Do you know what a cacao pod looks like? It’s just about the furthest thing physically from your standard bar of chocolate. The source of all the world’s chocolate grows in a range that’s about 20 degrees to the North or South of the Equator. It grows on trees in pods that range in color from green to yellow to deep russet red. When you crack one open you’ll find not a rich brown seed but rather lavender-hued ones surrounded by a pulpy, white “mucilaginous” mass that apparently tastes something like lemonade.
The chocolate that we snack on and bake with has to go through a crazy process of harvesting and sweating and fermenting and roasting and winnowing before it tastes anything like chocolate, and that process has mostly gone on in areas relatively close to where the beans grow. As the cocoa tree grows in a very limited geographical zone, we in the Western world have been mostly removed from the production of chocolate in the centuries since its global introduction.
But, recently that’s been changing. In the past decade or so there has been an influx in what producers are calling “bean-to-bar” chocolate. These chocolate-makers process their cocoa beans (usually from a single origin) into a product in-house, rather than merely melting chocolate from another manufacturer as some of the bigger producers do. These are some of the tastiest chocolate from fair trade, organic, and bean-to-bar producers in the US.
Taza Chocolate Stone-ground in Somerville, MA, this chocolate has a delightful texture that’s unlike anything you’ve had before. They know how complex the flavors in cacao are, so they choose to “do less to bring you more.” The end result is minimally processed chocolate with bold flavor and texture. Snag a sampler pack and try out a range of their amazing flavors like Coffee (using Counter Culture beans) or Guajillo Chile.
Woodblock Chocolate This Portland, OR-based endeavor is involved with the sourcing, shipping, roasting, aging, and tempering of their own cacao beans. Their bars are delightfully tasty, but as they have been the go-to chocolate provider for Stumptown Coffee for their mochas and hot chocolates, their Drinking Chocolate would serve as a great gift idea for the chocoholic in your life.
Ritual Chocolate What better ritual can you imagine than eating a bit of chocolate every day? That’s what the couple who founded Ritual Chocolate were doing when they decided to take a swing at making their own. Based out of Park City, UT, they began crafting delicious, carefully-sourced chocolates that will satisfy all your chocolate cravings.
Raaka Chocolate Brooklyn-based Raaka Chocolate creates bars that are stunningly beautiful and delicious. The wrappers are almost too pretty to rip open, but once you get a whiff of chocolate I don’t think there’s anything that will stop you. Raaka skips the roasting process when making their chocolate, which results in a complex taste that they feel is true to the cacao bean’s nature.
Cacao Prieto Another Brooklyn-based maker, Cacao Prieto creates not only fine, organic, single-origin chocolate from Dominican cacao beans, but also “beans-to-bottle” small batch spirits. If you have a Nutella fan in your life, they’ll love their velvety-smooth version of the spread, but purists we love their bars, too.
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