Craft Chocolate: Why Buy It?

Why should you spend a little more to buy quality craft chocolate?

It’s a fair question, though we here at Patric Chocolate wonder, why wouldn’t you buy great craft chocolate? But we’re a little biased.   Below are just a few reasons that fine craft chocolate (like ours!) is some of the best food in the culinary world.

  • There are so many flavor components! While trying to understand what gives chocolate its flavor, food scientists have classified more than 600 different aromatic constituents. These components make chocolate one of the most complex of any food or beverage in the world, and this doesn’t even include the delicate flavor balance of slight acidity and sweetness that we taste as a bit of chocolate melts across the tongue. Woah!

 

  • Fermentation is key. Chocolate is made from fermented cacao seeds. This fermentation, as with any fermented food, adds complexity of flavor that doesn’t exist in the raw material, just like with wine, beer, and cheese.

 

  • Fermentation AND roasting is a winning combo. Chocolate is made from fermented, roasted cacao seeds. The roasting process adds additional flavors and helps create and strengthen the quintessential and inimitable “chocolaty” note. Flavor technologists have been trying to mimic chocolate’s flavor for many years and still have not come up with an acceptable substitute. (Chocolate is one of only a handful of foods that are both fermented and roasted, which is a large part of the reason chocolate is so complex.)

 

  • Origin matters. Different origin chocolates made with beans from one country, or even one farm, like our 67% Madagascar bar, can have as many differences as similarities, just like single-bean coffees, which is why the flavor profiles of different chocolates can seem like night and day. For example, some may be intensely fruity, while others are quite earthy with notes of tobacco.  Of course, if two or more  flavorful beans are blended together, like we do in our 70% Signature Blend, the results can be just as complex, but in new and intriguing ways.

 

  • Time matters. From freshly harvested seed to finished bar, chocolate can take longer to make than some types of beer, with the entire process lasting at least several weeks, and that doesn’t even take into account the time it takes to load them onto a boat and get them to our craft chocolate workshop!

 

Knowing these things, Patric Chocolate works hard to create a product that is as interesting and delicious as possible. So, though craft chocolate is often appreciated in small quantities, we won’t judge you for being unable to resist more than one bite of our enticing bars!

Chocolate Pairing: Craft chocolate goes with… everything!

There are a lot of popular guidelines out there when it comes to chocolate pairing…

The food-loving folks at Patric Chocolate want you to remember that the best chocolate pairing is the one that you like.  And thankfully for you, Patric Chocolate pairs well with just about anything (not to mention being great on its own)!

In the same way that we try numerous flavor combinations to create the highest possible quality of the special release and permanent bars in our lineup, the same idea goes for pairing our bars with food and drink items that you like. Try the Mint Crunch bar over ice cream or the Signature 70% Blend bar with a savory hard cheese like Parmesan or other aged cheeses like Asiago, Gouda, or Comté.

And let us not forget the longstanding, delicious culinary match of dark chocolate and wine. Try our 75% Madagascar Dark bar with a bold, dry red wine, such as a Cabernet or Merlot. Sip a sweet dessert wine with our Dark Milk bar or try a Port with the 67% Madagascar bar. Try your own combinations with other types of wine (or whisky!), such as sparkling Prosecca, with your favorite Patric bar for an outstanding chocolate pairing.

Get creative when pairing our chocolate with other food items. This Huffington Post article shares a variety of sweet and savory foods that pair well with dark chocolate, such as hot peppers, sweet caramel or high-quality bacon. Try some of your own combinations at home, and let us know what you think!

If trying to figure out chocolate pairings with other foods is a little overwhelming, don’t sweat it. Our wide range of dark chocolate bars are perfectly balanced to create a stellar solo snack.

An incredible amount of care is put into making Patric Chocolate by our four hardworking team members, who have such a passion for what they do.  Often you’ll find that this is the case with other craft-creators as well.  So, be sure to ask at your local fine-foods stores for products made by small companies for which quality is their raison d’être.  That way you can be sure that your chocolate pair will truly be beyond compare.

 

See you in the chocolate aisle!

