"And, now," as they used to say on Monty Python, "for something completely different." IgnaFire Chocolates is a brand-new company created by Clara Serrano. Travels throughout Mexico, especially around Oaxaca, exposed her to villages where they still consume the traditional, stone-ground, natural cacao beans. This isn't the heavily processed and sweetened glossy chocolate used to make the typical European-style couverture and ganache. Instead, IgnaFire produces an earthy, darker chocolate with the maximum amount of cacao bean mass, simply amended with natural coffee beans for the Moka, Mexican vanilla for the vanilla, and natural cinnamon for the cinnamon flavor. This isn't smooth and slippery chocolate like you're used to; it has some texture to it and is completely vegan. And since there's no heat-processing involved, all of the health benefits from the flavonoids and antioxidants are intact.
IgnaFire has a free-trade business model, dealing directly with the growers and village suppliers in Mexico so that they get the maximum value from their trade. IgnaFire also deals directly with the end consumer, for the same reason; no middlemen are involved. They also have the greenest packaging footprint possible: cellophane made from biodegradable cellulose, dissolvable paper made from potato starch, and glue-free boxes made from agave pulp.
Don't let all this healthy talk scare you away from the complex, dark-chocolate taste of IgnaFire. You actually go through a progression of chocolate flavors with each bite of the small morsels. There is very little sugar used, but it isn't bitter, as you might expect. The flavors are strong and pleasant, whether you try the plain cacao or the Moka, vanilla, or cinnamon. A finely ground version is also available for mixing with milk or soy milk for hot chocolate. IgnaFire is available online in a 55- to 60-piece box for $12, a 200- to 230-piece pack for $36, or in various other packages. We like this stuff! – Mick Vann
Tom Pedersen, originator and owner of Cocoa Puro, was in search of a new paradigm; he wanted an independent and creative way to make a living and decided on food as his artistic palette. He wanted one unique and exceptional product, made simply with the finest ingredients available. His obsession with chocolate kept dominating his thoughts, so he found out all there was to know about Theobroma cacao, Greek for "food of the gods."
After tasting cocoa nibs (broken seeds of the cacao tree), Pedersen went in search for whole cocoa beans. After experimenting on the home stove, it was epiphany time: He would base his product on a roasted bean enrobed in successive layers of white, milk, and dark chocolates, then rolled in cocoa powder. "Chocolate covered chocolate! I named it 'Kakawa' to honor the heritage of chocolate, the first known name for chocolate," he says. "I get my beans from Venezuela, in the Ocumare region. They're of the Criollo/Trinitario variety, not a pure strain of Criollo but with considerable components. They are fantastic in flavor. Roasting is very important, as it brings out flavor precursors developed in fermentation: pecan, Cabernet, cinnamon, licorice, olive, and more. I carefully roast, adjusting time and temperature based on the kind of bean, the size, and other factors. It smells like a huge brownie when they're done."
Pedersen's venture has proven very successful, and the crunchy, aromatic, and intensely chocolaty treats are available at the Austin Farmers' Market every Saturday, 9am-1pm; at Central Market and Whole Foods; and at nine other fine markets around town in 12-ounce bags for $28. He says he won't be doing the Chocolate Fest this year and that he has "plans up my sleeve for something very special for Valentine's Day, but it won't happen this year." – M.V.