Thursday, July 30, 2009
It was launched barely more than a year ago with little promotion to support it, no website (just a page on the Starbucks site) and a baffling retail plan where it was sold everywhere except Starbucks.
The line included coffee & tea infused chocolate bars, tasting squares and truffles. The packaging echoed Starbucks strong image, was all natural and made no direct mention of Hershey’s as the manufacturer. For Christmas special flavors were created that echoed the seasonal coffee drinks. However, the new brand was a tad on the expensive side and entered the mass-manufactured upscale chocolate market just terms like staycation entered the vernacular.
So last week as Hershey’s announced huge second quarter profits, it also formally announced that they were discontinuing the Starbucks Chocolate line.
CNN Money summed it up pretty well:
Added to that happy news about their profits (which were the result of cutting manufacturing costs by closing factories in the US, moving to a Mexican facility, raising prices and using cheaper ingredients), Hershey’s also formalized the discontinuation of Cacao Reserve, Hershey’s own branded high end chocolate line. (Hershey’s also closed Joseph Schmidt, a chocolatier line based out of San Francisco earlier this year and moved all production for Scharffen Berger to Illinois.)
The Caramel Macchiato Truffles come in a nicely packaged pair at the ghastly price of $1.39 at the drug store. Honestly, if this sort of truffle pair was available at an actual Starbucks to accompany my plain coffee, I might have gone for it more regularly. With the “startling news” that coffee drinks contain huge amounts of calories which cause cancer, a simple cup of coffee with cream and two truffles would actually be a smaller indulgence than an actual Caramel Macchiato.
I’ve never had a Macchiato (I’ve never actually had anything fancier than a latte or mocha in all my years), so I can’t comment on how well it mimics the frothy creation described thusly by Starbucks:
The milk chocolate shell is nicely molded. It holds a fudgy, smooth cream that tastes a bit like a mocha cheesecake. Sweet, a little tangy with a light coffee taste and maybe, just maybe a hint of toffee (caramel).
It was pretty sweet but with coffee it works ... though the actual coffee overpowers the not-much-coffee-taste.
In the end, I don’t think it was bad timing that sunk this line. I think it was bad merchandising - it should have been available at actual Starbucks. And a year is far too little to decide the success of a new line of chocolate. My view is that Hershey’s is uninterested in building brand loyalty through quality.
The only thing that makes sense about this is the statement on the side of the box:
Watching Cadbury & Mars move more and more towards ethically traded and sustainably grown & harvested cacao, I’m not seeing much for Hershey’s except from their Daboga arm. I can see where this Starbucks line is just a liability for profits. Hershey’s has shown itself to be more concerned with profits (and high profits, not just tidy ones) than the quality of its products and place within the economies it locates itself.
Monday, July 20, 2009
I’ve known about Zingerman’s classic candy bars for quite a few years, but finally found a local source for them a few days ago. I really wanted to see them in person, because while the Zingerman’s website is so fun & quirky with their little illustrations, I’d like more than a picture of a box when sinking $7 for a candy bar (yes, that’s what they are on their website).
I got the What the Fudge? and Ca$hew Cow Zzang! Candy Bars. The box heralds that they’re “taking candy bars back 100 years!” which I’m guessing they think that’s a good thing.
The boxes are smaller than I expected, 4.5” long and 1.25” high/wide. But the label says that the WTF? is 3 ounces. I looked at them out of the package and I thought there was no way it was 3 ounces, that’s more than a Snickers bar! (But sure enough, I used the postal scale at the office and they both came in at about 3 ounces even after I took out my photo-bites.)
So the fact that they’re sizeable almost makes up for the sticker shock - at least at the Larchmont Larder they were $3.95 each.
The What the Fudge? Zzang! Candy Bar looks deceptively plain out of the wrapper. The box says: Milk chocolate fudge, Muscovado caramel, and malted milk cream dipped in dark chocolate.
Biting into it, I didn’t seem that complex. In fact, I didn’t think it tasted like much more than sweet, sweet fudge covered in chocolate.
The top layer of malted milk cream was smooth, but a bit frosting-like. The milky flavors came across distinctly when I pulled the parts of the bar apart, but I didn’t really get much malt. The milk chocolate fudge is sweet and doesn’t have much chocolate punch but has a melty smooth texture with a slight grain. The “caramel” isn’t quite a gooey caramel, it’s more of a grainy buttery layer with some distinct molasses notes of the Muscovado sugar.
Most importantly, because of these extremely sugary innards, the chocolate coating is a very dark, rather bitter bittersweet chocolate.
The package says the serving size is the full 3 ounce bar, which is far too much for me in one sitting. (The box also had the cryptic tally of 260 calories for the full bar, which is pretty much impossible for any candy that contains fat ... and chocolate was the first ingredient ... I’d go for something along the lines of 130 calories per ounce for this bar, bringing the total to 390.)
