by Eric Battersby
Although Chocolate Connoisseur Magazine officially started way back in February 2013, its current incarnation just celebrated its first full year in 2017. As I took a step back in December and checked the rearview mirror, I realized wow, we covered a ton in our first full year as a monthly magazine.
That being the case, it also hit me that we really should start 2018 with a look back on all the key players we shined a spotlight on in the chocolate world, just to remind everyone what a wonderful world it truly is. In the January 2018 issue, you can read the full article titled Inside Chocolate: 2017 — Year in Review, where we touch on every single On the Chocolate Regular, Chocolate Shop, and In Focus chocolate maker and chocolatier from last year.
In this article, however, we’re simply focusing on one section — the announcements of our first ever 2017 Favorites, informal awards if you will, to showcase the chocolate that meant the most to us last year. Below the awards, I offer more insight into the process, but now, without further ado, let’s unveil the winners publicly for the first time…
2017 National Favorites
If we wrote an On the Chocolate Regular article on a chocolate company in 2017, its chocolate qualified for the National Favorites awards. We didn’t taste every single offering from each company, however, so if we missed one of your own personal favorites, feel free to stand up for it in the comments below!
GOLD: The TCHO Mokaccino Bar
As an On the Chocolate Regular bar, TCHO’s Mokaccino absolutely wowed us. I tasted the bar before we even researched TCHO, and found it no suprise that the bar pulled in awards as well.
The short tagline on the wrapper says, “Like a cappuccino with rich drinking chocolate.” I disagree. It’s like that, but better. Thank you to TCHO for the chocolate symphony that takes place with each and every bite of the Mokaccino… an easy winner.
We’re not alone in showering the Mokaccino with praise, either, as TCHO’s little square masterpiece brings home the hardware nearly every single year, including Silver at the International Chocolate Awards for three straight years.
Oakland’s own Blue Bottle Coffee deserves a little love here as well, since it’s Blue Bottle’s coffee that TCHO uses to create the bar. Regardless, whether it’s the coffee, the chocolate, or both (that’s our vote), if you’ve yet to try a TCHO Mokaccino, we strongly encourage you to remedy that situation immdeiately!
SILVER: Taza Vanilla Mexicano Disc
Taza’s stoneground chocolate offers a much different texture to your palate than you may be accustomed to, and that’s not a bad thing.
These discs actually made me feel guilty last year, because regardless of what other chocolate I explored during 2017, a Taza Vanilla Mexicano disc almost always sat right next to it on my chocolate shelf, there for regular indulgence.
Nearly every single trip to a Natural Grocers store, I picked up one more package of Taza Vanilla Mexicano Discs, as if the magical little spheres called out to me like a siren anytime I walked near the chocolate aisle.
From a sheer quantity standpoint, here at Chocolate Connoisseur we ate no other chocolate more regularly in 2017 than Taza’s Vanilla Mexicano Discs, making it a clear choice for our On the Chocolate Regular 2017 Silver.
BRONZE: Theo Gingerbread Spice
Yes, Theo’s Gingerbread Spice is only a seasonal bar, and yes we’re well aware that it clocks in at only 45% cacao, clearly a sweeter, milk chocolate bar. Hear me out, however, because two key connoisseur-creating elements vault Theo’s flagship holiday creation into our top three here.
First, save for a small contingent who despise gingerbread, Theo’s Gingerbread Spice bar does a phenomenal job of winning over the big chocolate crowd; translation – you can give this bar as a gift to someone who only knows chocolate as a Twix bar, and they’ll still be impressed. That catapults the Gingerbread Spice bar into rare territory – it can literally start a chocolate connoisseur journey.
Second, you can pick up a Theo holiday bar for as little as two dollars per bar during the holidays, which helps further that connoisseur journey by not alienating the seventy five cents for a Twix crowd it so masterfully recruits.
Finally, the bar tastes way too delicious for its (or my) own good, in a Christmas treat kinda way. It should taste like a treat, because with cane sugar as the first ingredient, and plenty of cocoa butter and milk powder as well, it’s most definitely a more sugary-sweet bar than we normally eat. For the purpose it serves, however, Theo’s Gingerbread Spice sits in its own perfect niche.
2017 Chocolate Shop Favorites
If we featured a chocolate maker’s or chocolatier’s offer in the Chocolate Shop in 2017, its chocolate qualified for the Chocolate Shop Favorites awards. We didn’t receive samples for every single item offered, however, so not every single Chocolate Shop entry actually competed here. By the way, we positively love some of both Singing Rooster and Rawclates chocolate, they just didn’t happen to crack our top three.
GOLD: LetterPress Belize Bar
Earlier in the year, I thoroughly enjoyed a Ucayali Bar while writing a feature on the Ucayali Bar and Ucayali River Cacao (see below). I absolutely loved that bar, as did Rene who also sampled one, and I knew in all likelihood that we had a first place frontrunner pretty early in the game.
