Riding Parallel: Destination, Puna Chocolate Co.

Friday, June 18, 2021

Here I sit, finally putting fingers to clacking keys, enjoying the last of my Puna Chocolate Co. purchase from late April. It’s a company I find myself drawn back to again and again for their seasonal confections and bars. I was tempted by the Milk Chocolate Coconut Clusters, Tiramisu Chocolate Bark, and 90% Dark Chocolate bar.

The coconut clusters are hefty, a nice thick coating of chocolate on every strand of coconut in the stack, but thankfully, it stops short of being a dense lump of chocolate that’s unwieldy to bite through. It reminds me of the candy bar Mounds, but with a more flavorful, nutty chocolate, and strands of coconut you can actually sink your teeth into.

Mounds used to be one of my favorite chocolate candy bars, which I stopped buying when I decided to switch to ethically sourced chocolate. These coconut clusters have replaced them in my heart, even setting aside the matter of ethical chocolate sourcing. I’ll be keeping a close eye out to see when these return to Puna Chocolate Co.’s store.

As for the Tiramisu Chocolate Bark, I must confess, I’ve only had the dessert it’s based upon maybe three times in my life, but eating this bark vividly reminded me of eating it, although as you might expect, it can’t replicate the soft textures. Rich and creamy, with a subtly salty coffee flavor to compliment the darker chocolate, I struggled to save enough of this bar to give my family a taste.

I originally saw this bark advertised online, where it appeared in a thicker round shape. It’s appearance, hadn’t really grabbed me, but I was curious about the flavor. I was pleasantly surprised to see the in-store version had a thinner, square shape with an enticing drizzle of chocolate over the top.

Finally we plunge into the depths, with Puna Chocolate Co.’s 90% Dark Chocolate bar. Unlike my other two purchases, this isn’t a seasonal offering, it’s one of the regularly stocked items.

I was a little nervous, because in all frankness, as eager as I was to try a straight chocolate bar from this company, 80% of the reason I decided to buy this bar that day was the striking packaging. A gorgeous matte black paper sleeve featuring bold metallic silver print and a deep sea diver entangled with an octopus with the invitation to “Journey to the Deep Dark.” What’s not to love?

It’s a purchase that proved not just beautiful, but wise. The back of this package boasts “Extra Dark, Never Bitter”. to which I would mostly agree. I think it dabbles in the best of the bitter palate; complex and complimentary in the chocolate bar, like a dash of bitters that rounds out a cocktail’s flavor.

The first thing that strikes me upon tasting is how sweet it is. A rarity in such a dark bar with so little sugar. I do detect what to me has become their signature nuttiness; but with less influence from sugar and milk, its flavor is much more defined. In this 90% manifestation I’m reminded of walnut, with a light, almost floral, note that develops as the chocolate melts. It ends with a slight acidic tang that leaves my mouth watering.

I savored this bar, only finishing it just now as I write this. A testament to the fact that, on occasion, I can demonstrate excellent self-control. Thus concludes my review of my April chocolate adventures, although it is far from the only thing new on the Hawai’i Cacao Express.

Besides my recent venture into compiling Chocolate Trunks for sale, I’ve also accepted the responsibilities of Secretary to the East Hawaii Cacao Association (EHCA), and already it has been an interesting journey.

If my independent explorations for this blog are like riding a train, then one could compare serving as a board member to EHCA to riding a ship that often happens to glide parallel to the train along the coast. There are times when the ports and train stations meet.

I found such an instance when EHCA held its first general meeting since electing new board members on May 28th.

Puna Chocolate Co. hosted us and offered EHCA members who made a reservation to attend in person a chocolate tasting of different origins from around the island. When I heard my fellow board member Adam Potter of Puna Chocolate Co. propose the idea, I tried my best to keep a straight neutral face, while internally my heart swelled and I cheered like a rambunctious sports fan.

But the generosity didn’t stop there. Board members Jahnavi Lake and Patrick Merritt contributed chocolate samples from Hawaiian Crown Chocolate and Cacao Farmers of Hawaii, respectively.

It was a buffet of flavors, and tasting with the EHCA members meant hearing both thoughtful criticism about the chocolate’s profiles, as well as some insider information from the cacao growers themselves. Information like how much fat is in the beans used in one chocolate bar’s origin, or what other chocolate makers a sourced farm sold to.

Adam revealed that in some instances, Puna Chocolate Co.’s recent venture into single origin bars was due the company picking up the slack in the local chocolate maker market. As operations slowed or in some cases ceased for some chocolate makers during the pandemic, the local cacao growers who supplied them were left with beans that had suddenly lost their buyers.

While I do wish those chocolate makers much success in resuming operations, I’m enjoying the wide selection of local cacao sources this is allowing Puna Chocolate Co. in the meantime. Especially in the form of their tastings.

Tastings, whether they are with single origin bars or blended bars are quickly becoming my favorite way to explore new chocolate. Getting the chance to sit down with a maker to enjoy the flavors while I hear extra details about the choices in production paints a clearer picture of not only the story of the chocolate bar, but the personality of its creator.

In fact, if all goes well, this time tomorrow, I’ll step off the S.S. EHCA and hop back onto the Hawaiʻi Cacao Express for another tasting at the Hamakua Chocolate Farm.

Between these two modes of transport into the world of Hawaiʻi cacao, I see much to explore on the horizon.

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