The Cashew Cow Zzang! Candy Bar, as you can tell, was a little bloomed when I got it home. Happily the texture of the dark chocolate coating did not seem to suffer too much from the slight. The bar consists of Milk chocolate, cashew butter gianduja, cashew brittle & roasted cashews dipped in dark chocolate.
Though this bar is only reputed to be 2.5 ounces, it’s actually larger than the WFT? bar. (Also, when I weighed it after my bite, it still came in at 2.8 ounces, so their manufacturing process is a bit generous.)
It smells dark and toasty.
Instead of the layered order of the WFT?, the Cashew Cow is a muddled combination affair on the inside. The general look of it is a fluffed gianduja with some inclusions of nuts & crisped rice.
The center does have lots of textures going on: shards of brittle, cashews and crisped rice - all with varying degrees of crunch. The nutty background flavor is cashew with some buttery bits and the malty crisp of the puffed rice. And then the salt, there’s a lot of saltiness.
Sometimes I liked it, sometimes I found it a bit chaotic. It definitely wasn’t as sticky sweet as the WTF? bar, but this one seemed a bit too hefty for me as well.
The good thing was that both bars were distinct and unique ... I didn’t feel like saying “this is like a Milky Way” or “that’s like a Butter Brittle Hazelbar.” At $7 a bar, I’d be miffed ... at $4, I felt like it was a fun ride. I still prefer the BonBonBars as far as upscale candy bars go ... but again, these are nothing like those so it’s never going to be a one for one comparison and it might just all be about personal taste.
Thursday, July 16, 2009
While picking up a birthday cake for The Man a few weeks ago at Lark, a neighborhood bakery, I also sampled some locally made artisan nut brittles.
Morning Glory Confections makes a short list of nut brittles in quirky flavor combinations: Chai Tea & Cashew, Cocoa Nib, Coffee Bean & Pecan, Fleur de Sel & Peanut, Indian Curry & Pistachio and New Mexico Chili & Pumpkin Seed.
I’ve tasted all of them, but chose to buy a little package of the Chai Tea & Cashew. It wasn’t cheap, the 2 ounce package that contained four slender planks cost $4.95. But the artisan name was supported by the tantalizing ingredients:
Cashews, sugar, corn syrup, butter, chai spice (it included a list), Darjeeling tea leaves, baking soda, Madagascar vanilla extract, Kosher salt.
The glossy and narrow bars are lumpy with the cashews within and speckled with the tea & spices.
It smells a bit buttery and like warm tea and spices ... a bit like carrot cake, actually. The cashews are toasted to a crunchy light brown and have a darker flavor to them than I would have expected. The salt comes forward first then a little kick of creamy butter and the crisp flakiness of a toffee.
The baking soda keeps the salt note a bit on the mineral side of things, but also keeps the candy from tasting too sickly sweet. The key with Morning Glory brittles, all that I’ve tasted, is that it’s not about the nuts. While the nuts are nice, it’s about the flavors imparted to the brittle.
While I really enjoyed my four pieces, the price is just staggering (oh sure, it’s not so bad when you buy a larger quantity at $32 per pound.) I appreciated that the inner wrap was actually a zip lock to protect my precious bits from evil, evil moisture.
(I would also take this opportunity to recommend Lark’s cakes. They have an impressive carrot cake that is both beautiful and fulfills my husband’s and my particular issues: he doesn’t like raisins and I can’t eat walnuts. So it’s all about the moist carroty cake with warm spices and a light, not-too-sweet cream cheese frosting. We’ve picked up this cake three times in the regular size and one of the itty two-serving size since they opened.)
Thursday, July 2, 2009
The trend for small batch chocolate with single origin beans is well established now. The newest twist is the creation of milk chocolate. While I’ve found myself particularly attracted to Ocumare sourced beans no matter who makes the bar, I was curious how it would rank once Amano made their Ocumare Handcrafted Milk Chocolate.
Dark chocolate has fewer ingredients which means it’s more about the beans, but with milk chocolate there that whole milk factor to take into account - is it fatty, is it tangy, is it malty?
The ingredients here show that the Ocumare Milk is 30% minimum cacao content. The list goes like this: cocoa beans, pure cane sugar, cocoa butter, whole milk powder and whole vanilla beans.
The milk is pretty low on the list and looking at the bar it’s pretty easy to see that, it’s a rather dark bar, darker looking than some actual dark chocolates.
The scent is woodsy, a bit tangy with a whiff of malt and grasses.
The snap is bright and distinct, but the bite is soft. The chocolate melts quickly into a slick & creamy puddle on my tongue. There’s a cooling texture to it, it’s sweet but not sticky or cloying like many milk chocolates can be.
