99 Cent Only Store
Tuesday, January 6, 2009
It’s also fun to carry around a little candy in your pocket that emulates that feeling.
I’ve been eating Coffee Rio since I can remember developing a taste for coffee sometime around the age of ten or so.
I think the first time I had one, I thought they were coffee flavored Tootsie Rolls and was a little startled to find a hard caramel (much like Pearson’s Coffee Nips).
Coffee Rio are made by Adams & Brooks, which is based right here in my home city, Los Angeles, California. While they may be hard to find elsewhere in the country, I see them just about everywhere around here.
The candy is pretty simple. A hardened caramel flavored with real coffee. Though it contains quite a bit of milk products, it tastes more like black coffee with a bit of sugar than coffee & cream (which is what Pearson’s Nips are like - but they’re also Kosher and Coffee Rio isn’t).
The little rods are wrapped in a simple twisted mylar. I got this jumbo bag at Trader Joe’s for $2.69 for the bag, which I thought was a pretty good deal. They boast on the package that there are no artificial flavors, colors or preservatives. (But there is some lightly hydrogenated soybean oil rather low on the list of ingredients.)
The texture is very smooth. They dissolve nicely and soften a bit as well (yes, you can chew them at some point, but also risk cementing your teeth together). The flavor is rich and like a mellow mocha java. At the start sometimes there’s a hint or charcoal and bitterness, but that fades away as the other woodsy coffee flavors come in.
Rating: 8 out of 10
I have been to the Island of Hawaii (the Big Island) and toured some of the Kona Coast’s coffee roasters. The stuff was fabulous, but you know drinking a cup of coffee from beans that were just roasted is bound to be better than the stuff you get at home.
One of the things I noticed about Kona coffee was its extreme dark acidic punch, even when not given the Italian roast treatment.
As Kona coffee is extremely expensive, most is sold as a blend. In the case of the Kona Blend Coffee Rio it’s only 10% Kona coffee.
These seems to capture that molasses & tangy bite really well. It’s not as sweet but no more bitter than the original Coffee Rio.
I also noticed that these were a bit softer, so much so that I was able to chew them after warming them. I love that! Even better, I got the bag at the 99 Cent Only store for a buck.
Rating: 9 out of 10
There’s pillowy cloud on the front of the package that reinforces that these are soft.
The ingredients, oddly enough, are identical to the other Coffee Rio, so it must be all in the process to create this softer version.
The package outside looks similar, but once I dumped out the pieces I realized that these are a bit different.
First, they’re bigger. They’re the same length, but have a greater girth than their hard brethren.
Second, they’re wrapped in foiled paper. I’m guessing this is to keep them well sealed from moisture.
They have a wonderful sweet & woodsy scent, less milky than the others.
The chew is very soft, softer than a Tootsie Roll, more like a chewy fudge. It’s a little bit grainy and I realized that this is a “short caramel” instead of being a “wet caramel.” Short caramel is slightly grainy, crystals have been allowed to form. It keeps its shape really well and provides an easy “bite”. A wet caramel is stringy and smooth and lacks the crystallization and can be very sticky and possibly runny.
I’d hoped this was a slightly softer Kona Blend.
The chew is soft and pleasant, but the light grain to it interrupted the creamy notes from the milk products. The coffee flavor was slightly acidic and tangy and lacking the coffee punch of the other hard varieties. I give it a pass.
Rating: 6 out of 10
Now I realize that I’d really like Tootsie to make Coffee Sugar Babies with chewy centers like the Kona Blend Coffee Rio.
I don’t know if these have caffeine in them or how much, but I suspect so, since they used to offer a decaf version. I can’t imagine it’s very much though. I sent an email to Adams-Brooks asking about it and I’ll update if I find out.
Friday, December 19, 2008
I’m buried in mints! So here’s a huge roundup of all the mint items in my queue that I wanted to get through before Christmas.
Like the Trader Joe’s Espresso Pillows I picked up a few months ago, Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Mints come in a cute round tin and hold 2.45 ounces. Unlike the Espresso Pillows, these are not a very original product.
Inside the tin is a fluted liner that holds a large handful of soft, white candy-shelled mints. Each is about the size of a kidney bean. The tin says that there are no artificial flavors or preservatives. I think they shy from the “all natural” part because the white shell is created with titanium dioxide.
They reminded me of the classic Dutch Mints and luckily I had some of those around for comparison.
