Look what showed up just in time for the Northwest Chocolate Festival. We’re very excited to have some new labels for our bars!
A few weeks back, we had the pleasure of meeting Alex Rast of seventypercent.com. Alex was visiting from England and met up with us at Sunita’s Chocolate Garage. Alex is a guy who really knows his chocolate. We spent many hours discussing his take on pretty much everything chocolate-related, like the best way ship chocolate (wrapped in wool), the best ways to cool (metal molds on a marble slab), and the best flavor notes (strawberry and treacle).
So we were pretty excited when he posted a positive review of one of our bars. We’ve been so focused on meeting demand and just making a chocolate bar that we like, that it’s always nice to hear that others like them too. Here’s a snippet from his review of our last Madagascar harvest:
Melt, too, is rather felicitously above Dandelion’s usual, being smooth and creamy, and providing the appropriate finishing touch to an excellent effort. In many ways Dandelion seems to be following a similar trajectory to Amano in the early days, a company which as we have seen has gone from strong initial promise to world-class maturity. In fact, the Madagascar, it must be said, is even more accomplished than Amano’s early efforts, and this bodes well for the future. Is there room for improvement with this chocolate? Perhaps slightly. The roast could be ever that bit lighter, perhaps balanced with a slightly longer conche, but these are very much small tweaks. As is, this chocolate sets something of a benchmark for up-and-coming manufacturers: Dandelion is clearly the company to beat in the third generation of artisan chocolate producers.
With all of the events and orders we have coming our way, we’ve started making Friday a dedicated production day. I love seeing all of our hard work wrapped up in little bundles waiting for a new home. The next set of bars looks like it’s just about cooled so time to get back to work!
We love getting fan mail about our chocolate and this one was too good not to share:
A friend introduced me to your chocolates and I must say, after consuming quite a good amount of it, I find the Madagascar bar to be the most Orgasmic (yes you read that right) bar I have ever had the pleasure of placing in my mouth.(I actually clawed my friends thigh when I had my first bite) That’s a pretty huge compliment seeing I’ve had some of the finest chocolates from around the world when I travel :) Anyway, thanks for keeping a girl happy!
We just started another batch of Venezuelan. Here’s what the ground up nibs (aka cocoa liquor) look like before adding the sugar:
And here’s what the chocolate looks like just after adding the sugar:
After a few days, the lumps will be gone and everything will be smooth and delicious.
We’re down to our last 100 bars of Madagascar. We’ll have a few for sale at this Thursday’s Mission Community Market, but we will probably run out soon thereafter. For a little while, you may be able to find some at nearby retail locations, including Fog City News where Adam has placed an order for our final supply.
We’ve been pleasantly surprised by the response from this bar. It’s fruity flavor is undeniable — maybe even overwhelming. At farmer’s markets, we watch for people’s eyes to bulge when the first fruity notes kick in. We’ve had people come up to us and buy every Madagascar bar on hand. At last week’s market, a woman approached us an hour before the market opened, even before we had unpacked our tent, to ask if we had any Madagascar. We rummaged through our unpacked boxes to locate a bar for her. Before we could even count her change, she had ripped open the wrapper and downed half the bar. It’s moments like these that make us really happy to be in the chocolate business.
Since this bar has been so popular, you may be wondering why we are discontinuing it. The answer is that our approach to making chocolate is a quite a bit different than most large chocolate makers. There can be a lot of variability between each bag of beans but for a large chocolate maker, variability is the enemy. Instead, they’re focused on flavor consistency and cost control. Every Hershey’s bar tastes the same and in some ways that’s great — it’s a sort of miracle of industrialization. However, to achieve consistency, it means you need a large supply of relatively similar beans that you roast heavily (and, in our opinion, over roast) to reduce individual flavor differences and add additional ingredients that cover up or soften whatever flavor is left (e.g. vanilla, cocoa butter, or worse).
We take the opposite approach — each bag of beans is different and we like to find the highest quality beans we can and then get out of the way. Rather than stamp out the individual flavors for the sake of consistency, we like to let the individual nuances shine through, unadulterated by additional ingredients other than pure cane sugar. We roast the beans as minimally as possible, trying to find the strongest and most interesting flavors that characterize the cacao bean’s individual personality.
For each bag of beans, including bags from the same farm as our last batch, we run a battery of taste tests — usually 2-3 rounds involving 3-4 batches each — until we are sure we’ve found the best flavor out of that bag. And after all of that work, usually about two weeks, if we are not 100% thrilled with what we’ve made and proud to put our name on it, we won’t bring it to market, even if it means eating the cost of that bag of beans. For anyone who’s optimizing cost, efficiency, or consistency, this approach is nuts — but it ensures that we always have something we are proud of.
This means each batch is essentially limited-edition — the flavors change with the season, the harvest, and the fermentation. So while this Summer 2011 Madagascar is coming to an end, fear not, as we have 5 new bags of new Madagascar on the way that we are looking forward to bringing out sometime next month. The early samples exhibit some of that same great fruit flavor and we are excited to bring it out for you all to try.
Whenever we get new beans in, we do a bunch of different tests to find the flavors we like best. Since those test batches aren’t worth tempering, we use some flexible silicon molds (rather than the polycarbonate molds we use for our bars) because it’s easier to get them out after they’ve cooled. As a bonus, those silicone molds come in fun shapes, so now we’re swimming in fish shapes, staring at Moai, and munching on space invaders.
We took Memorial Day to work on a fun project- testing the hot chocolate varieties we hope to have in our cafe. We initially imagined a matrix of hot chocolates built around different variables like milk, water, melted chocolate, cocoa powder, sugar, caramelized sugar, and more. We began with the basics. Initially, we mixed melted 70% dark chocolate with different quantities of water and milk. We used chocolates from different origins- our Venezuelan and Costa Rican. Next we played with cocoa powder, water, and milk. For this we used Costa Rican cocoa powder, pressed with our cocoa butter press.
After a few rounds of testing, we realized that there are very distinct types of hot chocolate. There’s a Swiss Miss-style hot chocolate that brings you back to childhood nostalgia and cold winter days. Then, there’s a variety that turns on the coffee part of your palette. You could imagine a hot chocolate that has the same rich, smooth punch as coffee, but made with cocoa powder and water. There’s European-style drinking chocolate, dark like the inside of a molten chocolate cake. Finally, we even created a pudding-like hot chocolate that’s velvety and buttery.
Throughout the course of the day, our initial idea of a hot chocolate matrix began to shift. We’ll still work with the full set of variables. But, we hope to find a short set of hot chocolates that hit all of our different associations with the drink. For each of these, we’ll play with the right chocolate, liquid, and sweetener until we nail it. Someday, you’ll be able to come to Valencia Street and taste the full flight!
Finally, yes, our stomachs hurt pretty badly after a full day of hot chocolate tasting. It didn’t help that Todd made delicious homemade marshmallows.
posted by alice
We’re really excited to announce that our online store is now open! It took a bit of time to get all the necessary pieces in place (chocolate, permits, shipping, shopping cart, etc), so we’re glad to finally have it out. Now you won’t have to hunt us down at one of the markets to get your chocolate fix. Anyway, we hope you enjoy using the store (and eating the items from it) as much as we enjoyed getting it all ready.