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 27, 2009
I popped into See’s yesterday to see what was new for the summer. The Root Beer Lollipops are back in stock (through mid-August), so if you were a fan of those (mini review here), then pop by for your fix.
I realized that I’ve never reviewed the See’s Lollipops in their classic array. The nice thing about them is that they’re summer-proof but also that they’re pretty cheap.
On top of that, they’re creamy and satisfying, last really long but only 70 calories each. They come in four regular flavors that are available singly (don’t forget your free sample!) or by the box: Vanilla, Chocolate, Butterscotch & Cafe Latte.
Vanilla looks like a block of nothing. The color is a creamy white, the texture & tint of glossy trim paint.
It smells sweet and vaguely like French vanilla ice cream. The flavor is like a toasted marshmallow - a sweet vanilla with a little hint of bourbon and butter.
It’s a smooth pop with a slightly oily dissolve, which only supports that feeling that I’m eating solid ice cream. It’s sweet, but doesn’t feel cloying or sticky. The pop lasts a long time, too.
Rating: 7 out of 10
The chocolate pop doesn’t look like much. It’s not quite shiny ... it’s not really matte either.
It smells like brownie batter.
The texture starts smooth but quickly degrades to an oddly rich but chalky experience. It’s like the mud at the bottom of the cup of hot chocolate. Not that I don’t love that mud, but in this case the texture is rather rough like a cat tongue.
It’s rich, and does deliver quite a bit of the chocolatey experience without melting. But the chalky/sand paper never quite thrills me.
Rating: 6 out of 10
The color is lovely, like a rich caramel.
The immediate flavor on my tongue was salt. It was very salty to me, but perhaps that was because I was eating the vanilla one right before that.
The texture is ultra smooth, and has the same creamy & buttery melt. The caramelized sugar notes were good but the strongest flavor by far was salty butter.
I liked how smooth the block is, though this is one that I noticed how awkward the pops are in the mouth. It takes a while to smooth away the corners. Over the years this has been my favorite pop mostly because of its simple & true flavor but also the super-slick texture.
Rating: 8 out of 10
This was the “softest” pop of the bunch. It was a little sticky from the humidity, which gave it a caramel consistency on the outermost layer.
The scent is like dark roast coffee or espresso, but the flavor is like coffee with lots of milk and some sugar in it. There’s a slight coffee bitterness to it, but for the most part it’s like a Coffee Nip with a stick in it.
I appreciated the silky texture and the stick prevented me from gluing my teeth shut as I often do with Nips or Coffee Rio.
Rating: 7 out of 10
A mixed box is a great addition to a vacation when you need a little pick me up, or something to keep you occupied at the office when wrangling endless spreadsheets of metadata.
Tuesday, July 14, 2009
Often they come in different flavors, but the classic caramel has endured for nearly 100 years. One line is the Meiji Dice, which are little caramels that come in pairs inside cube boxes that also double as dice. More recently, as Meiji has acquired the Pokka Coffee company, they introduced the Pokka Coffee Caramel.
The cute packages feature half with icons of the Pokka coffee brand with their logo & seal. The other half are the dice - in this case using little coffee beans on each side to mark the numbers.
The caramels are bigger than the Morinaga ones I’ve had before, or the other, similar Meiji cubes.
They’re about 5/8 of an inch square with a distinct checkerboard texture on them. Each pair is wrapped in waxed paper and tucked into a box. So there are eight caramels total.
They smell very sweet and a lot like dark roasted coffee or espresso. There’s very little milk taste to it, though milk is a major ingredient. It’s definitely a sweet black coffee flavor. (Some coffee caramels taste like coffee ice cream.) I liked it much better than the grainy & gone texture of the Chewy Coffee Rio.
The dark, rich flavor and the soft, ample chew was really appealing to me. I found I ate three of the boxes before I was even ready to do this review. They were a bit on the expensive side for a mass-manufactured candy ... and the overpackaging is sweet for the first day or so, but silly and wasteful after that. I’ll likely stick with the Morinaga Caramels I know and love so well, or perhaps try the Meiji Chelsea Coffee if I can find them.
Thursday, July 9, 2009
In case you haven’t been reading along, Nips are a hard caramel, first made by a company called Pearson’s which was later bought out by Nestle. They’re a great summer candy because they don’t melt but have a rich creamy flavor that can satisfy that craving even on the stickiest of days.
Both are variations on previously reviewed Nips, as they’re filled & flavored.
The Chocolate Parfait Nips are made up of a Caramel Nip outside and a chocolate flavored inside.
