Wm. Chocolate News, November 2017: Holiday Shopping Info and New Blog Content

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Wm. Chocolate News, November 2017: Holiday Shopping Info and New Blog Content

Holiday Shipping

Good news: I'm extending Free Shipping into December for the holidays. Applies to web orders of any size, with no limits or exclusions. No coupon code needed.

If you haven't browsed the shop in a while, the collection has grown: 7 different bars, featuring 6 outstanding cacao origins, ranging from 68% to 100% dark.

 
 

Please note: for delivery by Christmas, order by Monday, December 18. If you're looking for a particular chocolate bar, earlier is better. Things do tend to sell out this time of year.

Orders can be shipped to anywhere in the United States.


Holiday Shopping in Store

The list of shops with my chocolate has grown--take a look:

Most stores don't carry everything I make. If you want a specific product and need to know if a store has it, please ask. Use the contact form on my website, or send a message on Instagram or Facebook.


New Blog Post on Sugar Content & Nutrition Facts

Have you ever wondered how much sugar is in your chocolate? This month, I wrote a short piece explaining how to easily find sugar content in dark chocolate. The post also explains why most craft chocolate bars don't display nutrition facts.

 
 

Reminder: Good Day Market, 12/8-12/9 in Madison

Shop and connect with small-batch food producers, artists, and lifestyle goods makers from the midwest. I'm a vendor--hit the link to see who else is coming.

Good Day Market, Holiday Edition
at the Madison Masonic Center
Friday, December 8, 2017, 4:30pm-9pm
Saturday, December 9, 2017, 10am-3pm


Wishing you a wonderful holiday season,

-Wm.


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To stay updated between newsletters, follow me on InstagramFacebook, or Twitter.

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How to Find the Sugar Content of Dark Chocolate, Without Nutrition Facts

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How to Find the Sugar Content of Dark Chocolate, Without Nutrition Facts

I've recently received several questions about nutrition data in general, and sugar content in particular. Brief information about these topics is now on my FAQs page, and I want to offer answers here on the blog as well.

Let's focus on sugar content because that's what most of you have asked about. It's simple to figure out for any dark chocolate, and you don't need nutrition facts to do it. Here's the first step:

100 - CACAO PERCENTAGE = ADDED SUGAR PERCENTAGE

The cacao percentage is usually easy to find. Nearly all quality chocolate (including mine) will print it right on the packaging:

 
The percentage is prominently displayed on most quality chocolate bars because it is a key indicator of flavor--namely, of the sweetness level. Lower percentages are sweeter, and higher percentages are less sweet.

The percentage is prominently displayed on most quality chocolate bars because it is a key indicator of flavor--namely, of the sweetness level. Lower percentages are sweeter, and higher percentages are less sweet.

 

Once you have the added sugar percentage figured out, it's easy to calculate exactly how many grams/ounces of sugar are in a given amount of chocolate. Here's that step:

ADDED SUGAR PERCENTAGE x CHOCOLATE MASS = ADDED SUGAR MASS

An example always helps. Let's say you have a 1oz (28g) bar of "75% dark chocolate." Just from the label, you know the cacao percentage is 75%. Using the first formula, we can subtract 75% from 100% to find that 25% of the chocolate is added sugar. Using the second formula, we can take 25% of 1oz. That's easy: .25oz, or about 7g. Cacao itself contains a negligible amount of sugar, so you're done. And now you know there's about 7g of sugar in a 1oz bar of 75% dark chocolate.

What about a 100% bar? Even easier. 100% - 100% = 0% added sugar. No added sugar! That's one reason why 100% bars are increasingly popular. If you're trying to avoid any kind of added sugar but still want chocolate, they can be a great option.


You may be wondering: if it's so easy to calculate sugar content, why don't more craft chocolate makers put it on their bars? A major factor is that once product packaging includes claims about nutrient content, the full nutrition facts panel is required to back them up.

Turns out the laboratory analysis behind nutrition facts is cost prohibitive for most small food manufacturers. On top of that, nutrition facts are usually not the first things craft chocolate customers are curious about. It all adds up to most makers, myself included, avoiding the expense. (For the record, nutrition facts are not required on products with fewer than 100,000 unit sales per year, unless the packaging makes health- or nutrient-related claims).

 
As is common in craft chocolate, my packaging highlights flavor, story, and ingredients rather than nutrition facts.

As is common in craft chocolate, my packaging highlights flavor, story, and ingredients rather than nutrition facts.

 

However, if you are interested in standard nutrition facts data for dark chocolate, it's quickly found. My top suggestion is to do a google search for "dark chocolate [insert your cacao percentage] nutrition facts." Sugar content should be consistent across brands. Fat content will vary somewhat by brand, but you'll get a good estimate.

Of course, you can also look at the nutrition facts on chocolate from companies that do print them on their packaging.

Keep in mind: nutrition facts describe macronutrients (fats, sugars, proteins) and major vitamins and minerals. They won't tell you much about micronutrients--the hundreds of naturally occurring plant chemicals in chocolate and unrefined cane sugar--or about growing and processing methods, all of which affect the integrity of our food. Let your individual dietary concerns and food philosophy be your guides when deciding what information to focus on.

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Wm. Chocolate News, October 2017: Free Shipping for a Month, Two New Bars, & Holiday Markets

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Wm. Chocolate News, October 2017: Free Shipping for a Month, Two New Bars, & Holiday Markets

Free Shipping through the end of November

Starting now, and through the end of November, all orders at my online shop will ship for free.

I like simplicity. That means no minimum order size, no promo codes or coupons to enter, and no limit on how many times you and your friends can take advantage of this offer. Please, have at it.

Orders can be shipped to anywhere in the United States.


Two New Bars

If you follow me on social media or have stopped by one of my markets lately, you may have spotted new Indian and Haitian single-origin bars. Here's more on these new arrivals:

India, Anamalai - 74% Dark

This bar is among the first American craft chocolate bars made with Indian cacao. Expect a nutty base topped with with tangy fruit flavors.

