate sold in packages of 'Tasting Pairs'.  In one box, you can find a chocolate bar made from cocoa beans grown in Madagascar and a chocolate bar made from beans grown in Ecuador. For a curious taster, who loves to savour and compare single origin chocolate, I find Sirene's duo boxes a breath of fresh air.

You might be wondering why a 'tasting pair' is such a great idea. Taylor Kennedy, Sirene's owner and chocolate maker says he designed it for the majority of people who are still learning what craft bean-to-bar chocolate is. "Without a direct comparison, it is hard to understand that there is something different about this chocolate," explains Mr. Kennedy. "Alone, a great bar might be thought of as 'just really good chocolate', instead of 'wow, check this out, two totally different flavours between these two chocolates....what is going on here?'"

Mr. Kennedy's goal is to "pique interest" in craft chocolate for the majority of chocolate lovers who have yet to experience it. He wants them to learn why it is so different from industrial chocolate. And those differences? Well, to name a few:

1. Attention to detail due to the craft chocolate maker's passion for chocolate making (and tasting),
2. Care for preserving the natural origin flavours of the bean,
3. A nearly-never use of preservatives or funky bad-for-you ingredients in craft chocolate, such as hydrogenated oil or modified starches (if you have ever read the back of a popular candy bar, you'll know what I am talking about), and
4. Direct trade with the farmers or co-operatives means fairer pay for those who cultivate the cocoa beans used to make chocolate.

As a rather enthusiastic fan of craft chocolate, Sirene's duo box enabled me to taste chocolate in my favourite way: compare two origin chocolates that are vastly different simply because the cocoa beans used to make them grow in two different regions of the world. The best part is that I did not have to buy two bars separately, and I did not have to seek out chocolate with the same percentage for an accurate comparison. Take Lindt for instance - each bar in their single origin range has a slightly different percentage of cocoa solids, which means a different percentage of sugar. This makes it hard to tell if one bean is naturally sweeter than another when tasting the chocolate.

But I get it. Some beans need to be treated differently than others. Some have less cocoa butter, taste bitter and come out with a chalky texture and therefore, those need more sugar. But Sirene's idea is perfect for those times when you just want to identify unique origin flavours in two different chocolates.

Currently, Sirene Chocolate offers Tasting Pairs made from just the two origins: Madagascar and Ecuador. But Taylor Kennedy says he is testing about 12 origins right now to find two new pairs that work well together, so keep an eye out, Sirene is one to watch! For more information on Sirene Chocolate and where you can find it near you, visit the company's website at www.sirenechocolate.com. Mine was purchased at JoJo Coco in Ottawa, but it is also available for sale online at La Tablette de Miss Choco.

Tasting Notes:
Here are some notes from my review of each of Sirene's current chocolate Tasting Pairs:


Sirene's 73% and 100% Chocolate Bars:
With just one or two ingredients, the chocolate is amazingly delicate and delicious. The incredible colour difference between these two origin chocolate bars is fascinating, showing that the beans alone can greatly affect the colour of any chocolate bar. The 73% bars were both delicious in two very different ways. The Madagascar 73% was fruity, with raspberry and fruit flavours. The Ecuador was slightly stiffer due to less cocoa fat in the beans, but it had a heavy cocoa flavour and a nutty finish. I preferred the 73% bars with no salt, but my preference is normally for a slightly sweeter chocolate-and salt-combination. Overall, I really enjoyed the 73% dark chocolate bars.

On the first day that I tasted the 100% bars, I found the Madagascar to be more palatable. On the second day, I preferred the Ecuador. Regardless, if I had to live on sugarless 100% dark chocolate for the rest of my life, I could live on these two bars. Both delicate and unique and nothing at all like the unsweetened baking chocolate I knew from my childhood. Here are my specific notes:

Madagascar 100% - With its light milk chocolate colour and fruity aroma, this chocolate makes you want to eat it from the appearance and smell alone. It tastes nothing like 'unsweetened baking chocolate', and so much tastier than a Lindt 99% bar. This chocolate has a distinct fruity (think unsweetened not-so-ripe raspberries) flavour and there is no chalkiness on the palate. I found it acidic.

Ecuador 100% - This had a very sweet aroma when you smelled it, which is always funny for a 100% cacao chocolate, since there is no sugar added. A little flat in flavour compared to the Madagascar, but still a nice heavy cocoa flavour with a nutty aftertaste.

Friday, April 24, 2015

zChocolat will help you say 'I love you' this Mother's Day


Have you tried zChocolat yet?  If not, take it from me, this chocolate is divine.

