Fringe Candy: Theo Congo Pili Pili Chili

Can't stand the heat, get out of the Congo.
Can’t stand the heat, get out of the Congo.

Another chocolate bar review? What the hell is it with this guy? He rails about how he’s not a fan of chocolate, and how it’s evil

Sit down. I’m getting to that.

I know, I owe you all a non-chocolate candy post sometime in the near future, but this is bigger than candy.

I’ll give you a second to collect yourself.

Good? Ok, let’s continue. It’s a circuitous route, but worth the trip. After all, there’s candy at the end of it.

When I started college and picked my major, I chose history. Couldn’t help it. I love history. Thing is, it’s a BIG subject, so they make you narrow it down. At my college, they did this–pretty arbitrarily might I add–by continent. In public school, all we really learned was American History (and a pretty inaccurate view of it as well…less history, almost more propaganda). The only time we talked about other places was when they impacted our shit. That meant world wars and the slave trade and that was pretty much it.

So there I was, college, deciding where to focus my historical lens, and I thought about Africa. Because all I had really been taught was “That’s where slaves came from.” And even then I knew that was bullshit. There had to be more to it. After all, it was a pretty damn big place. And, you know, what I was able to glean from Tarzan movies and various adventure novels (which, to no one’s surprise, were as accurate and culturally sensitive as my shitty history classes).

Let’s overlook for the moment that I lived in a very small, still pretty backwards (read: racist) town deep in cowboy country. Let’s overlook the fact that there was one, and only one, teacher for the subject. Let’s instead consider that I was in college in the late 80’s. And most of the countries in Africa were having a hard, hard time in the late 80’s as they were shaking off the legacy of colonialism Europe gifted them with (Thanks, Europe!). It was grim. The only bright spot that comes to mind was South Africa as international pressure on Apartheid started to create some change, leading to it’s repeal in 1991. Of course, Gil Scott-Heron had been singing about it at least 15 years

Among the grimmest of those was The Democratic Republic of the Congo, previously Zaire (1965-1997) under the Mobutu regime, previously Republic of the Congo (1960-1964), previously the Belgian Congo (1908-1960), previously the Congo Free State (1885-1908). And, for the record, the Congo Free State was anything but. That was just the name King Leopold II of Belgium gave to land he had wrangled under the cover of humanitarian and philanthropic aid. It was an audacious land grab. But hey, welcome to the colonial period of Africa. It’s amazing how completely Europe screwed over an entire continent even 150 years ago and less. But that’s another lecture. We’re here to talk about chocolate.

And hey, Belgium makes some pretty awesome chocolate, don’t they? They’re kind of famous for it.

Honestly, fuck Belgium.

Go to the source.

That’s what Theo did.

They paired with the Eastern Congo Initiative to empower Congolese farmers and small farming groups to grow cocoa beans for the international market.

Cocoa is a fast growing, sustainable, high yield crop that commands high global prices, requires minimal re-planting, prevents deforestation, supports food security, and is a major source of income for women. It’s also ‘militia proof.’

-Dhena Bassara, Director of Greenhouse, Congolese cocoa cooperative

This partnership has doubled household incomes, allowing families to provide educations for their children and better health care for the entire family. Chocolate that makes everyone’s lives better. That alone is worth sampling. And hey, helping out in the Congo is cool. Heck, Ben Affleck has been doing it for over 5 years. In fact, he’s the founder of the Eastern Congo Initiative. As he puts it:

The primary reason I am here is to urge people to give money to the NGOs and charities doing hard work in eastern Congo on meager funds. And if people out there have an existing relationship with a charity, to urge that charity to get involved in eastern Congo. To let people know, ‘Don’t just read the horror stories in the newspapers and turn off.’

Ben Affleck, Actor, Director, Batman

Plus, the package was so damn sunny. I had to pick up a bar this morning to share with a friend of mine who loves spicy chocolate. The only condition was that she saved me the wrapper and shared the chocolate with me. In her own words:

The sunny packaging was staring at me longingly, so my post-lunch intentions for consumption were essentially kiboshed. The chocolate is nice and super smooth for dark chocolate. For a gal that loves heat, it has the perfect amount of kick where it leaves a welcomed tingling chili flavor on the tongue a few minutes later. This bar nails the juxtaposition of sweet and savory perfectly.

Bonnie, chocolate connoisseur

I know she likes the heat, so I was impressed that this held up to her discerning tastes, so I was excited to try it myself. I’m not as picky about chocolate as she is, but as a child of the southwest, I do love me some chili. As any heat-lover will tell you, it’s not just about the Scoville Scale, it’s also the flavor. A green chile from around Santa Fe tastes different than what is fundamentally the same pepper grown in California. This bar uses Pili Pili which I’ve never heard of, likely because they’re a pepper grown deep in the eastern part of the Congo. That’s what goes into this bar, along with locally grown vanilla and pure dark chocolate (65% to be exact).

Bonnie wasn’t fooling around, and neither is this bar. The chocolate is smooth with a bit of bitterness, and the heat is unlike anything I’ve ever tasted in chocolate before. By the time the cocoa-goodness is melting, you can feel the burn–enough that it might be too much for you sensitive types. I’d rank it a 3 on the typical 4-star restaurant spice guide. The pepper also has a bit of a bitterness to it, but rather than detract from the bar, it pairs nicely with the chocolate.

Well worth checking out if you can find it. Not for the timid, mind you, but you’ll love the burn.

4 thoughts on “Fringe Candy: Theo Congo Pili Pili Chili

  1. Baaaahahahaha…fuck Belgium…I totally agree! I have honestly never had Theo chocolate, but I just ordered a huge box of Divine chocolates–they are a local farmer-owned fairtrade company 🙂 I think I mentioned them in one of your previous chocolate rants.

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