Monday, August 22, 2005
I actually had three bars but ate one before I could take its picture (milk chocolate in a saffron yellow wrapper), so pretend there’s a third one in there.
I was excited that Trader Joe’s was carrying these because I was hoping that it meant that they’d be a little less expensive (which they are). Still, I’m not sure I’m on board with this high end chocolate bar movement. Perhaps I’m just looking for a different thing in my chocolate than some other folks.
I think cocoa is great, it’s obviously one of those things that makes chocolate unique, that blend of earthy roasted flavors with those fruity notes that many people compare to wine or coffee. But what makes chocolate so great, for me, is cocoa butter. It’s one of those rare fats that is solid at room temperature and melts at body temperature. It makes it smooth and creamy and portable. Sharffen Berger chocolate bars lack that smooth and lustrous feeling on the tongue.
Scharffen Berger, I think, can be described as sour. There’s a pervasive acidic note in all their chocolates that I’ve tried and I don’t find it pleasant. It does provide a good base (except for the fact that acids are not bases as in alkaline) for the other flavors. In the pure dark chocolate I tasted some fruit notes: grape, apricot and some apple. I also tasted some oaky/woodsy notes and something which reminded me of lichens or wood ear mushrooms.
I know Sharffen Berger has its aficionados, but I don’t count myself among them. The product was definitely consistent and for a high-end chocolate, Trader Joe’s has certainly made it more accessible. I can definitely see this as good cooking chocolate - I wouldn’t hesitate to add some of their cocoa to my chili (yes, I put cocoa in my chili), but for eating it just leaves me, well, unaffected.
Rating - 6 out of 10.
Monday, June 20, 2005
Name: New Tree Chocolates: Vigor, Forgiveness & Tranquility
I reviewed another of these bars, called Renew a few weeks ago and I wanted to try other flavors. I found these little boxes with tasting bars at the Farmer’s Market and picked up an assortment. The one that had me most intrigued was Tranquility which bills itself as soothing. It’s milk chocolate with Lime Blossom and Lavender in it.
The packaging, first of all, is delightful. I put a quarter in the photo so you could see how tiny these bars are. New Tree extols itself as all natural, healthful chocolate what eschews genetically modified organisms (I’m not sure if Monsanto has gotten around to modifying the cocoa plant) and infuses their Belgian made chocolate with sometimes incongruous flavors and extra fiber. Turns out the no GMO part applies to the soya lecithin.
The Tranquility bar was very nice. It’s not terribly smooth, which is often what happens when you put dried stuff in chocolate. For Belgian milk chocolate it’s a bit sweet, but it doesn’t have that milky taste. The lavender notes come through loud and clear and leave a pleasantly fragrant note on the tongue long after the chocolate has dissolved. I wasn’t able to detect the lime blossom, but I’ve never eaten lime blossoms before and they might taste just like lavender for all I know.
I had to try the Vigor bar early in the day, as eating a full ounce of this is the equivalent of one cup of coffee (and I’ve already had a cup of coffee). At 73% cocoa, this bar smells unabashedly like pure chocolate. But upon putting it in my mouth, it melted quickly and I tasted only slight hints of rich coffee flavors. Naked coffee and chocolate are a great combo, as they both are roasted and smoky and contain lots of alkaloids. This is a barely sweetened bar that also boasts that it contains extracts of guarana. I’ve had more mocha tasting bars in the past and to be honest, I don’t want a caffienated chocolate bar, because I’d be tempted to eat it later in the day and then curse it as I couldn’t sleep later in the evening. But if you’re good with caffeine at all hours, maybe this is the bar for you. I don’t recommend pairing it with Red Bull or other energy drinks unless you enjoy heart palpitations.
The last bar, Forgiveness, was in the yellow box and was flavored with lemon and said that it helps metabolism. Again, a very dark bar with 73% cocoa. This bar also smells suspicously like chocolate with a slight lemon essence to it that’s more obvious after eating. It’s not a zesty taste, like a lemon bar or anything, just a hint of it. It’s actually very nice, a big difference from the heavily flavored bars from BruCo (don’t get me wrong, I liked those, too). The “helps metabolism” part got me curious though. There are “natural extracts of cactus” in it. Now, correct me if I’m wrong, but there are a lot of cactus out there ... that’s like saying something vague like has “natural nuts” in it. The website says that the cactus is Opuntia ficus-indica. A quick google search reveals that this is a prickly pear, and looks a lot like one I have in my back yard. Further searching reveals that this particular cactus also contains mescaline. I’m sure that my teensy bar that’s less than a third of an ounce does not contain any measurable amounts.
