With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, I’m sure you can imagine what the big seller is right now…why chocolate of course! So what better way to celebrate Valentine’s Day than to write an article about chocolate? The idea for this article went something like this:
Valentine’s Day = chocolate –> dark chocolate? –> antioxidants? –> organic and fair trade –> our own taste test –> no, let’s have a taste testing party!!
And so began our task of finding good, organic and fair trade chocolate. Why organic and fair trade chocolate? We have written past articles on organic and fair trade if you are interested in a more in-depth definition, but the short of it is, we wanted to introduce everyone to better options for chocolate…better for the earth, better for the human race, better for our bodies. Sustainability as defined by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is “the ability to meet society’s present needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” Organic and fair trade does just that. Organic benefits the soil and our own health and fair trade promotes community health, both in turn benefitting future generations.
I found quite a few organic and fair trade chocolate companies by doing some Google searches and sent an email to several companies asking if they’d be open to sending samples for our taste testing. Much to our surprise, we received quite a few responses! The chocolate companies that were a part of our taste testing kindly sent plenty of samples for our little party. I give all these companies a high rating for customer service. Everyone I corresponded with was really nice and very supportive of what Deena and I are doing with our taste testing as well as our site in general.
Then it was time to choose our taste tester. I am constantly touched by how many of my friends read our blog and support what we are doing. There have been a couple friends who have supported us when this was just an idea in our heads and a few others who have been loyal followers. So it was important to me to make sure this handful of ladies knew how much I appreciated their support. And what better way to thank someone than with chocolate?!
The final preparation was to determine how to do a chocolate tasting. It was a lot more involved than I expected! It’s a lot like wine tasting…there are many things to look for in good quality chocolate:
- Sight – Look for high shine, even coloring and smooth, unblemished surface. This is a sign of good tempering, which is the process of heating and cooling the chocolate to align the crystals.
- Touch – Chocolate should be firm, not greasy, grainy, sticky or waxy.
- Snap – Fine chocolate breaks cleanly with crisp edges…no crumbling. The darker the chocolate (higher cacao/cocoa content) the snappier the sound.
- Smell – Warming the chocolate between your fingers releases more of the aroma.
- Taste – Be sure to hit all parts of your tongue…the front of the tongue tastes sweetness, back is bitter, front sides is sour and back sides is salty. Premium chocolate has a taste that will last.
The best part of the chocolate tasting for me was getting the packages in the mail. It was like Christmas! As I mentioned, great customer service by all companies. And, as determined during the taste testing, all of the chocolates were, no doubt, good quality chocolate. So it all came down to flavor in the end, and I think each company had a bar that was liked by everyone.
I have featured each company below (in alphabetical order), with some descriptions of the chocolates we tasted from each:
Endangered Species Chocolate: Fair Trade Certified and USDA organic chocolates based in Indianapolis, IN. As the name suggests, this company is heavily involved in protecting the environment and its inhabitants by giving back to wildlife foundations. Packaging of chocolate bars have a picture of an at-risk species with educational information about the species on the inside of the wrapper. Vegan and gluten-free chocolate is available.
Can be purchased at: Online, Whole Foods and other specialty stores (see website for details)
Notes: Endangered Species sent us Milk Chocolate (43% cocoa) and Dark Chocolate (70% cocoa). This was the first chocolate we tasted and I think everyone was surprised at how good it was. We are all accustomed to purchasing cheaper, more mainstream chocolate, and the taste of this chocolate clearly raised the bar for us. Everyone loved the quality, the taste, the packaging and the philosophy of the company. One taster said that the milk chocolate had “just the right amount of sweetness” and another about the dark chocolate said, “I’m not a dark chocolate fan, but this could change things.”
Lake Champlain Chocolates: Organic chocolate produced on-site in their Vermont warehouse. They are not fair trade certified because they do not buy raw cacao bean, but rather they are a 3rd tier producer, buying prepared chocolate through another manufacturer. Their philosophy however does not support poor farm conditions and child slavery so they are careful who they choose to partner with.
