This past weekend was the annual NW Chocolate Festival. It’s a wonderful event and the best place to go and “try before you buy” chocolate. Honestly, I can’t see buying chocolate any other way. As a preface to this article, let me say that I’m no expert on chocolate, but I do love to eat it. This article will focus on my favorite chocolates from this year as well as some photos. Well, OK a lot of photos.
Here’s what I think I have learned about chocolate and the festival over the past few years. It’s an evolving list…
- Bring a bag and stock up for the entire year.
- Bring cash and/or call your bank prior to using your card. These vendors are from all over the world. When they swipe your card, your bank will see charges from many different geographical areas. Last year, our card was frozen because the bank was concerned about fraud. We had to call the bank in the middle of the noisy showroom floor to have them remove the restriction.
- As a general rule, I prefer to avoid chocolates with added cocoa butter. The highest quality chocolates generally only have two ingredients: cacao and sugar.
- The bigger the samples, the lower the quality of the chocolate.
- I prefer dark chocolate around 70-80% cacao.
- Single origin bars tend to be my first choice based upon taste.
- There are great chocolate makers all over the world.
- Bars / crops taste different one year to the next. Also, personal tastes change. Some bars that I enjoyed in the past now are not longer my favorites and vice versa.
- If you like something – buy it! They might sell out later or it might never be back again.
Here are the chocolate brands and bars that we favored the most and bought. The order of the bars in the article are in the chronological order of the bars that we tried. Quick disclaimer, the photos also show other varieties that we didn’t purchase, but made nice photos nonetheless. The very last photo (and featured image) of this article are the actual products that we purchased. All photos are straight out of the camera (except the featured image) and were shot with a Canon 5D Mark IV and Canon 35mm f/1.4L II lens using the Landscape picture setting (the featured image was shot with a Tamron 15-30mm f/2.8 lens). Now on to the chocolate!!!
Domori is out of Italy, and their sales rep flew to Seattle! The bars are tiny, but the chocolate has a nice smooth texture. Definitely one of my favorites from the festival.We ended up buying five bars from this company. I’ve linked to the product pages for each of them – it’s silly to write my own unsophisticated descriptions for them. All I could say is that I liked them.
This company has definitely gone to the top of my list this year. First off, their packaging is top notch. One of the owners commented that the packaging costs too much to manufacture, and to expect some changes in the future. That is unfortunate, but I understand cost control measures. In the meantime, the packaging is really impressive. Not that packaging matters, but it does add to the experience. Here are the ones we purchased:
- Pangoa Peru – a limited release and not on their website.
- Sea Salt 75%
- Peru 70%
- 100% Cacao
- Guatemala 73%
- Salted Honey Caramels
We had a hard time walking away from French Broad’s booth because everything was so yummy! I seriously could have bought more from them, but there were so many other vendors to try also.
There stuff is hit and miss for me – depending on the year. In the past, they have had some unique flavors like an everything bagel (sounds weird, but quite tasty). With so much competition at the chocolate festival, there were only two this year that stood out to me:
In years past, I have also purchased their Black Fig chocolate which is also worthy of mention.
Dandelion has consistently been one of my favorite chocolate makers for many years now. I’d easily say they are my number one choice overall, but this year I’m giving them the number two slot just below French Broad Chocolates, but I could go either way. Over the last couple of years, they have also been bringing in chocolates from their Kuramae Tokyo Japan location which are quite special. I also love the designs on their labels as well as the overall aesthetic of the packaging. Again, it shouldn’t really matter, but I do like the presentation.
