I broke a rule. I’m not feeling too awful about it at the moment since it is (was?) a self-imposed rule, and a rather silly one at that. It went something like this: Only ever buy one bar from each chocolate company, and then move on to another chocolate company (the point being to try chocolate from as many different companies as possible). (This rule mainly applied to imported craft chocolate and did not extend to local favorites such as Franceschi, Chocolates Paria, etc. etc.)

Omnom Lakkris Licorice Icelandic Chocolate

The problem with the rule is that too many chocolate makers make such intriguing flavors that oftentimes I can’t help but want to try more than one.  However,  “the rule” pretty much kept me in check until last winter, when this licorice* lover caved and purchased the Omnom Lakkris + Sea Salt bar, despite already having had the now-discontinued Omnom Dark milk + Burned Sugar bar. (That’s not all. There was also a 2nd Charmschool and a 2nd Fruition involved, but that’s a story for another day…)

The clever wrapper revealed a caramel-color bar sectioned off into odd shapes of various sizes. Biting into one of those shapes revealed a wonder; a creamy, caramel-y, tangy, licorice-y perfection with just a taste of saltiness.

Resisting the temptation to eat the whole bar in one sitting, I saved some samples.   Slowly, after weeks of Saturday photography sessions, there were enough samples to make up little tasting trays to deliver to friends.  Next step: waiting for feedback.  Especially of interest to me was feedback from the the white chocolate lovers
and the licorice lovers. It didn’t take long for the reports to come in.

Omnom Lakkris Licorice Chocolate Unwrapped

“That licorice one from Iceland was AMAZING.” Yeah no kidding.
“That white chocolate, the one with the licorice…it was AWESOME.” Agreed.
“Did you get that here?!” Uh, no. Sorry. I’d love to say I brought back from my latest trip to Reykjavik,
the truth is I’ve never been to Reykjavik and probably never will go to Reykjavik. Going to Reykjavik is called traveling and I don’t seem to do much or any of that…unless you count my taste buds getting to travel the world thanks to chocolate.

It’s been months since we tried this bar but it is certainly not forgotten. “That licorice one from Iceland” (which is obviously much easier to remember than “Omnom Lakkris“) comes up in conversation now and then, always with a rather starry gaze of fond remembrance.

Even the resident Mr. “I don’t eat white chocolate because it isn’t chocolate” ate two pieces and probably
would have eaten a third if he’d had the option. (Sadly he didn’t; the resident craft chocolate dictator (me!) dictated that some must be saved for those who really appreciate white chocolate even when it doesn’t have licorice or come from such an exotic locale.)

As for the self-imposed rule, so far I’ve remained impervious to getting a third bar from Omnom.
Of course that may have something to do with not being able to ship in chocolate for nine months out of the year.
I have it on good authority from friends that the Coffee Omnom bar is also amazing….

Alaina Cursive Signature

 

 

*There’s licorice and there’s LICORICE. If you ask me, hard waxy stuff isn’t licorice. On the other hand, the
soft, chewy, almost melt-in-your-mouth stuff made by Panda? Now that’s LICORICE.

Solstice Madagascar Chocolate

What have we here?  Why it’s Solstice Madagascar Chocolate

Simplistic, well-thought-out and cheerful packaging (resealable in case I ever ate my chocolate in more than one sitting) and oh the taste… I tasted wonderfully fruity notes and the mouthfeel is incredible.

Solstice Chocolate is made in Salt Lake City Utah (Utah is home to quite a few chocolate makers, and that’s exactly the reason I’d love to go to Utah!)

The chocolate itself was bright and cheerful looking (with what I’d describe as little suns on each square) but unfortunately I didn’t get any pictures of the chocolate itself to turn out (at least nothing that would hold a candle to the one above)!

The other Solstice origins come highly recommended.

My next pick would be their Dark Milk (my favorite type of chocolate).

Alaina Cursive Signature

 

After hearing things like “purchased on Cocoa Runners” & “Cocoa Runners has it” over & over again, I took a tiny peek at their website awhile back. The rumors about their fantastic selection of craft chocolate were not at all exaggerated. Still, I all but dismissed Cocoa Runners as being an option for me because they are based in the UK.

