You could think of Ashland, Oregon as the home of Southern Oregon University, of the beloved Oregon Shakespeare Festival, and of the Ashland Peach, which was deemed a huge success at the 1893 World’s Fair. Or you might think of Ashland as the place where, in December of 1887, the railroad finally met to connect Portland and San Francisco. You might even think of Ashland as the locale of the oldest working telephone booth in Oregon, a wooden box with a tin ceiling still said to operate in the Columbia Hotel, built in 1910.
Or, just maybe, you could think of Ashland as the birthplace of Dagoba Chocolate.
Dagoba Chocolate originated in 2001 as a line of organic, high-quality chocolates, whose manufacture and distribution would embrace what Dagoba now calls “Full Circle Sustainability™”. Borrowing from the vernacular of cultism, or at the very least a vague mysticism, the Dagoba site throws around terms like “mission,” “inspired,” “soul & spirit,” and “reverence”. . . .
All of which might be more palatable, so to speak, if Dagoba hadn’t been bought by the Hershey Corporation — now officially renamed The Hershey Company — in 2006.
Vegan chocolate lovers were devastated by the switch, since Artisan Confections (owned by Hershey Co.) purportedly planned to add milk to their dark chocolate bars. As a woman with a serious lifelong weakness for chocolate, I admit I’ve never enjoyed Hershey products. For those of you who, like me, simply can’t keep sweets in my house unless I’m resigned to eating them all before sunset (sometimes before lunch, or, more often, in lieu of lunch), the clearest, simplest way to depict my lack of interest in Hershey’s chocolate is to confess it goes bad and I have to throw it away before I get around to eating it.*
This isn’t political, or personal. It isn’t motivated by . . . well, anything. I simply don’t think Hershey’s chocolate tastes good enough to eat.
Is it telling that Dagoba Chocolate’s site and the wrappings on the bars themselves — printed with soy-based inks on recycled packaging in keeping with Full Circle Sustainability™ — nowhere hint at Hershey ownership? Is it part of a marketing strategy aimed at an increasingly aware public to whom things like corporate accountability and social and environmental awareness are as important as chocolate?
Oh, who are we kidding; nothing is as important as chocolate.
And so to the three bars sitting on the table beside me. I’ve decided tasting them in descending order of % cacao is as useful as any other sorting mechanism. That would make my first the Xocolatl bar, which the wrapper describes as “rich dark chocolate, chilies & nibs” in 74% cacao. This one’s not bad. The nibs are subtle in size and texture, and the chili has a bite without overwhelming the chocolate. I’m not overly familiar with spicy chocolates, but this washes down nicely with milk. The two strikes against it might be that first, it seems awfully sweet for something calling itself “dark” chocolate, and second — more important — it has that thing, that waxy undertexture I’ve always disliked in Hershey’s, which lingers on the roof of your mouth and creeps under your tongue.
Next up we’ve got 59% cacao in a bar simply described on the brown packaging as “Dark.” Again I scour the unfolded wrapper, inside and out, for any mention of Hershey ownership or distribution, and again I find none. What I do find is an excerpt from “our founder’s cacao journeys”: “. . .Walking thru the orchards, I feel as though the cacao is protecting me. Like she is caressing me . . . .”
This bar, too, seems oversweet to take itself seriously as “dark chocolate.” The flavor’s nice, though, if I stop trying to see it as dark or fine or artisan chocolate, and just think of it as generic candy. The transcendent experiences of “our founder” are not inspired in me by this one. A decent, solid bar of mediocre chocolate is what I find, its thin horizontal break-lines never actually breaking along the designated perforations. That last is fine with me, of course; I’m not one to insist on firmly delineated edges to anything. I can’t help feeling, though, that this bar leaves a hint of unpleasant aftertaste.
On to my final tasting: Hazelnut, 37% cacao, described as “hazelnut milk chocolate, toasted hazelnuts & rice crisps.” As with the other two, this is an inoffensive chocolate bar. Unlike the other two, this one has the definite color and more sugary texture of milk chocolate, which leaves a grittiness after melting on the fingertips. The rice crisps are a pleasant combination with the hazelnut pieces, though everything is drowned out by a heavy hand with the flavour of the chocolate itself. Not much subtlety there.
. . . But I, who’ve been known to bike across SE Portland just to press my face to the window of a patisserie famous for its European drinking chocolate, can’t drum up much enthusiasm for Dagoba chocolate in its current incarnation, at least not with these three offerings. And I confess to being more put off than seduced by the proliferation of ™s and ®s all over the packaging. I’m not likely to forget anytime soon that I’ve been eating Dagoba® Organic Chocolate, created by The Art of Alchemy™ through “mystery, integrity, and Full Circle Sustainability™” because “You can deprive the body but the soul needs chocolate®.”
* The author wishes to note that though it may be neither here nor there, the portions of all three of these chocolate bars not consumed during the course of writing this review sat unmolested on her kitchen counter, in plain view, for several days — an event unprecedented with any sweets ever, including fancy cereals and breads, other than black liquorice, Hershey’s Kisses, and Choward’s Violet Mints, the flavor of which the author’s good friend B. A. Ray describes as “licking Grandma’s neck on a day when Grandma forgot to wash all the soap off.