Wednesday, April 30, 2008
After Valentine’s Day I picked up some discounted items from Target. I haven’t re-visited much of the Choxie line since my initial tastes on their launch, so I figured it was time to see what else they had.
The box they came in was a goofy flat affair, I think just this stack with a red ribbon is a fine gift (and I threw out that box pretty much as soon as I got home). The assortment contains two milk chocolate bars and two dark chocolate bars.
The one that interested me the most was the Milk Chocolate with Roasted Almonds & Sea Salt. True to its name, it was a nice dark milk chocolate with big almond pieces (they tasted buttery like Marcona almonds) and there were some pretty intense large pieces of sea salt in there (the picture on the box makes them look like little pieces of popcorn).
The milk chocolate is a very dark and smooth version, it goes really well with the crisp crunch of the almonds. The sea salt was quite apparent, but the mixing of it was a little off. Sometimes I’d arrive at whole reservoirs of the stuff, it’s a little offputting to get more than a few grains at once. But still, an addictive bar. Though I shared it, I ate most of it in a day and a half.
The second bar was the Milk Chocolate Cashew Almond Cherry Bar which I thought sounded terrible at first, especially when I saw that it also had salt in it.
However, it won me over. The cashews & almonds aren’t as plentiful in this bar and the salt is only a slight glimmer now and then. The cherries are soft and chewy with a bright tangy note that infuses those bites.
I was grateful to try my first Choxie single origin bar with the 62% Ghana Cocoa. I recently had another Ghana bar from Tcho, which I found to be a little too gritty for my tastes. This bar is smooth. The flavors are spot on “chocolatey” with some vanilla notes and a little cedar & tobacco. It’s a tasty bar, though not quite buttery enough for me if it’s going to be on the low end of the cacao percentage. But it’s also pretty sweet, so a nice started bar for those who don’t like the intensity of some of the higher cacao.
The box for the Dark Chocolate Espresso Bar showed the bar, like the one above, surrounded by coffee beans. I didn’t know if that meant whole coffee beans or fine grounds when I bought the assortment (I could only see the fronts of the boxes). The ingredients say “ground coffee” but I was still afraid that I was going to get coffee grounds in my chocolate.
The package smelled like the coffee aisle at the A&P where we used to grind our own 8 O’Clock coffee when I was a teen. Mostly coffee but also slight wafts of tea, cocoa and sweet sugary General Foods International Coffee flavors.
The grounds are palpable as the chocolate melts. The coffee flavor is mellow, not burnt or caramelized tasting, just a medium roasted vibe. And of course all those coffee beans integrated in. The chocolate has a good melt to it, is pretty smooth otherwise and stands up rather well to the otherwise overwhelming coffee. (Nicole at Baking Bites has a nice review of this bar, too.)
At the reduced price (expiration isn’t anywhere to be found on the packages, maybe I shouldn’t have thrown out the box), these were a great deal. I’m not sure if I would pay $4-5 for one of these in the future (well, maybe the almond & sea salt bar), but keep an eye out for their assortments (perhaps after Mother’s day?). The ingredients are all-natural and the dark chocolates have no added butterfat. They are not, however, Kosher.
Other recent reviews: The Girl Tastes has a lot of more recent Choxie introductions, Rosa tried the Key Lime Truffle Bar, Candy Snob tried the Espresso Truffle Bar, Secret Hideout thinks Choxie is better than Godiva (and I don’t disagree) and OffBeatEating tried the Coconut Truffle Bar.
Tuesday, April 29, 2008
In this case, it’s an assortment of little car shaped candies called Autodrop Total Loss. It includes 11 different flavors in one bag (Elf Heerlijke Smaken in een Zak).
I thought that the “total loss” thing meant something different in Dutch, but honestly I can’t figure out if it’s a cognate or not. I thought maybe it was something like “massive pile up” but internet translators are only good with verbatim things, not interpretive use of language.