Cocoa Runners Order

Being in the UK is perfectly lovely, except I’m not anywhere remotely near the UK and all my chocolate has to come through the U.S. for shipping reasons. And last I checked, chocolate still melts in transit if great care isn’t taken.

So I purposely didn’t spend much time on Cocoa Runners and practically pretended they didn’t exist, until one day, quite by accident, it came to my attention that Cocoa Runners was carrying Mirzam chocolate.

I’m actually a little at a loss to explain why I snapped when Mirzam was in stock, although I believe it had more than a little to do with the allure of a chocolate made IN DUBAI and Mirzam’s gorgeous mould.

It was time for a proper-look see through the Cocoa Runners website. Let’s just say my first dream list had to be *severely* pared down to keep it real! Part of my criteria: Choosing bars from makers that I hadn’t tried anything else from before. Also: Choosing bars that weren’t (the last I knew) available on the other U.S. sites I purchase from (more on those in a later post).

After deliberating at length for days (whether to even place the order and, if so, which bars would make the cut) I finally decided on the following:

Cocoa Runners DuffysDuffy’s Venezuela Ocumare Milk 55%
This bar was an Academy of Chocolate Gold Winner in 2013.
Duffy’s keeps popping up here and there as one of the top U.K. chocolate makers.

Cocoa Runners Mirzam
Mirzam Chocolate Makers 62% Dark Chocolate with Rose
I think I already made myself clear on why I picked this one. (Made in Dubai!) (Gorgeous mould!)

Cocoa Runners Georgia RamonGeorgia Ramon Raspberry & Rose
This is a new-to-me maker I just started hearing about.
And I wanted a white chocolate to balance things out (I know quite a few white chocolate lovers).

Cocoa Runners Solkiki
Solkiki Ecuador Los Rios 69%
Solkiki seems to be very popular in the U.K for their vegan milk chocolate. I came so close to choosing one of their milk chocolate bars but thought dark might have a better chance of making it without melting. (Maybe I’m just being silly thinking dark chocolate melts a tad slower than milk chocolate?!)

Cocoa Runners Land ChocolateLand Malt Dark Honduras
I picked this due to its simplistic packaging design. I haven’t heard much regarding this bar itself.

Cocoa Runners Cacaosuyo
Cacaosuyo Piura Select 70%
Sharon Terenzi (The Chocolate Journalist) often praises Cacaosuyo chocolate; I wanted to try one of their bars for myself!

Cocoa Runners The Chocolate Tree CoconutThe Chocolate Tree Coconut
Because I haven’t yet (that I can recall) tasted a chocolate made in Scotland, and because I love coconut.

Right away I hit a snag by providing the wrong shipping address by mistake, which sent me flying to set up a phone call before Cocoa Runners closed. Thankfully a very nice lady (Emma I think she said her name was) promised to sort it all out and in no time at all my order was on its way (to the correct address).

Then I held my breath for a few weeks as the package made its long journey (involving three continents!) to me.   I was still holding my breath when I opened the package. Too close to a heater, or too long in a delivery truck and I might have ended up with a very expensive lump of Du-Mi-Geo-Sol-La-Ca-Cho chocolate pudding (that’s all of the brands mixed together, in case that threw you for a loop).

Thankfully, I’m extremely pleased to report that all the bars look perfect (none of them are misshapen).  I haven’t opened any of these bars yet to see exactly how the chocolate fared inside, but at least the outsides are photo-worthy and the insides are still intact enough to taste (and hopefully better than just intact).

My advice for anyone debating on whether to order internationally from Cocoa Runners:

#1. Do it. Their selection is incredible, their customer service is top notch, and Royal Mail is faster than I thought it would be.
#2. Do it in in February. Yes, I know that is really sweet not very nice of me of me to inform you in May!  (If you live in a cool climate not *too* far away from the UK, it would probably be safe to do it almost any time of the year.)

