Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Black Butterfly: Patagonian Super Berry Tea

Today's chocolate bar from Black Butterfly includes more tea from Nectar Apothecary. Nectar is still open, by the way, you just have to order by phone now instead of going into the store. So you can place your order, stop into Black Butterfly for some chocolate, and then by that point your order should be ready to pick up at Nectar. Snazzy, eh?

This tea is the Patagonian Super Berry Tea, sprinkled once more on the 61% dark chocolate. I have to choose the bars whose flavors appeal to me, not just the ones with the colors I like best. But this one definitely drew my eye, as well. The even, red scatters remind me of a Victorian, poplin fabric in a pretty floral. In fact, the floral allusion means that this bar would go particularly well with a bouquet of flowers if anyone is in the gifting mode. (Let me here note that the chocolate's color appears much lighter in the pictures than in person.)

Opening up the black sleeve reveals that familiar sweet dark chocolate aroma. While the lower cocoa content generally goes well with the style of these bars, I also wouldn't mind sometimes going a little darker. Hmmm. I now find myself uncertain whether or not there often tend to be milk chocolate bars in this style. I did also pick up a white chocolate bar this time, but that isn't common. I guess all this is to say that while this dark chocolate is fine, I do welcome some variation, too. 

I immediately tasted the zing of the berries on biting in--especially because I bit right into the middle instead of going for a corner. I wanted to dig in to the tea right from the start. What's interesting is that while the tea layer did at first seem much more even than in the Patagonian Wild Guava Tea bar, the layer is also much thinner. So while you're more likely to get tea in each bite, you're also getting less than with that thick snake swirl in the other bar. I don't say this as either criticism or even praise; it's just different. And I do like that. 

Each of these bars looks different, whether because it has tea or chunks of ginger or because it's red or blue or because it has an even sprinkling or a patterned one. So then each one is a different experience, a different layering of visual, texture, and flavor elements. 

The exact components of the Patagonian Super Berry Tea are maqui berries, blueberries, raspberries, red wine grape skins, Hawthorne leaves, currants, and natural flavorings. While I can't necessarily distinguish each from the other, I do notice that some bites have more of a zing than others. Being that this is a tea that all of these berries come from, the experience of eating them is a tad different from the usual appearance of raspberries in chocolate bars. They have the feeling of being smaller, whether or not that is in fact true.

I do notice that sometimes I find a very hard and crunchy texture. On examining what was causing this crunch, I found what appeared to be a small, round seed, something like a smooth peppercorn. I'm not familiar with maqui berries, so perhaps this is what their seeds look like? These crunches are a little distracting, but not too much.

And I guess even that is part of the fun. These teas seem to add the advantage of common ingredients (like raspberries) with less common ones. So it gives an exploratory feel, a sense of trying something new while still getting a comforting bar of sweet dark chocolate. 

Monday, July 27, 2020

Black Butterfly: Sour Cherry Vanilla & Cardamom Rose

Since I still seem to be having trouble putting out other blog content, let's just go ahead and talk about Black Butterfly all week long, shall we?

After explaining why it's often difficult to review the chocolate truffles/bonbons from Black Butterfly, today I do have two of them to share. I kept it simple with just the two and you know, it worked out quite wonderfully because both of these turned out to be, not only new flavors to me, but also chocolates after my own heart.

The look of these two is perhaps simpler than some of her work, yet they're still beautiful. The Cardamom Rose is the one on the left. It comes in a rose petal shade of pink with a bolt of pearly lighting going across. Elegant and feminine. The Sour Cherry Vanilla has deep hot pink color with more of the pearly white. In normal times, you can take chocolate making classes at Black Butterfly. Somehow I think, though, that even with lessons it would take me a while to be able to paint chocolate as beautifully, even with simple looks like this.

We'll start with the Sour Cherry Vanilla. There is a vanilla ganache topped with the cherry element. So it is much like a gourmet take on a cherry cordial without the whole cherry. The dark chocolate gives a sweet element--in a positive way since cherry and vanilla are on the sweeter side of things. Yet you wouldn't want to do this with milk chocolate. The cherry isn't at all sour to me, whether because I'm tasting it alongside the vanilla and the chocolate or because I recently bought a bottle of sour cherry juice from Lakewood Organic (they do the 100%, not from concentrate juices) and that was sour. Cherry and vanilla have a comforting, somewhat nostalgic feel. So this chocolate was greatly enjoyable.