Jelly Belly makes a large variety of Dutch Mints. They come in different colors, these are all hot pink and individually wrapped, though you can also get them in the stark white, pastel mint colors or right now in the Christmas assortment of red, green and white. (And they’re Kosher.)
The Dutch Mint is the size of a garbanzo bean but my guess is the same mass as the TJ’s.
They’re both the same construction, a soft mint fondant with a thin layer or dark chocolate then a crispy candy shell.
Both are lovely and addictive. The Trader Joe’s retails for $1.22 an ounce. The Jelly Belly can go for anywhere from $.70 an ounce for the small 2.9 ounce bag to $.56 for a one pound tub (check out Cost Plus World Market).
Jelly Belly Dutch Mints get a rating of: 8 out of 10
These also closely resemble the York Mints that also come in a tin.
The previous are great for toting around and especially nice if a restaurant gives you a few with the check. But if you’re entertaining, you might want to provide some other more chocolatey mint morsels.
I’ve always loved After Eight Mints, which are a flowing mint fondant in an ultra thin square. I used to love how they came in individual glassine envelopes, like a little file box of deliciousness.
Of course After Eights are made by Nestle now and not nearly as good as I remember them on top of the controversies that they’re made from questionably sourced chocolate. The Fair Trade movement has been working to bring families and communities out of poverty through fair payment for goods & services.
Divine Chocolate has been doing this since 1998 in the United Kingdom and recently expanded into the United States. Not only do they have tasty bars they also have addition treats like these Divine After Dinner Mints.
The mints are nicely sized for two bites at about 1.5” square. The mild semi-sweet chocolate is crisp and cracks well. The mint fondant center is creamy and minted only slightly so as not to overpower the chocolate. The dark chocolate has some berry and fruity tones that combine well with the cool peppermint flavors.
I’ve seen these at Whole Foods (at an endcap display for hostess giving), so they should be pretty widely available this season.
Divine After Dinner Mints get a rating of 7 out of 10.
Creme de Menthe Altoids have been out for a few months, though it took me a while to find the variety that isn’t covered in chocolate. I realized that I might have seen them before, the green of the package is only slightly lighter than the Spearmint boxes. These were on sale for $1.50 to boot!
Basically the flavor of these is like a Peppermint TicTac. It has a powdery vanilla scent, softer than a harsh peppermint and perhaps just a hint of licorice.
But these are Altoids. Though they might start out mild, they do pack a much stronger kick later on. I like the flavor a bit better than the straight Peppermint if only because of the mix of aromas.
Creme de Menthe Altoids get a rating of 8 out of 10.
Quite a few folks have been lamenting that Trader Joe’s discontinued their English Soft Peppermints. I’m pretty keen on the generic & mild butter mints I find at the drug store, but those were some pretty good mints.
Around this time of year, however, I see a lot of these See’s Peppermint Twists in candy dishes around the office. It took me a while, but I think I found out who makes them. There were two contenders: King Leo Soft Peppermint Candy or Bob’s Sweet Stripes.
I saw this box of King Leo Soft Peppermint Candy at the 99 Cent Only Store and thought I’d give them a whirl. They were a dollar for 3.5 ounces.
I thought they were “butter mints” and read through this to see how I came to that conclusion:
So I was expecting a soft mint. Either crumbly soft or mushy soft.
These were neither. They’re soft as in rounded and smooth, but after that they were not butter mints until I sucked on them for a while. Which is kind of the opposite of “soft from the moment you open the box”. Annoyance aside, they’re peppermint candies. They are airy and dissolve nicely and of course none of those hard candy sharp edges. They’re sweet and a bit less intense than a starlight mint and really pretty to look at. Like those English Soft Peppermints that were really made in the Netherlands, King Leo are made in Mexico. Kosher.
King Leo Soft Peppermint Candy gets a 6 out of 10.
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
A few months ago I saw Creme Drops at the 99 Cent Store, but since it was hot out, I didn’t pick them. Then I saw Robby’s review on Candy Addict of the Necco variety and I thought maybe I’d made the right decision.
But then I saw these on the website for the Vermont Country Store and made a mental note. Well, that mental note didn’t sit there too long because a couple of weeks later VCS wanted me to try some of their candy and I specifically requested their Assorted Cream Drops.
Since it’s finally gotten cool in Los Angeles, chocolate shipping produces less anxiety than the other 8 months of the year. (They’re packaging for shipping was great, too, by the way. Everything arrived in great shape.)
