Today is very special. My dream project, the Taste. Better. Chocolate. Advent Calendar just got a huge step closer to become a reality. And this is only possible because of you all who supported my campaign.
So to all 131 of you who backed my Kickstarter campaign in the last 32 days, let me express my most profound gratitude by saying Thank You! And then I get back to work because the project doesn’t end here at all. Chocolates are still on the way to Little Beetle Chocolates HQ, boxes and sachets are being prepared, shipping dates are getting closer. I’m crazy busy, excited and literally still can’t believe that this happened! 🙂 Thanks again!
Also, I would like to take a moment to thank the 24 chocolate makers featured in the calendar for accepting my invitation, for delivering their highest quality chocolates and for their continuous support. In addition, without the help of my husband, my family and my closest friends I wouldn’t be able to pull this off either, so huge thanks to them as well (but no rest until 1 December, haha!).
After the Kickstarter doors closed, there are still about 40 advent calendars remaining. I’m already negotiating with some retail partners but in case you want one or a few more calendars extra, reach out to me via email to arrange a purchase. Disclaimer:due to the time restriction for shipping I can accept purchases from UK only. Thank you for your understanding.
I’m thrilled to let you know that my Kickstarter campaign for the Taste. Better. Chocolate. Advent Calendar is now 111% funded! With a few hours to go until the campaign ends on 9 October (23:59 CET), I’ll be able to send out these unique craft chocolate advent calendars to my lovely backers.
To bring the project even closer to you, I decided to create a mini video-series where I introduce the makers featured within the advent calendar. Each video includes 4 makers:
Episode 1: Duffy’s, Pump Street Chocolate, Chocolate Tree, Solkiki Chocolatemaker
Episode 2: Dormouse Chocolates, York Cocoa Works, J.Cocoa, NearyNógs
Episode 3: Ara Chocolat, Mike&Becky, Original Beans, Zotter
Episode 6: FriisHolm, Malmö Chokladfabrik, Vento d’Oro, Aelan Chocolate Makers
The kind of chocolate that they will have within the advent calendar will remain a secret until December when I will share with you day-by-day each new maker and new flavour. I’m so excited about this project and can’t wait to hear what you think about the chocolates within the calendar, so if you haven’t got it yet, jump on board and get one of the limited edition Taste. Better. Chocolate. Advent Calendars. Hurry up, as there are only 200 calendars made and 121 of them are already gone. The calendar is exclusively available through Kickstarter until 9 October, offering worldwide shipping.
I’d like to take a moment here to thank all my lovely backers and also everyone who shared my project with others either by talking about it or by sharing it on social media and in email. The positive response to my idea blew me away and I am intensely grateful for all your support!
Don’t forget that by getting a Taste. Better. Chocolate. Advent Calendar you not only help me make my dream project come true, but you also support 24 craft bean-to-bar chocolate makers (most of whom are micro-batch businesses), and through them you strengthen a more sustainable and more ethical cacao supply chain and ensure a better livelihood for cacao farmers around the world.
After comparing 7 plain dark chocolates made with Indian cacao, I thought it would be interesting to see how they work with added ingredients. I have 4 bars in my stash, so let’s dive in!
1. Soklet 55% Milk Chocolate
Ok, so this is not a flavoured bar, just a plain milk chocolate, but I felt that it belongs here rather than with the dark bars. An interesting addition is ghee (purified butter) which is traditionally used in Indian cuisine. This is a tree-to-bar chocolate (the chocolate maker uses cacao from their own plantation) and all the ingredients are sustainably sourced. The packaging is minimalist and elegant black and gold. The bar is wrapped in a thick gold foil.
The chocolate bar has a plain mould that can be segmented into small rectangles. With its 55% cocoa content, this dark-milk has a nice medium brown colour and smooth surface. The aroma is sweet and the texture is slightly more grainy than most European-style chocolates, it feels like soft icing sugar. The melt brings out notes of sweet hot chocolate, browned butter, clotted cream, dulce de leche. (Decadent.)