I guess this is where I can get into the topic of candy for snacking and candy for savoring. There are some folks who enjoy wine and drink it for the joy of drinking. Then there are some folks who enjoy wine for all its nuances and savor every sip. I’m somewhere in the middle there when it comes to candy. I love consumer candy, stuff you just eat, that you put in your mouth and you finish and you want more. This New Tree stuff and many of the other gourmet bars are not meant for munching. They’re more complex, like a fine cheese or something. As a reference, I still have a little bit of the Renew bar left and it’s been weeks. This is not candy that calls out to me to be eaten. (Yes, sometimes I hear the candy calling me ... mostly things like maltballs and I can also hear smarties calling from several hundred yards.) Maybe some will accuse me of not being sophisticated enough and I’d be inclined to agree with them. You can dress up my vitamins in gumballs or chewables, but that doesn’t make them candy. Candy is a treat, not a chore.
I feel kind of bad for not liking these bars more, like I’m not sophisticated or stylish. I also feel bad because they’re so hugely expensive. Which I guess goes to prove that good quality candy does not have to be expensive. And expensive candy is not neccesarily great.
I think over the past few months as I’ve been trying more of these bars, my favorite fancy flavored bar has been the Dagoba Milk Chocolate Chai. I ate that, it tasted good and I wanted more. That’s what I want in my candy ... one that gets me addicted.
Thursday, June 2, 2005
Name: Sweet Dark Orange and Sweet Dark Espresso
I probably shouldn’t buy chocolate bars called “sweet” and expect something other than sweet. And this being a candy blog, I should probably stop mentioning that I find candy sweet. I’m just calling them like I taste them.
These bars are of excellent quality. Smooth and without grain. The chocolate has good flavor, not much vanilla essence, mostly a roasty, robust chocolate flavor. Each has a flavor added to it. The Espresso has an excellent rich coffee flavor and of the two, I liked the mix of flavors best. It’s not as sweet, and stays true to espresso’s smoky vibe.
The orange one has a wonderful orange peel aroma to it, but the chocolate flavor gets lost in it and of course, I found it a little too sweet.
The chocolate yielded well, melting smoothly on the tongue. Of course it helped that it was very hot over that weekend that I picked them up. I took the bars next door and Amy and Robin agreed that the espresso was the best.
It should probably be mentioned that Newman donates all proceeds from sales to charity and the products are, to the best of their ability, fair trade and organic. But for a high priced “gourmet” bar, I expect just slightly better flavor balance and meltiness.
Rating: Espresso - 7 out of 10
Tuesday, May 31, 2005
Name: United Coffee Candy
Two different kinds of coffee hard candy. United Coffee Candy is from Thailand and the candies are little, flat rectangles and the Bali’s Best are from Indonesia (Bali) and are circular. Both have similar ingredients - leading with Sugar, then Glucose Syrup with Bali’s Best adding a little dried milk and then both round it out with coffee powder and oil. Pretty simple, and both get it absolutey right.
Each of them are crisp and densely rich. Sweet but with a robust and full sweet coffee flavor. Bali’s is just a little creamier because of the milk powder, but it also has a little more of a bitter twang to it.
Though the shapes are different, each are individually wrapped in sealed pouches.
Both are definitely keepers, something I’ll keep in the car or my purse or even the desk drawer. Easy to share and since I’m the type who likes to crunch her hard candies, these are very satisfying with a toffee consistency.
Rating: 8 out of 10.
Wednesday, April 20, 2005
Name: Coffee Crisp
Nestle’s known for the Nestle Crunch bar. This one is a bit of a twist. This huge, light block of a bar has layers of crisped cookie alternating with creamy coffee coated crisp. It’s all covered in a light layer of milk chocolate or more likely a waxy chocolate-like product.
It’s very sweet, but though the bar is large, it’s very light and crunchy. The ingredients list such artery-clogging items like palm and shea oils and hydrogenated soy oil. But I’m doing this for the good of science so I tossed aside my usual embargo on trans fats and wolfed this down.
The scent of coffee as you bring the bar to the mouth is quite evident, but the taste really isn’t there. The bar has lots of good textures, the crunch was crunchy without being dangerous like Cap’n Crunch or anything. But the whole thing was just too sweet and oily feeling. It’s a satisfying bar in that you don’t even feel you need to eat the whole, but it’s not one I’d probably buy again.
Rating: 5 out of 10
(Note, since this review the Coffee Crisp is now distributed widely in the United States by Nestle and was reformulated to contain only a trace of trans fats.)
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.