Anyone who knows me knows that Askinosie Chocolate is my first artisan chocolate crush. I heard Shawn Askinosie speak on The Slow Melt podcast and that interview - the first podcast I'd ever listened to and the first time I heard about craft chocolate - changed the trajectory of my chocolate life. Warning: the next couple of paragraphs get a little sappy, so if you want to just get to the chocolate, scroll down :)
At the time the podcast aired, I was working on building a business via direct sales through The Cocoa Exchange, the newly-revised Mars company that was previously known as Dove Chocolate Discoveries. Although I loved the unique products offered through The Cocoa Exchange, the more I learned about cacao and the subsistence farmers who feed the cacao supply of Mars and other mass-market chocolate manufacturers, the more I felt that I had to get out of industrial chocolate and into something more socially responsible.
Enter Shawn Askinosie of Askinosie Chocolate. When Shawn talked on the podcast episode about finding purpose in his life after feeling the burn-out of a demanding career, I marveled over his desire to pray for a vocation. When I heard Shawn mention school lunch programs for kids at origin and in the US, I cried. When I heard Shawn talk about the visioning activities he was conducting with his farmer partners, I sobbed. This. This is what I had been looking for. I vowed then and there to learn as much as possible about craft/small-batch/artisan chocolate and start sharing that knowledge with others so they could make more informed choices in chocolate.
Unfortunately, Askinosie Chocolate is not readily available near me, so it took me some time to get to try it. When I finally found some, I had a difficult time deciding which bars to purchase. I ultimately narrowed it down to the bars I had heard and read about the most in my research.
Ecuador San Jose Del Tambo 70%
This dark red-brown bar has a very smooth, high shine. Aromas of light brown sugar, cherries, nuts and tobacco. High, sharp snap. Good melt in the mouth.
Brighter flavors when "chomped" and warm and sweet when allowed to melt on the palate. This bar had flavors of astringency and sweetness that occurred simultaneously - walnuts and strawberries, then nut skins and brown sugar, then honey. The finish was nutty with a lingering flavor of tobacco.
Philippines Davao 77%
The smooth surface of this chocolate bar shows the care and skill behind every Askinosie Chocolate bar. Dark brown in color. This bar smells of dark red fruit, prunes and tobacco. The snap is high and hard. Initial tastes of nuts (walnut or almond) and earth transition to beautiful lavender notes and the final melting taste left on my palate was of banana cream pie. The texture was smooth, with a nice melt, and chomping this bar was a bit like eating a flourless chocolate cake - creamy and rich.
Tanzania Mababu 72%
Dark brown bar with a glossy surface. The aromas in this bar seemed to change with each breath I took - red fruit, tobacco, cherry and then cream. Clean break with a sharp, high-pitched snap. Creamy, red-fruit was the initial flavor I experienced, followed by tobacco, hay and earthy flavors, then chocolate cake or bread. The experience was like eating a fruit-flavored graham cracker. Although there were aromas of tobacco, that flavor didn't come through except slightly in the middle of the tasting.
Dark Milk + Black Licorice
The front of this chocolate bar is glossy and red-brown in color. The back is covered in anise seed and licorice bits, making it hard to see the chocolate underneath. Aromas of red fruit and anise, like opening a mixed bag of red and black licorice. Due to the inclusions, the snap had a medium pitch.
Initial taste of brownie changes quickly to black licorice. Surprisingly clean finish with only lingering black licorice flavor. The texture of the chocolate in this bar is smooth and creamy with the inclusions being chewy (licorice bits) and crunchy (anise seed). Overall, this is a very well-balanced bar with the black licorice, which could easily overpower other flavors, giving room for the very floral fruitiness of the chocolate. In fact, the anise flavor accentuates the lavender notes in the chocolate. When I chomp the chocolate with my molars, there is a taste of goats milk (the milk that makes this a "dark milk") which gives a savory quality to the bar. Bites with the chocolate side down rather than the inclusion side brought out more goats milk flavor.
My favorite bar is the Dark Milk + Black Licorice, but I'm a black licorice fan. For those of you who don't love black licorice, any of the other Askinosie Chocolate bars would be a great purchase.
Hugs & Chocolate!