2. Earth Loaf American Barrel Aged
Aging cocoa beans in whiskey, rum, bourbon barrels is an interesting trend, and this is one of the first bars that I try. The cacao (more precisely the cacao butter) gets infused with the aromas of the barrel, giving the chocolate a slight peaty, smokey note, that is already present in the aroma. This is the third bar from Earth Loaf that I try (see the previous two in this post), and the mouthfeel is instantly recognisable. The packaging is black with gold drawings. This 72% dark chocolate is made with beans from the Karnataka Estate that were aged in American oak barrels that previously held bourbon and single-malt spirit. So strictly speaking this is still a two-ingredient bar, but I wouldn’t say it’s plain.
I have tasted whiskey and rum but I’m not a big fan of strong spirits so I can only say that the chocolate pairs really well with these spirit barrel notes. The original woody notes of the cacao are further enhanced and accompanied by this peaty, slightly smokey note of the spirits creating a perfect balance of flavours. This pleasant side-note lingers in the mouth long after the chocolate has been swallowed. Beautiful pairing that I would suggest to people who are already familiar with single origin chocolates and who can appreciate the added gentle flavour notes, and of course people who like spirits.
3. Choxco Salted Jaggery Banana Coconut and Fennel
The same base chocolate that I tasted in my week of India post received a generous amount of interesting inclusions. Just look at this chocolate! Jaggery (sugar) coated banana chips toasted with salt, coconut and fennel. This made me so curious to try it straight away. Chocolate, banana chips and coconut makes me think about tropical trail mixes, fennel is one of my favourite spices, so I was intrigued how it pairs with the other ingredients. The aroma of the bar doesn’t give away too much information about what’s inside.
Due to the amount of inclusions, this is definitely a chocolate to chomp at the beginning at least. It melts easily, leaving behind all the lovely crunchy and aromatic inclusions. The chocolate itself is really just a perfect base for the inclusions to shine through. The banana flavour is not dominant, I got more the taste of the coconut and the fragrant fennel which btw works brilliantly here. Maybe the ratio of chocolate to inclusions could be slightly different so that the inclusions disappear at the same time as the chocolate. Otherwise, it’s a perfect snacking and sharing chocolate (if you do :D).
4. Earth Loaf Caramelised Mosambi and Caraway
The most aromatic of the four bars is definitely this one, which is the fourth Earth Loaf bar in my stash. The wrapper is the same as the barrel aged only this is vibrant yellow already giving a hint about the citrusy flavours inside. First, I had no idea what Mosambi was, but thankfully the back of the wrapper explains that it’s a sweet lime. The inclusions are beautifully arranged on the back of the bar making sure that you get a piece of lime and some caraway seeds in every bite.
The chocolate is a 59% rich dark that creates a lovely base for these refreshing inclusions. Sadly my teeth gave up on chewing the Mosambi pieces, they dried out too much in my opinion and became very hard. They still gave away a pleasant sweet citrus flavour that’s enhanced by the fragrant caraway seeds. The whole seeds also make the mouthfeel interestingly textured, crunchy along with some caramelised sugar crystals from the Mosambi. Although caraway is probably a rarely used spice in chocolate (I’ve only had it once in a milk chocolate by the Belgian chocolatier Laurent Gerbaud) it surprisingly works very well. Shame for the hard lime pieces, otherwise it would be a perfect summertime chocolate bar that tastes like a refreshing botanical cocktail.
That’s all for now about Indian chocolates. Time for me to gather chocolates from another country, and I think I’ll choose Peru for next time as I have quite a lot of bars from different makers with this origin.
Hope you enjoyed, and let me know if you try any of the above-mentioned bars and what you think about them. Also feel free to suggest other makers or bars for me to try!
Collecting lots of chocolate bars from around the world, my stash sometimes often grows to an unmanageable size. To help reduce this amount, I decided to do comparative tasting sessions based on various criteria. Instead of just reviewing one bar by one maker, I will post about chocolates made from the same origin (by different makers), or the same maker (different origins), or made in the same country (made in Belgium, South Korea etc. – different makers, different origins).
This post is compiling tasting reviews of bars made with Indian cacao which is a relatively new origin among craft chocolate makers. Although cacao has been cultivated in Southern India for about 200 years, it was mainly used by big industrials, and from the 20th century mainly by Cadbury. The originally planted criollo varieties have been swapped for higher yield forastero varieties serving the bulk market (producing less than 1% of the world’s cacao). Small-batch bean-to-bar producers have only started to discover Indian cacao in the last 4-5 years. The interest for this origin is constantly growing, so I thought it would be worth comparing different bars to see whether there are some unique flavour notes specific to this cacao growing area. Nowadays you can even find tree-to-bar chocolates, Soklet is one of the most well-known brand to make chocolate from their own beans.