Alan “Patric” McClure

Single-Malt Scotch Whisky: The Fine Chocolate of the Beverage World

Since I have been scarcely old enough to consume alcoholic beverages, I have had an interest in Scotch Whisky. At the age of 21 as I tried to figure out what in the “spirits” category appealed to me, I kept feeling drawn, again and again, to Scotch. At first I just ordered whatever was affordable, but gradually I became more interested in pricier blends, and upon arriving in Columbia, MO to finish my B.A., I was introduced to the multifaceted world of single malts. I’ve never looked back. Now I have enough familiarity with the whisky-making process, various distilleries, and their geographical locations and styles, that I don’t feel completely lost, but at the same time, I realize that there is a great deal left for me to learn, and so I persevere–let me tell you, it’s a tough life. 😉

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Chocolate: The New Fine Wine?

Those of you who have heard me speak, who follow this blog, or my tweets at http://www.twitter.com/PatricChocolate, know that I always dwell upon the many similarities between fine chocolate and other fine foods, with a specific emphasis on wine. I do this not because I want to charge more for fine chocolate, but because I truly believe that the similarities are clear when carefully considered, and that my comments will help people to think about chocolate in new and different ways. Of course, I work with chocolate each and every day, so this is something that is on my mind more than it will be for the average person, but lately the issue has been on my mind even more than usual.

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Chocolate-Myth Busters #4: Organic Chocolate Tastes Better (or Worse)

Potential Myth To Be Busted:

Organic chocolate tastes better (or worse) than non-organic chocolate.

Long Response:

I have responded to similar questions in several interviews, and most recently spoke about the issue at a chocolate forum hosted by Charles Chocolates in San Francisco during Slow Food Nation.

An interesting thing to note is that while the most flavorful chocolate that many people might encounter on a daily basis, especially when we are talking about a grocery store, is organic, there is also another tier of chocolate bars, in terms of quality and price, with which most people are generally unfamiliar. This higher tier includes bars that are more expensive per ounce than the average organic chocolate bar at the grocery store, in some cases by multiple factors.

The interesting fact is that most of these more flavorful bars are not certified organic, and do not mention organic on their labels in any way. To add more to the story, though most of these companies have not been marketing organic bars, it is generally the case that when they have ventured into this part of the chocolate market, the resulting bars have been looked down upon by chocolate connoisseurs in terms of the quality of their flavor. This is not to say that they have been considered to be as uninteresting as their organic, grocery store-bound cousins, but only that when compared to the best bars on the market, these organic bars have generally not been nearly as good. So, with the relatively low quality of flavor of some of the initial organic bars that came to market, and then the overall low opinion by chocophiles, of the newer, higher-end organic bars, it seems that some chocolate connoisseurs have begun to form an opinion that great chocolate cannot be made from organic cacao.

There have been various reasons given for this newly found rule of thumb, from organic cacao being wild and untamable to the supposition that there is simply not any good cacao being grown organically. On the other hand, there has also been a more or less unspoken, and completely contradictory assumption on the part of other chocolate lovers–that some chocolate makers may have furthered–which is the idea that all fine cacao is basically organic anyway, and that this is part of the reason that fine chocolate has such a good flavor. If a reason is given for believing this, then it is usually that the small farmers who grow cacao are too poor to purchase the fertilizers and pesticides that would turn organic produce into non-organic produce in the first place. As one might imagine, none of these claims are the whole truth and nothing but the truth; things are more complex than they appear, and the complexity has grown as new and existing fine chocolate companies have just fairly recently begun to release brand new organic bars that are finally starting to destroy the belief that no organic chocolate can be really good chocolate.

In the US alone, there are several bean-to-bar companies with certified organic products, and others who list “organic” in their ingredients list. Furthermore, there are definitely other companies that don’t advertise organic cacao in any way, but who do use it in some of their products; so far Patric Chocolate fits into this final category as our Madagascar cacao is certified organic. When combined with some of the newly emerging organic bars from fine chocolate companies in Europe, specifically France and Italy, it turns out that increasingly, there are bars on the market that many of those who take chocolate very seriously would recognize as serious contenders in terms of quality.

In closing, however, let me hasten to add that it is not a safe bet to believe that all, let alone most, fine chocolate is made with organic cacao if it isn’t listed on the packaging. Also, judging a book by its cover, or a bar by its label, when it comes to the word “organic” either being present or absent, is bound to lead to you purchasing chocolate that is not what you expect in terms of flavor. Better would be to ask your local retailer for a sample of something that you would like to try. You’d be surprised how often they have sample bars sitting around for just such occasions.