The purple bag has whimsical drawings of cars motoring down the street, making little “toet, toet” sounds, which I’m guessing is like “putt, putt”. The style of the drawings reminds me of Quentin Blake (whom many of us were introduced to via Charlie & the Chocolate Factory).
If I were able to translate all the descriptions in the shop I would have known that none of the black ones were actually licorice, so with my expectations now set aside, these were tasty and fun. The variety is huge and the molding of all the items is fun and different. I don’t see myself buying this particular mix again, but there are other Autodrops that are actually licorice (called Drop Donders that includes sweet, salt, honey and salmiak licorice) that I might give a try based on the quality of this product.
Autodrops contain gelatin so are unsuitable for vegetarians (and don’t appear to be Kosher either).
Many thanks to Babelfish for helping me at least translate some of the words from the package.
Monday, April 28, 2008
I’ve had my eye out as I’ve been traveling for other versions of Mentos. Once I ran across the pink grapefruit at a gas station outside of Stockton, so you never know. The cool thing was that I knew that I had a package from Japan waiting for me when I returned from my Bay Area Confectionery Escapade (tm).
Japan has great Mentos. Fuji Apple & Pine Fresh have to be some of the best. But their Grape has some devoted followers. I wasn’t sure what Banana ‘n Cream would be like, but I enjoyed my Banana HiCHEW recently (sorry, I never wrote about them).
The packages doesn’t even say banana on it, it just has pictures of the fruit on it. Upon tasting it, there’s no mistaking it. The chews are at first a soft banana flavor, then after chewing for a bit a tangy, kind of yogurt flavor emerges. Not quite green banana, but maybe a little lemony (like yogurt can often taste).
I never got the ‘n Cream part, just the banana. A nice taste and an interesting change of pace from the tangier fruits. It doesn’t have that freaky artificial taste like Circus Peanuts (that may be a plus or a minus depending on where you fall on the whole Circus Peanuts as valid confectionery debate).
Rating: 6 out of 10
I found these Red Orange Mentos at Holland’s Best in San Jose. I’m unsure of their age. The code at the end of the wrapper says 2007 E50264C, which is either a manufacture day, or a pull date (I suspect the latter since the banana ones said 2009 on them). Either way, they were still fresh enough for me to eat.
The color is more of a pink than an orange. The flavor is more of a tangerine than a blood orange (which is what I think red orange means in North America), but it’s still very tasty. It’s zesty and tangy. It’s not quite the dreamy dalandan & ponkan ones I’ve had, but at least these seem to be a regular product. I’m glad I bought two packages. There’s vitamin C in there, if I can do math properly in Dutch, it’s about 50 mg per roll.
Rating: 7 out of 10
I talked to Caitlin, who runs Miette Confiserie about the now-discontinued Pink Grapefruit Mentos. She spoke with Perfetti Van Melle about it, who said they were happy to make them again, if she could guarantee that she’d buy the minimum order directly from them. (Which is literally in the tons.) So it doesn’t look like they’re going to be coming back soon in the single flavor pack. (The Citrus Mix still exists in Asia/Australia though.)
Sunday, April 27, 2008
My Saturday schedule in the Bay Area was focused on the East Bay (Oakland, Emeryville and Berkeley). I had a meeting in the morning and a dinner planned, so my mid-day hours were devoted to the further amassing of sweets.
I didn’t buy as much, mostly because I already have so much stuff from my previous days, these were kind of informational, not acquisitional.
Michael Mischer Chocolates
Sampled: raspberry truffle
Lovely shop that is at once spare and comfortable without feeling sterile. There are even some sugar-free selections. Michael Mischer himself was there, I asked him about the salted peanut butter cup that I tried the day before at Fog City, alas, he didn’t have any more of them. So I got a plain peanut butter and a salted caramel ... I can put them in my mouth together.
Sampled: chocolate covered matzah, triple chocolate hazelnut
I stopped into this old fashioned candy shop & gift store. I didn’t buy anything there, not because it’s not a good store, but much of the inventory is stuff that I’ve already reviewed. They have a nice selection of class bulk candies (sour balls, mary janes, imported hard candies, Koppers cordials, etc.), some chocolate candies in the case and the usual fun candy novelties.
