Instead of telling you all about a specific chocolate bar this time, I thought I’d mention a few chocolate-related products I’ve tried that contain chocolate or cacao, or at least products related to cacao…  (Husks count, right?)

Friends gifted me with my first taste of mint chocolate Smashmallows.
“Maybe you can put them on your website.”
So, naturally, you’d think that the Smashmallows in this photo were the ones they gave me.
Uh, no. Those disappeared too fast.

(They were THERE.  And then somehow they got OPENED.  And then all of a sudden they were GONE.)

This necessitated a replacement bag, to actually take photos of this time.
One can never have too many marshmallows.
Correction: Smashmallows.

And apparently one can never go wrong making hot chocolate in the middle of a Saturday afternoon.

There will still be takers.

Smashmallows Mint Chocolate Chip Marshmallows Still Life Photo

 

Mint chocolate Smashmallows are yum and and have you SEEN some of the flavors? Cinnamon churro, coconut pineapple, cookie dough!!  (The toasted vanilla would probably make pretty awesome rice crispy treats. Just saying.)

 

Arte Sano Cacao Pod Soap

This was a bar of soap I purchased locally, because cacao husks sounding intriguing as an exfoliant.

It turns out the husks were more effective at alarming me into thinking there were bugs in my bathwater than actually helping scrub my skin, but that was my fault for being paranoid.  (This soap does not contain any bugs.  It just so happens that husks look like bugs to anyone who is blind as a bat without their glasses on.  #me)

Burts Bees Blueberry & Dark Chocolate Lip Balm

Burt’s Bees Blueberry & Dark Chocolate Moisturizing Lip Balm

While I am generally a fan of Burt’s Bees products, and this lip balm DID keep my lips moisturized, I can’t say that it smelled particularly of chocolate OR blueberry.  I’ve had better success with the classic Burts Bees peppermint lip balm (THAT smells like peppermint and works great).

I’ve discovered quite a lot of fun things printed on chocolate packaging lately.   Some are quotes.   Some are silly.  Some are insightful.   Some have made me laugh out loud.  In short, my chocolate wrappers are making me chuckle.  I thought I’d share a few with you.

First off, when I was about to open my Hedgehog in the Fog (white chocolate with bergamot and black pepper) bar by Only Child Chocolate….

My Chocolate Wrappers Are Making Me chocolate -Only Child Chocolate Still Life Photo

….I found: “You don’t have to share, we won’t tell your mom.”  Hilarious.

My Chocolate Wrappers are Making Me Chuckle - Only Child Chocolate

(For the record, I DID share with my mom.)  But: good to know.

Seen on my Potomac Nibs wrapper: “This chocolate is handcrafted to be savored. Take your time; enjoy.”

My Chocolate Wrappers are Making Me Chuckle - Potomac Chocolate

Took my time.  Enjoyed.

Letterpress Mint had this to say: “The bitterness of poor quality remains long after the sweetness of low price is forgotten.”  -Benjamin Franklin

My Chocolate Wrappers are Making Me Chuckle - Letterpress Chocolate

(Benjamin Franklin was apparently quite witty.   I did a search; what was supposed to be a quick search to pick my favorite Benjamin Franklin turned into 10 minutes of reading practically a hundred quotes…and the realization I can’t pick just one.)

Next up, look what was hiding on the bottom of my Boho Mint Crunch bar:  “You can almost hear the crunch.”

My Chocolate Wrappers are Making Me Chuckle - Boho Chocolate

A bar so crunchy you can almost hear the crunch just by looking at it.  What a novelty!

It was impossible to miss the “Flip the world right side up” on my Madecasse Honey Crystal bar:

My Chocolate Wrappers are Making Me Chuckle - Madecasse Chocolate

(A recipe or directions on how to do that were not included.)  (But presumably a good start would be eating this chocolate….?!)

Ranger 70% Peru says: “Eat good chocolate.”

My Chocolate Wrappers are Making Me Chuckle - Ranger Chocolate

Obviously I do because, well…see all the chocolate bars above!

