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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A few weeks ago, a friend of mine informed me that her son had brought her a chocolate bar all the way from the ‘States. She said it was a special chocolate that had won an international award, and wanted to know if I wanted a photo of it.

Of course I did. New chocolates aren’t easy to come by. Unless the local stores surprise me, acquiring most brands or new flavors of chocolate is a tricky process. It involves finding a site that even ships here, ordering it online, and hoping it doesn’t melt during its journey.   (I can’t do that all the time; it turns out that chocolate can be a rather expensive habit!)

I was mystified as to which chocolate it would be, and from which far-away place that it would be from. A celebrated hand-crafted bean-to-bar chocolate made in the USA? Or perhaps highly acclaimed European bar?

When the chocolate arrived at my house to have its picture taken, I had to chuckle.

Behold, Franceschi Chocolate, 70% Dark:

Franceschi Chocolate Comes Home to Venezuela

Award-winning chocolate, yes. Very fine tasting chocolate, without a doubt.

But it is hardly from a faraway place.   This chocolate had been transported back to the place of its birth; Franceschi Chocolate is Venezuelan.

We sampled this chocolate immediately after taking a few pictures of it, despite the fact it was before lunch. (Mom, if you’re reading this: I know you always said “no candy before lunch”.   But since chocolate comes from cocoa beans (beans are vegetables) and sugar comes from a beet (which is also a vegetable), I think it was okay. You never said anything about not eating vegetables before lunch.)

Franceschi Chocolate Comes Home to Venezuela, Unwrapped

I enjoyed my taste of this delicate, velvety smooth dark chocolate. Since I do not have any formal training or experience tasting and naming the flavors or “notes” contained within each bar of fine chocolate, I won’t try to give my opinion on the exact flavor.

You’ll have to find this, try it for yourself, and see what you think!

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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