No samples. I asked about the Pralus bars, the fellow said that the best was the Sao Tome, but beyond that, I couldn’t seem to get much interaction going about the chocolate. (Two of the folks were eating and the manager was chatting with some regular customers.) It was probably one of the loudest cafes I’ve been in for quite a long time. I’ve been in the shop before, so I think I just caught them at that bad moment after the lunch rush while everyone needs a little break. They have an amazing selection of chocolate bars on display, like some cafes will have poetry books.
Total for the day: $110.42
I’m packing up my car this morning to get ready for the drive back to Los Angeles. This time I’ll be taking the 5 South, which goes through the intensely-agricultural San Joaquin Valley. Not really much to stop for candy-wise. That’s fine, I have plenty.
You can look forward to the inventory from my three day adventure to be photographed copiously and reviewed here.
Saturday, April 26, 2008
I’ve been to San Francisco quite a lot, I love the city, mostly because I know so many great people here. But also because it has such a wonderful confectionery tradition. San Francisco is a candy town. I spent my first night after driving up at the Ocean Park Motel, way over by the ocean (a part of San Francisco I’ve never explored before). After checking in I took a walk, got some eggs at a diner and then walked down to the beach where I spotted a whale and watched it for about ten minutes as it made its way north to its feeding grounds (kinda like me!).
In the past three years I’ve visited Miette Confiserie, Ricchiuti Chocolates, Jelly Belly’s factory, Scharffen Berger, Charles Chocolates (in both their old & new location), CocoaBella, Fog City News and The Candy Store.
On Friday morning I packed up my car (my destination was Oakland for a meeting at 4PM at the National Novel Writing Month headquarters, but there were many zags and zigs along the way) with a nicely chilled cooler ready to be filled. Well, it actually held three boxes of candy bars and another six or seven pounds of other stuff for the staff to munch on.
Here’s how the day went:
Sampled: Caffarel flower bud, Domori Porcelana?, Vegan/Raw chocolate from Marin and something else that I’ve spaced on completely.
I had an absolutely awesome talk with Jack who runs the place. He’s tasted everything there and is really committed to his inventory. He tries to carry the best bars that each company has to offer (so you won’t find all of the Domori ... or anyone’s line). He also does a lot of repacking, so you can just buy a package of two Lillie Belle truffles, and then two Cluizel Champignon ... it’s the best thing for candy lovers who are still searching for the most amazing experiences. (And if it’s not an amazing experience, then you’re only out a couple of bucks!)
Sampled: Ecuadoran single origin bonbon.
An interesting new space. Rather clinical and spare, it reminds me more of Los Angeles than San Francisco. The selection is immense and includes Elbow’s bonbons and prepackaged items (bars, chocolate covered nuts & gift packages) as well as a brief menu of cafe selections. I made my chocolate selections (picking some of the items that I’ve tried before like the Strawberry Balsamic that used to be in white chocolate and is now in dark) and picked out a hot chocolate. I had it prepared to go, but did sit for a moment in the lounge area. The woman who prepared my chocolate that morning (it was about 11 AM) said that things would usually get very busy in the evening, as it was a popular after dinner spot for people to come on Friday and Saturday nights. (This is exactly the thing I want in walking distance from my house!)
After making some notes for myself I walked over to:
Sampled: Haribo Smurf (actually a raspberry jelly candy, not a gummi)
Again, a lovely experience as I got to chat with Caitlin (one of the owners) about Napoleon bonbons & the little tins they come in, licorice and the lack of similar candy shopping in Los Angeles. (Though we’re coming along.)
I found out about the shop on SFGate.com. It wasn’t quite as impressive as the story (and comments) made it sound. It was very small, I didn’t feel like I could look at everything and I was rushed (and didn’t get to finish ordering my items before my card was swiped and I ended up paying cash for my Turkish Delight). I actually meant to try a couple of other things, but didn’t see them until after that ... sigh, there’s always next time. The cool thing is that it’s walking distance to Fog City & not far at all from the Ferry Terminal.