Short Response:

The presence or absence of the word organic on a chocolate bar label does not speak to its quality in terms of flavor.

Very best,

Alan
Chocolate maker and myth buster

Got some chocolate myths that need busting? Send them my way by posting a comment below (even anonymously), or emailing me directly at:
customer.service@patric-chocolate.com

Chocolate Aftertaste and Microbes in Your Mouth

Hi all,

Yes, I know it is an odd title for a blog post, but I came across an article at Science Daily that really got me thinking about the impact of our invisible little friends on the flavor of chocolate. Of course I’ve already talked about the impact of bacteria and yeasts on the flavor of chocolate as regards post-harvest processing of cacao such as fermentation–where I’ve compared the result to wine and beer–but the flavor impacts that I’m thinking about now have nothing to do with changing the chocolate itself, and everything to do with what happens after the finished chocolate is in your mouth.

The authors of the study cited in the article above have noted that certain chemical compounds that are normally tasteless, when exposed to microbes that are naturally present in the mouth and/or throat, are transformed into aromatic compounds that impact flavor in interesting and unique ways, in some cases giving off what we would consider to be the “characteristic odor” of a particular food. Specifically, the paper focuses on what we often call “aftertaste.” The idea is that it takes some time–maybe 20-30 seconds–for the bacteria to carry out the transformation from the odorless compound to the aromatic compound, so it isn’t until the end of a tasting experience that certain flavors become obvious.

Thinking back to all of the chocolates that I’ve tasted, some with magnificent, long-lasting finishes, and others that seem to spiral so quickly to an unsatisfying demise, it makes me wonder once more about the reason for the differences, and whether the microbes in my mouth had any say in the matter. There are a million implications to all of this, including whether the compounds that these bacteria might be processing are naturally present in cacao or not, and if not, how they get there–fermentation, oxidation during drying, roasting??

Lots of food for thought, so to speak, and speaking of thought, who knows, maybe they’ll find out that there are microbes that change the way we think as well.

‘Til next time,

Alan

Chocolate-Myth Busters #3: Criollo Cacao Tastes Better Than Other Types?

Potential Myth To Be Busted:

Chocolate made from Criollo cacao tastes better than chocolate made with other types of cacao.

Response:

Often sound bytes and catch phrases are latched onto. These condensed bits of seeming wisdom make us feel comfortable that we really have an understanding of something. When it comes to chocolate, “Criollo is the best type of cacao” is one of the little oft-repeated phrases that can be found plastered all over the internet. The problem is that most people repeating it don’t really know what Criollo is. The question is whether any of us really know.

Historically, Criollo was the type of cacao grown and consumed by the native peoples of Central America and southern Mexico–notably, the Olmecs, and later the Maya, amongst others. This is probably the type of cacao that the Spanish first encountered, and this is the type of cacao that has generally been held in high regard ever since. It is now held that Criollo cacao broke away, at some point, from one of the populations of what is called Forastero cacao that originated in South America in the Amazonian region. At what point this sub-population of Forastero became different enough, some might say inbred enough, to be referred to as a different type of cacao is hard to say. Were people involved in the change during this early development of Criollo? We have no historical record, but considering the skill with which other plants were domesticated, there is a good chance that people were involved in the breeding of this offshoot, and that they did so for some specific reason. It is posited that the reason would be related to the lack of bitterness and astringency in Criollo due to the relative lack of polyphenols, something which also explains the light color of the cotyledon and Criollo trees’ relative fragility when compared to the susceptibility to insect attack and various diseases of Forastero populations.

In fact, the reason that this is all important is because the Criollo is so fragile that it has basically, some might say entirely, been destroyed by diseases that impact cacao. Because of this, Criollo has been hybridized, probably starting in the 1700’s, with Forastero populations to strengthen it, while maintaining a somewhat moderate level of bitterness and astringency, though there are certainly very vigorous hybrids that don’t seem to have this low-bitterness Criollo characteristic at all. As of the 21st century, there are literally thousands of hybrids with bean colors ranging from white to deep purple, and bitter and astringency qualities from low to quite high. Additionally, we now know that there are some Forastero populations that have white beans. So what?…you might wonder. What does this have to do with the potential myth above?