The rest of the description is rather vague. The name they use is Chocolate-Covered Cream Drop Assortment with 6 Luscious Flavors but the box never actually list the flavors by name (but digging around on the description page does yield the list).
And the drops all look exactly the same.
So I set about picking them out of the box and cutting them in half, like it was some sort of logic puzzle like mine sweeper.
After eight of them (three were Lemon and not in a row), I determined that they are randomly loaded into the box. The dividers in the box do a great job of protecting the candies without any fussy papers. (Eventually I found that sniffing them carefully did allow me to pick out orange or maple, but then again, who wants one that I’ve held up to my nose? I think I’m better off poking holes in the bottom.)
Yellow = Lemon: sweet and creamy but a little like a scented candle. The bittersweet chocolate shell set the mellow center off quite nicely. It’s not very zesty, just a light aromatic lemon. All of the pieces had sugar grains in it though, unlike the other flavors. I’m guessing this was just a manufacturing glitch.
Beige = Maple: I could often sniff this one out, the maple flavor was quite pungent. It combined well with the sweet and slightly stringy fondant center.
Orange = Orange: reminded me of a creamsicle. Sweet and with a good mouthfeel and a nice chocolate note that cut that almost-too-sweetness of it.
Pink = Raspberry: this interior was very bright pink, which alerted me that this was probably the one with the Red Dye #40. It was all about the floral and perfumey flavors, not much of the rich tangy berry in there.
Brown = Chocolate: this is the mellowest of the bunch. It’s not so much chocolatey as just less sweet and slightly creamier. The filling is not quite silky, but the gooeyness is more than pleasant.
White = Vanilla: tastes exactly like a Junior Mint without the mint. The fondant center is wonderfully smooth, the chocolate becomes the star. It melts easily though admittedly the whole thing is very sweet. I would recommend eating these with strong black coffee or black tea.
These are a quality product. The consistency of the fondant center was fresh and glossy, the chocolate was good. They’re not really something that I would eat on a regular basis, when I have a box of mixed chocolates, I usually leave the creams for last so actually buying a box of creams isn’t something I’m likely to do. I prefer the slightly fattier creams that Fannie Mae (we had a box of those at the office recently) or See’s make. But if you’ve always wished that Junior Mints came in other flavors or perhaps want a less chocolatey or dark chocolate version of a Cadbury Creme Egg, then this might be for you.
Rating: 6 out of 10
The description on the package says: Creme Filled Center with Smooth Chocolate Flavored Coating!. So yeah, it’s mockolate. (But at least their snowflakes have six points.)
I had hopes though, since it’s also a full 12 ounces ... for only a dollar? That’s quite a value there. A one pound box of sugar is about $1.19 at my local grocery store.
Because they’re bagged and not in a box with little partitions, they are a little more scuffed than the Vermont Country Store variety. (But again, the price difference is absurd - VCS are $1.25 an ounce and Zachary’s are 8.3 cents an ounce.)
They also only come in one flavor, plain. (Or perhaps I should call it vanilla, but there is no vanilla or vanilla flavor listed on the ingredients.)
The shell is mockolate but has a dark, toasted scent.
The bite of the Zachary candy (left) is vastly different from the soft and glossy VCS variety (right). This is a solid fondant, similar to the center of a York Peppermint Pattie.
The texture is smooth, but crumbly, kind of like an albino fudge.
I rather liked the center but the mockolate coating ruined it for me. It was sweet and had that stale Easter essence. It’s rather sad, I’d gladly take 1/3 of the quantity at twice the price if they were real chocolate because the centers are pretty good.
I can recommend these for people who already love them (and I shouldn’t quibble with folks who like what they like). I can recommend these for placing as a decoration on a tray of cookies or perhaps adding to a dessert plate when you’re really in a crunch and don’t like your guests (or know that they all have colds and would simply appreciate the fondant texture).
Rating: 3 out of 10
I kind of wish both varieties came in mint.
Monday, October 20, 2008
De la Rosa Mazapan is a dulce de cacahuate or peanut confection. It seems like one of the most common candies to every culture is some sort of sweetened nut paste. Halvah, marzipan and if you throw in a little chocolate, gianduia, and all of their different variations.
I see these little disks of mazapan at the grocery stores all the time in Los Angeles, but this was the first time I saw them with their complete packaging with full ingredients & nutrition labeling. I picture them as something that a mom would tuck into their child’s lunch bag as a special little treat.