I’m still chuckling over the back of my Moonstruck Milk Mayan Bar months after opening it.  “It is widely held that the Mayans’ love for chocolate was so strong they fought over cacao beans.  Perhaps that is why Moonstruck Milk Chocolate Mayan is so alluring.  Sneak a bite whenever possible.   Appear innocent at all costs.  Replenish your stash often.”

My Chocolate Wrappers are Making Me Chuckle - Moonstruck Chocolate

I’m still working on appearing innocent at all costs (apparently I don’t have much of a poker face) but I whole-heartedly agree with replenishing your stash with Moonstruck Milk Mayan Bar often.  SO. GOOD.

That’s all for now….

Fossa Chocolate (made in Singapore) first made a blip on my chocolate radar last year and almost instantly my attention focused on one of their most unusual inclusion bars, Fossa Chocolate Shrimp and Bonito. (They have other unusual inclusion bars. Salted Egg Cereal Chocolate; need I say more?)

Fossa Chocolate Shrimp and Bonito Sushi Still Life

It was rather amusing to see the reactions when I told everyone about “the shrimp chocolate”. Generally the responses to unusual inclusions are mixed, ranging from baffled to wary to an “I’m up for anything” face, but “the shrimp bar” delivered an almost unanimous reaction of “In *chocolate*? No thanks! You can have it.” (So I did. This is probably the first ever craft chocolate bar I have eaten entirely by myself…without sharing one bite.)

From the beginning, I got it into my head that a perfect photo accessory would be sushi. (After all, I had never used sushi as a photo prop, and it *is* available if one carefully plots how to arrive *after* the restaurant opens but get home in enough time to photograph it *before* the afternoon sun disappears and the lighting starts getting wonky.)  (Which is both a splurge and a little tricky, but not entirely impossible.)

Fossa Chocolate Shrimp and Bonito Sushi Still Life

Pieces of shrimp seemed like a good idea too; I’m more than a little sure I perplexed the sushi restaurant employees by ordering ebi fui without the breading, without the sauce, just the shrimp, please and thank you. Of course they obliged, and of course I found out when I got home and opened it up that the shrimp was…not cooked. As in, grey, and not exactly what anyone could call picture perfect.  And since I didn’t have as much time for picture-taking that afternoon as I’d originally thought, the shrimp got temporarily shelved. (It pinked up nicely in a butter sauce with garlic that evening; my dad enjoyed his rare snack.)

If I’m being honest, the smell of salt and fish was beginning to make me dubious regarding how much enjoyment would be involved in actually *eating* this bar.  It seemed like a lot of the thrill was talking about it and preparing for it.  But bravely a piece went into my mouth. There was chewing involved. And some thought.   Another bite…more chewing….

Fossa Chocolate Shrimp and Bonita Made in Singapore

There’s a lot going on this bar.  There’s the seafood, of course, which thankfully ends up being not too incredibly fishy (but fishy enough).  The flavor of the chocolate itself is rather hard to distinguish when paired with bonito furikake.  (I had to look furikake up.  Turns out it’s exactly what it looks like: sesame seeds, chopped seaweed, and spices.)

Sesame and chocolate are great together.  Salt and chocolate are growing on me.   But add shrimp and a seaweed and…my final decision is that I’m not sorry I tried it and I did have a lot of fun with this bar, but it’s not going to make my list of favorite chocolates.  (Which technically doesn’t exist.  Because really, how does one chose with so many incredible options?)

The Fossa Chocolate Shrimp and Bonito bar either ties for 1st place or takes 2nd place (haven’t decided which yet) for the most unusual chocolate inclusion I have ever tried. (I’m pretty sure 1st prize still belongs to the Mantuano fat-bottomed bachaco ants ..LARGE ANTS, mind you…in lemon chocolate.)

Fossa Chocolate Shrimp and Bonita Made in Singapore

Have a favorite Fossa? Have you tried the Shrimp and Bonito bar? Any new unusual inclusion bars I should try next if I have the chance? Let me know in the comments…

Castronovo White Chocolate With Lemon Still Life Photo

Whenever I would run across online summaries of the best white chocolates, I could almost count on finding Castronovo White Chocolate With Lemon on everyone’s short list.

