Equal Exchange review before Valentine's Day because giving this chocolate to your loved one is giving him/her so much more than heart-shaped candy; it is giving them concern for the world. The wrappers, both the outside and the silver inside ones, are made from recycled and recyclable materials for example. Over the course of a week and with some assistance, I tried four of their 3.5oz bars that have something extra added them that gives them extra texture or an extra kick of flavor. Three of these are dark bars ranging from 55-67% cacao and one is a 41% milk chocolate bar. None of the bars use any soy so for those of you with those allergy concerns, these might be a good idea for you. Let's look at these one by one, Sisters and Brothers, in order of increasing darkness.
Caramel Crunch in a 41% cacao milk chocolate bar that has a periwinkle blue on reddish tan design on the wrapper. Just opened, this bars has signs of crunchy pieces inside that I don't know how well you can see in the photo. Before any of the pieces are broken off it has a creamy cocoa with a sweetness fragrance; once broken into pieces the sweetness becomes more buttery like caramel should be. It breaks easily into the marked off sections, each break releasing more caramel and milk chocolate scent.Taking a bite and then each chew is crunchy but we also found the little pieces inside were chewy and liked to stick to our teeth. The first flavor was sweet caramel then a milk chocolate faded in until we were left with a wonderful blend of the flavors as we chewed. Letting a piece melt in our mouth urged a more creamy milk chocolate first then an increasing caramel flavor until we were left with just chewy, sticky pieces that seemed saltier than expected. We recommend eating this bar by chewing it and you won't be disappointed.
Caramel Crunch but this time in a 55% cacao dark chocolate bar with the color scheme inverted -- tan on a deep purple background on the wrapper. The darker nature of this bar is evident from the moment it is unwrapped because the scent is much darker with almost no hint of the buttery sweetness from the previous milk chocolate version. Breaking off the pieces is a touch more difficult but it releases more of the caramel fragrance along with the darker cocoa. You can see the pieces but the bar is much darker; I wish I had saved the previous bar to lay side by side but you all get enough photos on our posts, right? Back to this bar. The first bite makes a crunch and that continues with each bite, the tiny bits of caramel crunch making the most sound. These tiny bits are chewy but not as much as with the milk chocolate for some reason but they do still stick to the tops of some of our teeth. The initial flavor is salt then dark chocolate quickly followed by butter and sweet tanginess that turns back to a blend of flavors with a darker edge. As you know, Sisters and Brothers, your Chocolate Priestess loves darker chocolate 55% is barely dark but in this case it makes a huge difference. Both bars are excellent but I personally preferred this one; my co-tester preferred the milk chocolate one -- complimentary versus similar flavors. For those of you who need to avoid dairy this is the bar you want of the caramel crunch version, because there is no dairy at all.
Dark Chocolate Orange bar has a bright yellow on orange wrapper headline and 65% cacao content. It is made with primarily organic ingredients and natural orange oil; no dairy. There is a strong cocoa and orange fragrance; the orange isn't sweet but more intense than the typical orange scent you get from orange flavored candies and most chocolates. The is very dark brown in color, nearly black. It makes a louder snap when I break off the pieces and breaking it requires more force, common in high cacao chocolate. More dark chocolate scent is released but not more orange when I bring it and my hands have a bit of orange and cocoa scent to them. Since there are no pieces of anything in this bar, let's start with one section simply allowed to melt first -- the first flavor is a slightly dark chocolate followed by a slight orange that is not sweet, just as the fragrance suggested, over the passing minute it takes it to melt in my mouth the bitter and orange build up to an chocolate orange brownie that's been baked until well-done flavor... I like it but I moved on to try it just by chewing. Oddly this one doesn't really much a sound when I bite and the initial dark chocolate is sharp but blends well into the intense orange very quickly. The two flavors stay blended but there is a strong almost acidic aftertaste that I didn't get from letting it melt in my mouth; it makes my tongue tingle! Just a note: this is real orange flavor, no sugar added oils, so it is a bit on the sour and acidic side if you are used to mass produced juice or orange flavored candy. We both liked it but you may be surprised by the intensity of the flavors.
Mint Chocolate with a delicate crunch is in 67% cacao chocolate and has a two-tone green scheme to the wrapper. Dark chocolate and intense peppermint hit my nose as soon as I tear open the silver foil wrapper. This is a very dark color and it looks smooth until you see it it from the broken apart pieces where the inside looks rough but I don't see the "peppermint crisps" listed on the ingredients; they must be very tiny. The bar is very hard to break apart, releasing more dark chocolate and peppermint when I do so but also melting already on my fingers and palms. Taking a bite I note the roughness of the chocolate, it makes soft crunches but also has a rustic sort of feeling to it that reminds me of Mayan or Aztec "made" chocolates. The flavor is initially very dark then the peppermint oils kick in to blend well but leave my tongue cooled and tingling much like the orange oil did. If you don't like the rougher texture you can let a piece melt in your mouth but it only separates the two flavors a bit more and you ultimately still get the graininess on your tongue. We both really loved it but highly recommend chewing this bar.
There you have it, Sisters and Brothers, more wonderful, big chocolate bars from Equal Exchange. Not a bad flavor combination among the four though we each had favorites as you may have teased out in the above paragraphs. For Equal Exchange commitment to social causes, organic foods, and simple chocolate products that taste great, these four bars earn Sacrament Status.