There’s a dark note to it and that same sort of cashew nuttiness that I’ve noticed in other Ocumare chocolate bars.
It’s a very satisfying milk chocolate, so smooth and silky that I ate this much quicker than I’m able to do with regular dark bars.
It’s an expensive proposition, the bars are only 2 ounces and I picked this one up at Mel & Rose’s for $6.50 ... a bit more than I’m willing to pay for a regular snack.
(Allergen notes: though there’s no soy lecithin in the chocolate, it was made on equipment that process soy, peanuts and tree nuts.)
Wednesday, July 1, 2009
One of their new candies is Puckerooms Sour Gummy Candy. They’re sour gummies (unlike the Sluggles, which are sweet gummies) in mushroom shapes and three different flavors.
The new Wonka’s Edible Garden are made with natural ingredients, including fruit juice and no artificial colorings or flavorings. (But of course they’re gummis and are not vegetarian since they use gelatin ... and in this case cochineal color, too.)
There are three flavors and three different shapes (though the shapes are applied to all the flavors):
Cherry - as you can see from the photo, I found a grape & cherry combo, but for the most part the cherry ones were single flavored. It’s a tart cherry with a black cherry darkness beneath but a lingering sour. It got my glands a’tinglin’.
Grape - it’s just so fun for me to have grape gummis, I have a hard time focusing on these for the review. The grape flavor is much like concord grape jam with Pixy Stix poured over it. (Come on, if you’d thought of it as a kid, you would have loved it!)
Lemon/Orange - I loved the look of these, the orange was always on the top, making the stem lemon. The flavors were a good blend of citrus zest and of course a sour punch that lasted beyond the grainy coating and permeated the soft gummi. The lemon and orange were distinct but blended well.
The sourness isn’t blisteringly strong, in fact, I found them barely more tart than the Sluggles, just more consistently tangy from start to finish.
I like the option of really potent gummis made without artificial flavors & colors, so these are real winners. I saw them at Target over the weekend for $1.59 for a 6.5 ounce bag, so it’s not like parents need to compromise here - the kids get a mainstream treat without going to a special store. (Of course that doesn’t mean adults can’t enjoy them.)
The package is mostly green instead of purple. The Wonka name is minimized and the name of the candy is more focused on Sour Puckerooms Gummies where it was originally just called Puckerooms with a descriptive logline of sour gummy candy below that. I do like the typography on the word Puckerooms better on the new version.
The new shapes are such a compromise from the earlier, well defined mushrooms that they’re mere shadows of the shapes they once were. There are really only two shapes, the pointier one is now gone. There are two slightly different rounded ones with wide round caps and wide bases and then the narrower stemmed one with a wide cap. On the package they look distinctive. In real life they’re
So, there you go. Wonka is receptive to your ideas.
Friday, June 26, 2009
There are scents that I regard as pleasant and summery and strawberry-banana is pretty high up there. It’s light, fruity & floral but has a sweet kick to it that I can almost taste when I smell it.
Yogen Fruz is a high-concept frozen yogurt & smoothie chain that began in Toronto and now has over 1,000 stores in 20 countries. In this case it’s the smoothies that have been turned into a line of little candies.
The little tin I picked up of the Yogen Fruz Smoothies Strawberry Banana smelled very strong. Even before I took off the plastic overwrap, I had to keep it in a ziploc bag.
Aside from the blastingly strong scent, the ingredients are pretty positive: pure cane sugar, yogurt, tartaric acid, malic acid, natural strawberry and banana flavors, ascorbic acid and natural color.
Though they’re made with nice ingredients, they’re basically a “tablet candy”, much like a SweeTart though not dextrose-based. They come in a tin, the same one, as far as I can tell, that Godiva uses for their Chocoiste Pearls but in this case I had no trouble with opening & closing it.
The little tablets have the umlauted U on them (that conveniently looks like a very big smile) with a light pink speckling. They’re immediately tangy on the tongue and dissolve a little unevenly. It’s both lightly sour and has that yogurt twang.
I thought the taste was vibrant and even a bit unique. If you’re looking for an all-natural SweeTart-like product then this is a nice idea though certainly quite expensive.
These are made in Canada by Big Sky Brands, who also make the Jones Soda candies.
Thursday, June 18, 2009
There are a lot of confections I call traveling candies. They’re candies that both deliver that sweet boost as well as some other function. I often use hot cinnamon for long car rides to keep me focused and of course coffee items like Nips or Coffee Rio are great for a teensy caffeine boost without fluids.
I also tend to get motion sickness, so ginger candies are a great way to feed my sweet tooth and soothe my tummy.
Here’s a candy from The Ginger People that combines both the soothing spice of ginger and the kick of coffee: Hot Coffee Ginger Chews.
