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February 10, 2010

Top 5: Valentine’s Chocolate. ~ Anna Davies + Robbie Stout.

Seductive Chocolate for a Mindful Valentine’s Day (Night)

The basic ingredients for a romantic Valentine’s Day celebration are fairly simple: flowers, wine and chocolate.

In years past, chances are you’ve bought poor-tasting chocolate for your Valentine from a big business that could give a hoot about the environment…and your health. Don’t do that this year—take a moment to familiarize yourself with some of our favorite eco-friendly, high-quality chocolate makers below.

Taza Chocolate


Mi Corazón Valentine – $22.50

For Valentine’s Day, Taza is selling three of their signature stone-ground bars wrapped in a lovely red bow—it’s kind of like a chocolate ménage à trois. They are calling it Mi Corazón Valentine.

Based out of Somerville, Massachusetts, Taza Chocolate is known for their stone ground process and their vibrant relationship with their customers and community. Most chocolate makers out there refine their chocolate for days to produce a smooth texture, but Taza uses traditional Mexican stone mill that leaves much of the cacao particles in tact. This produces a slightly grainy mouth-feel but a very unique and enjoyable flavor.

Not only does Taza produce great tasting certified organic chocolate, they do it with sustainability in mind. Recycling is a major part of their business practice, including the reuse of shipping material and using recycled paper for their wrapper. Taza trades directly with cooperatives and farmers in Central America and the Caribbean, which reduces the carbon footprint when compared to cacao grown in Africa or Indonesia. Working with local green consultants, Taza is close to zero waste for all of their operations—they even donate their cacao shells to be used as mulch. If that hasn’t convinced you, they do bike delivery for all of their wholesale customers in Cambridge, Somerville and Boston, MA.

Seth Ellis Chocolatier

Seth Ellis organic chocolate truffles – 18-piece collection – $25

For Valentine’s Day, the Seth Ellis Organic Chocolate Truffles 18-piece collection would be a swoon-worthy gift for your partner. This 18-piece collection features three of each of Seth Ellis’ signature gourmet ganache fillings for just $25. Purchase online at It’s Only Natural Gifts.

Still relatively unknown, Seth Ellis is quickly developing a reputation for allergen-free (nut, soy and gluten free) chocolate and truffle products. The Seth Ellis Sun Cup, a sunflower seed-based version of the popular Reece’s Peanut Butter Cup (minus the peanuts), is gaining serious momentum for those with a peanut allergy. Based out of Boulder, Colorado this small chocolate maker has a good variety of nutmeg and caramel, mint, raspberry, candied lemon, coffee and ginger truffles in addition to their chocolate bars.

Unlike most of the other chocolate companies here, Seth Ellis is not a bean-to-bar producer, but they use a high-grade, organic Belgian chocolate for their truffles and bars. Some of their products are totally organic while others are somewhere in the 98% range.

Askinosie


Askinosie Valentine’s Box – $24

The Askinosie Valentine’s Day box includes four, single-origin bars for the price of three—this should be enough high-grade artisanal chocolate to last you about a month. If you are a true chocolate connoisseur, Askinosie chocolate is some of the best tasting chocolate out there.

With a current surge in artisan, bean-to-bar, eco-conscious, greener than thou chocolate companies, it is hard to know which companies are more than just a trendy marketing lure. Askinosie walks the talk with their green practices and delicious product. Founder Shawn Askinosie, turned his chocolate making hobby into a full fledged business in 1999 taking countless trips to South America to develop close relationships with cacao farmers.

As Askinosie puts it, “our farmers are more important than our beans,” which is evident by the packaging branded with the name and bright face of the farmer as the focal point of each label. Although the bars are not certified organic or Fair Trade, Askinosie brings an important issue to light, “We go to great lengths to make sure the farmers do not use chemicals and pesticides. We are not certified, however, in part for the same reason we aren’t Fair Trade certified—the certification process for the beans is very expensive and our farmers can’t afford it.” This says a lot about the values of Askinosie (if you believe it, which we do)—Askinosie would rather sacrifice the marketing potential of certified Fair Trade and organic beans to better support the farmers that grow the beans used in his chocolate. In addition, they pay women at a local women’s shelter to tie the string onto the rustic-looking labels.

Theo Chocolate

Theo Hug and Kiss Gift Sets – $15-$30

The name “Theo” comes from the root of the word, “theobroma,” which is the name of the genus for cacao. Based out of Seattle, Washington, Theo has been producing organic, Fair Trade chocolate since 2006 and they are now one of the largest bean-to-bar producers in the U.S. If you shop at Whole Foods, then you’ve probably seen these bars on display. Generally, their 70% dark chocolate bars have a good full-bodied, fruity flavor but it tastes more homogenized than some of the smaller bean-to-bar producers.

As a company, Theo prides themselves in being organic and Fair Trade (perhaps a little too far sometimes). They may be the only certified organic and Fair Trade bean-to-bar chocolate makers in the U.S., but there are now about 10 others that are organic and Fair Trade without the expensive certification. They use green energy sources to power the factory and sustainable packaging and printing methods.

For Valentine’s Day, Theo offers two romantic gift boxes, named “Theo Hug” and “Theo Kiss,” of different sizes to help fit your price range and chocolate demand. The Valentine’s-themed gift boxes include limited edition seasonal bars, bright foil wrapped hearts and seasonal caramels ranging from $15 to $30.

Alter Eco Chocolate

Alter Eco began in 1999 as a small retail store in Paris selling various Fair Trade products and has since expanded throughout the Northern Hemisphere spreading the awareness of Fair Trade goods as well as satisfying the sweet tooth of millions.

Alter Eco boasts an array of Fair Trade products including sugar, chocolate, tea and coffee, where a close connection is formed with each farmer to ensure they have decent living conditions for their community.

If your Valentine is of the cacao nib persuasion, the Dark 73% with crunchy roasted nibs bar will certainly give them a reason to thank you. There is no specific Valentine’s special here, but if you are truly hoping to impress your eco-conscious love interest, tell them that it’s eco not to print Valentine’s Day-specific wrapping paper because that type of business practice is almost always on the wasteful side.

Anna Davies and Robbie Stout are self-proclaimed chocolate experts dedicated to studying their obsession, night after night. Residing in Boulder, Colorado, Anna is a yoga instructor, and Robbie is a writer for a cycling magazine and website. Together, they have spent the last year studying the bean-to-bar process with an emphasis on artisanship and sustainability.

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