To organise this horizontal tasting, I created a randomised list of the chocolates in my stash to try each day for one week. The list is as follows:
DAY 1 : Earth Loaf 72% Kerala – made in India
This Earth Loaf bar is wrapped in a thick craft paper that almost feels like a fabric. Could the small brown flecks be cacao husk pieces? That’s my bet. (Update: David, one of the makers confirmed that they use traditional Indian handcrafted paper enriched with cocoa husk!) Underneath, there’s a thin, vacuum-sealed silver foil. The chocolate bar has a warm, dark-brown colour with some dullness on the top side (it’s probably my fault that I left it out in a relatively warm room). Very easy to segment into squares, it is not too thick. It has a slightly soft snap (again, could be due to being in a warmer room), but the breaking line shows a perfect temper. The aroma is predominantly rich chocolatey. Upon melting, it becomes thick and creamy like a rich hot chocolate. The overall flavour is like an intense chocolate brownie, very mellow, no bitterness or astringency at all. This base note is accompanied by hints of sweet red fruit notes, like cherries. Very pleasant, like a dessert.
DAY 2 : Chocolatoa 70% Kerala – made in Belgium
Not all Belgian chocolate is created equal. Thankfully, there’s a growing bunch of artisan makers who are working hard on putting the craft back into chocolate and showing people the real flavours of chocolate. Mario Vandeneede is one of these makers using cocoa beans from Madagascar, Costa Rica, Tanzania, Dominican Republic, Ecuador or in this case India. The packaging is simple and practical. Personally I really like these resealable pouches because they protect the opened bar from odours and heat, and they are not making a mess in your bag 🙂 The name Chocolatoa refers to an Inca princess, Toa who we can see in the round logo. She represents the philosophy of joined forces for success, which Mario shows by working closely and in an ethical way with the cocoa farmers to create his high quality chocolate bars. The back label is mainly in Flemish, which I only understand partially thanks to my faint German knowledge (and thanks to Google Translate :D).
As I opened the pouch, there was already a strong aroma escaping, which is a very good sign. Sniffing inside (not very professional, I know, as the packaging imparts some of the aroma) the aroma of freshly roasted fruity cocoa beans made me want to jump right inside. The 40g slim rectangular bar is segmented in an interesting way resulting in strips rather than squares. The colour is medium dark brown with a nice sheen. Perfect snap and texture. During the very creamy melt the chocolate releases intense fruity notes, sweet and slightly tart bouquet of red berries like raspberry and sour cherry. Still quite mellow and has an undernote of a rich chocolate cake, but that comes out only towards the end and in the finish. A very bright and pleasant bar.
Interestingly, this bar is also a two-ingredient bar like the previous one, yet the flavour and texture are completely different. This really shows how the choice of ingredients (coconut sugar versus regular sugar), roasting (or not roasting), and some other factors like length of refining can add to the final flavour even if the cocoa comes from the same origin. That’s also the reason behind this series of tastings where I will show chocolates from the same region made by different makers, as we can’t really generalise the flavour notes of a certain origin. There are of course tendencies (fruity, earthy, nutty, spicy), but in the end, all chocolates will come out unique due to all these variables.
DAY 3 : Amazing Cacao 70% India – made in Russia
Love the colourful packaging of Amazing Cacao that is full of interesting information about the origin and the direct trade ethics. The front is decorated with indian fabric motifs and the image of a couple eating chocolate. The entire packaging is bilingual (Russian – English). Inside, we can read about the local cacao farms and their circumstances (no electricity, everything relies on solar energy), a detailed map of the region and a photo of a farmer couple with buckets of fresh cocoa beans. The packaging is recloseable (always a plus!) and the bar is protected within its own plastic box. The custom mould is segmented in various 3D triangles with the logo in the middle.
The dark brown bar has a perfect appearance and sharp snap. It has a creamy melt that brings out woody flavour notes like fresh wood shavings (timber is suggested on the back of the bar) with some minor acidity.
This one is the mellowest of the three bars I tasted so far. Very approachable for people new to craft chocolates.