Can be purchased at: Retail store in Burlington, Vermont, online, Whole Foods, and other specialty stores (see website for details)
Notes: Lake Champlain sent us their two organic best sellers, Milk Sea Salt & Almond Chocolate Bar and Dark Spicy Aztec Chocolate Bar. I think the Sea Salt & Almond was a favorite by all. One taster said, “The combination of sea salt, almonds and milk chocolate was amazing. The perfect combination of salty and sweet.” The Dark Spicy Aztec had mixed reactions only because some of the tasters do not like spicy foods. The cayenne pepper in this chocolate bar really stands out. One person said it was “spicy and flavorful” and another “really liked the combo.” It was actually a popular choice to take home to the hubbies who like spicy foods.
Newman’s Own Organic: A division of the larger Newman’s Own company started in 1995. Rainforest Alliance Certified and USDA Organic chocolates based in California. Products generate money for the Newman’s Own Foundation, which has given away over $250 million to educational and charitable organizations since 1982. Other products include cookies, peanut butter cups, coffee, and pet food, just to name a few.
Can be purchased at: Online (several sites including Amazon) and Whole Foods
Notes: Newman’s Own Organic was very generous in the bars they sent, and even sent me some press releases regarding the company. The chocolates I chose for the tasting were Milk Chocolate (34% cocoa), Espresso Dark Chocolate (54% cocoa), Orange Dark Chocolate (54% cocoa), and their new Super Dark Chocolate (70% cocoa). All bars got great reviews on quality and taste. The Orange Dark Chocolate definitely had a strong fruity flavor so it’s definitely one where you have to like fruit mixed with your chocolate, which most of the tasters did. The Espresso Dark Chocolate received rave reviews by the coffee lovers of the group (including myself). One person said, “Yum! This would be great in a coffee cup!”
Sweet Earth Chocolates: Fair Trade Certified and USDA organic chocolates based in California. Currently their beans come from either the Dominican Republic, Peru or Costa Rica, the only countries in the world where there are farmers’ cooperatives that are certified organic and Fair Trade. A portion of Sweet Earth’s profits from chocolate bars go to support West African cooperatives in their efforts to become organic. Vegan chocolates are available.
Can be purchased at: Retail store in San Luis Obispo, California or online
Notes: This was the first box of chocolates I received and since they sent an assortment of their Valentine’s Day chocolates, I felt like Valentine’s Day had come early for me! I actually placed the box out of sight so I wouldn’t be tempted to have just one taste…and then another and another. This group was harder to taste test because the flavors were quite an assortment and the taste testers just picked what appealed to them. There was heart shaped Hazelnut, Vegan Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter and Chocolate Caramel Vegan just to name a few. This assortment reminded me of what you would get in a heart shaped box for Valentine’s Day, but only better because of the organic and fair trade characteristic and unique flavor combinations! I think being able to buy vegan chocolates opens up the chocolate world to those who normally wouldn’t eat it because of certain dietary restrictions.
Sweet Riot Chocolates: Fair Trade Certified and USDA organic chocolates based in New York City. Cacao is sourced directly from Latin American and packaging is super adorable, recyclable and reusable tins which feature emerging artists. This company is “young at heart, energetic, down-to-earth and contribute to the greater good.”
Can be purchased at: Online, Safeway, Wegmans, Whole Foods, World Market
Notes: Sweet Riot Chocolates unfortunately weren’t delivered in time for the taste testing party. I blame the weather for the delay. But this just means there is more chocolate to include in our next giveaway…did I just say giveaway? Yes I did. Stay tuned for details in the next couple days, but I can tell you that it involves….chocolate!
In closing, I truly want to thank all the chocolate companies involved. They were all wonderful to work with and I definitely recommend each and every one of them. Please consider these companies for your Valentine’s Day purchases, and other chocolate purchases throughout the year. I would also like to thank our chocolate tasters. I hope I didn’t have to twist your arms too much to come over and eat chocolate with me!