Here are our favorites from this year:
- CAMINO VERDE, ECUADOR 85% – via Tokyo
- CAHABÓN, GUATEMALA 70% – via Tokyo
- COSTA ESMERALDAS, ECUADOR 70% – via San Francisco
- HACIENDA AZUL, COSTA RICA 70% – via San Francisco
- ZORZAL COMUNITARIO, DOMINICAN REPUBLIC 70% – via San Francisco
- PIURA BLANCO, PERU 70% – via San Francisco
It can’t all be chocolate all the time. Enter Jonboy caramels. They’re wonderful! Vanessa and I have different preferences here, however both are great:
- Fleur de Sel – my favorite
- Absinthe with Black Salt – her favorite
Minimal is out of Tokyo and easily one of the best chocolates at the festival this year. I’d put them in between French Broad and Dandelion. Think of them as being in position one and a half. They didn’t have a whole lot of varieties like the other shops, and the bars were quite a bit more in cost, but the flavor and texture (a bit coarser) were unique and extraordinary. I bought two bars of the Fruity Berry-Like variety. They sold out of everything during day one of the chocolate festival!
the Chocolate Conspiracy
While this isn’t the purest chocolate of the bunch, they do have some unique flavors. Definitely worth grabbing one of each and trying. My favorite is the Blackberry Ginger, but I also like the others as well. There website doesn’t go into any detail of the different flavors, but you can purchase them here. One product that isn’t pictured here is their Chocolate Drink Mix. They were giving samples away at the festival (made with coconut milk), and it was simply Heaven to drink. Here’s what we took home:
- Mint Chip
- Blackberry Ginger
- Wild Spice
- Chocolate Drink Mix
Intrigue is local to Seattle, so it’s only fitting they would be one of the best chocolatiers at the NW Chocolate Festival. Their truffle bars keep us coming back to their booth each and every year. New this year were some first run chocolate bars that had marvelous flavors and are definitely worth getting. You can read more about their new bars here. I really hope they continue with their bars – it would be a crying shame if they stopped making them. Here’s what we took home this year:
- Bourban and Vanilla – truffle bar
- Basil – truffle bar
- 12 pack truffle assortment box
- Jasmine Great Tea, Turkish Bay Leaf, and Lemon – chocolate bar
- Juniper Berry, Black Lime – chocolate bar
- Hops, Clover Honey – chocolate bar
- Rosemary, Blackberry Honey, Alderwood Smoked Sea Salt – chocolate bar
- Lavender, Coffee, Long Pepper – chocolate bar
Miro is a Seattle based company that breaks away from the chocolate theme weekend and had a multitude of teas to sample. After trying quite a few of their teas and purchasing some for the home, we’ll definitely need to go check out their tea shop in Ballard (a trendy neighborhood in Seattle). Here are the teas we took home with us:
- Bourbon Barrel Black
- Plum Rose Oolong
- Johannesburg Rooibos
Endorfin was also new to me this year. I’d put them is as a solid number four this year. They had quite a few different flavors and also some single origin bars that were outstanding.
One of their most interesting flavors is their Golden Mylk (no dairy at all). It’s a limited edition bar and is not listed on their website. It’s a golden color and even though I would not call it chocolate, it’s an excellent bar nonetheless. The ingredients (as they appear on the label) are: cocoa butter, coconut sugar, caramelized coconut, turmeric, black lava salt, essential oils of cardamom and black pepper. You can see pieces of it below. It was so esoteric that I had to sample it quite a few times, and then another time or two just to be sure.
My other favorite bar of theirs was the ginger rose flavor – outstanding!
Here are the three varieties we ended up taking home:
- Single Origin Kokoa Kamili Tanzania 75% – cacao and coconut sugar
- Dark Coconut Mylk Chocolate with Ginger and Rose 56% Cacao
- Golden Mylk
Lillie Belle Farms
Lillie Belle is definitely one of the most fun chocolate makers at the festival. The owner is a musician and if you ever get a chance to hear him play guitar and sing during one of the educational sessions, it’s a treat. While he sings, they pass out chocolate. Nothing couldn’t be any better than that!
They have such a variety of flavors and products that you’re sure to find something you’ll like. While they aren’t the fanciest or highest brow of the chocolate shops out there, they definitely have some interesting products that are worth experiencing. Here’s what made our list this year:
- Venezuela 75% – this isn’t on their website. It’s a trial run. When I spoke with the owner, Jeff, he said that he is considering bringing back his retired chocolate label “Purple Haze” and using this new Venezuela 75% for that bar. The old Purple Haze bar was quite special and so is this one.
- The Most Awesome Chocolate Bar Ever!