The point is that Criollo, as it once existed, no longer does, and if it does exist at all in its pure state, probably only does so in the middle of long-abandoned indigenous communities and/or cacao groves. Though there are some companies using the term “Criollo” on their bars, until DNA testing can be done that rules out hybridization of any kind, something that was more likely to happen than not, the term Criollo should just be seen as a relative. In other words, something is “Criollo-like” or “Criollo-type” or “Criollo-heavy” etc., but pure Criollo?? I wouldn’t bet my money on it. That said, we can see the vast majority of all cacao in the world as a spectrum, with Criollo-heavy on one side, Forastero populations on the other, and hybrids mostly in the middle. I say mostly in the middle because it depends upon the Forastero populations that we are considering. After all, Criollo and Forastero are still the same species, i.e. Theobroma cacao. They aren’t even two different subspecies. This being the case, and considering that Forastero is a very general umbrella term that is used to identify many different populations, there are certainly some Forastero populations that are more similar in characteristics to Criollo, than some hybrid cacao populations are. All of this depends on the genetic stock that was hybridized in the first place. I know that it seems that I am getting further and further off track here, but bear with me and I’ll jump right back into flavor in a moment. The point is that there is so much complexity in the cacao world that saying that Criollo tastes better than Forastero is a problematic statement. First, there is the question of whether Criollo really even exists anymore. Next there is the question of what Forastero is really signifying, and finally there is the fact that hybrid cacao populations are all over the map, with some being very Criollo-like, and some being less like Criollo than some Forastero populations are. That said…

We are still only talking about bitterness and astringency here, and there is much more to flavor than that–much, much more. Bitterness and astringency both impact flavor, but neither is an aromatic quality. Cacao has aromatic qualities even prior to fermentation and roasting, but after these two complex processes, the flavor of cacao becomes so complex that some argue, based upon scientific studies, that it has more flavor components than any other food in the world. Some of these flavor compounds are due to internal chemical changes occurring during fermentation and drying of the cacao, but others have to do with flavor compounds created by the yeast and bacteria that are then absorbed by the cacao. These absorbed flavors have more to do with the microbes that are active during fermentation than they have to do with the genetics of the cacao, and the types of microbes are dependent upon the climate, microclimate, weather patterns, and other things that would be classified as terroir. Still, there are even further changes that the cacao undergoes during roasting, and dependent upon the roast profile and the chemical compounds present within the bean, some of which are due to fermentation and drying, and others of which are due to genetics, we end up with a sum total of flavor that is difficult to decode or classify.

Have I boggled your mind yet by getting you to think about the complexity of cacao? I hope that I have, because that is the very point of this rant. And believe it or not, what I have written above is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to decoding cacao flavor. So, does Criollo cacao taste better than other cacao? Well…

If it exists, and it is fermented and dried properly, and it is then roasted properly and skillfully turned into chocolate, then…maybe. It may have lower amounts of bitterness and astringency than other cacao, but that certainly isn’t all that there is to flavor. Some people believe, though admittedly they are still mostly in the minority, that some Forastero and/or hybrid populations will give, when well-fermented and properly dried, cacao that is incredibly complex in flavor, if perhaps somewhat more bitter. What is more important? Complexity or bitterness? And are these two qualities mutually exclusive?

And here we are with more questions than answers again. Maybe that is because, at the end of the day, when it comes to foods it all boils down to personal taste. So, here is my answer in short.

In Short:

Does chocolate made from Criollo cacao taste better that chocolate made with other types of cacao?

You be the judge, and I mean this literally. Buy chocolate made by companies that take chocolate seriously. Taste it and decide if you like it. Whether it says Criollo on the label or not, and whether it really is Criollo or not, you’ll either like the chocolate, or you won’t. As you get more serious about chocolate, you’ll begin to figure out with increasing precision what it is that really draws you to a chocolate–what qualities you like most in a chocolate. Who cares what the cacao is called at that point. Enjoy your chocolate, that is the whole reason for its existence.

Very best,

Alan
Chocolate maker and myth buster

Got some chocolate myths that need busting? Send them my way by posting a comment below (even anonymously), or emailing me directly at:
customer.service@patric-chocolate.com

Chocolate-Myth Busters #2: Belgian Chocolate Is the Best in the World?


Potential myth to be busted:

Belgian (or Swiss) chocolate is the best in the world!

