Thursday, August 13, 2009
Last year I made a trip up interstate 101 from Los Angeles to San Francisco. Yes, it’s actually longer than taking I5, but I thought it would be interesting to stop at a few candy shops along the way. One that I was interested in was Sweet Earth Chocolate at about the halfway point of San Luis Obispo.
At that time they were operating out of a space in Splash Cafe in SLO. A few months ago they moved into their own candy kitchen and cafe space just down the street. (More about that here.) I was eager to see the expanded offerings from this unique confectioner that uses organic and fair trade chocolate.
Their new storefront is charming and inviting ... and large! You can get coffee drinks, sit and enjoy your purchases but I was there for the chocolate to take on my vacation.
Their candy cases had a nice mix of both comfort candies (chocolate dipped pretzels, house-made jellies, chocolate covered cookies, turtles and marshmallows) and truffles. What sets them apart from many chocolatiers is their line of vegan items. (Here’s the in store menu.)
The store is more than just chocolate though, there’s also information about how fair trade directly affects the communities that participate and some other fun and unique gifts.
Bakers will also enjoy access to fair trade baking chips & cocoa. For those in a hurry who don’t want to select their own box, there are also packages of pre-packed candy cups, chocolate covered goodies and of course their line of chocolate bars.
I picked up quite a bit of stuff. First, I selected a few items from the “comfort candies” section for me to munch on while on vacation. This included their chocolate dipped pretzels, toffee & chocolate dipped pretzels and some turtles. Since those weren’t for review I also got a box of nine truffles.
The truffles are well priced at 1.50 each though I found them a tad on the small size but mercifully free of the “too hot for the box” styles that chocolatiers have been using lately with artificial colors & cocoa butter ink transfers.
The Espresso truffle was one of those rare modern truffles that actually looks like a truffle. The small sphere smelled woodsy and sweet. The bittersweet chocolate shell gave way to a smooth center with a good pop of espresso flavor. A little acidic but a crisp finish with a little fruity twang. There were a few fibery bits of the coffee beans though at the end.
This dark chocolate triangular piece holds a sweet if slightly grainy cream with a light touch of ginger.
I liked the texture and the woodsy flavor of the ginger. It didn’t have a warming burn, but a pleasant note of the root mixed with a not-too-sweet fondant-like cream. The dark chocolate shell was thick enough that there was no leakage and also provided a bittersweet background to the earthy flavors.
It was a good sized piece as well.
This was definitely one I was looking forward to. I love the combination of cardamom and chocolate.
The center of this truffle also had a bit of a graininess to it, I think, because of the crystallized ginger.
The cardamom was quite overwhelmed by the chocolate & ginger flavors at first, but emerged later and gave me a fresh & lingering aftertaste.
I admit that I was confused by this one. I couldn’t for the life of me remember what it was when I got home. I don’t think it did well on the trip either, something about the central coast being very humid this time of year made the outside tacky.
So when I took it out to photograph it, I was puzzled. So I bit into it and yes, the flavor did remind me a bit of a Milky Way, but I still didn’t put it together until days later when I was trying to write this up and looked at the Sweet Earth Chocolates website.
Anyway, it was sweet and milky and yes, it did have a little malty hit to it. But the outside was like the sticky, stale inside of a seafoam candy so the whole thing was a bit chewy. Not unpleasant, but not “truffle-like.” I’ll give it another go though, as I’m always game for some malt.
Sweet & slightly grassy tasting center with little bits of hazelnuts. Milky and entirely addictive.
This would make an excellent chocolate cup too, I would love a bigger bite ... or more of them. And maybe some in dark chocolate. Yes, a true winner. (I’m wondering if you can make a dark chocolate gianduia that’s vegan.)
Finally, I got two of the classic dark chocolate truffles. They come in a full cream version and a vegan version.
The Vegan Dark Chocolate truffle is cute, a small hand rolled sphere with a flurry of zigzags of chocolate for decoration. The aroma is dark and woodsy chocolate. The bite is soft and the center is smooth. It’s barely sweet and has a strong woodsy & tangy flavor that comes through ... then a note of coconut and a rather bitter & dry finish.
The dairy Dark Chocolate truffle has a similar look, with its decoration mostly parallel stripes. The center seemed just a bit softer but also a bit smoother. The tangy bite wasn’t there at all. The chocolate flavors seemed more pronounced, though the chocolate shell still participated with quite a bitter chocolate bite & dry finish.
On the whole, I find the Sweet Earth Chocolates 65% dark chocolate a bit on the astringent side. The dairy cream centers worked well with this and some of the flavors combined well to tip it more towards woodsy or berry/raisin.
