Saturday, December 19, 2009

Chocolate Stocking Stuffers of the Highest Caliber

Today's Sacrament will look at the final group of products that Theo Chocolate submitted to us for review.  These are five different flavors of their 3-ounce "Theo Origins" bars.  You can find your Chocolate Priestess's earlier revelations on Theo's Nib Brittle back in April 2009 and their 2-oz. bars in August 2009.


What are "Theo Origins" bars?  These are five flavors created from single-origin cocoa from five different regions of the world.  Each bar will highlight the unique flavors that the earth itself gives to cacao beans, unaided by anything other than a bit of added sugar — no milk, no soy, and no artificial flavors, so these bars qualify as vegan and dairy free.  Each of them is 65% or higher cocoa content, so choosing these as gifts is also giving your loved one the healthier chocolate you've been reading and hearing about all year long.  These are the very first products you see on their website under the "Shop Theo" tab.  For some reason they are only featuring three of their five flavors online right now, but look in stores for the other two flavors I am going to witness to you about today.  It is quite possible that different regions have had problems with their cocoa crops or Theo has changed flavors since these were sent to me.  I can only reveal what I have been sent, Sisters and Brothers.  As usual, I will work my way from the least to the greatest cocoa content.  Each bar is 7 inches long, 3 inches across and just over a quarter inch thick.


That means I start with the "Madagascar 65% Cacao" bar — although it produces very little cacao right now, this island is starting to make its mark in chocolate.  This bar has broken into three uneven sections during shipping, even though the bar itself is divided into six rectangles.  Not surprisingly, the scent is dark cocoa, and I know it will just get more intense with each bar.  I break off a half section with a snap and take a bite.  It has a slightly grainy texture to it, though I can see no reason for this with my eyes.  It has a changing flavor, starting very bitter, becoming almost a bit buttery, then taking on an indefinable spicy sensation which the wrapper describes as "wine" like.  I can say that I've indeed had wines like this.


Next I'll go to the world's biggest cacao producers for the "Ivory Coast 75% Cacao" bar.  This bar didn't break during shipping, but at 10% high cacao content it is oddly not much darker than the previous bar.  It has a slightly strong scent and a much sharper bitterness when I take a bite that smoothes out with each chew.  The result is a less complex flavor but still a solid, intense cocoa that creates a small buzz with just a half rectangle, or 1/6th of a serving.

The "Ghana Panama Ecuador 75% Cacao" bar is really a triple-origin bar, combining cacao beans from the three different regions listed in the title.  This is identical in appearance to the previous bar, but the scent is less bitter.  The chocolate starts more creamy, then turns a bit bitter and acidic as I chew a half section.  There are interesting switches in flavors if you eat it slowly enough to track them and let the cocoa rush build up.

I am sent firmly back to Africa and to the second largest cocoa producer in the world with the "Ghana 84% Cacao" bar.  At this level you really need to know the person you are buying chocolate for.  Most people, when they say they like dark chocolate, are talking about the 60-80% cocoa range; few can enjoy the higher cocoa content.  Again this does not look any different from the previous bar, so I won't take a photo and slow down your loading time today.  It has a very deep, rich cocoa fragrance when I open up the wrapper.  The bitterness is there, but this time with a very natural, floral flavor that I can't specify beyond that.  It makes my tongue and mouth pucker up a bit, though with each bite of this half section my senses adjust, and I'm either flying so high from the buzz or simply getting so used to the intensity that it seems almost sweet by the end.


Finally, we go back to South America, where the "Venezuela 91% Cacao" bar's raw cocoa is produced.  This bar is almost black in color ,but I'm not sure you can fully see that in the photograph.  It has a surprisingly mild scent, but when I take a bite it is anything but mild.  There's nothing sweet about this chocolate bar, only bitterness that has a strong earthy taste and a sizeable buzz.  Each chew releases more tingling through my mouth, making my tongue and mouth pucker a bit.  This is not a bar to buy casually; make sure you know who you are giving this one to as a gift.

Each of these 3-oz. bars has two servings according to its label, and they don't differ much in content, so I'm just going to summarize for those of you Sisters and Brothers who care.  The calorie range is 200-210, saturated fats 10-12 grams, fiber 4-5 g, sugars 4-14 g, protein 3-4 g, 4-6% of the daily iron requirement, and 0-2% daily calcium.  There is no cholesterol and no sodium in any of the five varieties. Minus the added sugars, this is close to what cacao itself must offer nutritionally.

Theo Chocolate can now be found in stores all over the United States, though their store locator doesn't do justice to how widespread they are.  I can find their bars in at least two stores within a mile of my house, Bloomingfoods and Sahara Mart, so try stores similar to "Whole Foods" if you don't have one of those franchises in your area.  All of these bars are certified fair trade produced, the wrappers are 50% recycled materials, and the chocolate itself is vegan and organic.  Slipping them into someone's stocking or gift bag is also gifting the farmers who grow the cacao and the planet which creates it.

Sisters and Brothers, may you too take the time to slowly appreciate what the Divine and human ingenuity have offered you in chocolate.

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