Fog City News
Total: $27.92 (Discount! 20%)
Sampled: Michael Mischer Salted Peanut Butter Cup (awesome but really salty) & Amano Ocumare. Had an excellent talk with Adam, who runs Fog City. (He recognized my name when I signed up for the newsletter so I could get some discounts on my bars. I don’t necessarily hide my identity but I don’t go up to the counter and say, “I blog about candy, now gimme some!”) They have an awesome sale on Amano right now (25% off) if you’re in the neighborhood. My favorite is definitely the Ocumare.
I stopped as I was walking down the street because I spied some La Florentine Torrones, but was so pleased to find the BruCo Anise bar.
I read about this shop on Chowhound and definitely wanted to see how it measured up to the grand San Francisco tradition. It has a very young vibe to it, it feels much more “accessible” to children. They have a great selection of gummis, traditional favorites (candy jewelry) and some crazy hard to find items like C.Howards, UK import Cadbury bars, a really good selection of Koppers ... I could go on and on. The prices per pound are specific to the candy (instead of just pricing the whole shop at one point which makes things like Smarties crazy expensive and chocolate malt balls kind of reasonable), so you get what you pay for.
I had other places on my list, like Z Cicciolato and XoX Truffles but I really needed to balance out my purchases of perishable items, so they’ll have to wait until I return in the summer.
I’m kind of logging all this stuff so you’ll know what sort of items you can buy at these shops, and what they cost. (And also because I have a tendency to forget these things.)
Total spent today: $153.77 (yeah, I’m kind of feeling candy buyers remorse, mostly because I haven’t actually eaten any of it, I just get to look at it and tally up how much money I spent, not how much enjoyment I’m getting).
I’m in Oakland, CA right now, just back at the apartment I’m staying at for a little rest. Mostly I wanted to take a moment to begin documenting what I’ve been doing. Usually when I come up for a weekend, I pay for my lodging (as well as the gas). This time I’m fortunate enough to have a friend putting me up for two days (thanks Chris!) so with the money I’ve “saved” I’m throwing it all into candy. (I have to wonder if I can actually spend $150 a day on candy ... hmm.)
On Thursday morning I headed up to San Francisco for a long weekend. Usually when I go to the Bay Area from Los Angeles I take the 5, which is very fast and efficient but rather boring (as there’s very little of interest to candy-minded people besides what can be found at a gas station). So I decided to take the slightly longer & slower 101 N route.
Along the way I had three stops planned (I would have stopped in Santa Barbara, but I passed through town at about 9:30 AM, before some of their promising shops open, so that’ll be later this summer when I go up for one of my whale watching adventures).
San Luis Obispo is about three and a half hours north of Los Angeles, so it’s a pretty quick drive and a logical place to stop for a cup of coffee anyway. Sweet Earth Chocolates is an organic & fair trade confectioner based right there, they also sell their sweets right from the Splash Cafe, so it was perfect rest/candy stop.
Sweet Earth Chocolates @ Spash Cafe
Here’s what I picked up (some for later review):
(plus a vegan turtle sample)
This is also the point where I stopped for gas. That was $33.57 (I have a Prius ... which doesn’t hold a lot of gas, so even at $4.09 a gallon, I only needed 8.2 gallons).
The other high priority stop for me along the way was in San Jose, which is another three hours north of San Luis Obispo.
Holland Pastry & Gift Shop sells a huge selection of licorice, and in all sorts of different sizes of packages from the original manufacturer. Now that I’ve sampled quite a bit from my other candy trips, I was ready for some bigger bags of the tried & true favorites and some more experimentation. The best part about the shop is that everything is a fraction of the price I’m paying at the upscale shops. Of course without all the fancy packaging, ambiance and prime location in choice neighborhoods, too.