Now for the Cardamom Rose. I had just been observing that most chocolate makers don't seem to be doing much with rose lately. Lavender, yes, but not rose. And I do love rose. Rose oil, rose tea, rose lemonade, rose Turkish Delight, rose soap, rose shampoo, and rose chocolate. So I guess Tracy Taylor heard me because she pointed this one out as a new flavor.

The sides and top of this chocolate are white chocolate, while the bottom layer is milk chocolate. When paired with the white chocolate, the cardamom is sweet. The rose is light rather than strong. I mean, I wouldn't mind more of a rose cream, something like that, in the future, something that can highlight just the rose. But that isn't a complaint against this current chocolate: it's lovely.

Because of the cardamom, the effect is like a sweet chai tea, soft and feminine. The white chocolate stands in for the milk and the milk chocolate is I suppose the black tea element. Spices and flowers plus milk and sugar. More gentle than strong, even though cardamom can be a strong spice.

Which of these two you prefer will depend on your own flavor preferences. Both, though, will make an excellent choice if you find yourself by Black Butterfly. Must keep our small businesses in business. Coming up later I'll have two more flavored chocolate bars, as well.

Saturday, July 25, 2020

Alter Eco: Grass Fed Milk Chocolate

At first it just sounded like an interesting concept. Grass Fed Milk chocolate. I mean, when I buy beef, I buy grass fed--so why not include that as a marketing tag in chocolate, too? I wondered if it would be different in flavor from their regular milk chocolate. Making positive changes in ingredients is a good thing even if it doesn't noticeably affect flavor, but if flavor isn't noticeably changed then it might not be worth me doing a separate review, see?

Then, though, I realized that I don't seem to have ever reviewed milk chocolate from Alter Eco. Which then caused me to realize that I don't remember ever seeing milk chocolate from them before. (If this seems unknowledgeable of me, remember that I've been reviewing chocolate for eleven years. That's a lot of chocolate to try and memorize.) Correct me if I'm wrong, but I do believe the Grass Fed Milk line is their first foray into milk chocolate (though one of their dark chocolates is 47% cocoa and this milk chocolate comes in at 46%, which is pretty close). That's exciting, then, the concept that they started off with just dark and now feel like they've found a comfortable way to approach milk.

And they who provide the milk are Swiss cows from open pastures in the Alpine Valleys. In case you were wondering.

The aroma is certainly rich and milky, as you might expect from milk chocolate that is both Swiss and of a higher cocoa content. The flavor, though, has kind of a dulled out cocoa taste, almost watery. That is to say, it isn't as rich as I tend to expect from a darker milk chocolate. Yet it also isn't quite as sweet as I'd expected from the aroma.

So what is it then if not chocolatey or sugary? Milky, I suppose. The mild dark chocolate flavor combined with this makes this chocolate bar not entirely unlike a scoop of chocolate ice cream. Which is not necessarily a bad thing, just not what I favor.

I do also notice a certain taste that makes me think of Hershey's, not so much a Hershey's bar but a Hershey's Kiss or something like that (the thickness makes a big difference for flavor). Along with the raw cane sugar, cocoa beans, cocoa butter, and whole milk, you will also find butterfat in the ingredients of this chocolate bar. And butterfat is of course something that Hershey's also uses. So perhaps it's that extra fatty milkiness that I'm tasting? Granted, it is better than a Hershey's bar. If you enjoy Hershey's, you'll probably quite like this one. The line at the bottom of the card box does after all, say "creamy nostalgic smooth." And Hershey's is nostalgic.

For myself, however, I'm less than thrilled about that association. Usually when I get a milk chocolate bar, I gobble it up much quicker than the dark chocolates. But this one has been sitting around for a few days without being attacked. Of course, Alter Eco still gets points for their positive values and ingredients and this chocolate is better than other fair trade milk chocolates on the market (am I pointing too closely at Equal Exchange?). It's worth trying out to see your personal opinion on it. But I'd much rather reach for something from Theo, for instance.