Tap tap tap tap tap tap tap tap tap.
It was a Saturday morning a few weeks ago around 6:30.
Tap tap tap tap tap tap tap tap tap.
I was still half asleep, trying to figure out why it sounded like somebody was hammering a nail into the wall to hang up a picture at such an early hour.
Tap tap tap tap tap tap tap tap.
I opened my eyes and focused in on the rare sight of a gorgeous, bright red cardinal, industriously attacking my window with his beak. (Either he wasn’t pleased with his reflection or he was trying to get in because he could see my insanely colorful bouquet of mixed photo prop flowers and was convinced they were real.)

“Hey, pretty bird.” He cocked his head.” “Yes, you.” He stopped tapping. “You’re gorgeous.” At which point he literally bowed, puffed out his chest (more than a little bit), and said, “I KNOW.”

He very boldly kept up the tapping and/or hanging around my window for close to an hour.  I was allowed to take all the blurry photos and videos I wanted to from a distance, but if I tried to get close enough to take a decent shot, he’d flit just out of range to the nearest tree / cactus / aloe plant, wait just long enough for me to give up, and then come back and start tap tap tap tap tap tap tapping again.

That very same Saturday, I happened to photograph this chocolate:

Hogarth Gianduia Chocolate Still Life Photo

Hogarth Gianduia Chocolate (I purchased mine via Bar and Cocoa.)

It posed so much better than the cardinal did! I marveled at the packaging; thick paper with engraved waves that can be felt on both sides. I may have squealed a little when seeing the intricately molded bar in person. The taste outdid expectations (which were high); think a posh Nutella in bar form without the palm oil; a mouthwatering hazelnut dark chocolate. “You’re gorgeous AND delicious,” I told the chocolate.  At which point it said, “I KNOW. I’ve got a GOLD international chocolate award and a GOLD academy of chocolate award to prove it.”

To anybody who may have seen me outside that day at 3pm, standing motionless in the sun, gingerly balancing a chocolate bar on its foil wrapper for about 1 minute and 45 seconds: I was not going crazy. I was sunning this bar. It sadly had to be stored in the fridge (otherwise it would be PUDDING) and therefore it was looking a little grey and buttery (as cold chocolate is prone to do).  There was a very brief discussion about steaming it or wiping it to make it look picture-perfect but then it was decided maybe a minute or two in the sun was a better option. It was just the ticket; the chocolate changed colors beautifully and then I whisked it inside to do this with it:

Hogarth Gianduia Chocolate Unwrapped Stilllife

Gorgeous, no?

The irony of my chocolate getting to travel far more than I do was not lost on me as I stood there in the sun, holding a chocolate made in New Zealand, using beans grown in Puerto Cabello Venezuela, that was shipped to the U.S.A. to be sold, and then shipped back to Venezuela to me!

The cardinal has visited almost every morning and continues to tap on several different windows.  (I’m almost positive he has figured out which window to visit at which times to get the maximum amount of attention.)
My sister says the bird needs a name.
My brother has taken to calling him Mr. Tappy Face.
I think we should name him Hogarth.

Hogarth The Cardinal

(When I said he would only allow me close enough to take blurry photos, I wasn’t kidding!)

Finally I found a chocolate that the whole family can agree on:
The Tea Room Jasmine Green Tea Chocolate

The Tea Room Jasmine Green Tea Chocolate

Usually the dark chocolate lovers find milk chocolate too sweet. And the milk chocolate lovers find the dark chocolate too…well…dark. (They’re the ones that go around chanting “N-E-S-T-L-E-S makes the very best CHOC-LATE” repeatedly…. while grinning incessantly… while I playfully plug my ears and chant “I-can’t-hear-you”. I don’t deny eating Nestles chocolate, but as for it being the very best, don’t get me started!)

If my chocolate photography session is going swimmingly I may open up to 3 chocolates in a single afternoon, which ends up being the cause of some confusion regarding everyone keeping track of their favorite. “I think the one I liked the best was the one that had the stuff in it, not the one that was darker and not the one you said was made in….wherever.” (I know. They’re very specific.)

