Whenever articles are written about the 5 or 10 or however-many best bean-to-bar/craft/artisan chocolates, I’ve noticed that Dandelion Chocolate in San Francisco always makes the cut. Photos of their bars encased in thick gold-embossed paper wrappers often show up in my Instagram/Twitter feeds, and, not long ago, Dandelion expanded and opened several locations in Japan.

It was high time to pick a Dandelion to see what the fuss was all about.

Dandelion Chocolate Still Life Photo

Dandelion’s two-ingredient bars feature beans from different origins. I picked their Mantuano bar because the beans are grown in Venezuela, and I happen to be partial to Venezuelan beans.

Having a Dandelion bar in-house was exciting, but even the good press didn’t guarantee it VP treatment.  In the end, it dutifully waited its turn just like all the other chocolate at my house until it got its moment in the sun. Correction: Half an hour in the sun (by the time I was done with it).  By then it was the *perfect* tasting consistency.

My first bite certainly didn’t evoke any memories of chocolate consumed long ago during my childhood, because I don’t recall ever eating fine dark chocolate until a few years ago.  (The normal chocolates of my youth was Hersheys, an occasional box of Russel Stover, and chocolate chips (dipped out from a 5lb bag from Sam’s Club!). Instead, the taste on my tongue was a subtle twist on the “new normal”; what I call “grown up” chocolate, the knock-your-socks-off vibrancy of beans that have different flavor profiles instead of always tasting the same.

Found on the wrapper: “In this bar, we taste notes of classic dark chocolate, roasted almonds, and espresso.” My untrained tongue did not pick up on any of the roasted almond notes, but there were most definitely hints of espresso.  (It is actually quite amazing how many dark chocolates have coffee notes, despite not containing any coffee.)

High Time to Pick a Dandelion Chocolate

This is CHOCOLATE.  No flavorings, no emulsifiers.   All it takes to be an awesome chocolate is cocoa beans & sugar, carefully selected and ground and conched and tempered and packaged.

I understand the hype now.

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I’ve managed to (temporarily) pull myself away from reading about chocolate, photographing chocolate, and trying new chocolate (like Durci and Pump Street Bakery), to actually write about & show you a chocolate… namely Escazu’s Goat Milk bar.

I had the pleasure of trying this a few months ago.  (Yes, I’m that behind on my writing.)  (And yes, it is still true that nothing inside or outside my house is safe from my camera.  Including cactus.)

Escazu Goat Milk Chocolate

This bar is a 60% dark chocolate with goats milk, and, as with most bars of Venezuelan origin, it ended up making me giggle whenever I introduced it to my friends.  Why?  It just strikes me as funny that the beans went all the way from Venezuela to North Carolina to be made into chocolate bars, and then the chocolate bars went all the way to Oregon (among other places) to be sold, and then this particular bar came all the way back to Venezuela (albeit not the Carenero region) to be eaten.

Taste: Slightly tangy with a luxurious mouthfeel.  This was my first taste of goats milk chocolate and I liked it.

I need to publicly go on the record that I am NEVER TOUCHING CACTUSES CACTI AGAIN.  Maybe that will help me to remember.  I keep thinking that somehow *this time* I will manage not to touch the certain strategic spots that shed microscopic spiny hairs that so easily burrow into fingers and feet (don’t ask). Yet, every time, without fail, my promise to be very very careful always ends up with tears and tweezers involved.  Well, at least tweezers.

Don’t even get me started on the time I was 14 and somebody informed me that if the ripe cactus fruit was peeled properly that none of aforementioned microscopic hairs would end up in my mouth.  Either they were very wrong or the fruit was very incorrectly peeled.   While this particular cactus fruit is rather tasty, it was certainly not worth the evening of trying to get pricklies out.of.my.tongue.

We also have cacti that reach out and jump and attach themselves to any part of you that gets too close (Really!  I am practically not making this up), barrel cacti that have the cutest smooth-skinned pink fruits that taste sort of like kiwi (which are safe to eat, even if you don’t own tweezers), and…

Wait.  This is not a site about cactus.  It is about chocolate.

Escazu Goat Milk Chocolate Unwrapped

Escazu bars are available on multiple sites that sell craft chocolate.  I purchased mine via Chocolopolis. Come to think of it, Escazu chocolate more than likely available …let me check….yep…directly from the Escazu website.  Of course, if you happen to be in Raleigh, North Carolina, it might be easier (and lots more fun!) to visit the Escazu store itself.  Judging by their Instagram/Twitter feeds, there are also truffles and confections.

And ICE CREAM.

#notapaidadvertisement #justlovedtheirchocolate #andapparentlyIloverattlingonaboutcactusestoo

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This, my friends, is the reigning champion of white chocolate in the entire world. Bar none.  Pun intended.

‘Icoa’ by El Rey.  (Here I go making chocolate sound like fine perfume again…)

Voted the best plain/origin white chocolate bar five times in a row by the International Chocolate Awards and very recently listed as one of the best white chocolates by Saveur, it ended up being a real treat to have this bar in my possession.

Obtaining it wasn’t the piece of cake I thought it was going to be.  Chocolates El Rey is local.  Pop into any large bodegon and there El Rey is.  Which is technically true.  That is, if you’re looking for 41% Caoba.  Or 58.5% Bucare.  Or 61% “Mijao, 70% Gran Saman, or 73.5% Apamate.  (I kid you not with the extra five tenths of a percent. I’m not making them up.)

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These wolves with the almost chocolate-brown-colored eyes posed beautifully.

Endanged Species Cranberry Almond Chocolate

However, there were still some hiccups when it came to getting this photo taken.

