We pride ourselves on having a great selection of chocolate from near and far at a variety of price points. Some tout the "raw" chocolate, some elaborate flavour combinations; some are local, some from exotic locations; some organic, some not - but all great quality stuff. So how do you choose?
Once you've decided on a milk or a dark or if you're looking for particular flavours or other qualities, you're really left with the packaging. The packaging always attempts to convey something of the product within - the no-nonsense cardboard of Galérie au Chocolat or the exquisite chiyogami paper wrappers of Laura Slack's bars - but ultimately it comes down to judging a book by its cover; both the design and the information included.
To tell you the truth, we hesitated about carrying these Yaal and ChocoSoleil products from a company (AOG Foods) founded by two Ecuadoran-Canadian brothers and their friend because we didn't like the packaging. We still don't understand the distinction between the product lines. The design is too busy and its graphics too dated-looking. But when we opened these "books" and got to know about the team's mission and the product inside we were sold - and we hope you will be too.
Ecuador has a long history of cacao cultivation and is a top exporter. Its varied geography offers many distinct regional terroir variations of the bean and its flavours and characteristics. AOG supports several small grower cooperatives and pays 20-50% above current market rates in order to support small communities using traditional farming methods and promote agricultural sustainability. They are Canada, US and EU certified organic, exceed fair trade and environmental standards and use purpose-built state of the art processing facilities and traceability procedures.
And then there's the chocolate.
Whether it's blended or single estate origin, you get a smooth, complex, rich flavour and mouthfeel - even the 80% Esmerelda doesn't have the kind of chalkiness you can get with cocoa percentages that high. And the inclusion on the perfectly portioned discs of exotic fruits or the thin layer of maca, quinoa, sesame, amaranth, turmeric, chia and cocoa nibs on the Super 7 bar - never overwhelms the chocolate. And it's all produced bean-to-bar, which means that AOG handles every step in the process: from sourcing to sorting, roasting, cracking, winnowing, grinding, conching, tempering, molding, packaging and getting the bar to us.
You can't really go wrong with any of the chocolate you can get at the Mercantile - whether it's Laura Slack or Chuao or Marou or Vosges or Galérie or Theo or Chocosol or Denman Island. And some will look better in your gift basket than others or appeal to different styles. But if you really want to wow the chocolate aficionados in your life once the wrapping is opened up, give these a try - you won't be disappointed.