Flavor Profile:

 
 

The full story behind the India bar is available on my chocolate maker's blog.

 

Haiti, Kafupbo - 80% Dark


I share my home base of Madison, WI with Singing Rooster, a nonprofit dedicated to helping Haitian coffee growers, cacao growers, and artists access larger markets. This bar features the cacao produced by Singing Rooster’s farmer partners at the Kafupbo cooperative in northern Haiti. Expect rich, herbal flavors.

Flavor Profile:

 
 

Holiday Markets

I will be sampling & selling my work at the following Madison-area holiday events:

MMoCA Art & Gift Fair
at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art
Saturday, November 18, 2017, 10am-8pm
Sunday, November 19, 2017, 10am-4pm

Good Day Market, Holiday Edition
at the Madison Masonic Center
Friday, December 8, 2017, 4:30pm-9pm
Saturday, December 9, 2017, 10am-3pm


Thanks for reading, and please share my free shipping offer with friends & family near & far who may be interested!

-Wm.


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To stay updated between newsletters, follow me on InstagramFacebook, or Twitter.

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Making the Bar: India Anamalai 74%, Part 4 - Irony as Epilogue

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Making the Bar: India Anamalai 74%, Part 4 - Irony as Epilogue

You'll recall from Part 1 that my India Anamalai 74% bar began as a project to replace a particularly wonderful origin that I had no prospects of restocking: Venezuela Guasare. Eight months after starting the project, my replacement, Indian cacao sourced via Meridian, finally arrived here in Madison, WI. And guess who emails me a week later? Orlando from Cacao Marquez, the producer behind the Venezuela Guasare. It was our first direct exchange--the Guasare I'd purchased last year came through Chocolate Alchemy. What does Orlando tell me? You guessed it: Cacao Marquez has a fresh supply of Guasare ready to gp in Miami.

If you've made it this far in the story, I hope that finish gives you a laugh. But hey, it's all about the process, and I wouldn't change a thing. Connecting with suppliers Uncommon Cacao and Meridian Cacao, both of whom work directly with their producers, has helped bring my operation about as close to origin as it can get without having the scale for direct trade. Not to mention they've both been wonderful partners whose offerings have expanded my cacao rolodex. And now I have this completely unique, first-landing Indian cacao to shape into chocolate.

As for the Guasare, now that I know who to contact to get more, it's only a matter of time before it finds its way back into the lineup.

 
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Making the Bar: India Anamalai 74%, Part 3 - A New Continent

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Making the Bar: India Anamalai 74%, Part 3 - A New Continent

You've reached the final chapter of the story behind my India Anamalai 74% bar. To recap, in Part 1 I was running out of one of my all-time favorite cacao origins, Venezuela Guasare, so I set out to find a replacement that could rival its complex, dynamic flavor profile. Part 2 related how I initially failed to find a suitable replacement, but in the process evaluated some great cacao and connected with a new supplier, Uncommon Cacao.

In Part 2 I mentioned another important supplier: Meridian Cacao. I'd been aware of their offerings for some time but had not established contact for the simple reason that I'd seen so many other makers doing bars with their cacao. If you've seen bars by small craft chocolate makers using cacao from Camino Verde in Ecuador, Oko Caribe in the DR, Akesson's in Madagascar, Ucayali River in Peru, Kokoa Kamili in Tanzania, or the Marou origins in Vietnam, there's a decent chance the cacao came through Meridian.

The fact that these origins are so common among craft chocolate bars speaks to the quality of Meridian's cacao portfolio. And while there's no strict taboo around multiple makers working with the same cacao, as a newer maker, I've been passed over by shops that opt for more established makers in such scenarios. I understand where the shops are coming from, but then you'll also understand why I was hesitant to work with "duplicate" cacao.

For summer 2017, however, Meridian planned to bring on new origins, opening an opportunity to be among the first to offer bars made from the novel cacao. Around the same time, I was working with Cococlectic, a chocolate subscription service, to plan a set of bars for one of their monthly boxes. Cococlectic was looking for the same style of plain, single-origin bar I wanted--complex, dynamic flavors--ideally from less common origins. Meridian's latest offerings were certainly less common: a series of microlots from Trinidad, and a first-ever landing of Indian beans from the Anamalai farm. So I got in touch and received samples shortly after they reached the United States.

 
Surprising summer 2017 samples from Meridian Cacao.

Surprising summer 2017 samples from Meridian Cacao.

 

The test batches that ensued were some of the most surprising I've ever run, though they upheld the core principle of my cacao selection philosophy: never make a decision until the chocolate is finished, tempered, molded, rested at least a day, and tasted.

Up for evaluation were two Trinidad microlots and the India Anamalai. The first Trinidad I opened had an absolutely incredible aroma, like peaches and tropical fruit poached in sweet white wine. The aroma of the second Trinidad had a more restrained maple sweetness. As for the India, its scent was comparatively restrained. These observations held through roasting.

I turned the first Trinidad microlot into chocolate first because, based on its aroma, I thought it would be the most stunning. In the end, very little of that aroma carried through into the finished chocolate. The result was indeed complex, but not as bold as I'd wanted. The second Trinidad arrived in similar territory, with a touch more boldness. As with the previous origins I'd tested for this project, they were great, just not what I was after.

Then came Anamalai. What an unusual chocolate this was. Rather than fit new words onto aging memories, I will simply paste in the evaluation notes I recorded in the middle of it all:

"very curious and surprising bean; intense aroma in grinder, one of the strongest ever, acid and grass, kind of like orange sherbet melting on a bed of hay; flavor very tangy but also smooth and creamy, not at all astringent, and not incredibly chocolatey, when melted; after molding, initial taste very acidic but again like sherbet, not really what I would call bad acid because it’s so clean and smooth and low-astringency; sourdough; grassy still; after a couple days of rest the acidity is much tamed, becoming sweet fruit, and the grassiness is also changed into something nuttier, like tahini; fruit open, nut finish, mingled in the middle, at both roasts, and in this case it’s kind of a cheap grape/strawberry/cherry blend jam and sesame"

With all the acidic aromatics flying off in the refiner, it shouldn't be a surprise that I was skeptical about this cacao at first. But again, nothing matters except the flavors of the finished chocolate. And what a set of flavors it is. Just the kind of complex, dynamic progression I was after--and proof that when considering cacao origins, it's best to keep an open mind.