In the case of The Tea Room Jasmine Green Tea Chocolate I received immediate feedback that this one was GOOD.  Jasmine tea and tangerine essence are an excellent flavor pairing; the chocolate itself was admittedly very sweet (which can be a nice change when tasted alongside two 70% chocolates)!  It’s not handcrafted bean to bar chocolate (unless I read all the wrong resources online), but on the other hand it wasn’t as pricey either.

Note: I purchased mine from iherb.  On Amazon it is only available in packs of 12 … too many at once for me! A month or so after tasting it I did go ahead and get a second bar and learned I am just as unspecific as the rest of the family.  “So what is this?” “Oh it’s that one you liked a few weeks ago.”  “I liked several a few weeks ago!”

Good point.

There’s a day for everything.  (Like Lima Bean Respect Day. That’s April 20th… in case you want to mark your calendar.) My ears perked up when I heard today was National Chocolate Mint Day.  I happen to be a big mint chocolate fan.  In case you’re looking for suggestions on which chocolates with mint to try, I happen to have a few:

National Chocolate Mint Day Alter Eco Truffles

Alter Eco Organic Dark Mint Truffles:  These literally melt in your mouth.  The ingredients are simply cocoa powder, cocoa butter, coconut oil, whole milk powder, peppermint oil, vanilla beans, and raw cane sugar.  Bonus: The wrappers do not contain plastic and therefore are entirely compostable!

Endangered Species Deep Forest Mint: Refreshing mint taste!

Equal Exchange Mint Crunch Chocolate

Equal Exchange Chocolate Mint:  Love how crunchy and minty it is!

Madecasse Mint Crunch:  I’ve heard a lot of good things about Madecasse recently but am not sure if I have tried their mint bar yet.  But I will! I have a bar and hope to get to it soon.  I’ll try to report back!

Ritter Sport Peppermint: Because I can’t resist the cool mint oozing out of each square of chocolate….

The latest fruit that has captured my taste buds is cranberries (although nothing can beat a good slice of a sweet, perfectly ripe pineapple).  If shipping weren’t so expensive I’d be temped by the cranberries in the 64oz size.

So naturally I was eager to try the Pacari Cranberry bar…

Pacari Cranberry Chocolate - The Chocolate Website Photo

Pacari Chocolate (made in Ecuador) was once again a World Final Winner (in multiple categories!) at the International Chocolate Awards this year.

Their bars seem to be widely popular everywhere (in the U.S. and Europe especially).

The chocolate itself was delicious (yes, I know, I’m going to have to start being more specific than that…2018 is going to involve taking notes while staring at a tasting chart!) but I had a hard time finding many cranberries in my particular bar.  You can never have enough cranberries!

Note: I purchased my Pacari Cranberry bar from an online store called Noje.  While this particular bar is not currently in stock (and their selection is admittedly not as large as other online craft chocolate stores), I am extremely pleased with their shipping policy (shipping is free on orders of $30 or more, while other stores only offer free shipping with orders of $50 or $75 or more) AND the amazing customer service.   My chocolate was wrapped up exactly as requested in order to have the best chance of making the journey unscathed.  Save

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Seems to me I’ve written about this exact chocolate before.  No matter… it’s good enough to repeat!

Equal Exchange Mint Crunch Chocolate

I plunked this Mint Crunch bar by Equal Exchange down next to a basket, took a photo, and said, “OK, let’s eat it!”  (Well, almost.  Those mint leaves didn’t exactly wash and arrange themselves.)

The reason I was in such a hurry?  To open it, of course.   I’d had the pleasure of trying this mint chocolate before and remembered it as having just the right amount of crunch and just the right amount of mint.

I remembered correctly.

Mmmmmmmmm!

Alter Eco Deep Dark Sea Salt Chocolate

This is Alter Eco Deep Dark Sea Salt Chocolate; isn’t it pretty?

Let me take a deep breath and tell you all about it: It’s a rich, bold, salty, sweet, deep, dark, organic, gluten free, vegan, non-gmo, fairtrade, sea salt studded chocolate.  Whew.