DAY 4 : Trinity 70% India – made in Belgium
This bar is special because it was made by not one but three Belgian chocolate makers, hence the name Trinity. A collaboration of six hands to create a chocolate made from South-Indian cacao beans. The bar was exclusively available at the Salon du Chocolat in Brussels in Spring 2018, and I received it from my Belgian chocolate friend Céline as part of our chocswap. The packaging is colourful on the front and monochrome inside. They crammed as much text as possible on the inner three sides to give plenty of information about the growing region and the chocolate making process. They included a map and an “identity card” listing the main characteristics such as detailed origin, type of cacao, harvest year, recipe, roasting and conching. Although, unless you have some knowledge about the chocolate making processes, it won’t tell you much knowing that the cocoa was roasted for 1 hour at 120°C. While I like geek info like that, I think “light roast”, “medium roast” might be easier to understand for enthusiastic amateurs.
The colour of the bar is medium brown, it could almost be mistaken for a milk chocolate. Smooth, glossy surface with a few air bubbles on the edges. Perfect snap and very creamy melt (note the +10% added cacao butter). Lightly sweet aroma followed by an extremely mellow flavour profile. Notes of raisin and wood, well-balanced acidity and a bright but relatively short finish. Based on the previous three bars this one might have lost a bit too much of its fruitiness. Pleasant but not very memorable.
DAY 5 : Earth Loaf 72% Malabar Forest – made in India
Another single-origin bar from Earth Loaf made with cocoa beans from Malabar region, more precisely from two villages situated in protected forest land. According to the makers, they use the same beans as the Amazing Cacao bar I tasted on Day 3.
The packaging is the same as the Kerala bar, with a different illustration and sticker. The bar has a dark brown colour and a faint citrus aroma. The slow melt results in a thick, creamy mouthfeel, but it’s less “sticky” than the Kerala bar was. Light citrus notes mix with a woody undernote (unlike the fresh wood shavings note in the previous bars, here it is more an old oak note, or something more mature), low acidity. The finish tastes like a lime caramel in dark chocolate.
DAY 6: Frederic Blondeel 70% India – made in Belgium
I bought this bar by Frederic Blondeel specifically for my Ecole Chocolat Mastering Chocolate Flavour course as we had a tasting assignment dedicated to cacao varieties, so I had to find bars made with Forastero cacao. Unfortunately there’s not much information about the bar itself due to the very basic packaging. The 45g bar is segmented into 5 strips with the maker’s name engraved into each of these. The thin cellophane bag has a transparent sticker showing the origin and percentage and some basic info in French and Flemish.
“100% Forastero: All my childhood” was a motto intriguing enough for me to buy this bar. Our childhood memories of chocolate, our first taste of it, our favourites, chocolates that we were gifted at our birthday, or that we secretly received from our grandparents, these are important flavour memories. This bar has a nice, shiny appearance, warm dark brown tone and it has a perfect snap. It is quite thin so melts easily on the tongue. The added cocoa butter and soya lecithin create a super smooth and creamy mouthfeel. The aroma is sweet and fruity. Upon melting, it is surprisingly sweet and chocolatey, I would probably guess that it is around 55% rather than 72%. Mellow, rich and pleasant chocolate flavour but without any other particularly strong note. Very light acidity, no bitterness.
DAY 7 : ChocXo 70% Anamalai – made in USA
I received this ChocXo bar from Patricia (@myic2016) in our third chocswap along with more products from this brand as she visited their factory-store. The packaging is modern and simplistic with only the most important information. I like the way they used a bit of colour to imitate colourful Indian fabrics. Inside the resealable pouch the bar is wrapped in thin silver foil. The bar has a smooth dark brown surface and perfect snap. It has a very faint chocolate aroma. Quite slow to melt, the mouthfeel is creamy and smooth. The melt releases mild notes of roasted coffee, rich chocolate cake and hints of tart fruits in the finish. Moderate acidity and pleasant clean finish.