After all, it was cacao from a relatively unproven country of origin--India--that best matched the complex flavor profile I'd found in cacao sourced from Venezuela, one of the world's most respected cacao-producing countries. Take a look at how similar the flavor profiles are, despite the vast geographical distance between these origins, and their vastly different historical relationships with cacao. Expectations challenged? Absolutely--that's always one of my goals.

Flavor profile: Venezuela Guasare 74% dark

Flavor profile: Venezuela Guasare 74% dark

Flavor profile: India Anamalai 74% dark

Flavor profile: India Anamalai 74% dark

For more on this cacao, visit Meridian's blog.

For an update on the Guasare cacao, continue to the epilogue.

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Making the Bar: India Anamalai 74%, Part 2 - The Long Search

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Making the Bar: India Anamalai 74%, Part 2 - The Long Search

I set the stage in Part 1: when my supply of Guasare cacao ran out, I needed a new origin that offered an equally complex, dynamic flavor profile of its own. Part 2 is all about the process of finding it.

One of the most common questions I'm asked is "how do you get your cacao?" and if nothing else this post will help answer it. Like so many topics in chocolate, the cacao supply chain is too complicated to cover in a single page--if you're interested, please keep reading my blog and over time I'll share more and more of what I learn. I'm here to experience, make meaning, and share, and to operate a business that is open rather than secretive.

For today, the short answer is that like many, if not most, small craft chocolate makers, I get my cacao through specialty cacao suppliers. At the most basic level, these suppliers are companies that connect quality-driven cacao producers to quality-driven chocolate makers, often literally transporting cacao from the former to the latter.

 
Receiving two bags of Dominican cacao purchased through Chocolate Alchemy, an important specialty cacao supplier.

Receiving two bags of Dominican cacao purchased through Chocolate Alchemy, an important specialty cacao supplier.

 

Keep in mind that it is usually impractical for small-scale chocolate makers like me to trade directly with producers at origin. First of all, we aren't able to buy enough cacao to make international shipping cost-effective. We also may lack experience in the complex import/export procedures surrounding cacao, or simply don't want to deal with that side of things. Frankly, there is a lot that can go wrong.

A supplier, on the other hand, can specialize in the steps us small chocolate makers may not have the resources to perform, like buying a full shipping container of cacao, transporting the container by ocean freight, and navigating the import/export process. Then, once the cacao has cleared customs, the supplier can divide it up into smaller lots to sell to multiple makers in the destination country. You may have noticed that many chocolate makers use the same cacao, and this import scenario is the major reason behind it.

There aren't many specialty cacao suppliers out there--to my knowledge, the major players in the United States are Chocolate Alchemy, Uncommon Cacao, and Meridian Cacao, along with a smattering of more origin-specific suppliers. Before starting the Guasare replacement project, I had only worked with one of them directly: Chocolate Alchemy. Chocolate Alchemy was a great place to begin because they offer very small quantities of cacao--as little as a pound. But once I had the scale to buy whole bags of cacao (more like 150 pounds), I could diversify and consider the others as well.

First I branched out to Uncommon Cacao, the supplier behind the Belize beans in my 68% bar as well as a portfolio of cacao origins in Central and South America. Through them I sampled three origins, way back in February 2017: Haiti PISA (balanced, with subtle minerality), Guatemala Monte Grande (balanced, fruity), and Guatemala Lachua (balanced, with tightly integrated complexity). They were all great, but as you can see from my notes, they were all great in a balanced, elegant way. I needed something that was unbalanced, with spikes of flavor, so the search had to continue.

 
Test-batch chocolate does not go to waste, as evidenced by this chocolate-covered banana made with extras from the Guatemala Lachua evaluations.

Test-batch chocolate does not go to waste, as evidenced by this chocolate-covered banana made with extras from the Guatemala Lachua evaluations.

 

I returned to Chocolate Alchemy to evaluate three more origins: Dominican Republic Zorzal (balanced, fruity), Peru Superior (bold spice), and Venezuela Ocumare (complex, restrained). Again, they all made great chocolate that I could devote many paragraphs to, but they didn't fit the style of flavor profile I was chasing.

 
Molding a tiny test batch. By making only a handful of bars per test batch, I can evaluate 2-3 recipes with just a couple pounds of cacao from a given origin.

Molding a tiny test batch. By making only a handful of bars per test batch, I can evaluate 2-3 recipes with just a couple pounds of cacao from a given origin.

 

By now it was March 2017 and I was getting impatient. I'd been through 6 origins without finding the right profile, and my stock of finished Guasare bars was dwindling. So I decided to suspend the search, change direction, and fill the Guasare's void with an old personal favorite from Rizek Cacao in the Dominican Republic.

Ultimately I turned the Rizek cacao into an 85% bar with a complex, integrated flavor profile that offered a completely different flavor experience from the Guasare. It was a challenging bar to make that has found a unique place in my lineup, and I hope to tell more of its story in the future. But I couldn't seem to abandon my original vision for the Guasare replacement, and in early summer 2017, I got another shot at making it a reality.

Continue to Part 3 for the conclusion.

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Making the Bar: India Anamalai 74%, Part 1 - Goodbye Guasare

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Making the Bar: India Anamalai 74%, Part 1 - Goodbye Guasare

My first Making the Bar post told the story of the Honduras Wampusirpi 100% bar--an unplanned bar that came together quickly, almost as if fate were behind it. The story of my latest bar, made with cacao from the Anamalai farm in India, could not be more different.

Even though I knew exactly what I wanted from this bar, it has taken the better part of 2017--about nine months--to make it happen. Why so long? Because I was looking for a very specific type of flavor profile--a profile that offered a series of big flavor notes in distinct succession. It turns out that while there is an abundance of excellent cacao available to chocolate makers, cacao that can make chocolate with this particular type of flavor profile is a relatively rare find.

