Thursday, September 24, 2015
Il Morso, which means the bite in Italian, is a new, solid form of coffee. Though the concept of coffee being treated like chocolate is hardly new, it’s very rarely implemented. Il Morso not only attempts to make a solid coffee/chocolate hybrid, by using cocoa butter with coffee beans, but they’re doing it with all natural ingredients and far less sugar than others who have come before them.
There are three different little bites in their current line: Americano, Coffee & Cream and Mocha. They also make a Matcha version with green tea instead of coffee. They use organic ingredients, no emulsifiers and pure cane sugar.
I tried Il Morso at the Fancy Food Show, before they were selling at retail. Now they’re available in limited stores and on the web. The company sent me this sampler box so that I could try all the flavors.
An Americano is espresso with a little water in it, to create the same consistency as a standard drip coffee. The Americano Coffee Bar is actually quite simple when it comes to ingredients, just three of them: Espresso Beans, Cocoa Butter and Cane Sugar.
Each little bite of the Americano Coffee Bar, the most intense coffee bar they make, has about 18 mg of caffeine. They’re also only 20 calories, partly because they’re so small (4 grams) but don’t be fooled because there’s no milk in there, there’s still plenty of fat from the cocoa butter (not a bad thing).
The bar smells like coffee, like coffee grounds, not quite like brewed coffee or espresso. It’s woodsy and deep with toffee and charcoal notes. The bite is easy, this is very similar in texture to a chocolate bar. The melt is easy and fast, but not too slick. There’s a slight chalky texture, like that sludge at the bottom of a cup of coffee, but this is by far the smoothest coffee item I’ve had. The sweetness is there from the sugar, but it’s very clean and just enough to moderate the more intense bitterness from the coffee.
Though it’s a small square, it’s quite intense and I don’t feel like I would ever want a full bar of this.
The Coffee & Cream Bar comes in at 16 mg of caffeine and 25 calories. This one contains milk powder in addition to the coffee, cocoa butter and sugar. You can see from the picture though, this is not milk chocolate, it is still very intensely coffee, but the milk is there to bring a more mild note to the bar without adding more sugar.
It’s funny that it does not smell as strongly of coffee as the Americano. It tastes, though, really much the same. The bitterness, the sort of acidic note of strong coffee, that’s all there, but it’s just slightly milder. It’s also smoother and has a lighter finish to it.
The Mocha Bar is the same as Coffee & Cream with the addition of some 70% chocolate. Sometimes I feel like chocolate bars with coffee in them are just that, chocolate bars first. Here, this is fully a coffee bar with chocolate in there. This one comes in with only 15 calories and 14 mg of caffeine.
This bar is absolutely the smoothest. It’s also the least sweet, if that’s possible. The coffee notes are most forward and the least bitter of the three bars, but no less rounded with the toffee and roasted notes. The chocolate is a smooth background with a hint of brownies and bananas.
The final bar is not coffee but all, it’s their only Tea Bar, the Matcha Tea Bar. This one has four ingredients: matcha, cocoa butter, milk powder and sugar. It’s also 20 calories but has only 7 mg of caffeine.
It’s quite green and smells like grass clippings, pistachios, jasmine and tea. The texture is smooth, but the whole effect of the tea is a little perfumey and soapy. There’s bit of bitterness that comes out after the cocoa butter and milk has dissipated. The floral notes linger long after the bar is gone, so it’s much fresher feeling than the coffee bars.
Overall, I think these are fantastic. I love the intensity of the bites, though they feel less like candy and more like a snack because there’s so little sugar in them. I’m also glad they’re so satisfying, I never feel the need to eat more than two at a time, because I wouldn’t want to over consume caffeine, especially late in the day. It’s a great option for travelers as well, if you need a little boost. They don’t seem to have the same problems with cocoa butter bloom as chocolate does, or at least the few that I traveled with melted and reformed pretty well.
The packaging is lovely and has a lot of information packed on to the little squares, which I appreciate. I don’t see myself buying these often by the box, but they would make great favors or gifts for those who truly love coffee. If I could find a candy shop that has them by the piece, I’d be willing to pay $1.75 each for them ... based on how big they taste, not how big they are.