After all, it made it to the TOP of the judge’s lists at the 2017 International Chocolate Awards (in the Americas / White Chocolate category).

Castronovo White Chocolate with Lemon International Chocolate Gold Award Winner

Being a decent-sized fan of white chocolate and a BIG fan of lemon chocolate, this bar made it to the top of my rather exclusive list of bars-to-get-in-2019, so much so that whole orders were rearranged or delayed based on where it was and was not in stock. The reviews were so good I ordered TWO. (One disappeared somewhere along the long route to me….all I’m going to say is, whoever swiped it has *excellent* taste…but thankfully the other made it.)

Finally a Castronovo White Chocolate with Lemon was MINE and the first order of business was opening it upon arrival and taking a big huge bite and…

Ha.

Part of how I share my chocolate is in the form of pictures, so into the photography queue it went. Supposedly at the top of the queue. But strange things kept happening to the queue. One Saturday I had full intentions of photographing my Castronovo but then I had lugged in a rock that didn’t quite match (but went with some other wrappers beautifully), and had purchased some mint (that wouldn’t keep) for my Boho bar, and something new was blooming that wouldn’t match either (and one must pounce on new blooms before they wither; new photoprops don’t pop up every day!)…and so my Castronovo waited patiently while I waited not so patiently to try it.

Finally the day came.   The wrapper wasn’t even completely off before the mouth-watering scent of sweet lemon made my nose start doing a happy dance.   Ok.  Fine.  Maybe more than my nose was doing a happy dance. Shiny flecks of yellow lemon salt decorated the back of the bar; as I don’t recall seeing any in the front, it seems to me the salt must have been sprinkled on the back instead of being incorporated throughout. It was all I could do to snap this:

Castronovo White Chocolate With Lemon Unwrapped Yellows Still Life Photo

…before breaking off a section and popping it into my mouth and:

Sheer bliss. Sweet and tangy and lemon-y and custard-y with a bite of lemon salt here and there.

When you all said Castronovo White Chocolate With Lemon was THE BEST, YOU WEREN’T KIDDING.

What have I been doing lately?  It might have to do with sinking my teeth into my first Raphio and trying to decide how to best capture the elusiveness that is Ritual’s metallic logo.

Because: It’s happened!!! That narrow window of time between December and February (aka chocolate-shipping-weather) FINALLY arrived, when temperatures dip from one hundred and ten degrees Fahrenheit in the shade to a chilly 77 degrees (when it is literally time for jackets and socks, and no I’m not crazy, just acclimatized), and I held my breath while the chocolate was en route (after constantly reorganizing, reducing, and revising my wish list).

I’ve got recommendations. The online craft chocolate stores I ordered from (2019) are as follows:

Bar and Cocoa
Location: South Carolina, USA
Shipping Cost: Free shipping (within the USA) for orders over $75 (Yay!)
Product Range: Very impressive (and constantly expanding) See the full list.
Bar From Bar and Cocoa I’m Most Excited to Try: Probably Zotter.
Confession: The Zotter bar is already photographed and tasted. Wow. I’m now officially adding the caramel milk to the “if I ever get a chance i want THAT one again” list.

Caputo’s Market & Deli
Location: Utah, USA
Shipping Cost: Chocolate ships free!! (Clarification: This applies to the USA only and you may run into a fee for warm weather packaging during the summer months, but Caputo’s has confirmed there is no need to wait for cooler weather.  They package chocolate according to the receiver’s temperature, and offer a warm weather guarantee.  (So everyone’s chocolate arrives safe and sound!)
Product Range: I’d always considered Caputo’s to have the best selection of any U.S. based online store, although Bar and Cocoa may have caught up. (I didn’t do a side-by-side comparison.)
Bar From Caputo’s I’m Most Excited To Try:  That’s hard. Ritual Vanilla maybe. Also Fruition Browned Butter.  Oh and definitely Letterpress Mint. (Obviously it’s hard to decide. And obviously I’ve completely abandoned my rule of one bar per maker. I “blame” it entirely on everybody who makes irresistible inclusion bars.)