The ingredients are pretty simple and two thirds wholesome: peanuts and sugar and artificial flavors.
So first, I’ll tell you what I expected: I thought it’d be a sweet peanut butter disk. I thought it’d be like halvah, a little more crumbly than almond marzipan.
Here’s what it was actually like:
It was crumbly. When I opened the package it cracked into several large pieces easily. It smells wonderful, like peanut butter cookie dough.
But instead of being spiky and crystalline like halvah, it was smooth and cool on the tongue, dissolving like peanut butter flavored icing sugar.
Oh, it’s sweet. It’s absolutely more sugar than peanuts. The peanut flavor is throughout with some little crunchy chunks here and there.
I love the texture, though definitely not the mess. (Someday I’ll compile a list of “not keyboard friendly” candies and this will certainly be on it.) I wish it was just a little fattier, but far be it from me to mess with a traditional candy. Or maybe a little salt added, but again, that’s a personal preference, I like a bit of salt with my peanuts.
It strikes me that this would be a great hiking candy, a good mix of straight and easily accessible sugars and some satisfying protein. But again, it’s so very sweet and far too dry.
But I can’t really get behind it. Maybe I’ll give out the rest for Halloween. Or maybe try stuffing some into some crescent rolls to see what kind of a treat that makes.
Wednesday, October 15, 2008
I thought, “What am I missing here?” Well, first of all, plain old Nestle Milk Chocolate bars aren’t that easy to find. But with a bit of persistence I did find this fresh 5 ounce “great to share” size bar.
First, I looked at the wrapper pretty carefully. Though Nestle is a Swiss company, this bar was made in Brazil. The ingredients don’t make it sound great, but I try to keep an open mind: sugar, chocolate, cocoa butter, nonfat milk, lactose, soy lecithin, PGPR & vanillin.
So in this case the milk was much lower on the list than other milk chocolates (M&Ms and Hershey’s Milk Chocolate), so maybe it’s a darker tasting milk chocolate.
The Nestle website reveals this little tidbit about the Nestle Milk Chocolate bar’s past:
Okay, at least I’m not crazy, because I don’t remember plain Nestle chocolate bars being around when I was a kid. There was another strange line on both Nestle’s corporate page and their chocolate classics website, NESTL? Milk Chocolate tastes the way you expect great chocolate should taste, offering a milk chocolate alternative that the entire family can enjoy any time. So what the blazes is a milk chocolate alternative? Or is it the any time part I should be clued into, is that some sort of code that means that this is a morning chocolate bar?
It does look a bit darker than many mass-marketed milk chocolate bars. It was even and glossy and has a pleasant powdered milk and chocolate scent.
The bar has a rather soft snap but look well tempered. The melt on the tongue is fudgy, not slick or silky smooth, it’s still pleasant. I got a slight aftertaste, kind of like that from powdered milk.
The taste isn’t very chocolatey. It’s not overly sweet and has a lot of milk taste to it, but really lacks much else. It would go well with inclusions like crisped rice or nuts but as a bar where this is all I had to go on, it really didn’t satisfy at all.
I’m not one to be disrespectful towards other people’s preferences (ya like whatcha like!) and this bar was certainly inexpensive, but I wouldn’t rank it higher in quality than Hershey’s Milk Chocolate or M&Ms Milk Chocolate. In fact, I think I throw it a notch below Hershey’s, just because I didn’t enjoy the flavor. (That doesn’t make it a bad bar, before you go thinking I’m a hater, I just didn’t like it.)
Now, just so you know, Nestle does make other true Swiss chocolate and I have tried that and found it quite tasty, just not American (North or South, as the case may be) and also costs four times as much.
Thank goodness the wrapper tells me it’s great to share, otherwise I wouldn’t know what to do with it.
Monday, October 6, 2008
A couple of years ago I raved about a product from Kandy Kastle: Gummi Lightning Bugs. It was both a candy and a novelty item and I was enchanted by the simplicity.
But when I spotted this on the shelves of the local 99 Cent Only Store, I just had to buy it. Not because I thought it was going to be good, but I was just too curious.
The Choco-Fudge Mallow Sundae is pretty big for only 60 cents (well, technically it’s 59.99 cents) and boasts that it’s Fat Free, Cholesterol Free and Low Sodium. Because the target market for these is always swayed by those selling points.