I had already found one such origin--a Venezuelan varietal called Guasare, produced by Cacao Marquez. I will never forget the Guasare test batch I made in the summer of 2016; it had an almost overpowering aroma of butter and, as it melted, neatly transitioned from citrus and berries to butter to a hazelnut finish. It was love at first taste, and the Guasare bar became part of my lineup from fall 2016 into spring 2017. But by early 2017 I was out of the cacao I needed to make it and had no clear prospects of getting more. The quest to find a comparable replacement is what led to the new Anamalai bar.

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A few final squares of Guasare.

A few final squares of Guasare.

By the time I found a worthy replacement in the Anamalai cacao, I'd considered 16 origins, brought in samples of 9 of these 16 origins through 3 different suppliers, and made and evaluated 21 test batches, all over a span of 6 months. If you have ever wondered what makes craft chocolate different, or why it is more expensive, that's one reason--it starts with a vision, and it can take a huge amount of time and effort to bring that vision to life.

Continue to Part 2, where I'll explain the sourcing process for a small craft chocolate maker.

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Wm. Chocolate News, September 2017: New 100% Bar, Markets & Stores Added

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Wm. Chocolate News, September 2017: New 100% Bar, Markets & Stores Added

New 100% Bar

My latest bar is something different: pure, unsweetened cacao from Honduras. Yes, it's intense! But it's also smooth, flavorful, and less bitter that you might expect, thanks to careful cacao selection and processing techniques. The first batch is out now.


Making the Bar

To mark the new bar's release, I revealed the creative process behind it on my blog. Give the series a read to learn what makes 100% special and how this particular 100% bar took shape.


More Markets

I plan to attend ALL dates of the Madison-area outdoor markets below. Seasons run through the end of October.

Verona Market (new)
Tuesdays, 3:30pm-6:30pm

Hilldale Farmers Market (dates added)
Saturdays, 8am-1pm

Monroe Street Farmers' Market (dates added)
Sundays, 9am-1pm

 
Last week at the Verona Market.

Last week at the Verona Market.

 

More Stores

I know many of you are in WI, but if you know folks in these areas who might be interested in tasting something from our state besides cheese and beer, please share!

Chicago, IL
MCA Chicago

Washington, D.C.
The Chocolate House

Ventura, CA
Ex Voto Chocolates & Confections

West Lafayette, IN (Purdue University)
Greyhouse Coffee & Supply Co. 


As always, thanks for keeping up-to-date! More announcements to come in October.

-Wm.


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Making the Bar: Honduras Wampusirpi 100%, Part 3 - Wrapping Up

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Making the Bar: Honduras Wampusirpi 100%, Part 3 - Wrapping Up

This is the last of three blog posts telling the story of my Honduras Wampusirpi 100% bar, from inspiration (Part 1) to creation (Part 2) to final touches (Part 3).

By the end of Part 2 the recipe was tested and ready to go. One of the big challenges in chocolate making is that larger batches (production scale) behave differently than smaller batches (test batches). The exact reasons for this would take us into technical territory that I will leave alone just now. It's enough to say that there's another layer of thought and experimentation behind scaling a test batch up to a production batch.

Complexities aside, I finished the first production batch in late July, about a month after my friend Andrew had insisted that I make a 100% bar. A month is pretty fast as these things go, but release would have to wait considerably longer.

One surprising and little-known fact about chocolate--good chocolate, at least--is that its flavors can and do change over time. Occasionally the change is drastic, but usually it's much more subtle. In my experience, most of the change happens during the first month after production. Therefore, when I make a new style of bar, I constantly resample it during that first month to get a better handle on what it will taste like when a customer actually gets to it.

Obviously I want to make sure that as the chocolate evolves, it remains delicious, in the most basic sense (and this has never been a problem). But more to the point, I'm looking for tasting notes and final flavor profiles to put on the product packaging. I don't put this information on the packaging to be pretentious or to try to influence what people detect; it's there to help customers decide what they're most likely to enjoy, when they can't sample the chocolate before buying it. Good chocolate is a tiny investment, and customers should have enough information to feel like they're making the right one for their own tastes.

Teasing out tasting notes in a 100% bar is not the easiest task. One of the reasons chocolate is so often sweetened is that the added sweetness helps bring out cacao's natural flavors. Think of how salt makes savory foods more flavorful--sweeteners have a similar effect on cacao. Without sweeteners, the cacao itself can be so intense that it creates what I might call a brick wall of flavor.

Finding the nuance in that brick wall takes practice. And since I was relatively new to 100% bars, I turned to my family, my friend Andrew (the same one who had insisted that I make this bar), and several kind, passionate, and helpful customers--including chocolate blogger Lori at Time To Eat Chocolate--for advance tasting feedback. The final tasting notes and flavor profile owe much to their comments (thank you all), though any disagreements should be directed at me.

 
Flavor profile chart for my Honduras Wampusirpi 100% bar.

Flavor profile chart for my Honduras Wampusirpi 100% bar.

 

With the tasting notes and flavor profile ready to go, I could move on to the last step: designing the final packaging. It's something I personally create for every bar, and I hope to let you in on that process in a future post. Once my design is ready, I send it off to Sherwood Press, a local print shop, for production. 2-4 weeks later, a stack of fresh chocolate bar sleeves arrives, and, after months of work, I can finally pack up the chocolate and let it out into the world. That's when this story becomes yours to experience and tell, as well as mine.

 
From my head and heart, to all who appreciate real chocolate.

From my head and heart, to all who appreciate real chocolate.

 

One of the best things about quality chocolate is that each bar has a unique flavor profile, and that flavor profile can become entangled with our own unique experiences...the people, the settings, and the moods around us when we engage with a bar's particular set of flavors. That means we each have an opportunity to build our own memories and stories around great chocolate, if we let it into our lives. I certainly encourage it.

