Reasons for buying fine chocolate today are manifold and not always dictated by the epicurean sensory experience only. Quality of the products apart, ethics and sustainability programs are the elements where select chocolate makers can demonstrate how the end consumer is included in the big picture of the company mission. That’s the case for one of the latest brands I had occasion to taste after a couple of visits by my content contributor Vincent, to the French Broad Milk + Chocolate Boutique in Asheville, North Carolina (see previous post HERE).
Before delving into my evaluation of each chocolate bar sampled, I will sum up 3 reasons why Askinosie Chocolate is at the forefront of the fine chocolate segment worldwide, not only in the US:
- Direct Trade & Community Enhancement. Askinosie’s cacao farmers are direct partners and traders. Even if no costly third-party certification processes are involved between the company and the farmers, Direct Trade is also a risque model. Company founder Shawn Askinosie, in fact, has a lot of responsibilities to orchestrate the business and human relationships inside, and especially outside his chocolate factory in Springfield, Missouri. He travels beforehand among four countries (Ecuador, Honduras, Tanzania, and the Philippines) and three continents at least once a year each to source all of the cocoa beans directly from the origin. The purpose of the visits is, in fact, to ensure that the cacao beans Askinosie buys are of the best quality possible, supervising and sharing with the local farmers the best practices for breeding, harvesting, fermenting, drying, and stocking the delicate fine flavor cacao. Besides sourcing top quality cacao, Askinosie is a philanthropist who loves to put his intelligence and commitment at service of local communities’ life enhancement, both in Tanzania and the Philippines, as well as in his American neighborhood (read more HERE).
Shawn Askinosie inspecting the cocoa beans in Tanzania after their cutting test. (Image courtesy of Askinosie Chocolate)
- Transparency & Traceability. The use-by date printed on the Askinosie’s products coincides with their choc-o-lot, a code of identification tracing back the composition and making of a particular product. See, for example, the information sourced about my white chocolate bar with pistachios through the choc-o-lot reported on the wrapper:
- Cocoa butter from the same origin of the cocoa mass. Askinosie is the first American small batch chocolate maker to produce cocoa butter themselves. Not a secondary detail at all in the chocolate arena, since many other “fine” chocolate makers that use cocoa butter in their formulations purchase bulk solid cocoa butter from industrial giants, without disclosing this fact to the unaware consumers. Askinosie, instead, can boast of creating chocolate with added cocoa butter that is completely from single-origin cocoa, turning out products with consistent and distinguishable flavor profiles from specific origins and varietals of cacao. Besides that, nothing good is thrown away at Askinosie’s factory. The left over of the cocoa butter pressing, known as “press cake”, becomes the precursor to a natural (unsweetened and non-alkalized) cocoa powder, ready to be ingredient for other delicious products.
Speaking of consistency and distinction of flavors, following is a review of the dark and dark milk chocolate bars I tasted between January and the recent days surrounding Easter, according to the cacao origin. Later on is the one regarding the white chocolate bars.
Dark & Dark Milk Chocolate Bars
Cacao origin: Davao, Philippines
Many of the Askinosie chocolate products are derived from this origin. Shawn has an exceptional ongoing business relationship with the lead farmer in the Philippines, Peter Cruz. Filipino cacao farmers are particularly praised for their smart and cutting-edge approach to organic farming.
It is said fine flavor cacao comes from South America only. Even if the heirloom cacao origins date back to the American continent, the ex-European colonialists spread the cultivation of fine cacao varietals all over the equatorial area of the world.
Fine cacao varietals are different and affected by a mix of genetic, geographical, and agronomic aspects to consider.
A common trait I detected in all the Askinosie dark bars from this cacao is a familiar hint of Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, harmonized with a sweet note of caramel. If you are someone loving savory and sweet contrasts, this type of chocolate is perfect for your taste-buds.
77% Davao, Philippines Dark Chocolate
76% single-origin cocoa liquor and 1% cocoa butter.
Tasting notes: Earthy, with notes of brown sugar, vanilla and a clean, caramel finish. Silky and dry to the palate.
62% Dark Milk Chocolate + Fleur de Sel Sea Salt
Handcrafted with single origin 54% cocoa liquor and 8% cocoa butter plus goat’s milk powder, certified organic cane sugar, and a touch of Fleur de Sel Sea Salt from The Meadow.
Tasting notes: Caramel and vanilla hints contrasted with the savory notes of sea salt and goat’s milk.
Cacao origin: Mababu, Tanzania
Fine African cacao is another origin I love for generally possessing stronger cacao and fruitier notes.
Dark Chocolate + Malted Milk CollaBARation™ Bar
A single origin 60% dark chocolate with cocoa beans from Mababu, Tanzania, along with malted milk powder, organic cane sugar, and malted milk from one of the Askinosie’s artisan partners in the US, Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream’s.
Tasting notes: Floral notes, vanilla, and milk cream.
Cacao origin: San José Del Tambo, Ecuador
An Ecuadorian chocolate with notes of tobacco and toasted cacao beans.
Made with 68% single-origin cocoa liquor and 2% cocoa butter.
Tasting notes: Red fruit, honey, jasmine, and hints of tobacco. Creamy, dry but not astringent.
Cacao origin: Cortés, Honduras
The small piece of chocolate I tasted from Honduras was an itty bar (often found in cafes) , that is a “small replica” of the following:
70% Cortés, Honduras Dark Chocolate
Handcrafted from single origin 67% cocoa liquor and 3% cocoa butter, with cocoa beans from Cortés, Honduras, plus 30% organic cane sugar.
Tasting notes: Flavors of molasses, passion fruit, and toasted walnuts. Slightly tannic, but pleasant.
White Chocolate Bars
Endorsing white chocolate can be a daunting task. After a recent article on the subject (read it HERE), you must be ready to face a lot of biases and criticism. Even some “experts” might discriminate you for daring to talk about the creamy white treat. The truth is that many of the strict dark chocolate adherents are missing out on opportunities to perfect their culture around the endless variations of cacao by not evaluating the quality of its buttery part.
Askinosie white chocolate bars are made from single origin Davao, Philippines beans. As previously mentioned above, the cocoa butter for the dark chocolates and the white bars is extracted directly in the factory, by processing the cocoa paste with a particular press. This process is paramount to also retain the flavor profile of the cocoa butter in the most natural way possible, just the opposite of the deodorized cocoa butter that most companies add to their “fine” creations.
White chocolate from Askinosie is made up of 49% organic cane sugar, 37% cocoa butter, and 14% organic goat’s milk powder.
With the percentage of sugar not inconsiderable, I prefer the one with pistachios:
White Chocolate + Pistachio
Tasting notes: Flavors perfectly balanced between the nutty and salty taste of the organic pistachios and the sweetness of the chocolate.
Tasting notes: This plain white chocolate has hints of honey and butter. Delicate, but sweeter to the palate.
Being that the cost of Askinosie products are similar to other brands, I would choose Askinosie again and again for its variety of flavors, exceptional taste, ethical and sustainable commitment, and a super-responsive customer service. If you follow the Askinosie page, in fact, you’ll likely get responses even by Shawn himself.
Also, being that competition in the chocolate market is fiercer than ever, companies differentiate their ethos and reliability by genuinely engaging with consumers and customers on the social media…because…as the Askinosie’s motto says:
It’s not about the chocolate. It’s about the chocolate.
Where to find Askinosie Chocolate
- Tour the Askinosie Factory in Springfield, Missouri: http://bookeo.com/askinosietours
- Find Askinosie Chocolate in a Store Near You: https://askinosie.com/locations
- Shop online: https://askinosie.com/shop-chocolate.html