Monday, July 20, 2020

Beatrix the Nature-Lover

We all know Beatrix Potter as the creator of Peter Rabbit--both the text and illustrations. Yet I think the impression today of her work is that it is pretty and cutesy. After all, her children's books are about bunnies and mice and hedgehogs and tea and gardens and flowers. Cutesy things, right? And all her pictures of animals are pretty, right?

While I'm not saying that this isn't true, it is also worth recalling that her work is also extremely detailed and accurate. She studied plants and animals in order to copy them down realistically. So the cuteness isn't because she made the bunnies' eyes huge and colored their fur in pink and purple; it's because they are cute animals and she captures the spirit of their movement and ways of being.

The Art of Beatrix Potter by Emily Zach has been sitting on my shelf without a complete, cover-to-cover read for a couple of years now. It came out in 2016 and that may very well be the year in which I acquired it. This book emphasizes Beatrix's interests in the natural world at different points in her life. She observed the landscapes in the country at the various places she visited. At one point, mushrooms were her primary interest. At another, she was able to delve more into fossils.

Animals, though, animals were always big for her. She kept pets from a child to an adult and observed them alongside animals out in the wild. I knew this. (Miss Potter, by the way, if you've yet to see it, is a lovely biopic that might not go into all the details of her life, but does paint a nice picture of a slice of her story.) Yet in reading this book, I was reminded of that sense of realism and accurate details in her illustrations.

Yes, Peter's blue jacket may be fantasy, but that's the point. She adds in the whimsical details to a rabbit who otherwise still looks like a rabbit. Her stories are charming and witty or simply entertaining. But the settings are meant to be familiar. I suppose I may also not have noticed that being that I did not grow up around English gardens. The plants and animals I grew up seeing were different--so Beatrix Potter's bunnies and ducks and cats went right along with the cutesy impression of tea parties and turn-of-the-century dresses. (That's another side note: the style of the clothing today adds to that impression, but when she did the illustrations she was mainly just drawing clothing of her time, with some exceptions like The Tailer of Gloucester, which was set in the 18th century, right? Oh, we really could talk all day about how the original intent of an artistic work changes almost drastically over a hundred years.)

So this book gives quite a different appreciation for her work. It would also be particularly interesting if you are also an artist/illustrator because you can see studies that she did for specific books or animals. You get more of an idea of all the work that took place in order to get to the final product that we have all seen.

Friday, July 17, 2020

Zak's Chocolate: Dominican Elvesia 70%

Now would be a good time to draw attention again to the handmade paper that Zak's Chocolate uses to wrap up their bars. Obviously I wish to draw attention to it with this particular bar because green is  usually my color of choice, so this green and gold packaging I find especially attractive. It also goes well with the light blue foil paper inside.

Today's bar is the Dominican Elvesia 70%. Elvesia didn't sound familiar to me (not that I know every cocoa plantation by name, but names start to at least ring a bell after a while), so I might also turn your attention to this article from Taza if you're interested in reading more about the particular area and its cocoa.

As this chocolate begins to melt, it has something of a muddy flavor, nice and chocolatey. This quickly becomes intoxicating with a fruit flavor like dried banana nut or the like. A little more of a zing follows, then smoothens out again. So while it's fruity, it isn't so bright and citrusy as some fruity chocolates are. This one is more mellow, deeper, and more sensual. After you pass the halfway point, the flavor becomes creamy with delicate chocolate flavor. The zing plays slightly on the edges and the finish once more is delicate.

The flavor notes are tropical fruits and earthy maple. Well, banana is a tropical fruit and muddy is earthy, so I came to a similar description. Now, going back to the creaminess I described, dare I call this chocolate a dark chocolate for milk chocolate people? (Not to say that dark chocolate people won't like it, just that milk chocolate people might find it more appealing than they generally find dark chocolate.) It's an extremely inviting dark chocolate, such that I imagine it would appeal to a wide range of palates.

Unless perhaps I'm just saying that because I'm enjoying it so much. But since I was able to do a side by side with the Peru Maranon 80% from last week, I can't say that I liked that one less than this one. They're both great, just different. This one is more nuanced, while also being obviously a lower cocoa percentage and therefore slightly more towards the sweeter side. It's the type of chocolate I'd be excited to share with someone new to artisan chocolate. It'll take you on a beautiful flavor journey.

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

The Belonging You Seek

I was walking.