The caramel is a little salty, creamy and with a silky sweet melt on the tongue. Sometimes it softens up a bit for splitting & bending ... or cementing teeth together.
Inside the bliss of the confection loses track for me. The chocolate center is like an oily Tootsie Roll. The chocolate flavor is weak and the texture is worse than that, a sort of waxy, greasy mess.
I’ve had this box for several months and I’ve eaten all of four of them so far.
The Mocha Nips are a bit darker looking. The rich hardened caramel is coffee flavored, just like the original Coffee Nips. In this case the mocha element comes from the cocoa paste filling.
The creamy, milky coffee outer portion is just like the classic Nip ... a good rounded coffee flavor. The inside though, like the Chocolate Parfait isn’t quite chocolate, it’s more like a frosting.
The bold strength of the coffee flavored outside masks the chocolate deficiencies better than the Chocolate Parfait, so I did end up finishing most of the box.
While I appreciate the attempt to create a few other versions, the chocolate just isn’t good enough to make me chose these over the classic solid flavors.
Wednesday, June 24, 2009
Here are two new super charged coffee bean candies. GoGo Beans are made by How Do You Take Your Coffee and feature “The Eating Roast” coffee, which are beans that are chosen & roasted to be tastier for consuming than for brewing (I already reviewed their JAVAZ). Jitterbeans are the overclocked version of Crackheads (review here) from Osmanium ... and when I say overclocked I mean it, each piece contains about 20 mg of caffeine so the package has as much as 6 small cups of coffee.
GoGo Beans are super-fortified and offer both the caffeine inherent in the bean plus an addition kick added to the candy shell plus some special B vitamins, taurine and ginseng. The format is an bean at the center (specially roasted for eating) then a mockolate coating all covered in a thick candy shell.
The shell has a pretty immediate light bitterness which may be the fortification or may be the food coloring. That fades away pretty quickly for me. The inside has a mellow cocoa flavor but not a huge kick for me. The texture is soft and has a decent melt, but at times felt a little waxy. The bean at the center was lovely, just as I found with the Javaz - crunchy and crisp with a strong coffee flavor but no oily bitterness.
The Jitterbeans follow the tried and true format of chocolate over an espresso bean and adds a candy shell. Like the original Crackheads, these are in the classic tuxedo colors of black and white, though there’s no actual white chocolate in there.
The candy shell is rather thin and offers a sandy crunch. Inside the chocolate is sweet and has a bit of a spicy woodsy ginger flavor to it along with the mellow coffee notes. The extra caffeine isn’t bitter at all though some of the beans in the center had a bitter kick. The whole thing is rather tasty and probably very dangerous for those who don’t know that there’s a lot of caffeine in these and consumes a whole box. I limited myself to three beans in the three different times I tried these. That said, I have a hard time believing they have that much caffeine in them without so much bitterness that I’ve found in other caffeinated candies - maybe someone can comment on the caffeine in “guarana seed extract.”
Both of these are great, durable & portable caffeine supplements. They’re tasty and what’s most important - portionable so you can control exactly how much caffeine you take in. That said, I much prefer the more sedate and non-fortified versions and will stick with the JAVAZ for my candy, coffee & caffeine combination. The addition of artificial colors wasn’t enough of selling point.
Jitterbeans and GoGo Beans get a 6 out of 10 - not bad candy, but not for me.
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.
Tuesday, June 2, 2009
Since the introduction of chocolate covered espresso beans sometime in the seventies not much has changed. Oh sure, sometimes they’re milk chocolate covered ... sometimes dark chocolate and even white chocolate.
At the Fancy Food Show in January I did get to try what I thought was one of the best revisions of the classic caffeinated confection: JAVAZ.
First, they’re all natural and use organic, fair traded coffee beans. Second, they use good quality chocolate. Third, they have a candy shell. But most of all, they actually roast the coffee for eating. That is, instead of roasting it for optimal brewing, it’s roasted with the idea that someone is going to crunch & consume it.
They come in two varieties: Milk and Dark.
JAVAZ Milk are much larger than most chocolate covered coffee beans, so it’s a goodly dose of chocolate. I threw some coffee beans into the photo to show the scale.
They’re even larger than Peanut M&Ms.
They look like little bird eggs: a faint tan color with brown speckles.
The shell is thick and crunchy and the milk chocolate is sweet and has a strong dairy/milky flavor to it. The coffee bean at the center is crispy and light, I wasn’t getting the fibery, woody bits that some coffee candies seem to leave behind. The coffee beans don’t have that acrid, oily taste to them.