The Meadow
Location: Oregon, USA
Shipping Cost: Free shipping (within the USA) for orders over $100
(Which I couldn’t take advantage of, unfortunately.)
Product Range: The selection on their website usually varies pretty widely from month to month / year to year. Due to their location, they can be counted on to carry a nice selection of bars made in Oregon (Ranger, Only Child Chocolate, etc.)
Bar From The Meadow That I’m Most Excited to Try: Castronovo Lemon, without a doubt.

I recommend all three of these stores.

Last but not least, here are two honorable mentions (other online stores that carry a selection of craft chocolates, though I didn’t get to order from them this year):

Chocolopolis
Location: Oregon, USA
Shipping Cost: I can’t comment as I didn’t get to order from Chocoloplis in 2019. (Guess you’ll just have to place an order to find out!)
Product Range: Chocolopolis seems to focus on dark chocolate (both single origin and blends) rather than inclusion bars (although they DO carry some milk chocolate and inclusion bars)
Bar I Would Have Liked to Try the Most: Something by Mission Chocolate. (Admittedly this is partially because of the gorgeous flower-decorated wrappers. But also because of some unique inclusions. Like candied guava.)

Cocoa Runners
Location: UK
Shipping Cost: I believe shipping is free within the UK. Check their website for international shipping rates.
Product Range: They have a great selection of European and Asian chocolates (partially due to their location) as well as bars from other countries.
Bar I Would Have Like to Try the Most: Probably another Dormouse bar. Oh, and TCHO Mint Chip Gelato. (Yes I know TCHO is made in the USA but wouldn’t you know, there is no TCHO at The Maadow or Bar and Cocoa or Caputo’s; I would have had to order it from the U.K!)

What are your favorite online chocolate sources?

Cacaosuyo Peru Chocolate with Grasshoppe

A couple months ago, I was gearing up for another normal Saturday afternoon photoshoot. By normal: I’d already gotten help lugging the table (that roughly 95% of my chocolate photos are staged on) next to a window, and I’d already unearthed at least half a dozen potential photo subjects (not knowing yet which 2-3 would make the final cut, because it would all depend on my mood in the next hour.)

My sister was looking out the window and asked something along the lines of, “Didn’t you say you wanted a grasshopper for pictures?”

Who me? Ok, yes me. I distinctly recall saying that. Although I’m pretty sure I was only 75% serious. (At one point I was getting rather desperate for new photo props and apparently I was even open to the unusual and alarming and unexplained.)

Our grasshoppers are no joke. They’re not small and certainly not the type of darling grasshopper that one would try to catch in their hands. They’re uh, slightly larger, with flashy orange-red spiracles, and when they’re agitated they can rub their wings together (or whatever it is they do to make that noise; I try not too get too close to them) so loudly it sounds like a rattlesnake. Or so I imagine. I also make a point not to get too close to rattlesnakes.  (But I’ve seen Youtube videos.)

Probably not two minutes later, my dad appears at the window holding up the grasshopper my sister had spotted.  It was perched on the edge of a sieve. “Did anybody need a grasshopper?”

GAME ON.

Me: “Sam, grab the camera!!!”
My brother: “What?!”
Me: “Grab the camera!! I have to get the chocolate before the grasshopper flies away!”

The first chocolate (out of the ones I’d unearthed) that remotely matched a grasshopper was my Cacaosuyo bar, which I snatched up and dashed outside with.  (No, I didn’t invite the grasshopper in. I may bring in burrs and prickly cacti for photos, but one must draw the line somewhere.) There was no time to find a dreamy setting or backdrop because the grasshopper was NOT planning on sticking around for long, so we found the first available spot to prop up a bar of chocolate. The grasshopper was gently nudged off the sieve onto the wrapper. It immediately wanted to go elsewhere, so for a few brief seconds, my dad’s official title was grasshopper wrangler, my brother was very temporarily back to being my photographer, and I was back to shaking my head at myself over the odd things I decide ought to make an appearance in a chocolate photo.