I picked up some flowers.

I spread them on the earth.

They grew into a ladder.

I started climbing but my ladder began to fall.

So I spread my wings and flew instead.

"The belonging you seek is not behind you. It is ahead," so said Maz to Rey in The Force Awakens. And so Rey pushed on forward into the new life she was discovering and in so doing she learned the answers about her past that she was seeking and she found her place in life and in herself. She learned her identity--and that it had nothing to do with her past.

When Jesus healed the man at the pool, he said to him, "Rise, take up thy bed, and walk" (John 5:8). What do free writing, Star Wars, and a Bible verse have in common? Just some musings on what it means to walk. Do you ever marvel at physically walking? If you've ever been bedridden in your life, maybe you have; the rest of us, perhaps not so much. But if you try and think about your steps, it's difficult to--and it's strange to walk naturally and get to your designation if you're busy thinking about all the muscles that have to move for each step and all the places where you have placed your feet before. But if you just watch where you're going and keep your eyes ahead, the walking is natural and not so strange.

Midweek musings, musings.

Friday, July 10, 2020

Zak's Chocolate: Peru Maranon 87%

I felt certain that I had reviewed Zak's Chocolate's Peru Maranon bar before--until I checked against my labels and didn't see it. Checking for Peru Maranon, though, brings up the one from Ritual Chocolate that I looked at last August. That one came in at a standard 75% cacao, while this Zak's bar is 87%. You can buy it from them in 70%, as well, or even the three bar flight that also includes a 99.9%. Usually the 80's range is what I gravitate toward when it's available (I say when because for most companies, 70-some is the standard).

The smooth and silvery chocolate aroma I once again wanted to describe as smoky yet still found the word not quite right. As the chocolate begins to melt, there is a light bitterness that develops into a lightly deep taste; it is rich and earthy. The flavor softens, with a tang on the edges, before coming to a delicate finish, especially for something that began with that feathery bitterness.

Granted, of course, the bitterness varies depending on when in the day you eat it. I always take my initial notes on chocolate around 11:00 in the morning; at 8:00 PM I still got about the same flavor, but there was zero bitterness in the early afternoon.

I suppose I'm rambling in order to say that while I use the word bitter, I would not call this a bitter bar of chocolate. It's rich and loamy, like what the trees were eating at the feast at the end of Prince Caspian (surely there are Narnia people still out there who get the reference, right?). That makes for a fascinating flavor: at once simple and chocolatey while also textured. Quite similar, then, to the effect I'd observed in Ritual's chocolate, as well, just stronger here because of the higher cocoa content. As for any more comparison between the two bars, I'd have to have them side by side or at least be looking at them with less time than nearly a year in between.

I'd recommend this particular chocolate bar for when you're wanting classic, rich chocolate flavor with an edge to it. This bar highlights that slightly higher cocoa percentage well, allowing for deeper chocolate flavor without strong bitterness.

Thursday, July 9, 2020

Diet Is a Noun

When I was in first grade, we had to do a report on an animal of our choosing. My favorite animal at the time was a horse, so my mom helped me make a barn and I hot glued one of my toy horses into the setup (hot glue being perfect because after the report is done, it just peels right off without damaging the toy). We also had to write out certain facts on our chosen animal: habitat and diet, things like that. Diet, yes, that means what they eat.

I think perhaps our everyday vocabulary too often forgets that diet isn't just a verb; it's a noun, and not just a noun referring to the verb. Everyone who eats has a diet, but that doesn't mean that you're "dieting." So being aware of your diet as "how you eat" is something that we can all do.

This is why I've been focusing not so much on things to not eat as on things to eat. Instead of focusing on not eating, for instance, potatoes, which I used to always buy, I've been enjoying berries. Who even knew I enjoyed berries? I always said, I don't like berries, do you want the berries off of my dessert? But the berries I've been buying are pretty nice.

I guess it was like that with a lot of things, though. I only recently starting eating artichokes; now I'm rather in love with them. It took a while to warm up to asparagus, that elegant vegetable. Growing up, I used to always eat each bite of salmon with some salad greens because I didn't really like the salmon otherwise; now I forget the history behind that and think that it's just flavor pairing. Some things you just have to get used to.