- Oregon’s Flying Pig Bar
- Smokey Blue Cheese Truffles
- Bon Bons
The Troubadour Baker
A Seattle bakery that we always buy from when at the festival. One of the staples we always purchase from them is their Smoked Paprika Coins. This year we picked up some of those and also their Chinese Five-Spice Shortbread (Pavanes). Check out their full product list here.
They make crackers that you can find in the local grocery store. Vanessa says that she has been able to purchase their crackers at our local Fred Meyer. I mention them here though, because they had one product that I thought was quite special that Vanessa hasn’t seen in the stores. That is their Cocoacakes. These were fantastic. For sure, I would recommend trying these – they might as well be cookies!
The Chocolate Man is ran by Bill Fredericks and is also Seattle based. He’s always visible behind and in front of the scene at the NW Chocolate Festival. We’ve attended one of his lectures before and it was quite fascinating. The chocolates at their booth were quite literally works of art. We ended up buying the chocolate dinosaur eggs (pictured above) for our girls. The eggs are a milk chocolate and filled with milk chocolate dinosaurs. The girls loved them, but I prefer “real” chocolate.
Creo is one of my favorite brands from last year. However, this year, there were much better bars. Not to say that Creo isn’t good – it is. It’s just not great. Creo adds in cocoa butter which diminishes the quality in my opinion. Vanessa’s not impressed by them at all. I actually would have bought more from them this year, but as of the time of this writing, I have a few bars in my closet from a mid year mail order I did with them. That being said, here are my favorite Creo bars:
Raaka is out of New York, and used to make one of my all time favorite bars – a Vanilla Rooibos flavored chocolate. Unfortunately, they haven’t brought it back and they don’t seem to be open to offering it again anytime soon. I’ve mention it to the representatives for the last few years, but the company doesn’t seem to be budging on their decision to keep it cancelled. It’s really too bad, because there is nothing else out there like it.
They are indeed a good chocolate, but not as great as some of the others (they add in cocoa butter like Creo). However because of their unique flavors, they are worth trying. Here are the ones we brought home this year:
- LIMITED BATCH GINGER SNAP (70% CACAO)
- YACÓN (79% CACAO, CANE SUGAR FREE)
- SMOKED CHAI (66% CACAO)
- CABERNET SAUVIGNON (68% CACAO)
Of honorable mention is also their COCONUT MILK (60% CACAO) chocolate bar. I’ve purchased a few of these in years past, and they are quite nice, I just didn’t feel like coconut this year.
The 2017 Noah Bershatsky Chocolate Rankings
In declining order…
The Purist Collection – Cacao and Sugar
- French Broad – Fantastic single origin bars, caramels, and more.
- Minimal – Outstanding bars, but limited quantities, and limited availability.
- Dandelion – Wonderful variety, always great, consistently a top choice. I almost made this number one, but gave it to French Broad this year since they are the newcomer.
- Domori – Smooth, fine chocolate, and a wonderful flavor.
- Endorfin – This is the only brand that shows up in the pure and flavored divisions (see below) – an impressive feat!
The Flavored Collection – Not for the pure of heart.
- Intrigue – Their first run bars are so full of flavor and their truffles are out of this world. I only hope their quality stays, their chocolate bar business grows, and they expand upon it. Super impressed by these local Seattleites.
- Endorfin – That Golden Mylk and Ginger Rose are unlike anything else!
- Raaka – Great flavors, but don’t get too attached to a particular flavor, they change all the time. I’m still quite upset about them getting rid of the Vanilla Rooibos.
- Chocolate Conspiracy – The Blackberry Ginger is really something quite special, and their Chocolate Drink Mix was the best hot chocolate drink I’ve ever tasted.
- Dick Taylor – Always a quality product, but they need to bring back the Everything Bagel flavor. The Brown Butter was only one out of two brown butter bars I saw at the festival, and Dick Taylor’s was easily the best one.
- Creo – try their Raspberry Dark and Spicy Dark, the rest are good, but not enough to warrant a higher spot on this list.
- Lillie Belle Farms – something for everyone, but mainly flavored and fun.