And to finish my story, whenever I taste the Honduras Wampusirpi 100% bar, I'm back where it all began: on the summer streets of New York City, talking with Andrew, soaking up the positive energy that a big city and a good friend can provide. Even in a blind tasting, I'd know this bar, and the memories I've stashed away in its flavors would rush back in. That's a very powerful feeling in a few grams of chocolate. We might expect that kind of power from a painting, or a song--from art--but how often do we expect it from food? The more I make chocolate from great cacao, the more I'm expecting it in every bite.

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Making the Bar: Honduras Wampusirpi 100%, Part 2 - New Directions

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Making the Bar: Honduras Wampusirpi 100%, Part 2 - New Directions

In Part 1 I told the story of how a chance purchase and a good friend set me on a quest to make my first 100% bar. Much of the work that goes into a new product is rather dry--there are barcodes, and pdfs, and spreadsheets--but before all of that, the infinitely more human forces of travel, chance, and friendship lifted this project off the ground. If you've not yet read that side of the story, start with Part 1. Below in Part 2, I'll give you a look at how I went about developing a challenging bar like this.

When I got back to Madison after the long weekend in New York City, I sketched out my goals for the new 100% bar: it should deliver the stimulating experience my friend Andrew and I had enjoyed, with the gentlest flavors possible given the extreme percentage, and without washing away the single-origin cacao's unique character. This kind of bar demanded cacao with inherent mildness, sweetness, and low acidity. Only a few suitable origins came to mind, and fortunately, I had a supply of one of them on-hand: Honduras Wampusirpi.

 
Pristine cacao from Wampusirpi in Honduras.

Pristine cacao from Wampusirpi in Honduras.

 

Wampusirpi cacao is something I'd become very familiar with in the course of developing my 70% sea salt bar. It's wonderful cacao, both to taste to to work with. (I could go on about it for a long time, and just might in another post.) From previous test batches, I knew that a lighter roast best expressed this cacao's character, to my taste at least. Further, a heavy roast would run the risk of creating more bitterness, which would be undesirable given the goal of making a mild 100%. So, that was one decision down: it would be a lighter roast.

The only problem with lighter roasts is that they can leave behind "off flavors," which need to be handled later on in the process. When I say "off flavors," I mean it: we're talking about flavors like vinegar and dirt and rotting wood. The complex process used to remove flavors like this after roasting is called conching. For this bar, given the light roast, and that there would be no sweetener for off flavors to hide behind, I'd need to be careful to use a long conching cycle. Translated to my equipment, that meant letting my stone grinding machines run for a very long time.

There was one last element to consider: added cocoa butter. This ingredient was on my mind for several reasons. For one thing, I'd seen it mentioned as one of several techniques makers use to create milder 100% bars in a recent article by The Chocolate Journalist. I'd also noted it as an ingredient on the Pump Street Bakery bar that had helped inspire my own 100%.

A little background, if you're not familiar with cocoa butter: it's the fat portion of the cacao bean. In fact, cacao beans are about 50% fat--it's all that fat that makes them turn into a liquid when you grind them. But it's the other part of the bean--the nonfat part--that holds most of the flavor. So, if you add more cocoa fat, you can mellow out the finished chocolate's flavor. Sometimes adding extra cocoa fat creates a smoother, more even melting sensation as well.

 
Cocoa butter, the fat portion of cocoa beans.

Cocoa butter, the fat portion of cocoa beans.

 

How to decide how much cocoa butter to add? As with any of these variables, it's part science and part art. The science part is making test batches that play with the variable you're trying to set. But once the batches are done, it comes down to putting the chocolate in your mouth and forming opinions. That's more of an art.

After running test batches and tasting the results, what I found with this cacao--and every origin is going to be different--was that it worked best at 100% with no added cocoa butter. The added cocoa butter gave the chocolate a waxy mouthfeel, and besides, the cacao ended up being mild enough on its own even at 100%.

Putting it all together, I had the recipe: a light roast, a long conche, and pure Wampusirpi cacao with no added cocoa butter.

Continue to Part 3 for the story of turning this recipe into a finished, packaged product.

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Making the Bar: Honduras Wampusirpi 100%, Part 1 - Old Friends

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Making the Bar: Honduras Wampusirpi 100%, Part 1 - Old Friends

I'm releasing my first 100% bar today, made with nothing but cacao from Wampusirpi in Honduras, and I've decided to let you in on how it all came together. The point isn't to provide chocolate-making tips, or to tell you what to taste or experience from the new bar. Instead, it's to show the human side of how a product like this gets made, and to continue demystifying this food we're calling "craft chocolate." My hope is that wherever you are in your chocolate or food journey, pieces of this story will resonate with you and inspire you to keep enjoying and creating food with a story and a soul. As you'll see, I would never have thought to make this bar if it wasn't for the right mix of travel, chance, and friendship, and it's richer chocolate for it.

Often I create a bar with a specific goal in mind--a flavor profile, a style, an inclusion--but sometimes the bars find me. In this case, the bar found me. In fact, it found me in a bar (the kind where they serve drinks).

The story began this past June when I traveled from my home base in Madison, WI to New York City for a chocolate conference (yes, they exist). During some downtime I was out doing what I like best: walking, seeing art, finding great food (which is, to me, another form of art), and occasionally meeting a friend to share in these pleasures.

Naturally, I made a point of visiting the handful of shops that carry craft chocolate. As I neared the last spot on my list, The Sweet Shop, the dinner hour was fast approaching and I was already operating under something of a theobromine high after an extended visit to The Meadow. I almost continued on my way, but then again I didn't make it to the Upper East Side every day, so I went in. A friendly exchange with the owner led to the purchase of a 100% bar by Pump Street Bakery. Believe it or not, even as a chocolate maker, I hadn't tasted a "craft" 100% bar before and wanted to see what it was all about.