I have told you about zChocolat before. I have written about how elegant and beautiful these filled chocolates are. I have even told you about the signature Z, the company's pride and joy. This delicate confection comes in milk, white and dark chocolate.

And in this article, I can tell you that the chocolate is still just as delicious as the first time that I tasted it. Each chocolate is numbered, and as it turns out, my old favourites are still, well, my favourites. Take chocolate #8, for instance, which is a Venezuelan dark chocolate shell, filled with a smooth coffee ganache in one half and a crunchy praline filling in the other half. Every time I taste it, I remember why I have a love affair with chocolate. And that infamous Z?  Well, that succulent caramel, combined with a lightly crunchy praline is the perfect combination to satisfy those sweet chocolate cravings.


This week, I had the pleasure of tasting zChocolat's Mother's Day chocolate collection. For Mother's Day, they have created a lovely pink box that truly says "I love you" to the Mother in your life. At a cost of only $52.70 Canadian (plus shipping & taxes), you can give your mom 15 of zChocolats original chocolates.

Every chocolate in the box is numbered, and the box is accompanied by a gorgeous mini book with pictures and tantalizing descriptions. There is also a personalized note and a lovely cloth bag to protect the box of chocolate. Even the ice pack that accompanies the chocolates is elegant and imprinted with zChocolat's logo.

So hurry up and order! zChocolat ships direct from France to locations all over the world, but you will receive it in just days. Plus, worldwide shipping is less than $20 Canadian! Your mother will thank you.

Visit www.zchocolat.com to order or for more details.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

This small chocolate business in British Columbia has a big selection

Take a Fancy, a Burnaby-based chocolate brand, has been making chocolate in small batches, from bean to bar, for the last few years and selling it at Farmer's Markets in British Columbia. As one of Canada's newest chocolate makers, I was anxious to try Take a Fancy's products. The ingredients are natural and organic, and made from cocoa beans from Peru. What's more, the owner, Becks D'Angelo, is on a bean-hunting trip in Costa Rica, and says there may be exciting new single origin chocolate from Take A Fancy soon.

I ordered online and was pleasantly surprised by the selection. I purchased six different chocolate bars with a variety of cacao percentages, including two that were sweetened with maple sugar instead of cane sugar. When it arrived, I was also pleased with the chocolate.

The milk chocolates surprised me the most. Not many of Canada's craft chocolate makers make milk chocolate, so I was pleased to see that a such small business, like Take a Fancy, offered both a 42% bar and a 50% dark-milk chocolate. The 42% milk chocolate was not super sweet, but still very much designed for die-hard milk chocolate lovers.  It had a lovely milk chocolate colour and rich taste like a delicious milky hot chocolate.

Sittin' on the Fence is a 50% Dark-Milk Chocolate with a intense cocoa experience, but also with that familiar milk chocolate taste. Any kind of chocolate lover, whether an advocate of dark chocolate or an I-won't-let-go-of-my-milk-chocolate-addiction kinda person, could fall in love with this bar.

The 85% Dark Chocolate bar was enjoyable, with a creamy mouthfeel. Made with Peruvian cocoa beans, it had a nice earthy and cocoa flavour. I tried this up against a Lindt 85% and Take a Fancy's won out.  It was creamier and a little easier on the palate. And there was no vanilla to overwhelm the flavour, so the chocolate taste could shine through.

In fact, all of the bars were very creamy; I could definitely taste the added cocoa butter. The Maple 72% dark bar was quite enjoyable, albeit slightly more bitter tasting than the 72% Dark Chocolate made with cane sugar, but rather good (and rather Canadian too!). The regular 72% chocolate had a slightly fruity taste, with a real chocolaty base flavour. It was quite delicious.


Also, two caramels were included in my shipment. With that rich milk chocolate made by Take a Fancy and a soft, melt-in-your-mouth caramel centre, the experience was divine (and that coming from a girl who has never been into caramels!).

Ms. D'Angelo, has been selling only at Farmer's Markets. She says that she loves farmer's markets, "It's fantastic to connect the community with where chocolate comes from," which is really the heart and soul of the bean-to-bar craft chocolate movement. However, plans are in the works to branch out beyond farmer's markets in the Fall. So keep an eye on this brand, as we may see more of it in the future!

Currently, the chocolate bars are sold in two sizes, and all of Take a Fancy's chocolate is made with minimal ingredients (only 3 for the plain chocolate bars) with no added vanilla and no soy lecithin.  This is the natural stuff!

You can find the list of Farmer's Markets here. Also, follow the Take a Fancy blog now to learn how the cocoa bean-hunting trip in Costa Rica is going.  To order online (after Ms. D'Angelo arrives back from Costa Rica in a few weeks), visit: www.takeafancy.ca.