Response:

This is a commonly held belief and something that, as a chocolate maker, I hear often. Many people have a story about receiving chocolate brought back from Belgium/Switzerland and how it was the best that they had ever had. With all of this circumstantial evidence, one might well assume that there is a large grain of truth to the statement. Here is the actual truth:

There is no best chocolate in the world. Taste in chocolate is based upon two main things: culture and individual education/experience, and these all vary infinitely for everyone in the world.

It will certainly be possible to find people in Belgium/Switzerland that prefer dark, more heavily roasted, French chocolate, but most will prefer a very creamy milk chocolate. This is because this is what they are used to. This is what their culture tells them is good.

Do I agree personally? Not at all. I prefer the following type of chocolate:

Start with quality cacao, roast minimally, add just enough sugar to moderate innate cacao bitterness and astringency present in even the best quality cacao, conche in such a way to lead to a pleasurable balance of flavors where cacao is still the star player, age slightly for further flavor development, mold and enjoy.

Belgian/Swiss styles on the whole are more like this:

Start with mid-quality cacao, add lots of sugar, lots of cocoa butter, milk, and lots of vanilla and/or malt.

The average person off the street in the US would probably prefer the Belgian style (though that is changing), and chocolate made according to my preferences may, at first taste, be quite unexpected for people who are used to eating Beligian-style chocolate. Yet, I find that when people are wine drinkers and foodies in general, they make quite an easy transition from thinking of chocolate as brown, sweet, creamy, milk and vanilla-tinged stuff, to a product that is a a little bit thicker on the palate, and with complex notes of fruit, nuts, cocoa and an otherwise robust profile. Not everyone likes it, but many do or learn to like it more than other styles. The key is often for people to understand that it is different for a reason, and what that reason is, and then to eat the chocolate with that in mind. Expectations have to first be destroyed and then re-formed. Do you remember the first time that you tasted coffee, wine or beer? Did you really enjoy it? Some of the most complex and interesting foods in the world take time to finally understand; that is how I see it.

Does this mean that my chocolate, or chocolate that I like, is the best in the world? Not at all. It still just means that I like it best, and that there are more and more people finding value in it.

Those of you starting to feel that I am taking too much of a relativist approach however by saying that quality only has meaning in relation to an individuals culture and personal experiences, have no fear, I’ll give you something a bit more concrete.

Let’s say that we look to people who take chocolate very seriously, write about it, review it, talk about it, hold tastings, and have a good grasp of the variety of chocolate out there. If there was a general concensus amongst these chocolate literati that certain types of chocolate are better than others, couldn’t we say that this “type” of chocolate is best? I’ll leave that up to you to decide, but I’ll tell you approximately what they would choose. A chocolate:

  • Made with good/high-quality cacao
  • That is a dark chocolate with a percentage from 65%-80%
  • That has a roast profile from moderate to heavy
  • With a moderately creamy texture, often due to a small amount of added cocoa butter
  • That has a small amount of vanilla, no malt, or even no flavoring added at all

Keep in mind that all of these people are individuals and that they don’t all think as one uber-expert, so the above is just a summary that encapsulates the general tendencies of the group. It is certainly possible for a chocolate to fall within the above framework and be considered bad by most of those chocophiles and the inverse could be true. One thing that is interesting to mention, however, is that almost none of these chocolates would be Belgian or Swiss. Most would be French, Italian, and increasingly, American.

In short:

Taste is subjective, but most chocophiles do not prefer Belgian/Swiss chocolate to other chocolates.

Myth busted?
You be the judge.

Best,

Alan
Patric Chocolate
Disclaimer: There are certainly chocolates made in Belgium or Switzerland that do not fit the description given above of Belgian and Swiss chocolate. By using the terms Belgian or Swiss chocolate I mean to point to the generally preferred styles of chocolate in those countries, and not to say that all chocolate made in either country is of that style, even if the vast majority may be. In either case, my intention is not to speak badly of any companies.

Got some chocolate myths that need busting? Send them my way by posting a comment below (even anonymously), or emailing me directly at:
customer.service@patric-chocolate.com

Chocolate-Myth Busters #1: High Percentage = Healthy?



Potential Myth:

“People often say that higher percentage chocolate bars are better for you, is this actually the case?”