A short while later I met my friend Andrew for dinner and drinks. We'd met during a year of graduate school in New York--he'd stayed, I'd left, and getting to catch up again was a rare pleasure. It had been a classic summer's day--hot--and we were finding refreshment in a meal of lively Thai food, cool beers, and the kind of easy conversation that only comes to kindred spirits. Chocolate came up, of course; my companion was new to craft chocolate, and I had some of the day's finds in my bag, so we began to taste.

We started boldly with the Pump Street 100% bar. Perhaps the beer or the lift of seeing an old friend put me in an optimistic frame of mind, as I wouldn't typically recommend such a high percentage for introducing craft chocolate to newcomers. But it must have been the right call, because when we tasted it we both remarked on not so much the flavors as a sensation of immediate clarity--a heightened "buzz," if you will--that I'd not experienced from chocolate before. It was a feeling that sliced through all the sleepier forces around us: the day's heat still trapped in the concrete outside, the weight of the meal in our bellies, the gentle softening of consciousness brought on by our second beers, and the languorous early evening atmosphere of the bar at which we'd perched.

 
A little inspiration from Pump Street Bakery, Modelo, and The Penrose.

A little inspiration from Pump Street Bakery, Modelo, and The Penrose.

 

We moved on to two lower-percentage bars in search of the same effect--bars from Amedei and Claudio Corallo--but did not find it there. Then back to the 100, and...yes, there it was again, that razor of clarity. I'd been skeptical about the value of making 100% bars, since their flavors can be so opaque, but began to wonder if there wasn't some natural chemical magic to them. Meanwhile, Andrew began to wonder where he could buy his own 100%.

The brief tasting session had quickly transformed his perception of chocolate, and had even challenged mine, which is a rare and exciting thing after several years of immersion in the field. Despite having a wealth of other material to catch up on, we found that our conversation kept returning to the 100% bar. In fact, by the time we were going our separate ways after a final taste, he had me all but convinced that I needed to make my own 100% as soon as humanly possible. And send him a couple, of course.

I landed back in Madison four days later and got straight to work. Continue to Part 2 to read how this bar went from an idea to a reality.

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Wm. Chocolate News, August 2017: Fall Market Updates & Photos from Origin

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Wm. Chocolate News, August 2017: Fall Market Updates & Photos from Origin

Fall Market Updates

 

Outside temperatures are slowly retreating back into the chocolate-safe zone, and that means it's time for farmers' markets again. Here's where I'll be in Madison this fall:

Monroe Street Farmers' Market
dates: 9/3, 9/17, 10/1, 10/15, 10/29

Hilldale Farmers Market
dates: TBA, please check here for current info

I've spent much of the summer developing new bars and perfecting old ones, so if you're in the area, please come out and taste the results!

 
wmchocolate_market_table.jpg
 

Photos from Origin

 

Cacao grows on rainforest trees that can only survive in a narrow tropical band, running about 20 degrees north and south of the equator. These trees that give us chocolate, and the people who grow them, live at a great distance from me, and probably from you as well.

That distance has made it very difficult for most of us to connect with and appreciate the producers at origin who deserve, but rarely receive, much of the credit for any great chocolate bar. To bring us a little closer to these origins and people, I've always devoted packaging space to telling a few words of the origin's story.

But I wanted to go a step further and show you these origins as well. So I asked all of my cacao suppliers to send me a photo. Without fail, they agreed to my requests and I'm now working on a project to incorporate these stunning photos into my packaging. In the meantime, you can preview a handful of the photos on my website, where they're featured on the pages for my GhanaDominican RepublicBelize, and Honduras sea salt bars.

May they bring you closer to the places and people behind your chocolate.

 
Cacao producers in Wampusirpi, Honduras. Courtesy of Cacao Direct.

Cacao producers in Wampusirpi, Honduras. Courtesy of Cacao Direct.

 

See you soon at the markets (or online)!

-Wm.


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Recipe: Easy Single-Origin Chocolate Pudding

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Recipe: Easy Single-Origin Chocolate Pudding

It shouldn't come as a surprise that I tend to accumulate extra chocolate in my line of work. To put that chocolate to good use, I've developed some go-to chocolate-forward recipes that I use in my own kitchen, and I'd like to start sharing them with you. I'm kicking things off today with an easy chocolate pudding recipe--a great option when warm summer days call for a cooler take on chocolate.

My favorite recipes showcase simple, high-quality ingredients, and this chocolate pudding is no exception. It's easy to prepare, and there aren't tons of flavors competing with the chocolate. The point is to taste the character of the chocolate itself.

The fun (and important) part is choosing your chocolate. For a fruitier pudding, go with a fruitier chocolate, like this one from Belize. Or, for a more classic flavor, try chocolate from Ghana. Here's a tip: you may be tempted to add vanilla, but when you're using high-quality chocolate, try skipping it. The added flavor can be a distraction.

As for the sweetener, I like a touch of honey, but feel free to use what you like. Good dark chocolate is usually in the 60-80% range and will benefit from gentle sweetening in this recipe.

To thicken the pudding, my choice is arrowroot powder. It's much less processed than other thickeners and does not add flavor to the pudding--and that's perfect since we want to keep the spotlight on the chocolate! If you haven't worked with arrowroot powder before, it's a great thickening tool to keep in your kitchen arsenal. You'll find it at most natural foods stores, some spice stores, or on Amazon.

Cooking time is about 15 minutes, plus 2-4 hours to chill. Here we go.

 

Ingredients

4 oz of your favorite single-origin dark chocolate, coarsely chopped

2 cups whole milk, preferably from cows raised on pasture (better for the cows and for you)

4 tbsp arrowroot powder

sweetener of your choice, to taste (I like about 3 tbsp honey)

 

To Prepare

In a medium saucepan, combine arrowroot powder and milk, stirring vigorously until arrowroot powder is completely dissolved. There should be no lumps!

Add the chocolate and sweetener to the milk mixture.

Place the saucepan over medium heat. Warm until the chocolate melts and the mixture begins to steam, stirring frequently with a rubber scraper to prevent lumps from forming on the bottom of the pan. Continue heating and stirring until the mixture becomes noticeably thick. Once thickened, immediately remove from heat and transfer contents to containers of your choice.