Final thoughts about Indian chocolates
First of all, thank you for reading so far. After an entire week of chocolates made with Indian cacao my general impression is that all of these bars were mellow and very approachable. They don’t have bitter or astringent notes, so they are perfect for people who are just starting to discover craft chocolates or higher percentage dark chocolates in general. The flavour notes are mostly familiar, like a rich chocolate dessert, in some cases with a nice fruity or woody note that balances very well. Overall, all of the above-mentioned bars were pleasant, but for a more experienced taster like me, some of them were lacking a bit of character. For this reason, I preferred the ones that presented bolder, sharper fruity or woody notes, like the bars from Amazing Cacao, Chocolatoa and Earth Loaf. It was also very interesting to see, that even though almost all 7 bars were the same percentage (70-73%) and either using 2 or 3 ingredients only (added cacao butter), the mouthfeel and texture of each bar was so different.
In a follow-up article I will show you a few bars that are also made with Indian cacao but with some added flavours to see if the added ingredients make any difference.
Thanks for reading, have a chocolatey day!
Lilla / Little Beetle Chocolates
Dom Ramsay: Chocolate, DK, London, 2016, p 94.
It’s beginning to look a lot like CHOCOLATE! I’m very excited about this weekend as Little Beetle Chocolates will be officially open to the public for the very first time. The last few weeks have been all filled with orders, deliveries, planning and logistics behind the scenes and I’m hoping that this first event will go well. I decided to launch at my local community christmas market because I would like to get involved with my local community before opening up to a wider audience. In a smaller setting like this, I’m hoping to be able to chat to more people in-depth about what Little Beetle Chocolates can offer and to let more people Taste. Better. Chocolate.
I’d like to take the opportunity here to give special thanks to a number of people who gave me professional advice and inspiration for this launch: Luke from The Chocolate Bar in New Zealand, Catherine from Kosak in Paris and of course the three chocolate makers Duffy’s, Chocolate Tree and Pump Street Chocolate. As I signed up for this event a bit late, I would also like to thank the organiser David Cotee for squeezing me in!
Little Beetle Chocolates will have a small table among the other food businesses (e.g. small artisan bakery, organic groceries, local craft beer, cakes and pastries) and along many craft sellers. The event will take place in Fulbourn, at the village hall from 2:30 to 5pm on 9th December 2017.
I will post an update in a few days after the event to let you know howit went. Fingers crossed there will be many people wanting to Taste. Better. Chocolate.
The first time I saw Fabric bars I was meeting a friend in a small coffee shop and wine bar in Budapest where they were also selling some handmade chocolates. Straight away I was mesmerised by the intricate packaging and couldn’t resist to buy one to try: it was their now multiple award-winning Mexican 66% dark with cocoa nib tuile. I know. It is as delicious as it sounds. More on this later. Then in 2015, I briefly met Viki, the chocolatier and founder of Fabric, at the London Chocolate Show, where she was awarded for her chocolate creations. No wonder I wanted to visit her as I was planning my Chocolate Eurotrip this year! I was really happy when we arranged the visit, and Viki was so friendly and welcoming. Her workshop is in one of Budapest’s suburban areas. Located in the underground of a block of flats, her place is kept cool throughout the year; this is quite useful in the hot summer days like the one when I visited her.
Her workshop is separated into two main areas: chocolate production and packaging/storage. After a quick look around, we sat down at a big round table in the latter area where she was packaging her bars and putting on the chocolate award labels on the front. Behind her, I could see all her awards nicely displayed on the wall. As we were chatting about her career, her chocolates and her plans, I could taste the chocolates she generously prepared for my visit.
How it all came to be
Behind Fabric you can find a lively and very approachable lady, Viki, who invents and creates all the products and packaging for her award-winning chocolate business. She has an artistic background, studying packaging design and later working for a TV channel on kids’ programmes. How is this all ending up in a chocolate making business? She was filming at a chocolate workshop and became seduced by the world of chocolate. Suddenly, all what she was studying and working for became useful tools for starting her own business. Even though this all happened at a time when “artisan and handmade chocolates” were popping up everywhere in Hungary, she still carried on learning about her new profession, and took two entire years to finalise her first product line and packaging. By that time, many of those trendy handmade chocolate businesses were already long forgotten. Her hard work then paid off, as two years after launching her chocolates in September 2012, she already received awards at both the International Chocolate Awards and at the Academy of Chocolate Awards in 2015.
Haute Couture Chocolates
At the very beginning Viki and her husband (also working in television, and helping her with the business-related tasks and R&D of course!) wanted to create a unique product that stands out from the crowd not just in its flavour but also in its design. Their idea about using different textured fabrics to create their chocolate moulds gave birth to their company, Fabric. The name reflects the connection between textures, art, and chocolate flavours. Even though this name seemed an unlucky choice for distribution in Germany for example (Fabrik means factory in German), the quality of their products proved this wrong and now the largest part of their international trade goes to Germany.