In the Fall, however, right before we restarted our “chocolate” chocolate offers (after 33 Books Co. and Projet Chocolat), I enjoyed a Belize bar that David Menkes had sent over a while back. “Enjoyed,” meet “understatement,” because the Belize bar absolutely blew my mind. High quality 70% dark bars don’t tend to invite binging – as in eating nearly an entire bar in one sitting (!!!) – but the Belize bar tempted me… believe me, that first day presented quite the will power challenge. Positively divine.
Thankfully, I went the other way with the bar, one I know avid chocolate connoisseurs appreciate – making it last. I instead limited my daily intake to two pieces, stretching the bar out over more days. When I took the last bite, I saved the wrapper and knew we had a bar that would be tough to beat.
As I sat down to write this article, I discovered others shared my love for the Belize bar. Turns out David considers it LetterPress’ flagship bar, and in 2017 it won Silver Sofi Award and an Academy of Chocolate Bronze as well! Congratulations to David and Corey Menkes for creating a true masterpiece over at LetterPress!
SILVER: LetterPress Ucayali Bar
If you read the story behind David Menkes’ Ucayali Bar back in our May 2017 issue, then you undoubtedly already realize what a special set of circumstances surrounded the Ucayali’s creation.
As David tells it himself, when Corey and he were first working with the beans as part of initial tests on multiple cacao varieties (before they had any idea what they were dealing with), the Ucayali cacao immediately left a lasting impression.
“As we prepared the Ucayali, we noticed how incredibly clean and even the beans were. Then we started roasting. Oh my. Aromas of star anise, cinnamon, and fennel filled the air of our entire apartment… scents we’d never even smelled from any cocoa beans. We pulled the beans out of the oven and cracked a few open for tasting… my wife Corey looked at me and said ‘buy as much of this as you possibly can!’”
After finally perfecting the bar itself, David openly proclaimed, “Ucayali cacao is by far the best cacao bean we’ve ever worked with.” One taste, and we think Ucayali will win you over. It’s a testament to LetterPress’ quality that only one of its own could beat out the Ucayali Bar for our top 2017 honor.
BRONZE: Elements Truffles Raspberry Beet Root Infusion Bar
In my humble opinion, Elements Truffles ayurveda-inspired creations deliver a truly unique chocolate experience, and one that really hits home the influence of our own personal subjectivity on chocolate favorites. For example, I love the chocolate and mint combination, yet the first Elements bar I tasted, Peppermint with Lavender Infusion, just didn’t light my fire. Indeed, I found it difficult to even finish the bar, despite spreading my consumption out over multiple days in hopes that perhaps my palate was to blame. In the end, for my tastes, lavender and peppermint just didn’t play nice.
I’d already written an In Focus article on founder Alak Vasa, however, and knew that Elements worked hard to create high quality chocolate – so I wasn’t about to judge Elements by only one bar. Next up, I sampled an Orange Pistachio bar, much better, but the third entry from Elements, their Raspberry Beet Root Infusion Bar, vaulted past Singing Rooster’s Peanut Moringa and Rawclates Firecracker to take over third place.
If you even remotely enjoy a raspberry chocolate duo, then the combination of Elements’ Peruvian Criollo with raspberry essential oil, organic beet root powder, and organic freeze dried raspberries will delight. I enjoy the chocolate-raspberry combination, but rarely seek it out, yet this bar positively owned me once I took the first bite.
What can I say, ayurveda for the win! Keep doing what you do, Elements. We look forward to what’s next…
About Chocolate Connoisseur’s 2017 Favorites
Let me start off our first round of favorites, informal awards if you will, by stating the paradoxical here – I’m not a big fan of awards in this context. In the chocolate world, there will be always be better and worse, for two reasons. First, not all chocolate creators focus on ethics within their supply chain, use the highest quality ingredients, etc. It’s why the chasm between big chocolate and the makers we focus on in Chocolate Connoisseur will likely exist for as long as chocolate itself exists, and there are multiple layers, for which not all chocolate makers will home in on the same aspects.
Second, subjectivity rules chocolate, for each of us, separately. Even here at the magazine, I would never expect Marisa to pick the same chocolate for her favorite as Rene or I would. Respect the individual. It’s a constantly changing, wonderful adventure to try new chocolate on a regular basis, while still enjoying go-to favorites and learning more every day as well.
The fact is, however, that during the year we will inevitably discover favorites, and we will most certainly like to send a little love in those favorites’ direction each year. So this year, we’re starting with these informal favorites, and then in 2018, we’ll set up a more formal structure for our own Chocolate Connoisseur Awards, in which there will inevitably be more competition, plus we’ll also add In Focus Awards to the mix as well.
Regardless, we’re not looking to compete with chocolate judges at international award shows here. In fact, we’re not looking to compete at all, we’re simply giving kudos to the chocolate we appreciated the most last year, based on the chocolate we covered during that twelve month period. For everyone one on these lists – we very much appreciate you and thank you so much for the inspiring and oh-so-delicious work you do!