I'm on a journey to explore the world of American craft chocolate

Notes From the Underground Chocolate Salon

A few weeks ago I visited Seattle for the Northwest Chocolate Festival and hung out with all the serious chocoholics, including feeding them bean-to-bar chocolate and confections made with that chocolate in my session on Sunday. While I was in town I figured I’d dust off the ol’ Underground Chocolate Salon, which is on a break for the next few months, for a very special session, at Chocolopolis.

If you haven’t heard of my Underground Chocolate Salons, you’re probably wondering what the heck they are. I’ve always been jealous of Paris in the 1920s, when artistic and literary luminaries gathered at Gertrude Stein’s house to talk and hang out: Picasso, Cézanne, Joyce, Eliot, Cocteau. Only one thing would have made it better: chocolate. That’s why I started what I’m calling the Underground Chocolate Salon, for like-minded (or not so like-minded) people to get together and talk chocolate, as well as enjoy one another’s company.

This time it was a packed house, with so many good palates that I didn’t know which way to turn. We also heard some great first memories of chocolate bars, including sneaking baking chocolate out of the cabinet — and liking it!

The selections, as you’ll see, were mixed. You might notice that I’m editorializing these comments more than usual, since the tasting went very differently than I’d expected.

Noir d'Ebene 55% Chuao

This bar came from a relatively new maker in Chicago and was completely untested ahead of time!

Tasting Notes: Looked bloomed, but it turned out to be luster dust or some other sort of gold dust; gritty, floral, burned; “hiding behind sweetness,” as a 55 percent Chuao is pretty unusual; “sweet maple aftertaste”; “coffee, like mocha”; “early attempt”

K’ul 70% Los Rios, Ecuador

A new company out of Minneapolis, K’ul uses heirloom cacao for its bars; this one is made with heirloom cacao from the Hacienda Limon estate.

Tasting Notes: “Apple Jolly Rancher,” coffee grounds, ash, banana; high astringency at the start but a good melt; fatty, fruity finish; “slick mouth”

Lonohana 70% O’ahu, Hawaii

Maker Seneca Klassen grows cacao himself on his estate in Haleiwa, O’ahu, and then ferments, dries, roasts, and turns the beans into chocolate all by hand. (The bar’s official name is Kanahiku, by the way.)

Tasting Notes: Smells like licorice, nice aftertaste; “sour coffee bitterness,” “like a young Cabernet,” smooth texture, especially for a bar with no added cocoa butter; woody at the start, green walnut/grapefruit peel astringency at end

GoodNow Farms 77% Nicaragua

This brand-new company out of Massachusetts just launched its first bars, and we got to try one!

Tasting Notes: Smells like hay or leather; sandpapery on the tongue, like it hasn’t been conched at all; “feels like a pumice stone”; bitter, moldy, sour, lots of people making bad faces while tasting it

Chocolarder 80% Madagascar

This brand stole the show at a past salon, with even super experienced tasters going crazy for it. But this time around, something else happened…The curious thing is that the beans come from Akesson’s Estate, which many makers use to create delicious bars.

Tasting Notes: Black licorice, slow melt, plastic, tires, possibly due to improper storage?

Domori 45% Camel Milk

Yes, you read that right. Domori has started making milk chocolate using unusual milks, like camel.

Tasting Notes: “Tastes like a camel;” gamey, grassy, caramel, great melt, “like buffalo”; “like I’ve been invited into a hut to taste the local beverage and sipped it out of politeness”

Chocolaterie Tessa Single-Origin Truffle

Leftovers from my talk at the Northwest Chocolate Festival! This Austin-based chocolatier uses bean-to-bar chocolate to make confections. This one was made with Fresco’s Madagascar chocolate.

Tasting Notes: fruity, caramel, sumptuous, “hint of Easter chocolate”