Now I wonder, whenever I see a grasshopper in the yard, if it is THE grasshopper and it is looking at me and thinking, “SHE MADE ME POSE NEXT TO CHOCOLATE AND SHE DIDN’T EVEN OFFER ME ANY! THE NERVE!” Well, not really.

That grasshopper probably went back to eating the shrubbery without a second thought, while I continued on with my photoshoot that day and ended up photographing Land (Dark Malt – Honduras), Georgia Ramon (Raspberry Rose), a Milka Oreo tower (photo here), and Moonstruck (Mayan Milk).

Cacaosuyo Peru Chocolate Unwrapped

Cacaosuyo is made in Peru; this bar won a 2016 Bronze International Chocolate Award and a Gold Peru Chocolate Award.  I purchased mine via Cocoa Runners after reading multiple glowing Cacaosuyo reviews on Instagram written by Sharon Terenzi (aka The Chocolate Journalist).

It is a two ingredient bar (cacao from the Piura region, and sugar).   Two ingredients is all it takes to craft a delicious dark chocolate worthy of multiple awards and high praise.

Not sure if anybody wants me to get their hands on any of their chocolate anymore (out of fear of what I’ll decide to photograph it with).

Hey, does anyone know if wild iguanas can be taught to stop and smile for the camera?

Exactly two things in this photo were mine.  (If you guessed one of them was the chocolate..Taza Toffee Almond & Sea Salt…aka arguably the most important thing in the photo…you’d be correct.) (The second was the vastly less exciting tan mat the almonds are resting on.)

Taza Toffee Almond and Sea Salt Stone Ground Chocolate

So that means I borrowed (with permission):

  • The blanket off somebody’s bed (Not mine.  I’m more of a flower person than a giraffe print person.  I know I’m shocking absolutely no one by saying that.)
  • The basket in my neighbor’s closet
  • The almonds in the refrigerator (actually I can’t recall if I asked permission before borrowing those…)

This photo is one of the best examples I have of being creative and finding things around you to use for photography.  With a little imagination, ‘something old and something new and something borrowed and something spotted like a giraffe’ (yes I kind of re-worked the old saying) will work just fine.

I can think of at least a dozen times I’ve come up with shots that didn’t include any of the flowers or fabric I’ve specifically purchased for my chocolate photography hobby and instead used things already lying around (or growing around), and therefore the accessories ended up being free.

A partial list of items found around the house (both inside and outside) that I have used as photography props are as follows:
(I don’t recommend the cactus unless you’re far more careful at handling them than I am):

  • Sprigs of flowering bushes and one of my shirts
  • Golden foil (chocolate wrappers!) formed into little balls + leaves + another one of my shirts
  • Baby cacti, burrs, & tree branches
  • Rope and rocks
  • Rings and scarves
  • Coffee beans and coffee mug  (I believe I may have mentioned my reusable coffee beans on multiple occasions.  They’re real troupers; they’ve posed with a myriad of coffee chocolates and survived at least one glitter shower.)
  • My butterfly wallet and some ribbon
  • Buttons, spools of thread, and a gift bag
  • A palm frond hat & zig zag brown paper packing material
  • Colored pencils and bougainvilleas
  • A napkin holder and a spare piece of fabric
  • Playing cards and glitter foam

Taza Toffee Almond Chocolate Alternate Photograph

Oh yes. And tiny little cookies.

In case you’re here for the chocolate instead of the photography prop suggestions:

Taza is a stone-ground bean-to-bar chocolate made in Massachusetts.   I’m more familiar with their round discs (my favorite is cinnamon) but the toffee is only available as a rectangle and I’m not picky as to what shape my chocolate is in.  🙂

Stone-ground (read: gritty) chocolate makes good “chomping” bars (something to chow down on rather than melt in your mouth and savor slowly).  I enjoyed the mix of chocolate and nuts and toffee; I think this chocolate would be fantastic coarsely chopped and generously added to sugar cookie dough.

Alaina Cursive Signature

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.