The chews are just like the other ubiquitous Ginger Chews that are available unbranded at Asian markets or from The Ginger People or Chimes. (They’re all made in Indonesia.)
The soft little translucent chew is coated with a tapioca starch & sugar mixture. They still stick to the wrapper and don’t really look like much when pulled out. Sometimes I can find one that’s still block shaped, but most are smashed.
The scent is rather bland. Just sweet and maybe a little woodsy. But I popped one my mouth and the immediate sweetness gave way to quite a few flavors. There’s a strong root & earth component from the ginger then a very strong spicy warm feeling. The coffee kind of kicks in from the background - it’s rather weak coffee note but not tamed by any milk here like so many coffee candies do. It’s a brewed black coffee flavor.
It makes me wonder why I don’t throw sliced ginger into my coffee. It’s a really nice combination - the sugar is sweet but more like barley sugar with a mellow malty or toasted flavor to it.
The cumulative effect of these after a half a dozen is a strong and lingering warm sensation. (And a few little bits stuck in my teeth.)
The drawbacks to these are, first, that they’re vexing to get out of their wrappers. The plastic/mylar stuff is hard to tear open, and never quite opens the whole way. Not exactly easy to open yourself when driving. (This is what navigators were invented for ... not directing you where to go, but to unwrap & hand you your candy.)
Each piece has about 20 calories and no fat. If there’s caffeine in it, it’s not enough for them to note on the package (it’s a coffee extract so it’s not like some candies where you consume the whole bean). Their website says they’re gluten free (but the package doesn’t). They’re made in a facility that processes peanuts. Should be considered vegan, there’s no Kosher or Halal certification.
Thursday, June 4, 2009
Honestly, it seems odd that Nestle hadn’t entered the gummi category up to this point, especially since the Wonka brand is all about straight sugar candy (every once in a while they have a chocolate product). They’ve returned to the Roald Dahl book for some inspiration on the name. They’re called Sluggles (I’m guessing a vamp off the Arthur Slugworth character combined with the critter theme.)
But once I saw the package it kind of made sense. The says they’re from WONKA’S Edible Garden which sounds like fun! They come in four flavors: grape, orange, lemon & strawberry and say they’re made with natural ingredients and 25% real fruit juice. Yes, naturally flavored and no artificial colors ... from Nestle!
The Sluggles are shaped like little invertebrate creatures. The shapes I could discern looked like chitins, millipedes, snails and larvae. (They’re not exactly named on the package so forgive me if I gravitate towards the sea creature indentifications.)
I was really excited about the flavor array, mostly because there was no cherry, but also because they included grape, which is pretty rare in the gummi area.
Most of the gummis smelled the same, as it’s a mixed bag. The flavor is immediately tangy with a nice berry flavor, though not specifically strawberry and lacking that fragrant floral note.
The tartness has a slight fizzy quality to it towards the end.
Though the colors are all natural, gummis use gelatin so are not for vegetarians ... and in this case the red coloring is cochineal in addition to beta carotene.
I had a little trouble telling these from the strawberry at first glance because the colors aren’t as vibrant.
They’re mostly sweet with a light orange flavor to them, rather like orange drink with a little sprinkling of zest. While I sound underwhelmed, I thought these were the nicest of the bunch.
Wow, grape gummis! I can count on one hand the grape gummis that I know about (Albanese, the Japanese muscat varieties and the Big Bite Giant Gummi Bear).
Since this is a naturally flavored assortment, the grape flavor is much more like concord grape juice (not that there is actually any grape juice in here, the 25% is apple juice) than “artificial grape candy”. It has the deep jelly flavor but is much more sour than a jam. The exterior of the candies isn’t greasy at all, rather soft & dry but the chew is pliable and has a nice soft but rubbery bite.
The lemon flavored Sluggles were a little on the sweet side for a tangy citrus. The zest was mellow, the whole thing reminding me more of canned frozen lemonade than anything made with real lemons. It’s kind of a boiled sweet taste.
Still, they were tasty and all of the flavors went together well, I didn’t feel the need to look at the pieces before popping them in my mouth and any combinations of the flavors were acceptable.
The other product in this “edible garden” line is Puckerooms, which I’ll review soon. The other new items introduced this year are two different flavors of Kazoozles (which are not exactly in the garden theme and are definitely not all natural).
The package I got is a “sales sample” so this may not be the final package, ingredients & nutrition info. They’re made in the Czech Republic on equipment that processes milk, wheat, eggs, soy, peanuts, tree nuts and sulfites.
I think these are a great option for families that want to shy away from artificial ingredients but still want mainstream treat. (I also expect them to be priced very well.) The information from the All Candy Expo indicates that these should be hitting store shelves in June.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.