Holland’s Best (aka Holland Pastry & Gift Shop)
(plus a trollendrop sample)
The last stop was mostly because I was there, literally, it was just an exit off the freeway. So I stopped at the See’s Factory, which has a little store attached. Now, as far as I know, See’s rarely has “outlet” sales. I know that some folks pick up after-holiday merchandise there on sale, but that’s pretty rare. I didn’t find any grand deals there, but I was happy to see the homeland of happy-habit chocolates.
(plus a Mocha Truffle sample)
So that total for Thursday: $122.66 (includes departure cup of coffee at Winchell’s in Silverlake).
Friday, April 25, 2008
When I was afraid I was getting sick earlier this winter I turned to candy. After all, many candies started out as medicine. The cough drops of yesteryear are the root beer barrels and cherry LifeSavers of today. Sometimes I eat vitamin C enriched hard candies, figuring, what could it hurt and it might help.
The government keeps candy companies from making grandiose claims, but that doesn’t stop them from trying to nudge us to buy something because it might have nutritional value (I seriously doubt I’m at high risk for scurvy). I spied these Brach’s Gummi+Plus (is that supposed to be said aloud as Gummi Plus Plus?) at the 7-11 and though they might ease an aching throat. I was also intrigued because they had different flavors: Cranberry, Pomegranate, Orange, Apple, Strawberry & Blueberry. I was really curious to taste a pomegranate or cranberry gummi!
They look just like any other gummis, each in a little fruit shape. What gives these their +Plus is an infusion of three antioxidants: 25% of your RDA of vitamin A, Vitamin C & Vitamin E.
Though they’re throwing “immune boosting” powers at us, it’s obvious that they didn’t really commit to the whole line, as they didn’t even bother to make up molds for these new fruits.
Besides the freaky shape and unnatural color, the flavor is, well, kind of like a berry of some sort. You could tell me it’s a black raspberry and I’d probably believe you.
It’s soft and tangy and has a good strawberry jam flavor to it.
Not exciting in a plus plus way, but tasty.
The package had no purple on it, but did show a red “berry” that I’m going to guess is this one: Pomegranate. The shape is a pretty good patch to what pomegranate seeds look like if you peel away the membrane carefully.
It’s quite a good flavor, like a combination of raspberry and cherry ... not quite pomegranate, but certainly a lot less fuss.
It’s a good apple juice flavor instead of just the fake green apple (but there’s a little bit of that in there too).
In fact, the ingredients list apple juice as an ingredient (I’m guessing they use it instead of a splash of water so they can say “made with real fruit juice!”
No matter, this one is much like the pomegranate. Very deep, with a much more tart and acidic overtone. I welcome the cranberry to the gummi mix! I hope it sticks around, as far as super sours go, cranberries are overlooked.
I rather liked that, it made it feel more medicinal, more like candied orange peel or some sort of soothing tea.
As far as the antioxidant properties, I still got the flu, but then again I didn’t finish the bag until I decided to write these up while I’m traveling. (Gummis are great traveling candy.) I couldn’t detect any flavors that were particularly indicative of “vitamins” and vitamin E can be like that sometimes.
Brach’s also offers an assortment of Tropical Gummis. One of the fun parts of this was that the only flavor that intersected with the Gummi +Plus was Orange. I got to test whether the fortified gummis really tasted different from the regular ones. (Nope.)
You can tell here, too, that they’re similar molds.
Orange was just as zesty.
Purple was probably raspberry. It’s hard to tell because there is no retail label on the bulk bag. It tastes like a very sweet raspberry jam.
Strawberry Banana was kind of cute. At first I didn’t know what that shape was. But the pink color and mild, sweet strawberry flavor (less tart than the Gummi +Plus) kind of cinched it. It reminds me a little of yogurt. The banana component is a little artificial tasting, but that’s okay with me.
Lime was cute. It’s nice to see lime instead of apple. It was zesty, a little bit of that bitterness that I noticed in the orange, but definitely convincing.