Chill the pudding in the fridge for several hours before serving. If you enjoy pudding skin, leave pudding uncovered while chilling. Otherwise, cover it to prevent a skin from forming.

 

Serving

To fully savor the flavor of your chocolate, I recommend serving this pudding plain, in small dishes or ramekins, and enjoying it slowly. Fresh fruit or real whipped cream make a nice garnish when the occasion calls for it.

Makes about 2.5 cups / 4-6 servings.

 

Substitutions

Milk: non-dairy milks work, too. Use the same quantity (2 cups).

Arrowroot: cornstarch works, too. Use the same quantity (4 tbsp).

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Does Aging Improve Chocolate?

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Does Aging Improve Chocolate?

It's becoming common to hear craft chocolate makers talk about aging their chocolate to improve flavor. But does it really work? In my experience the answer is, it depends. Here's why.

First we have to understand what the purpose of aging is. I know, it's to improve chocolate's flavor. Under the hood, though, we have a few more specific goals in mind. First, we want to get rid of any bad or "off" flavors. Second, we want to help the good flavors integrate into a pleasant overall tasting experience.

There is little question that aging can help achieve these things. The off flavors? Some of them are volatile, meaning they like to float away into the air rather than stay in the chocolate. And over time, yes, some of them will float away. What about integrating good flavors? After chocolate is molded, its crystal structure continues to develop for a few weeks--the details are complicated, but the result can be a more rounded flavor profile.

 

Some makers age their chocolate in "bulk," meaning large, untempered blocks like this one.

Some makers age their chocolate in "bulk," meaning large, untempered blocks like this one.

How much potential aging has to improve flavor, then, just depends on how the chocolate tastes when it's fresh. Lots of off flavors and an unbalanced flavor profile? Sure, aging is going to help correct those flaws. Few off flavors and a naturally balanced flavor profile? Aging is a waste of time--no flaws to correct!

So, we have to step back one more time to learn what determines how the chocolate tastes when it's fresh. Simply put, there are two factors: cocoa bean quality and production techniques. Some beans have a lot of off flavors, some don't. And some production techniques remove a lot of off flavors, some don't. You get the idea: there are as many scenarios out there as there are cocoa bean origins and production techniques--many, many, many.

Hopefully by now you see that it would be wrong for me to make a blanket statement about aging. However, there are a couple things I will say about aging and craft chocolate. For the most part, craft chocolate makers deliberately select higher quality beans with nice flavor profiles and few off flavors, and use longer running production techniques. This combination of beans and techniques doesn't leave much "bad stuff" behind for aging to fix.

That's why you should take claims about the importance of aging with a grain of salt. Yes, aging can improve flavor in some craft-chocolate scenarios, and rarely would it hurt, but it's certainly not always beneficial. In fact, I have no trouble finding many different beans that produce chocolate that is wonderful without aging, and no more or less wonderful a month or two later. And since these are the beans I choose to work with, aging doesn't make sense in my process.

A final tip: in this post I am talking about aging's ability to make objective improvements to chocolate--like removing musty dirt flavors that we all would find offensive (yes, such flavors can be present in chocolate). Chocolate that does not objectively need improvement when fresh can still change with age. Whether you prefer the fresh or aged version is totally subjective. There's no reason you can't enjoy both.

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Craft Chocolate in 3D, Part 3: Nutrition

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Craft Chocolate in 3D, Part 3: Nutrition

Believe it or not, nutrition was what first pulled me into making chocolate. To some of you, that may sound crazy--after all, chocolate has a reputation for being a fatty, sugary, guilty pleasure. On the other hand, we're seeing more and more claims that chocolate can be a superfood. Which side is right? My purpose is not to settle this debate once and for all; it's just to say that what we call "chocolate" comes in many forms, and that the chocolate the craft industry produces can be a great fit for those of you looking for healthier options. Here's why.

The biggest thing to keep in mind when considering chocolate and our health is that there's lots of stuff in most commercial "chocolate" that isn't chocolate. Read the ingredients on a mass-market chocolate bar the next time you see one. Odds are you'll find mysterious ingredients like soy lecithin, vanillin, and an assortment of unfamiliar powders and vegetable oils. You'll also notice that in many chocolate products, and even in some so-called "dark" chocolates, the first ingredient listed is actually refined sugar. It's hard to see artificial ingredients and lots of refined sugar as beneficial to our health. On top of it, some individuals are allergic to the additives common in mass-market chocolate.

In contrast, craft chocolate makers use only simple, natural ingredients that we've all heard of: usually nothing more than cocoa beans, sugar, and sometimes cocoa butter, which is just the fat portion of the cocoa bean. And, the first ingredient on a bar of craft chocolate is almost always cocoa beans, not sugar. So, if there is any truth to the claim that chocolate is good for you, the way to enjoy its benefits would be to eat chocolate products that are, well, mostly chocolate. Guess what? That's really the only thing craft chocolate makers offer.

 

Left: cocoa beans that have been roasted and cracked. Right: the same, after winnowing to remove the unwanted husk. The primary ingredient in craft chocolate is the stuff on the right--it's 100% chocolate.

Left: cocoa beans that have been roasted and cracked. Right: the same, after winnowing to remove the unwanted husk. The primary ingredient in craft chocolate is the stuff on the right--it's 100% chocolate.

I got into chocolate making because I wanted access to the kind of real chocolate without junk ingredients that craft chocolate makers were producing, and I was having trouble finding it locally. But I also wanted to go a step further and produce a chocolate with no refined sugar. We can debate whether or not refined sugar is bad for you, but in the end, my philosophy is that traditional ingredients are superior, because they have kept communities healthy for hundreds and often thousands of years. Refined sugar--even the most "natural" organic variety--is made using an aggressive, high-heat modern industrial process. I don't believe our food should be subjected to such extremes, so I set out to find a sweetener with more integrity.