Yes, I absconded with some pink sea salt for decoration purposes, but for the record, I put it back.  Sort of.  There might have been trouble if somebody found I put it back directly into the salt shaker, so I put it in a little bowl on the counter, intending to use it on my food.  Somebody found the little bowl.  “What’s this?”  “Salt, leftover from my photoshoot.  I didn’t want to waste it so I’m keeping it.”  “Ewwww!”  “What?! I used a clean spoon and I wiped my white background first and I’ll be the one eating it.”  “Ewwwww!”

How does this chocolate taste?  Good question. You’ll have to get it and let me know.  🙂  This is one of the rare chocolates I photographed and then gave away without tasting it.   (I’d have to recall who I gave it to and then ask them if they recall what it tasted like!)

That’s all for now…

Months ago, when the araguaney flowers were in bloom, I held my breath as I opened a special chocolate,
the Dick Taylor Northerner Blend bar. Would it be broken? Would it be bloomed? (Neither would be anybody’s fault but mine.  Anybody crazy enough to subject her chocolate to a week-long many-stops journey is just *asking* for bloomed chocolate.)

I needn’t have worried.

Dick Taylor Northener Blend Chocolate Stilllife Photo

It was perfect.

Dick Taylor easily makes everyone’s list (including mine) of the prettiest, most intricate, and most recognizable chocolate molds. (They could even remove the logo in the middle and people from Australia to France would still have no trouble naming the maker!)

I could take photos of Dick Taylor for hours. In fact, I DID take photos of this Dick Taylor Northener Blend bar for hours.  By the time I was done with the poor thing it was rather hard to pick up, but it was exactly the right consistency for tasting.

(Sorry, no more sneak peaks, aside from the ones below. Let’s just say it looks just as stunning with purple and with blue as it does with yellow!)

But these bars are not just for looks. They’re meant to be enjoyed (as reluctant as we all are to mar that gorgeous design).

That back includes the story of how the Northerner bar got its name. The packaging also includes the tasting notes: Dried Apricot / Honey / Cocoa

Dick Taylor Northerner Blend Chocolate Bar (Back of Wrapper)

Cool, no?

Dick Taylor Website: https://dicktaylorchocolate.com/
Dick Taylor On Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/dicktaylorchocolate/
More Original Chocolate Photography (by yours truly):  https://www.instagram.com/thechocolatewebsite

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There are those who say “stevia” like it’s something awful and won’t touch it with a ten foot pool, and then there are those who won’t go anywhere without it and start getting worried when their supply of vanilla creme (or hazelnut or English toffee) starts running low.

Me? I don’t hate stevia, and then again I’m not crazy about it.   I’ve not tried many chocolates sweetened with stevia, but there is one brand I have tried and can recommend:

Lily's Creamy Milk Chocolate - Sweetened with Stevia

Lily’s Chocolate (Pictured: Creamy Milk 40% Chocolate)

I’ll readily admit that the lack of sugar makes this chocolate less sweet than many other chocolates I have tried, but it allows the actual chocolate flavor to “shine”.

Lily’s seem to be a popular sugarfree chocolate option; I keep seeing some tasty baked goods/breakfasts featuring this chocolate.

Chocolate for breakfast?  Yes please! 🙂Save

Just had to share…

Recently I was listening to an episode of  The Slow Melt chocolate podcast where the host Simran Sethi interviews Sam Maruta, co-founder of Marou Chocolate (bean-to-bar chocolate made in Vietnam).

It was a very informative and entertaining episode, and close to the end it made me laugh out loud. Sam was asked (and I’m paraphrasing here) if there was anything the general chocolate-eating public should know and he said: “Maybe don’t eat too much of it. It’s good, but there are other food groups. And you also need protein.”

BREAKING NEWS ALERT: There are food groups other than chocolate. (I’m trying to get over the shock.)

On a side note, the bar being tasted during the podcast was Dak Lak. There are just two Marou bars I had photographed but not shared yet and I thought “wouldn’t it be a neat coincidence if one of them was Dak Lak?” Lo and behold…. One of them was:

Marou Chocolate Dak Lak Vietnam