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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There are some chocolates (or candy with chocolate in them or on them; it depends on who you ask) that can be found just about anywhere on the planet. Like Hersheys.  Or Snickers.  (Disclaimer: Hopefully I’m not starting another passionate debate on what constitutes REAL chocolate. When it comes to  brands, I really don’t take sides.  I have absolutely no problem with talking about M&Ms and Dick Taylor in the same sentence, nor would I have any problem whatsoever with eating both of them in the same weekend.) I’m not a chocolate “snob”.  Nor do I have anything against chocolate “snobs”.  (From what I can tell, they call themselves that, and it’s all in good-natured fun.) (They’re missing out on the M&Ms, but apparently they’re not worried.)  (Yes.  I just entirely overused parentheses just now.)

The Allure of Limited Editions Chocolate - Mantuano Aji Dulce

In contrast with the-found-just-about-anywhere chocolate, there are the chocolates that are found just-about-nowhere. Just as there is a certain allure of limited editions in the wonderful world of literature, limited edition chocolates also exists.  Both are designed to make you feel special.  While I’ve never gotten swept into the limited edition book craze (despite being so much of an avid reader in my youth that my mother had to impose a limit of one book a day to save my eyesight), I seem to be dabbling in limited edition chocolate.

News reached my ears (via social media) that Mantuano debuted a special limited edition chocolate bar in honor of Maria Fernanda Di Giacobbe, the 2016 winner of the Basque Culinary World Prize.  Only 500 of these bars exist (if I have the story straight).  Out of those, only 200 were shipped to my neck of the woods.

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Originally, the plan for today was either to tell you about what I put everyone through when sharing my chocolate
(bring a notebook!) or a bright and cheerful chocolate photo I can’t wait to share ’cause it makes me HAPPY. But we  interrupt our regularly scheduled broadcast: There was a brazen chocolate thief at my house Saturday.  Or should I say a brazen chocolate chomper?

We Interrupt Our Regularly Scheduled Broadcast - Mantuano Granola Chocolate(Mantuano Granola – Artisanal Chocolate made in Venezuela)

It is not very hard to leave chocolate unattended on Saturdays.  (Any other day of the week chocolate is safely secured in MY chocolate drawer, which doesn’t even need a KEEP OUT sign because everybody is already well trained to leave it alone.)  (Right now I’m hoarding things like Alter Eco Dark Twist (chocolate with crystallized orange peel) in there.)  On Saturdays, chocolate is strewn on multiple fridge shelves, on the table, and all across the house as I ferry it back and forth to my studio*, either snapping photos or dictating which shots to be snapped if Sam happens to be available. (Sam is my brother, my sometimes-photographer, and, when chocolate disappears, he is generally considered the primary suspect. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten chocolate out, turned my back for two seconds, and find he’s somehow managed to carry it off already.  On the plus side, he usually brings it back intact.)

Chocolate was everywhere and the photo-shoot was well underway, resulting in photos like the one above. I unwrapped this bar, temporarily set it aside for additional photos, and…all of the sudden there was a bite out of it.  A big bite out of it. A somebody-was-not-messing-around, definitely-wanted-me-to-notice-there-was-a-bite-out-of-it, bite out of it.  (For the record, I probably would have noticed if someone had even touched it.)

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There are a startling amount of chocolate brands that are either:

Hard or impossible to find outside of their country of origin
or
Not available in many flavors worldwide.

There is, of course, a solution (of sorts). If the chocolate can’t come to you, why not come to it?

If you happen to be planning a trip to Venezuela, you may want to do some research regarding which chocolates to sample during your visit. (You’ve probably heard; Venezuelan chocolate is rather famous.  Case in point: Two of the top eight chocolate bars mentioned in recent New York Time article were from….you guessed it!)  I’ll cheat and help you with your homework.  One of the many brands you should be on the lookout for is Mantuano Chocolate.

Those of us who have had the pleasure of sampling Mantuano (in my case, more times that I care to count) could technically keep our lips sealed.    However, that would be a “the less you buy, the more there is for me” mentality, and that is not my modus operandi.  I believe good things ought to be shared.

Mantuano Chocolate Review Photo 2

 

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The Many Diverse & Delicious Chocolates of Venezuela

El Rey. Nestle Savoy. Kakao. Mantuano. Paria. Sinfonia.

Chocolate with red pepper.  Chocolate with Earl Gray tea.  Chocolate with sea salt, coffee beans, ginger, granola, and rattlesnake*.

paria

Venezuela, home to the prized criollo bean and exporter of over 8000 tons of cacao per year, manufactures chocolates that are just as diverse as its wide range of landscapes. This is no small feat, considering Venezuela boasts beautiful tropical beaches, lush jungles, the world’s tallest waterfall (Angel Falls), and a desert that could easily pass as the Sahara. (I kid you not.)

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