Lemon was pretty dark in color and I often mistook it for the orange. The shape and size were perfect, but the flavor was sadly bland. Not bad, just not rising to the same level as the rest.
Pineapple was what drew me to this mix in the first place. Look at it, it’s a cute little pineapple shaped gummi! Soft and tangy, with the floral note and that little thing that only pineapple can do to the salivary glands. (But luckily it didn’t burn my tongue, like I do sometimes with fresh pineapple.)
The texture of the gummis is far softer than something like Haribo, but not quite as pliable as Trolli. They do well sitting out, I left some out on my desk, and though the outside was a little drier after a weekend, they were still soft. The flavors are distinct, the molding very good and of course the price is quite reasonable. So many of the Brach’s candies are made overseas, these were made in the USA.
Thursday, April 24, 2008
Mmm, what a tasty name! Yes, I got my hands on a lovely and pristine Tcho Beta Batch No. C Ghana 0.7 AH bar.
Tcho is one of the newest American chocolate factories, this one located in the Bay Area, which has no lack of chocolate factories as it is. They proudly state that they’re the only chocolate factory in San Francisco.
Instead of making a package that accommodates a 12 section bar, they make the long bars, snap them in half, stack them and then insert them into these waxed kraft paper square packets.
It makes for a unique look, but makes me wonder why they don’t just make the chocolate that size to begin with. Or design the package to fit the bar.
Tcho eschews things like cacao percentages, varietal & origin, instead focusing on easily understood classifications for their chocolates. This one is called C - which stands for Chocolatey. According to the flavor wheel included, it might have been citrusy, fruity, floral, nutty or earthy. (I’m not sure what the letters for those are ... that would make two possible Cs and two possible Fs.)
The ingredients are simple:
The bars are 50 grams (1.76 ounces) ... though you wouldn’t know that once you got a hold of it. It’s not on the package, just on the website.
The chocolate smells sweet, a bit woodsy and a lot like bourbon vanilla.
It’s very dark, very brown (no hint of red or caramel tones here).
It’s only mildly sweet on the tongue, as it melts it’s a bit rough ... not quite chalky as it does have a good level of cocoa butter, but the particle size is a bit big for my texture preference. I was pleased with the deep rich flavors. There are dark cedars, tobacco and a bit of a mulchy note that almost pushes it into the earthy realm except for the consistent feeling that I’m eating hot chocolate.
The finish continues with a lingering woodsy note and a rather parching dryness. Overall, it’s a satisfying bar. After four squares, I didn’t feel like I wanted more for quite a while.
Personally I prefer a butterier bar, a nuttier set of notes. But this tops some of my experiences with the very dark bars from Theo (which I haven’t written up) but does not beat out the Amano or Chocovic Ocumare (okay, not American-made) or Guittard Chucuri.
I’m hoping Tcho has figured out their shipping problems. (More on that history here.) Just a note, they shipped my replacement bars on a Friday over a holiday weekend, not really a good tactic either, they arrived on Tuesday and though everything turned out fine, unless the USPS made it overnight, the package was guaranteed to sit around for at least two days. (I’ve talked to many candy shippers, I don’t know many that would ship chocolate products on a Friday, and certainly not when Monday was a mail holiday.) A note went out to the folks on their email marketing list that they were implementing hot weather shipping. My second package didn’t have any warm weather protection, it was the exact same metallic bubble wrap envelop folded tightly over and taped. If you’ve ordered from them more recently than February, maybe you can chime in with how yours arrived.
Clay Gordon has an extensive article about Tcho on The Chocolate Life. I was sure to not read through it until after I’d done my tasting notes.
I might try this again, but I’m much keener on trying other bars from companies that I’ve either developed an affinity for or some of the other new chocolate makers like DeVries, Taza, Rogue Chocolatier or Askinosie (I have one of those already in my hands). The price is a bit steep as well, they’re now $5 on the site and with the shipping, that’s a steep price for less than two ounces that are still in beta. It was supposed to feel like a fun experiment, like I was part of something, but I think I’ll leave it to others to work out the kinks.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.