Not that you need to get used to everything. Tomatoes I cannot eat because I simply don't like them--and fittingly enough, I now find that tomatoes, even in things like sauces, probably aren't a suggested food for me personally. Dandelion greens would be very healthy, but even my bearded dragon doesn't eat those; I thought arugula was strong until the day I tried dandelion greens.

I simply mean to say, enjoy eating good things. Food makes such a difference, as does out attitude towards it. Find what foods are healthy towards you personally and eat them. There are so many foods in the world (especially if you're living in a country where you can walk into a store and pretty much buy whatever food you can think of), so don't focus on the ones you're not eating; focus on the ones that you are enjoying. When I did that report in first grade, I didn't list all the foods that horses don't eat; I just wrote down what they do eat.

Monday, July 6, 2020

Songs of Change

Last fall, I was keeping close the Hillsong United song "Oceans (Where Feet May Fail)." Consider those words: "Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander, where my faith will be made stronger, in the presence of my Savior." Those are powerful words; don't say them idly.

As 2020 began, it was Michael W. Smith's "Waymaker." This song is about declaring who God is and then letting him take you where you will go. The declaration: "You are waymaker, miracle worker, promise keeper, light in the darkness, my God, that is who you are." The promise: "Even when I don't see it you're working, even when I don't feel it you're working, you never stop, you never stop working." Early on, it was clear to me that 2020 was a bridge year for me; it began when I asked to go where I could not go on my own. And where I am now I could not have gone on my own--and I'm still not all the way across that bridge.

2020 has affected us all in different ways and yes, even for different reasons. Most of us, though, have felt that 2020 is unique from other years. So what do we do with that?

Well, we keep our eyes heavenward and let the bridge take us where we can't go on out own. And if you're wanting louder music than the two songs previously mentioned, I've also been listening to Skillet a lot lately, so might I suggest "Terrify the Dark" or "Breaking Free."

Saturday, July 4, 2020

GoodPop: Chocolate Fudge

Happy Fourth of July, everyone.

In celebration, I thought I would give a nod to some ice cream in the form of the organic, vegan, gluten-free, fair trade Chocolate Fudge Pops from GoodPop. As I've mentioned, it's nice to see more types of products, not just chocolate bars, making an effort to join the fair trade movement.

While I don't drink milk, I also don't buy ice cream very often, so when I do I've usually just been buying regular ice cream. I'm thinking now, though, to go back to the non-dairy options. That section of the store has changed, though, since I last took a good look at it. It used to be all about soy ice cream and now there seemed to hardly be any made with soy. It's all about the coconut cream now. And I'm not exactly thrilled about that.

Everyone is choosing dairy alternatives for different reasons, so I can't generalize. But a percentage of people cutting out dairy might also be cutting out coconut cream (distinct from coconut water). And there is also the percentage of people who simply don't care for the taste of coconut, as I so emphasized in my review of the Charm School white chocolate a couple months ago. GoodPop does not use coconut cream in all of their products; it's only in the creamy, milky ones like the Chocolate Fudge, Coldbrew Latte, Orange N' Cream, or Strawberry Shortcake. So fruit pops like the Watermelon Agave or Cherry Limeade will still be clear of coconut.

Does that brand still even exist that made those wonderful tofu fudge pops? Those were good, nothing "alternative" about them even to me as a ten-year-old. Anyways, these are a little different from standard, dairy fudge pops, but not too much. Yes, there is a light coconut flavor, but the chocolate is strong enough that the coconut sinks to the background. I probably would look to find another brand I could try next time, but if for some reason these were the only fudge pops I could have, I'd be okay with that.

They have a somewhat richer and darker color than is standard. They also seem to take a tad longer to thaw to a comfortable eating temperature and soft texture. I should mention, also, that the only sweetener here is coconut sugar. Given that the ingredients are all pretty minimal and of quality, the flavor here is good. Your focus goes to the chocolate, which is rich and creamy. And that's exactly what is called for in a summery indulgence.

So provided that you don't mind the inclusion of coconut cream, these chocolate pops are a nice non-dairy option. Now I think I will go continue celebrating by putting a patriotic hat on my bearded dragon.