My search led to "whole" or "unrefined" cane sugar, a traditional food available in many countries and under many different names. It is nothing more than gently purified and dried sugarcane juice that retains the juice's color, vitamins, and minerals. Whole cane sugar's flavor is richer than refined sugar's, but still allows the flavors of single-origin cocoa beans to shine though with great clarity. Sadly, to my knowledge, whole cane sugar is not produced in the United States. It must be imported. My favorite comes from smallholder farms in India, where, as an added bonus, the cane juice is sun-dried with no fuel and no carbon emissions.

 

Minimally processed whole cane sugar retains the nutrients and light-brown color of cane juice. Whole cane sugar is the only sweetener we use at Wm. Chocolate.

Minimally processed whole cane sugar retains the nutrients and light-brown color of cane juice. Whole cane sugar is the only sweetener we use at Wm. Chocolate.

I hope you'll consider my point of view on sugar, but the bigger idea here is that us craft chocolate makers are independent and often health-conscious. This means we're making an effort to bring options to the table that you won't find elsewhere. Sweetening my products with whole cane sugar is just one example. You'll also find products sweetened with unrefined maple sugar or coconut sugar, dairy-free nut milk chocolates (for those who cannot or choose not to consume dairy), and much more.

So, when it comes to chocolate and your health, here are some facts that aren't up for debate: craft chocolate makers say no to unnatural ingredients, create products that actually contain lots of chocolate, and, collectively, offer genuine choices that are compatible with many different philosophies of healthy eating. And since we make real, high-quality chocolate, it only takes a few nibbles to feel satisfied. These are all great leaps forward in the saga of chocolate and nutrition.

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Craft Chocolate in 3D, Part 2: Ethics

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Craft Chocolate in 3D, Part 2: Ethics

Last time, I shared some thoughts about how the craft chocolate industry is giving us chocolate with flavors that are not only delicious but also interesting, naturally. The best way to find the flavors you like most is to get out there and try some craft chocolate.

This round is a little less hands-on (tastebuds-on?) and considers how craft chocolate can improve the ethical side of the chocolate industry. The short version is that craft chocolate makers are looking for quality rather than quantity, and we're willing to pay for it. It turns out that demand for quality can be a transformational force in the industry.

It helps to first understand how low-quality cocoa is produced. Usually it goes like this: farmers grow and harvest their cocoa, ferment it themselves, dry it themselves, and then take it to market where they sell it at unstable commodity (i.e. global baseline) prices. Because they get the same price for good and bad cocoa alike, there is no reason to consider quality. So, being relatively poor and needing to get paid as quickly as possible, many farmers speed through the fermentation and drying steps. Unfortunately, rushing these steps virtually guarantees a low-quality product.

Producing high-quality cocoa is largely about making investments at origin to solve the fermentation and drying problem. There are a couple ways to do it, but the model I am seeing most often goes like this: farmers grow and harvest their cocoa. Somebody else buys the fresh (unfermented) cocoa from the farmers and then ferments and dries it in a dedicated processing facility. Then the "somebody else" sells the high-quality finished cocoa at above-market prices.

These beans from Ghana are not considered "fine flavor" grade--but thanks to proper fermentation and drying, they make wonderfully rich chocolate.

These beans from Ghana are not considered "fine flavor" grade--but thanks to proper fermentation and drying, they make wonderfully rich chocolate.

The key questions then become who is that "somebody else" and what are their values? Again, there are a couple possibilities. One model is a farmers' co-operative. Basically, all the farmers chip in, maybe with some help from outside investors, to set up a processing facility and hire staff to handle export and other administrative tasks like applying for certifications (Fair Trade, Organic, etc.). This can be a great model because it's usually democratic and the extra money that the finished cocoa brings in stays in the growing community. There's not much to dislike like about it, and as someone who regularly buys cocoa beans I rarely think twice about buying from a co-op.

 

A bag of cocoa from the Oro Verde co-op in Peru, which uses its price premiums to offer technical assistance, medical care, and increased food security to its farmers.

A bag of cocoa from the Oro Verde co-op in Peru, which uses its price premiums to offer technical assistance, medical care, and increased food security to its farmers.

Other models involve outside organizations coming in and providing many of the same services a co-op would. There's really a spectrum here. At one end you have nonprofit groups whose mission is to support the cocoa farming communities, and at the other end you have for-profit companies who do turn out high-quality cocoa but don't pay farmers very well or care a whole lot about the communities at origin. I will say this: what I'm seeing is a good deal more activity at the supportive end of the spectrum. If you want to see it in action, check out two of my favorites, Kokoa Kamili and Maya Mountain Cacao.

The bottom line is that craft chocolate makers typically know the model behind their beans, and that means they can choose what to support. If they demand more cocoa from supportive models, supportive models will prosper and spread. That puts a lot of power to do good in craft chocolate makers' hands.

Plus, no matter what the model is, you just can't escape the fact that producing high-quality cocoa requires investment in infrastructure at origin--in fermentation and drying facilities, in high-quality seedlings, in farmer education, in transportation networks, and more. Regardless of who pays for all this and what they do with the profits, we're talking about new money and new opportunities coming to cocoa-growing areas, which really isn't a part of the low-quality cocoa model.

So here it is in a nutshell. The more craft chocolate makers demand high-quality cocoa beans, the more new money must be invested in cocoa-growing origins to produce them. These investments support social, environmental, and economic development at origin. From an ethical standpoint, that's the big thing craft chocolate has to offer: origins as partners in growth, not sources of cheap labor.

The next time the price tag on a bar of craft chocolate gives you pause, remember this: odds are you're making a meaningful investment not only in the chocolate making company, but also in the origin on the package.

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Craft Chocolate in 3D, Part 1: Flavor

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Craft Chocolate in 3D, Part 1: Flavor

I'm opening with a short series called "Craft Chocolate in 3D", where I'll share some basic information on the three areas in which I think craft chocolate has the most potential to do good: flavor, ethics, and nutrition. Today I'll consider the flavor side of chocolate, because the easiest way into the world of chocolate is through our tastebuds. So, grab a piece of your favorite bar and read on...

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