At the end of a long week of midterms, walking home through Isla Vista can only be made better by one thing: free chocolate. The Friday afternoon haze was brought to life by a chocolate tasting event on the Isla Vista Food Co-op patio. Hundreds of tasting cups made from recyclable paper covered the table. Inside each cup, beautiful cross-sections of strawberries awaited their cacao pairings. On a cutting board, employees chopped up the colorful bars and then placed small chunks of chocolate into the cups.
Four different chocolates were served, each with verified Fair Trade packaging. Fair Trade USA, established in 1998 after coffee farmers in Nicaragua were exploited for their labor, is now an important evaluation to ensure ethical treatment of workers and products. This certification is most seen in cacao beans, coffee, bananas, honey and cotton, which historically have had some of the worst problems with unfair dealings in agricultural laborers and work conditions.
Fair trade allows small farmers better working conditions as well as protection from large corporations. By buying fair trade products, people can support farmers and give them more control over their own and their community’s future. To ensure the products are fair trade, check the labels.
I tasted the four chocolates in order of cocoa content, from white to dark:
Tony’s Chocolonely Raspberry Popping Candy Chocolate (0% cocoa): Like all white chocolate, this is not a true chocolate, as it doesn’t contain cocoa. The bar had a colorful presentation — the little raspberry seeds sprinkled throughout the creamy bar were unique and aesthetically pleasing next to the rest of the chocolate. With a strawberry, the sweetness of the white chocolate was muted, which brought forth the tangy raspberry pops. As a lover of dark chocolate, I wasn’t the biggest fan of the raspberry white chocolate. However, its buttery nature, despite its coarse look and feel, was a pleasant surprise.
Tony’s Chocolonely Milk Chocolate (32% cocoa): The milk chocolate was initially sweeter than most milk chocolates I’ve had, though it maintained a warm and quite delicious richness. There was a decent amount of melting, and it had a slight salty aftertaste, which prompted me to want to pair it with caramel. The strawberry still proved a valid, complementary pairing. My only complaint was the thickness of the bar, which did not feel as balanced with the size of the strawberry.
Chocolove Strong Dark Chocolate (70% cocoa): The jump from 32% cocoa to 70% cocoa was a startling change, just on a scale of sweetness to bitterness. With a darker color and taste, this was one of my favorites of the chocolates. However, the fruity notes in this dark chocolate were a wonderful cool relief from the overwhelming rich sweetness of the first two chocolates. The aftertaste could only be described as having a umami-type complexity, complemented by its smooth surface and fine texture. The Chocolove dark chocolate had a great balance of taste and aroma overall.
Endangered Species Dark Chocolate with Cacao Nibs (72% cocoa): Sprinkled with roasted cacao nibs (earthy, crushed pieces of cacao beans), this dark chocolate was rich with floral overtones. This was perfect with the strawberry pairing, a wonderful combination of bitter and sweet. Additionally, the hard snap of the dark chocolate was a pleasing texture. With the highest cocoa rating of the tasting, the Endangered Species chocolate was my favorite, for its aroma, taste and excellent pairing with the strawberry.
I was surprised by my reaction to some of the chocolates, especially the white chocolate. As I don’t typically gravitate toward white chocolate, I was appreciative of the opportunity to try some as a part of this tasting.
These fair trade chocolates are available to purchase at the I.V. Food Co-op. So, next time you are buying chocolate or coffee, make sure to always look out for the Fair Trade USA certification.
A version of this article appeared on p. 12 of the February 16, 2023 print edition of the Daily Nexus.