There’s no statement about nuts or other allergens on the packaging. These are very pricey, though premium coffee drinks are also pricey and these are just more portable.
Wednesday, September 16, 2015
The concept is truly simple, a small, spherical pretzel is coated in milk chocolate. (The image on the front shows pretzel twists, but they’re not pieces of pretzels, they’re actual full spheres.)They’re very similar to the Toffee Bites, not that innovative, this product is definitely an American take on a standard confection.
The cheeky text on the front of the package reads: HELLO, I’m a handful [of] Pretzel Bites. You be the sweet, I’ll be the salty. (Nice to Sweet You)
Like the Toffee Bites and the Minty Bites, the chocolate here is excellent. Though it’s very sweet, it’s immediately creamy and smooth with a strong hint of cocoa. The salty pretzel center is crispy and light with enough crunch to offset the sweetness of the coating.
Still ... I wish they were dark chocolate. Or maybe a mix of the two would be fun.
Like Minty Bites and Toffee Bites, these are made in the USA. They’re on the expensive side for chocolate covered pretzels, and I don’t see myself buying them often, but of the three versions, this was my favorite and the one that I finished first.
Tuesday, September 8, 2015
Now that I’ve purchased the full set, I’ve noticed the packaging for the line. It’s an odd design style. The HELLO line is a very friendly, with that hipster coffee-house style mix of hand printing and script. The embossed Lindt logo, on the other hand, is old-world elegance. The rest of the package is just an image of the product. In this case it’s a bowl of toffee bites and some pieces of toffee (I know, the photo makes it look like they might be pats of butter). Each of the packages for the HELLO Bites has a different metallic color on the top band. For the toffee, it’s bronze, for the mint it was green and for the pretzel line, it’s a light blue (which is consistent with the M&Ms Pretzel which is also blue).
The pieces a little on the small size, mostly the size of a garden pea. The milk chocolate is very light in appearance, like the Minty Bites, there’s no indication of the cacao content. The coating is very creamy, with no detectable waxy glaze to interrupt the immediately melty chocolate.
The chocolate to toffee ratio is very balanced, so there’s enough of both to give full flavor development and texture. The toffee is crispy and has a good crunch. There’s a hint of butter and a touch of salt with some good toasty flavors to balance it. The milk chocolate has a lot of dairy notes, but not so much of the dried milk flavors that I don’t care for in a lot of Swiss-style milk chocolates.
These are easy to munch but also such high quality that it’s fun to savor them as well ... the chocolate has a delightful melt and the consistency of the toffee is great if you’re a cruncher or a dissolver. The key here is that this is a simple item that can be done poorly with cheap ingredients and no attention to detail ... instead Lindt has delivered an excellent product and actually surpassed my expectations.
Thursday, September 3, 2015
I picked up the Pumpkin Spice Latte, though I admit I was a little confused about how different this was from the Pumpkin Spice Milk Chocolate M&Ms from 2013.
It’s always a little odd to pick up “seasonal” items when I live in Los Angeles. The package here shows the brown M&M all bundled up with steamy drink. It was 96 degrees in the shade when I got back to my car with the purchase (it’s also hot in a lot of other places around the country, it was still August when these hit the shelves).
The pieces are large, as all of the specialty flavors lately have turned out to be. They come in orange, cream and dark brown. (The earlier 2013 Pumpkin Spice were orange, green and dark brown.)
The ingredients list no specifics about the flavors, there are no lists of spices and definitely no actual pumpkin or coffee. What I expected to be different about this variety is more of the latte beverage experience. So, I’m hoping for creamy milk notes, maybe some espresso and of course the spice mix known as pumpkin.
The flavor combination here is immediately cinnamon with a touch of coffee and chocolate. The spices are warm, but not very evenly balanced, it’s almost all cinnamon and not much in the way of nutmeg or ginger. The coffee notes keep it from being as sweet as some others, though it’s a little inconsistent. The chocolate itself is grainy and not terribly creamy. In general the chocolate quality on M&Ms is disappointing as a chocolate item, but fine as a candy.