First, the cranberries kept disappearing.  It must have been the wolves’ fault.  Nobody else was around, yet I guarantee you the bowl of cranberries was noticeably less full at the end of the photoshoot than it was at the beginning.

Second, let it be known that glitter and fans do.not.play.nice.together.  (I certainly remembered in a hurry after turning the fan on!)

On the plus side, everything was sparkly by the end of the day and there was an abundance of Endangered Species Cranberry Almond Chocolate to savor.

And in my opinion, you can’t go wrong with sparkly and plenty of chocolate!

Alter Eco Quinoa Dark Chocolate

What’s gluten free, fair trade, organic, and very tasty? Alter Eco Quinoa Dark Chocolate.

Am I the only one that has pronounced quinoa wrong all their life?  I grew up thinking it was “quinn-NO-ah”.  Then recently I started hearing about this new gluten-free super-seed food called “keen-wah” and, lo and behold, it turns out they’re the same thing.

Most people associate quinoa with “health foods” and therefore may automatically assume it doesn’t taste very good, but there’s good news.    Quinoa is not one of those “pinch-your-nose-and-swallow-fast” foods.   I find it easily adaptable to many dishes, and toasted quinoa adds a perfect crunch to this 60% dark chocolate.

I absconded with a few spoonfuls of quinoa from the fridge for the purpose of taking this photograph.  A month later, I was still finding quinoa in my room.  (My sister would say that that would tell you how well I do…or do not…clean my room, but I am telling you, a few pieces of that quinoa had terrific hiding skills.  Because I DID sweep.  I’m almost positive every time I swept I could hear the quinoa running behind the furniture giggling at their skill at avoiding me.)

Me? Have a vivid imagination?  What gives you that idea?

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Yes, this is still a site wholly dedicated to chocolate.  And no, I haven’t temporarily gone insane and donned wading boots and gotten myself a panning bowl and taken a leave of absence to visit California or the Yukon.  (And, yes, I know I have a very romantic and antiquated view of where actual gold comes from now and how to go about finding it.  (I plead the 5th on how many novels I’ve read that were set in the 1800s.)  But if you’re curious about how to strike gold in 2016 when it comes to fine chocolate, look no further than this:

How To Strike Gold in 2016 - Amano Raspberry Rose Dark Chocolate Still Life Photo
This beauty is Amano Raspberry Rose Dark Chocolate.  But with a predominately pink-and-white wrapper and an ingredient list that doesn’t contain any edible gold leaf, you may be wondering, “Where does the gold come in?”

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If you would have asked me in the past (pre-2016) what Iceland was known for, I would have said, “Ice, naturally. Oh, and volcanoes.” (Such a contrast!) “And chess masters. Also, beautiful landscapes. Unless I’m mixing it up with Ireland. No, I’m pretty sure they’re both known for stunning landscapes.” Ask me now, and I’ll tell you a neat thing about Iceland: Omnom Chocolate

A Neat Thing About Iceland - Omnom Dark Milk Burned Sugar Chocolate

Intrigued by a number of factors (the novelty of bean-to-bar chocolate being made in Iceland, the reports of Omnom’s creative packaging, and the flavor “Dark Milk”), Omnom ended up very high on my list of must-try craft chocolates.

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How’s THAT for a title? It’s not likely you read about peeling an appealing Pacari bar every day. It’s not every day I get to do it. It may be a once-in-a-life-time-experience. Who knows.

The first step in the entire process was to actually obtain a Pacari bar, which is no small feat. They’re not available locally; budgeting and shipping are involved.  That, and deciding exactly *which* Pacari bar. Finally, I decided on Andean Lemon Verbena.

Pacari Andean Lemon Verbena Chocolate Still Life Photo

Upon arrival, I was a little alarmed to find a big round sticker smack dab on the front of the chocolate wrapper (stuck there by the third party seller, not by Amazon or Pacari), announcing some sort of discount. It was effectively ruining most photoshoot opportunities (aside from ones involving cover-ups or bizarre camera angles).  And it wasn’t one of those stickers that would just peel off with a little coaxing.  AND it was blocking the pretty little stamp announcing this bar to be an International Chocolate Awards 2014 World Gold Winner.

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Last Friday (May 20th) was Endangered Species Day.  To some, it meant a welcome spotlight on the efforts of organizations and individuals who work tirelessly to save endangered animals.  To others, Endangered Species Day was a reminder to eat more chocolate.  You see, there’s one chocolate company so passionate about
helping out that it is reflected in the name of their company, Endangered Species Chocolate.  10% of their net profits are donated to non-profit partners that protect and preserve wildlife.

(Eating a chocolate bar is definitely more my cup of tea than standing outside out on a street corner waving a sign “Save The Whales!” I’m actually shy.  Believe it or not.)

I’ve tasted quite a few flavors of Endangered Species chocolate over the years; the latest was Lemon Poppyseed.

Endangered Species Chocolate - Lemon Poppyseed

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Where has TCHO chocolate been all my life?  (Or, rather, since I’ve been around much longer than TCHO, let me rephrase: Where have I been all of TCHO’s life?)

Seriously, one bite of TCHO’s lush, creamy SeriousMilk Milk Chocolate “Cacao” was enough to make me realize that TCHO has done their homework on how to pair the few standard ingredients that make up milk chocolate, in order to come up with such an extraordinary bar.  I have been eating milk chocolate wrong all my life; THIS is how it’s done.Seriously TCHO Milk Chocolate Still Life Gallery Photo

Curiosity aroused, I discovered:

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