The whole thing tastes like coffee ice cream with crunchy bits.
Though there’s obviously caffeine in here it’s not as much as you might think: a 55 gram bag has about the same amount as a cup of coffee.
JAVAZ Dark are decorated in the reverse of the milk ones. The shell is brown with beige speckles.
The chocolate layer here is dark chocolate, though not “pure” in the sense that there’s some dairy in there (sorry vegans, but the confectioners glaze spoiled these for you anyway).
The chocolate is quite sweet and the punch of the coffee bean is nice and balances that sugary-ness quite well. I might have preferred a little more coffee flavor.
They’re substantially crunchy, I can’t say that these are a quiet way to get a caffeine boost.
I like how thick the shells are and how easy it is to hold them in my hand or just throw a few in my jacket pocket without the protection of the bag. As long as they stay dry, they do just fine. (Okay, maybe that’s not the most sanitary thing, but I’m just being honest about my road-testing of the product.)
The coffee is sourced from Indonesia and uses only Arabica beans and benefits the Indonesia Relief Fund.
They’re made in the USA and are Kosher. The packages are a little expensive ($3.00 for 1.94 ounces), but I expect that’s because they’re just starting out ... volume usually helps to even these things out and they’re only sold in the small package. Right now I can only find them on Foodzie, though they’ve been at some food trade shows so might be in cafes and gourmet delis as well.
Saturday, May 9, 2009
Though I wouldn’t call Los Angeles a candy city, we certainly have our share of sweet spots. I’m more likely to go to San Francisco for candy adventures than the west side, but after promising for several years I finally made it to Compartes Chocolatier to pick up some items for Candy Blog.
This wasn’t actually my first visit to the Brentwood shop, but certainly the first one in this century (I was a D-Girl in the 90s and my office was not far from there). I had to see the place since the new generation, Jonathan Grahm expanded the classic line of stuffed fruits & novelty molded chocolates with truffles & ganaches with inventive flavor combinations.
The shop is compact but has a lovely display area on the wall of the chocolates and the main counter that appears to be divided in to two areas: classic offerings and modern. (My distinctions, not theirs.) They serve gelato so there are a few tables inside and out front. (For those who follow Compartes on Twitter, I did spot Jonathan at his laptop tucked in the corner at one of the tables.)
The classic products are sold by the pound (as fruits & nuts tend to come in various sizes) while the truffles & bonbons are sold by the piece. The classics were $35 a pound and the bonbons were $2 each. I left the shop with $50 worth of chocolate in one rather large & heavy box.
The fig is glossy is and sticky. It looks like a light fig (green) like a Kalamata. I prefer black figs (Mission) mostly because they have darker flavors ... it’s like the difference between golden raisins & regular raisins. It’s very sweet at first, the figgy flavors are tangy, a little grassy from the seeds with some raspberry & floral-like green tea flavors. The dark chocolate offsets this well, especially by bringing in the creamy melt.
It’s definitely show-stopping beautiful. Best eaten fresh & quickly.
These tiny little fingers were wonderfully shiny on the peel edge. It was all peel, too, cooked in sugar syrup to a light and translucent tenderness - no trace of acrid & foamy white pith. The dark chocolate looked silken brown. Each piece was a combination of bitterness from the orange oils and dark chocolate, vibrant zest and sweet citrus & cocoa flavors. The texture was chewy & a buttery creaminess. Perfection.
Hazelnut & Orange in Dark Chocolate (not pictured)
These were simple little dark chocolate cups that could have easily been coconut haystacks. I was hoping that the combo of the chocolate & nuts with those awesome orange pieces would work ... sadly the whole thing tasted a bit “cheesy” and I couldn’t figure out why ... something about the hazelnuts lacking their nuttiness. I’ll pass on these in the future.
The ginger coins are tender and soft, a bit juicy. With citrus notes and a warm woodsy burn, the sweet candied ginger goes well with the bittersweet chocolate that has a slightly dry finish. There’s no trace of sugary grain here, it’s more of a smooth jelly texture. Beautiful to look and and expertly made.
I would buy a pound of these. Ginger is a root vegetable, right?
Mexican Hot - (skull & crossbones)
A strong mix of cayenne & black pepper notes in dark chocolate. The ganache is smooth while the dark chocolate flavors are woodsy with a slight tannin to go with the earthy pepper flavors.
Original - (blue stripes)
I try to buy these wherever I go. It’s always good to try the base for everything else. The chocolate enrobing was perfect, the little design on top was cute and easy to remember. The dark chocolate flavors were mild, the ganache was very buttery with a good smooth and quick melt.