Unlike many other chocolatiers in Hungary, praising and working with the “finest Belgian chocolate” (mostly Callebaut), Fabric is constantly looking for unique flavours to use in their bars, so they turned early on to single origin chocolates made by smaller chocolate makers such as Menakao, Pralus, Michel Cluizel and more recently Hoja Verde (exclusively in Hungary). This can be very challenging in the planning process, as if one of the bars proves to be more popular than they thought, and sells out, sometimes they have to wait months before receiving the next shipment of couverture and need to think of an alternative. Or, as a very recent example of bad luck, the delivery of their Ecuadorian couverture was confiscated at customs because of illegal drug trafficking of unknown source. So now, even though they have just received a prestigious Gold award from the Academy of Chocolates a few weeks ago, they might have to wait months until they can make a new batch of the winner bar flavoured with candied kumquats and roasted coffee beans.
The toppings used to create their bars are also far away from the casual fruit and nut. Viki is always eager to find new, rare and unique ingredients to pair up with her chocolate when she’s visiting farmer’s markets or travelling abroad. And many times, this also means a good bit of DIY from her part, such as dehydrating cherry tomatoes, candying kumquats or caramelising almonds with smoked salt.
Speaking of DIY, her atelier also has some equipment that were developed by her father working as an aeronautic engineer (sorry, the details will remain company secret). Viki is a real artisan chocolatier, who is actually doing everything by hand from start to finish. As said above, Viki is a packaging designer, so no wonder that all her packaging and even her chocolate moulds are designed and created by herself. She revealed to me, that she always has a little pot of playdough in her bag. In case she finds an interesting texture or design, she just pushes it onto her playdough and then recreates it at home, casting in plaster, then silicone. This way, she can recreate any design (company logo, intricate textures, images or text, etc.) and keep her products very unique and customisable, opening a way for her to collaborate with others, such as a wine maker, a hotel chain or a children’s book illustrator to just name a few of her projects.
In a following article, I will show you a few products more in detail, but for now I’ll just give you a general idea about how these delicious chocolates are created. Would you believe that Viki is one of those people who doesn’t really like sweets? She prefers more characteristic and less sweet flavours so this is what she recreates in her chocolate bars, using mainly dark chocolate as a base. She doesn’t make any chocolate that she wouldn’t like to eat herself and this is one of the reasons she doesn’t work with marzipan for example. Cocoa nibs, nuts, dried fruits and spices are her main ingredients with a few more peculiar toppings such as brown rice, millet, date vinegar, dried tomatoes previously soaked in raspberry vinegar, among others. Picking up inspiration for future flavours everywhere, her famous lemon-cinnamon combination was born thanks to one of her favourite desserts: ‘crema catalana’.
As staying unique is one of Fabric’s main priority, no wonder that the bean-to-bar production is also on their mind. This would allow them to really create flavours and flavour combinations that no one else does on the market. But of course, even though small-batch production is now possible with a smaller investment by using table-top melangeurs, there is still the question of buying the right cocoa beans. It is a steep learning curve, and you can be sure that Viki won’t release anything before being 100% satisfied with the product herself. Don’t worry, I’ll give you an update as soon as it is available.
It’s no secret, that getting awards for their chocolates is a key to international recognition and possible distribution. Viki says, that instead of trying to reach out to chocolate retailers with samples, as they did when they started, now it’s the opposite, they get more and more national and international trade possibilities thanks to these awards. Now their chocolates available in Germany, France and even in the USA, they would like to distribute them to other countries as well.
More importantly, their aim is to stay true to their original work ethics which means they will stay small, as doing everything by hand, they have physical limits of how many bars they can actually make in a day. So far, anything that has been made under their name, be it a bar of chocolate or a piece of packaging, has always gone through Viki’s hands and needs to meet her strict quality standards.
As a follow-up for this post, I’ll continue with a more detailed tasting review of some of Fabric’s products, including award-winning bars and a dangerously addictive pecan dragee. Stay tuned!
Did you already know Fabric chocolates, and if yes, which of their bars is your favourite? If not, which one would you like to try? Share in the comments below!