Few if any flavors on earth have quite such a die-hard following as chocolate. It has a long and speckled history, being deemed first delicacy, then a source of evil, gaining favor again and becoming aphrodisiac, and finally being linked to heart-health in this day and age. In our own personal histories, I would bet that this indulgence comes up quite frequently as well, in numerous forms such as cakes, cookies, or just a solid bar of it itself. While it’s practically obligatory for me to wax poetic about my own unwavering love for the “food of the gods” at this point, I must confess that chocolate had never been something that I really craved. Sure, it certainly wasn’t a bad addition to desserts in general, and I was always forthcoming with new cocoa-based recipes for those insatiable demands from my loved ones, but I could almost guarantee that even as a child, you would never find me reaching for the chocolate bars stashed neatly away on the top shelf. For some reason, I just never fully understood the draw, the passion that some people had for what I considered to be nothing more than a chunk of ground beans and sugar. ...Until now.
Little did I know that my ambivalence towards the stuff had more to do with the chocolate itself than my own taste buds. After a few years of trying new foods and becoming accustomed to my developing preferences, I simply wrote it off as some other sweet item, no different than any other flavor out there. It turns out that all that time, and even as a vegan now, I had been under the influence of… cheap chocolate. The horror! Pinching pennies and conserving my food budget for other kitchen staples, chocolate had always gotten the short straw, and in the case of this highly esteemed bean, you really do get what you pay for. With unnecessary additives for shelf-stability and mass production, what found its way into my pantry had about the culinary value of Spam.
How did this revolutionary concept ever occur to me with my head buried deep within my “mockolate,” you may ask? Well, unbelievably lucky as I am, I recently had the great fortune to have some real chocolate fall into my lap – And I’ve continued falling with it ever since. Lake Champlain Chocolates, made in Vermont from only fresh, natural ingredients simply look like bona fide jewels compared to what I’m accustomed to. Although many of their offerings are not vegan, they do have an impressive selection of dark chocolates without any dairy, including some tempting hot chocolate mixes among other various products. Usually being rather limited even in my selection of cheap chocolates at the grocery store, I was thrilled to stumble upon a whole package of all-vegan chocolate squares in their repertoire.
Totaling 24 seductive squares making up 6.7 ounces of solid, unadulterated cocoa bliss, the mere sight of the Select Origin Chocolates box is enough to make even the most indiscriminate chocoholics and voracious omnivores sigh with desire. Almost everyone will agree that better quality chocolates don’t need the addition of extra sweeteners or milk to enhance their natural flavors, and Lake Champlain Chocolates will confirm this notion once and for all. If you still consider anything this indulgent to be junk food, just consider the health claims when it comes to pure dark chocolate – With all the natural flavonoids and anti-oxidants, there shouldn’t even be any guilt attached to this purchase!
Representing various geographic areas in which cacao is grown, this box claims that different beans contain a wide range of unique characteristics which become detectable after fermentation. Proving such a theory might be difficult with for many name-brand mockolates out there today, sourcing ingredients that are of questionable origin themselves, but if anyone could ever do it, Lake Champlain would be the ones to put it to the test. Included in this mouth-watering assortment are beans grown in Africa, Grenada, Sao Thome, and Tanzania, in varying percentages of cocoa content.
I must preface by saying that as a recent convert to the way of the cacao bean, I have no expertise in evaluating this most beloved prize. Like an ignorant beginner in wine-tasting, the words “woody,” “dry,” or “thin” make no connection in my mind to any sort of food-related memory. That being said, I can tell you what I enjoy and why I think it’s good, which is really what counts when it comes down to choosing your after dinner treat, isn’t it?
That being said, the moment this new, potent incarnation of everyone’s favorite aphrodisiac hit my tongue, I knew there was no turning back. Every glossy square was composed of the smoothest, most velvety substance I’ve ever experienced putting in my mouth – So obscenely silky that I hadn’t before even considered it to be a natural texture in terms of food. The magic came in the first bite, snapping a corner clean off with one swift cleave of the teeth and an audible ‘pop!’ that rang through the air like a bell. Slowly melting, allowing one to savor every last drop of flavor, it was nothing like any chocolate I had ever known.
Starting at the lightest end of the scale for cocoa content, the 54% African Blend was first on my hit list. Deliciously sweet and simple, it reminded me of some of my best experiences in childhood with chocolate chips and bars. The creamy texture had me hooked, although the overall flavor was nothing I found particularly spectacular that would make it stand out in comparison to other chocolates on the market. Moving up to the 60 % cocoa from Grenada, I found that this percentage had only a mild increase in flavor intensity, making for a slightly less sweet but still very mellow and pleasant flavor. Since this was only a 6% discrepancy, I hadn’t expected them to have jarringly diverse tastes overall, but I was so far only moderately impressed.
When I got to the Sao Thome at 70% however, all five senses went wild. The aroma, the feel, the smell, everything told me that this would be a pleasurable experience. Instantly I discovered it had a markedly unique tone, coming off as being deeper, richer, and somehow infinitely smoother. The simple sweetness present in the earlier squares had dissipated, now replaced by a more mature and sophisticated bite. Bowled over by this sensation, it was incredible how such a tiny amount of chocolate could focus my whole system on the experience of consuming such a luscious commodity. I swear that just a crumb could have coated my entire tongue like the softest and most comfortable blanket I had every taken shelter beneath. If I could only have one type of chocolate for the rest of my life, it would be this kind that I would demand, without question. I exaggerate not; While I’ve encouraged my mom to share much of this treasure with me, if one of those from Sao Thome turns up missing, there will be hell to pay.
Finally, reaching the uppermost level of cocoa content at 75% with the square from Tanzania, perhaps my taste buds had just reached their climax and tired out, but this one didn’t strike me quite as much. Still fantastic and intense, all the sweetness had been replaced by pure chocolate essence. At times the faint bitterness would remind me of a nice, strong cup of black coffee, which I thoroughly enjoyed. This one was very strong and not something that the children would probably take a liking to, but I found it to be a luxurious extravagance quite befitting of an after dinner nibble. Certainly not something I would turn down if offered, unlike my early response to any sort of chocolate up for grabs.
Whether you buy into the idea of potential health benefits, nuances in flavors depending on origin, natural ingredients, or anything else that this package offers up, there are few sweets more satisfying to the soul than chocolate. Now that I’ve learned the error of my ways, it will be difficult to sate my appetite for such high-end vegan chocolate, but truly, the sacrifice will be worth it; Was it not Shakespeare who said “T’was better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all?”
In addition to their year-round selection of truffles, chocolate bars, and chocolate covered-almonds, they have holidays covered at Lake Champlain Chocolates as well; Can you say “solid dark chocolate Easter bunnies?”
I suppose that this may be the one time that it’s perfectly vegan to eat rabbit! Just try to restrain yourself and divide this sweet fellow up into multiple portions for your own sake – After only scratching the surfacing on this 9.7 ounce cocoa bunny, I think I could be on the verge of a cocoa-induced coma right about now… But even so, I think I finally understand what makes quality chocolate worth all of the obsession, and even possible chocolate comas.
[Written for Go Dairy Free]