Friday, July 3, 2020

Black Butterfly: Patagonian Wild Guava Tea

The reason that I have not reviewed anything from Black Butterfly since October 2018 is that Tracy Taylor makes many beautiful chocolate bonbons and such small chocolates are better eaten right away if the weather is warm. They usually can't take a drive back down to the valley, unless properly stowed in a cool environment (which is certainly not the way I keep my car, air conditioning or no). So while I have been there a few times in the last year or two, somehow I've not reviewed anything.

And now is the time to remember to spotlight the small businesses. So now I have a Patagonian Wild Guava Tea bar to share. Besides the chocolates in the glass case, Black Butterfly also always has speckled bars like this and bags of bark and such like. The chocolate here is a 61% dark and the Patagonian Wild Guava Tea is from Nectar Apothecary. Talk about spotlighting small businesses. Nectar Apothecary is also a favorite of mine. They sell bulk herbs and teas and oils and shea butter. They also have an amazing bar dish soap. They're just around the corner from Black Butterfly, so you can always visit them in pairs.

What exactly is in this tea, you ask? Well, Chilean wild guava, quince, linden flowers, strawberries, and eucalyptus. It all sounded pretty normal until we got to the eucalyptus, right? The tea makes a thick snake on the surface of the chocolate bar. The look is quite feminine, what with the pale fruit and the light red strawberries contrasting against the dark brown background. The aroma of the chocolate is quite sweet.

Because the tea snake runs through the middle of the bar, the first bite was mainly chocolate. Smooth and sweet as expected, like semisweet chocolate chips. Because it has been hanging out next to the fragrant tea, even the plain bites will have just a hint of other flavors to them. Mainly, though, of course, you taste the tea when you bite into it. As I was taking that second bite into the heart of the tea snake, I smelled the eucalyptus--and then tasted it.

 I was transported to the Arboretum in Southern California. To childhood, that is. So in fact, the light and fun, sweeter dark chocolate goes well with that feeling. While eucalyptus first sounds a little different to have in chocolate, something about it is akin to mint, anyway, isn't it, and mint is more common than anything in chocolate. Eucalyptus being a strong flavor, it does tend to dominate. But there is also a zingy flavor from the fruits that goes along with that lighthearted, outdoorsy, summery feel.

Initially I'd thought it would be nicer to have the tea cover the whole bar instead of just that snake in the middle. But the flavors of the tea can in fact be quite strong, so having a buffer isn't necessarily a bad thing if you're going to eat more than two bites. But given that it's so flavorful, I'm more of a two bite person on this one, not surprisingly. Once more, Black Butterfly brings chocolate that is both beautiful and artfully flavored.

Wednesday, July 1, 2020


In the interest of not seeming like I am becoming solely a chocolate blog, I thought I'd best put out something besides weekly chocolate reviews (I almost just put out two reviews this week rather than post about anything else). I have not been posting much because I simply have not known what to write--and sometimes have not had either the inclination or the energy for it.

I'm serious about the energy part. I've been saying, I'm exhausted, at least a couple times a day for the past week--and not because I have been exerting anymore energy than usual. While that would make for a topic, one likes not to write about things publicly until one has something more complete to share and can then decide what exactly to say. Suffice to say that I may have the virus to thank for not rushing out to have surgery before considering other options.

Emotionally we've all been all over the place, except that I'm always all over the place emotionally. I'll talk about my emotions by proxy in public spaces like this blog. That is, I'll say how I felt going to a certain place or reading a certain book or watching a certain show, etc. Reading between the lines probably says a lot about where I'm at at any given time, but I don't go outright and say much.

I have been reading more again, so you'd think that might give me something to post about. But I'm reading a lot of movie books and that sort of thing and usually those don't make for good discussion topics. For a while, all I was watching was YouTube or Wishbone (that wonderful 90's children's show with the Jack Russell Terrier who would draw parallels with what was happening with his middle-school owner and with classic literature).

I guess I've just been overwhelmed and mentally tired. And now that I'm feeling physically tired, I'm feeling better mentally, isn't that funny? I feel content and happy and hopeful. I feel more myself again. I've been floating around through the spaces between tree leaves and all the way back down to the tree roots deep in the ground, that's where I've been. And now I find myself sitting above the ground, with my back against the tree; the tree feels nice, something strong and sturdy.

So maybe now there can be more posts again besides just the chocolate reviews. And don't worry, those won't stop. There are already a few in queue.