Basically the candy is a stack of flavored marshmallows in Strawberry, Vanilla, Chocolate, Green Apple. It comes with a little packet of Chocolate Fudge Candy Gel to pour over it as if it were a real ice cream sundae.
The candy is toweringly huge at about seven inches.
It comes tucked in a little waxed paper cup with the marshmallows firmly adhered to each other and sprinkled with colored jimmies.
If you think they look like Play-Doh, I agree.
When they said gel they weren’t kidding. When I first opened it, there were a few thin drips, but the rest was congealed inside. So I squeeze it a bit to mix it up and then tried to drizzle it out on the marshmallow scoops.
It came out in a thin stream then a few chunks.
The ingredients explain a lot: corn syrup, sugar, modified starches, water, sorbitol, potassium sorbate, artificial flavors, artificial colors (Red 40, Yellow 5, Blue 1 and Titanium Dioxide).
Note that this Chocolate Fudge Candy Gel contains no chocolate products whatsoever. I didn’t think it would need actual chocolate, but a pinch of cocoa might make a convincing fudge sauce.
It didn’t smell very good, kind of like fake vanilla, but not much else.
Then I was left with this sticky tower of dry and stiff marshmallows. It smelled like a cross between green apple flavor and new shoes.
I couldn’t eat it. I can’t eat it. I tried to take a bite of the chocolate marshmallow part, avoiding the sticky gel, but I couldn’t keep it in my mouth. It was cocoa-ish but had that green apple flavor to it as well. It was stiff and tacky and dry on the outside.
Just too horrible to consume but an incredibly cheap decoration if you’re looking for one. My inedible rating is probably unfair because I didn’t actual try very hard so if you’ve had this and loved it, please testify to my inaccurate description of the experience of not eating it below.
Patent Pending & Made in China.
Other braver folks: Riverfront Times.
Friday, September 12, 2008
The series seems to be color coded, peanut butter is accented with orange. I think orange is the universal color for peanut butter (though I could see yellow working too).
The Peanut Butter Parfait Nips didn’t sound that appealing to me. I wasn’t sure what the peanut butter center would be like. The picture on the box makes it appear as though it’s some sort of caramel sauce flavored with peanut butter.
After cracking one open (yes, with a nutcracker) I found out why these weren’t leaky. The center isn’t gooey, it’s a dry and crumbly partially defatted peanut butter.
The shell was like the Caramel Nips. Sweet, creamy and toasty tasting.
After a while I got kind of tired waiting for the peanut butter flavor, so I crunched it a bit. The peanut butter innards are very sweet, a little greasy (thank goodness for the defatting) and really peanutty.
The combination is nice, but completely overpowers the caramel at this point. Then the peanut butter dissolves away and I’m left with shards of caramel Nip (well, that’s my fault for crunching). Not really much of a winner for me.
Rating: 5 out of 10
Though I enjoy rum as a spirit, I don’t drink it straight and rarely in mixed drinks at all. I think it’s best in sauces and baked goods, so putting it in a candy seems like a pretty good idea to me.
They don’t smell like much in the box. Kind of like box.
The caramelized flavors, the smooth texture and the oh, so fake rum flavor all combines to make a really satisfying treat. I was dubious, but these won me over on the second piece.
Monday, September 8, 2008
I had a vague recollection of the World’s Finest bar that had crisped rice in it, but I don’t know any kids in band to get one from. Lo and behold I stumbled across them at the 99 Cent Only Store and instead of $1.00 each, they were only 39 cents.
A promising start.
I liked the design of the bar too, it’s thick and narrow, which means that I can bite it without making a mess. It’s also deep enough that there might be a nice stack of crisped rice in there for some really good crunch.
I flipped over the bar to check the ingredients, lest the World’s Finest Chocolate company had started using something other than chocolate. Not only is it real chocolate with an easy to understand list of ingredients, however the last ingredient was ground almonds. While this would be a problem for those allergic to almonds, I thought a little nut butter might go really well with the malted and crisped rice.
It doesn’t quite have the malty scent that the Krackel had, but the deep chocolate notes are nice, even a little woodsy instead of a dairy/milk smell. That may be the contribution of the almonds.
The chocolate is firm and creamy though a little grainy but not quite fudgy. The crunches are plentiful and have a mellow cereal taste with a dash of salt.
The bar is, well, adequate. If I were really craving a crisped rice bar, this might be the ticket (especially at this price). And it comes with a $2 off at Pizza Hut coupon. But I think I’m going to keep looking.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.