Response:

There has been a great deal of research over the past couple of years concerning polyphenol antioxidants in cacao and chocolate, and it does appear as though there is a good deal of scientific data backing up the potential health benefits of eating cacao and chocolate. Judging by this, one might logically assume that high cocoa-percentage chocolates are healthier than those with lower cocoa-percentages. This can be accurate, but its accuracy depends on several things:

1) First of all, cocoa percentage includes the amount of chocolate liquor (ground up, winnowed, cocoa beans), cocoa butter and cocoa powder in the chocolate. However, if we see the number 70%, this doesn’t tell us the proportion of those three ingredients. If there is a great deal more cocoa butter in one 70% bar than another, then considering the fact that cocoa butter, which is simply the fat of the cocoa bean, doesn’t contain antioxidants, then that would meant that one 70% bar could have lower levels antioxidants than another. In fact, it is much more than theoretically possible for a 69% bar to have more chocolate liquor in it than a 75% bar, and therefore have a higher levels of antioxidants.

2) Secondarily, there is the issue that the antioxidant levels in cacao are reduced substantially during the processing that makes it taste good (i.e. raw unfermented cacao tastes quite bitter, astringent, and un-chocolate-like). Cacao is one of the few foods in the world that is both fermented (and then dried) and roasted, and the fermentation and drying–and according to some researchers, roasting too–lead to a substantially reduced amount of antioxidants in the cacao itself. This means that unless you are willing to forgo the reason that people like chocolate in the first place–it tastes amazing–and essentially turn it into a bitter health tonic, then chocolate will always have reduced antioxidant levels when compared to raw, unfermented cacao. That said, if you want to choose bars that may–and that is a big, big, maybe–have higher antioxidant levels, then you will probably be best off choosing the worst tasting, most bitter and astringent dark chocolate that you can find. If this doesn’t sound appealing, then simply take solace in the fact that the best tasting dark chocolates will still have higher antioxidant levels than most other foods, and when you combine that with the beauty of its flavor, it can’t be beat.

In Short: Higher percentages on a chocolate bar can be a simple rule of thumb if one wants to figure out which bar has higher antioxidant amounts, but this rule of thumb is often quite inaccurate due to different fermentation rates of different qualities of cacao, and different proportions of cocoa butter to chocolate liquor and cocoa powder, which all impact antioxidant levels. Perhaps better is to buy the dark chocolate that you like best, while trying more robust chocolates from time to time to see if they have grown on you, in order to focus on enjoying the chocolate for what it is–a delicious food–rather than try to turn it into the next health-food fad. We all know where those fads lead, and it is rarely good place.

Myth (Partially) Busted,

Alan

Got some chocolate myths that need busting? Send them my way by posting a comment below (even anonymously), or emailing me directly at:
customer.service@patric-chocolate.com

Chocolate-Myth Busters

I’ve been doing quite a bit of myth busting concerning chocolate “facts” since the Patric Chocolate blog first started, but it took a loyal reader to point out the obvious:

“Here’s something you could run with for years […] Chocolate myth busters – published, blogged and wild rumors in the chocolate world debunked. I continue to see incorrect information take on a life of its own. “Facts” that aren’t facts.”–David Arnold

…And as soon as it was suggested, I thought, “Why haven’t I been doing this from the beginning?” Truly a “Duh” type of moment.

The problem is that I have been writing almost exclusively more lengthy and complicated articles, and then I always end up getting so busy that they often never get finished. Of course, I still intend to finish all of those unfinished items, and I’m sure that I will–sometime–but I’m realizing that I need something simpler. I need something that is relevant and interesting, but not too time consuming to write. Chocolate-Myth Busters is intended to be just such a recurring topic.

So, I have some ideas of my own, but I am also interested in dealing with topics that interest my readers. That said, please let me know of any potential myths that you would like to see busted. Here is an example of what I am looking for:

“People often say that higher percentage chocolate bars are better for you, is this actually the case?”

Trust me, no matter how simple you think a question might be, I guarantee that there are a hundred other people out there wondering the same thing, and you just might be surprised at the answer.

So, take just a second out of your day to suggest some potential myths that need busting! Feel free to add them to the comments below (no need to sign up for any account), or email me personally at:

Customer.Service@Patric-Chocolate.com

Very best,

Alan
Chocolate myth buster at your service