I’m a little confused how this whole coffee craze can come about and there are no coffee M&Ms, but some how a beverage that includes coffee can actually get the M&M treatment.
Monday, August 31, 2015
Lindt has expanded their friendly HELLO line of chocolates with a handful of panned products. The Lindt Hello Minty Bites come in a stand up bag that holds 5.3 ounces. They’re pretty much the most expensive chocolates you can buy at Target, but also a very reliably good brand of chocolate.
I picked up mine on sale for $4 a bag, though they’re usually about $4.50. The package does a good job of vaguely describing the product: Dark Chocolate Covered Mint Cubes (natural flavor). But the description on the front, the propaganda on the back, and the images do noting to show what the product actually is. I assumed they were a fondant center, like Junior Mints or York Peppermint Patties. Instead, they are unique, which is a good thing to set them apart from other offerings, but also took a bit to get used to.
The dark chocolate coating is glossy and creamy and pretty thick. The chocolate is not very dark, there’s no percentage on the package and does have added milk fat and milk. The pieces are not completely spherical; they’re more oblate like M&Ms. The centers are like a jelly. They’re made from sugar, apple, pineapple fibers, sodium alginate, green tea extract, dicalcium phosphate, citric acid and natural mint. Can you imagine that? Yeah, it’s a little weird.
The center reminds me a little bit of the Brookside fruit pieces, but they’re a little grainy. The flavor is only lightly minty and rather authentically like mint leaves. But there’s a tangy component ... so the effect is like a mojito, a little citrusy and a little minty.
I don’t know what to think of them. I didn’t love the, but I had no trouble eating the package eventually. The chocolate is ridiculously smooth and creamy, but after eating Brach’s & M&Ms chocolates for so long, sometimes I forget that chocolate in these types of candies can actually be really good. Of the three varieties of Hello Bites, these are the only ones with a dark chocolate coating (the others are Toffee Bites and Pretzel Bites), which is what I usually prefer. If you’re the type of person who likes the Brookside Fruits or Trader Joe’s Powerberries, these might be something you’d like.
Lindt’s new Hello Bites line is made in the USA. Most other Lindt products (at least the ones that I’ve reviewed) are made in Germany. Though the front of the package says natural flavor, there are artificial flavors (vanillin) and other ingredients like sodium alginate and dicalcium phosphate - they’re not necessarily “artificial” but not necessarily ordinary.
Monday, August 24, 2015
The Hershey’s Dark Chocolate Caramels (and their Milk Chocolate siblings) are a rather pedestrian extension of the Hershey’s brand. They’re sold in either a pair of caramels in a single package or a stand up bag of something less than a half a pound. The price point makes you think that this is a premium product, I paid $4.29 for 7.2 ounces.
The packaging looks nice and does a good job of protecting the freshness and attractiveness of the product, but it’s maddeningly hard to open. Each caramel is individually wrapped and of the 13 or so pieces in the bag, I was able to open two without the aid of scissors. I can only assume that this is to either help with portion control or help the consumer work off some extra calories wandering around the house trying to figure out where the good scissors went.
My frustrations with the wrappers were ameliorated by the fact that every single caramel was gorgeous. They’re lovely rounded squares with a lightly domed top of thick dark chocolate. (Well, I don’t know how dark it actually is, the ingredients only call it semi-sweet and it contains milk fat.)
They smell nice, a mixture of brownies and hot chocolate. The bite is easy and soft, but not a runny caramel like the Cadbury Caramello bar. The caramel has an excellent smooth texture and good stringy pull, but it’s not quite stiff enough to satisfy me. The chocolate is passable, smooth and not chalky, and not too sweet.
The whole experience is lacking something, perhaps I’m spoiled by my comparably priced Trader Joe’s Butterscotch which strike me as a far better deal both because the price is better, the ingredients are a bit clearer and of course they taste fantastic or the far easier to find Storck Chocolate Riesen. I don’t see Hershey’s new product line surviving in the long run, they’re just not distinctive enough.
These caramels are made in Mexico and are made on equipment that also processes macadamia nuts, almonds, hazelnuts and peanuts. Contains soy and milk. There’s no mention of gluten.