What’s so refreshing about the shop & the chocolates is that they’re so approachable and fresh-tasting. I didn’t feel assaulted by political messages about fair trade and organics - for the most part the shop is about the wholesome enjoyment of freshly made chocolates ... that happen to be organic and fair trade.
If you’re in San Luis Obispo or passing through during business hours, give it a try:
Tuesday, August 11, 2009
While on vacation I spotted a new store in Cambria, CA called Sweet Offerings. Unlike many other candy shops in the area, they didn’t make anything of their own (no taffy pulling machine, no fudge). It’s just a well curated shop where they have a little of everything and some things that are pretty hard to find.
I was thrilled to see these little gingham wrapped creams from Rogers’ Chocolates of Victoria, British Columbia. I’d never heard of them before, but as you’ll see, it’s easy to see why someone would go through the trouble of importing them.
They come in a huge variety of flavors, at least 16 in the creams. Each wax paper wrapped piece weighs 45 grams (1.59 ounces) - which is like a candy bar. The price was a bit steep ($3.50 each), but I figured I was on vacation (and the Candy Blogger) so I carefully chose what I thought would be a good representation of their products. I got a Vanilla Cream, Coffee Cream, Rum Cream and then two of their other offerings, a Chocolate Almond Brittle and a Dark Empress Square.
The dark chocolate Vanilla Cream puck has lovely little ripples on top. The chocolate is thick and made the trip rather well (I think this one was actually dropped on the floor while in the shop and was only slightly cracked by it).
The white cream center is interesting. I wasn’t sure what these creams were and the Rogers’ website isn’t much help either. I didn’t know if it would be a fondant, fudge or buttercream.
It’s somewhere between all three. The main ingredient is but the second ingredient in the filling is cream, so it’s a buttery soft center. It’s not at all grainy but not so stiff that it doesn’t sort of “flow”.
The flavor of the vanilla cream is sweet and has a light touch of vanilla ... but mostly the dark chocolate flavor with its smoky semisweet flavor came through.
This is what I’ve always wanted a Cadbury Creme Egg to be.
The dark chocolate of the Coffee Cream is well suited.
The center has a pretty mocha color to it. It’s smooth and has a toasted sugar and coffee flavor. The coffee isn’t that intense but comes out as a sweet and mellow flavor eventually. I enjoyed this one since it wasn’t as sticky sweet as the vanilla.
The Rum Victoria Cream was quite lovely and had a great texture to the cream center, much smoother than the vanilla one.
However, the flavor was odd. It was fake and was more like some sort of plastic aroma than the woodsy molasses notes of rum. The textures were great, but I couldn’t get over the less than true rum-ness of the whole thing. I ate it rather begrudgingly ... but finished it mostly because it was my last one.
It left me disappointed that I didn’t get a fruit flavored one instead (raspberry sounded nice).
The next item, the Dark Empress Square really doesn’t explain what it is at all. The only thing I was pretty sure about with this light brown gingham wrapped piece was that it was dark chocolate (well, their dark chocolate isn’t completely dark, there’s some milk in it).
Upon opening it I was no wiser. The ingredients were vague enough that it could have been any number of things but it looked like either a toffee or a caramel.
So I was a bit tentative when I bit into it.
It was soft ... it was caramel!
The base is a short caramel (not quite grainy but not stringy & chewy). It’s studded with almonds. The flavor is a little on the rum side with good toasted sugar and butter notes and of course the pleasant crunch of crushed almonds. The dark chocolate keeps it all from tasting too sticky sweet.
Chocolate Almond Brittle was at least clear enough for me to know that it was going to be a toffee of some sort studded with nuts.
This was by far the smallest of the pieces I had, though it probably still weighed about the same (there was no weight listed on the wrapper) it was dense and hefty like a chocolate dipped brick.
The brittle center was crispy, a little salty and had a nice buttery flavor to it. The almond pieces were nicely sized, not whole but big chunks that gave a texture variation to it. The dark chocolate went well with the whole thing. The only complaint I had was that the thick chocolate flaked off sometimes when biting it, and when I cut it in half most of it came off completely.
The distinctive and appropriate packaging were what drew me to these, but I appreciate that they are unique - I don’t know if I’ve ever had such good quality and large sized creams before. I’d like to explore the flavor versions a bit more, I have a feeling I’d like their ginger, peppermint and maple ones.
The other butter-based caramel/toffee items were also well done, but not quite as original ... but that doesn’t mean that I didn’t appreciate them and a good candy shop should always have a little something for everyone. (And it’s true that a lot of folks just don’t like creams.)
Roger’s Chocolates has quite a few locations through British Columbia including Victoria where their candy factory is located.
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.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.