Vanilla & Black Pepper - (stripes with dots)
I should have taken a photo of this, I didn’t realize it would be a white cream center until I bit into it far from the camera. The immediate hit was of vanilla and butter, in a cupcake sort of vibe. Then the peppercorns kicked in, giving the vanilla more of a rum & woodsy moderation. Rather sweet, but with a lingering brightness from the pepper & vanilla pods.
Jasmine Tea (pink flowers & blue lines)
The dark chocolate takes a back seat to the strong & musky floral notes of the jasmine. The tea adds a little pop of acidity to it that gives a fresh lingering feeling to this. The ganache is silky smooth and not too sweet.
Blackberry & Sage (blue & purple square mosaic)
The blackberry is a dark and jammy flavor with a light tangy touch, the sage brings it back around with an herbal splash - a bit on the strong side, so much so that I’m not sure I’d know that it was blackberry without a key. Still, a sage truffle is great.
This little ganache center was topped with some lightly candied (glazed) fennel seeds (instead of the brightly colored candy shells that most of us are familiar with). Fennel on its own has a light sweetness and anise flavor. These brought out the dark licorice and molasses notes of the chocolate. Smooth and satiny with a curious fibery crunch from the seeds.
Lavender Marshmallow in Dark Chocolate
Yes, it’s a bit jarring to see that bright lavender center. The marshmallow was moist, fluffy but dense. Sweet but not sticky, it had a good bite. The flavor was woodsy & floral - but a bit odd combined with the chocolate. The whole thing reminded me of bug spray ... though not in a bad way, just that the floral notes weren’t quite as balsam-ish as I’d hoped.
Coffee & Cacao Nib and Coffee
The ganache in this pair is flavored with real coffee, so there’s a slight grain to the otherwise silky center. The flavor was good, rich & bold. I liked the crunchy nibs but I’m not that fond of eating coffee beans when it messes up the texture of well-tempered chocolate.
Fleur de Sel Caramels
I’ve made it pretty well known that I favor “wet” caramels, that’s the chewy stuff that has a good stringy pull and long, smooth chew. These were the “short” caramel style and have a strong butter flavor. I wasn’t fond of the texture, which was a cross between fudge & caramel and the lack of toasted sugar notes.
Shichimi - (the spice dusted one) this is made of seven spices: red chili pepper, roasted orange peel, yellow and black sesame seeds, Japanese pepper, seaweed, and ginger. The spices here angle towards the toasted sesame and chili peppers. I didn’t get much citrus out of it. The whole thing kind of left my lips burning, but the chocolate & fatty ganache balanced it well. The only issue here was that the spices kind of got out of their cup and I caught a few of these flavors in the other chocolates I ate.
Smoked Salt - (square with black crystals on top) delicate and light chocolate ganache with an earthy & metallic aftertaste to the salt. I’m beginning to think that I don’t care for smoked salts. Often they remind me of a campground in the morning, that lingering scent of a fire gone out mixed with damp sleeping bags from the morning dew & coffee made in an aluminum pot.
Cashew Fruit - (gold sphere) - this wasn’t a ganache but a bit of gooey cream center, kind of like a runny creme brulee. The flavor was a bit like green bananas. Smooth, a touch of grassy brightness and sweet milk.
I loved the classic items. I’d go back and buy the orange peels (some of the best I’ve ever had), figs (though I’d like to have some candied figs too) and ginger medallions in a heartbeat. I thought the price was really competitive and fair ($30 when sold in full pound boxes) for a line that is so labor intensive and requires top quality ingredients.
The truffles & bonbons were good and I enjoyed some of the flavor combos and of course the plain one. The price was a bit higher than I’m willing to do for such small items unless they’re particularly unique. The great option though is that it’s a fun shop to visit, they’re very knowledgeable about their products (they’re made right there, after all). They also have a line of African-themed bonbons called Chocolate for a Cause that are made with African-sourced flavors (mango, coconut, cardamom, plantain, grains of paradise, red rooibus tea). They’re a fundraiser for Relief International and their projects in Darfur and include a bead bracelet. After getting emails about these for year and pretty much going there to pick up a box ... they were sold out.
If I’m in the area, I will definitely visit again. The bonbons change constantly as new produce comes into season & Jonathan experiments with new combinations so I give them a 7 out of 10. I’ll probably continue to taste the bonbons but will go home with the fruits/ginger so they get a 9 out of 10.
Compartes Brentwood Boutique Chocolate Lounge
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.