Monday, July 6, 2015
Brach’s has reintroduced their whole line of chocolate panned candies over the past two years. They’ve redone their classic Bridge Mix and now have several varieties of chocolate covered nuts. One of the surprising new items is Brach’s Chocolate Caramel Pretzel Bites.
The gussetted, resealable bag holds a half of a pound. Like most other Brach’s products, the description on the package is only contained in the product name ... nothing else to go on except the very long ingredients list.
The image on the bag shows some chocolate pieces, and then a cross section of the actual candies ... sitting next to that is a rustic pretzel nugget and a little square of caramel. That is really not what the product is.
The little spheres are a great size, about the same size as a garbanzo bean or hazelnut. The milk chocolate coating is shiny and the bag had a nice sweet scent, a little on the milky side. The pieces have a good crunch, the pretzel center isn’t too hard or crumbly. The pretzel flavor was good, not too much of the washed crust that can get kind of bitter, and no big bits of salt. But upon eating the pieces, this is where the caramel part comes in. The caramel is actually little shards mixed into the milk chocolate. So at first it’s just a pretzel with some milk chocolate, but after chewing, the chocolate melts away and the starchy pretzel dissolves ... and what was left was some sort of tacky residue of hard caramel. It was weird and kind of waxy and unpleasant.
So, after a while I took to letting the milk chocolate melt away instead of crunching them up, but that was unsatisfying because then my pretzel would get mushy before the caramel bits were all gone. I’ve had other confections like almonds, that had a little toffee coating before the milk chocolate, I’m not sure why that wasn’t the process here.
I’ll pass on these in the future, which is too bad because it’s a unique selling proposition in the rather crowded field of morselized products.
Monday, June 22, 2015
When I was in New York City earlier this year, I wanted to take advantage of the chocolate. I saw online that the Japanese chocolate company, Royce’, has several locations in Manhattan and offers tastings of the chocolate and Nama, truffle-like product. I don’t know that much about Royce’, but my experience with Japanese chocolate up until then was with mass-produced brands like Meiji, so I wanted to see what a single origin upscale brand might be like.
I stopped by a location on Madison Avenue, and was greeted promptly and offered some tastings. It’s a standard panel of tastings that focused on the Nama but also a few pieces of their plain chocolate disks. The chocolate was exceptionally smooth, flavorful but not intense. Since I was traveling and the fellow insisted that the truffles must be refrigerated, I bought a box of the Royce’ Pure Chocolate Venezuela Bitter & Ghana Sweet. This box contains two rows of rippled chocolate disks, one of 68% and one of 60% of two separate origins.
I wasn’t thrilled when I read the ingredients, finally after I left the store. I didn’t realize that a dark chocolate product would have milk in it, as if it were some Ghirardelli or Dove product. But it was really the artificial flavor that I thought was odd ... I can only assume them mean vanillin, in addition to real vanilla.
The little disks are individually sealed in cellophane. They’re a little over 1.5 inches across. It’s a nice, two bite piece.
The Ghana is quite sweet, very smooth and with a typical chocolate flavor profile. It’s brownies and chocolate milk and cocoa. There’s a little acidic note to it, but for the most part it’s woodsy and smoky and toasted. The melt is good, very smooth with an odd grit every once in a while.
The Venezuela has an immediate green note to the scent, a little like olives or boiled peanuts. The melt, again, exceptionally smooth. This is a bit more buttery though. The flavor is more acidic, less sweet with some stronger tannins. There are some red berry notes, more olives, black tea and tobacco.
I absolutely preferred the Venezuelan over the Ghana.
The box was price at $17 for only 7 ounces. The packaging is pretty spare looking, though the reality is there’s a lot of it. The paperboard box is wrapped in brown paper, but inside the box is a plastic tray for each of the chocolate disk rows. Then there was the individual wrappers. It all traveled well, and stores nicely. It’s been months and they’re still fresh and shiny, though there are only about 5 left.
Royce’ also makes chocolate covered potato chips, chocolate covered nuts, and chocolate bars with inclusions.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.