Wednesday, May 28, 2008
This was a sample from All Candy Expo that I kind of ate before finishing the photo shoot. (I got the box obviously, but never did the unwrapped version.) I also shared most of it, even though I could have easily eaten it all by myself.
It’s a handsome light milk chocolate bar that lives up to the illustration on the package. It’s thick, each little section in the bar has a creamy peanut butter meltaway center (with crushed nut chunks).
I was dubious. But this won me over. Extremely creamy, so much so that it was like the milk chocolate and peanut butter were one. It didn’t feel greasy at all, even though it was thick and rich.
I have a bunch of other Ghirardelli filled bars (from the last ACE) that I still haven’t tried, this might push me to start opening them (I promise full photography on those though).
Rating: 8 out of 10
I hadn’t had any White Rabbit in a while, so when I saw that it was on sale at Cost Plus World Market, I figured when it’s $1.50 a bag is the time to give it another go. Instead I spotted this Red Bean (Azuki) version and scooped that up instead.
The wrapper has little dark red stripes on it. Inside it still has the same delicate rice paper wrapper that melts in the mouth to form a slick, gelatinous good. The milk taffy inside is a slight & natural looking pink. The red bean flavor is light and woodsy and pleasant. It seems to mellow out the sometimes sweet taffy and mixes really well with the milk flavors.
Rating: 6 out of 10
I picked these up at the Fancy Food Show. They look like just about any other peppermint pattie. The interesting proposition here is that the center is creamed honey with a touch of mint instead of a sugar-based fondant.
The other interesting bit about this is that the dark chocolate shell is completely unsweetened. The sweetness of the center completely balances out the could-be-bitter coating. I tried a few times to just nibble off the chocolate bits, but these are pretty small (about the size of the York Peppermint Pattie minis) and I wasn’t getting a bit enough chunk to really tell. (And as I’ve found, 100% chocolate doesn’t have to be unpalatable.) The center is smooth and a little cool on the tongue, with that beeswax taste & texture added to the mix.
It’s a great little mint. Artisan Sweets is the only place I’ve seen them for sale. But if you do come upon them, especially if you can buy only one or two, it’s an interesting combination of the musky honey tones with the mellow mint and the pop of creamy dark chocolate.
Rating: 6 out of 10
Jungle Chocolate from Yachana Gourmet
I don’t know if this is considered candy. It’s called Jungle Chocolate and I’d probably put it in the trail mix or snack category. It’s just cacao nibs, lightly glazed with sugar cane juice and then mixed with some other jungle-grown edibles. The four varieties I tried were:
While the mixes themselves didn’t wow me, I think I’d like to just try a plain old box of lightly sweetened nibs. (Or maybe lightly caramelized.)
The selling point here is that they don’t melt. I’ve put these through the paces. They’ve sat in the car, they’ve been in my house in the 100 degree heat. It doesn’t melt, instead, like a stew, it just makes all the flavors even better. This is chocolate that goes places that chocolate can’t go. It has all that stuff that you crave, even if it doesn’t quite have the texture.
It’s all fair trade, vegan and all natural. It’s a little expensive, but then again, knowing that the money goes right to a sustainable project in Ecuador may make it taste even sweeter. I wouldn’t call this a replacement for chocolate, but perhaps a replacement for other snack mixes. Retail is about $3.00 to 3.50 for a 2 ounce bag (that’s well packaged - protects the product, but not overpackaged).
Rating: 7 out of 10
I finally found these at Target, hiding on the backside of a display in the Valentine’s area (well, it was the Valentine’s area, but was then the Easter area). The package looks a heckuva lot like the Vanilla Creme Kisses that I might have seen them already and just passed them by.
Cheesecake as a “flavor” seems a little odd, but then again, so does Buttered Popcorn, Apple Pie and Chili & Chocolate, so never judge a flavor by its name.
They’re, I dunno, like the Vanilla Creme, a little more tangy. I think they’re more like yogurt. Or yellow birthday cake.
It doesn’t matter much to me, this Kiss has brought back that limited edition weariness that I experience from time to time. I haven’t been fond of any of the more subtle filled Kisses. While I like subtle and respectful balances in my haut chocolate, I kind of like my mass manufactured stuff loud & proud. I’ve had them sitting in my desk for months and I think that pretty much sums up how I felt about them. I could take them or leave them, but mostly I left them.
Rating: 5 out of 10
Saturday, May 24, 2008
Here are a few items I sampled, I’m probably not going to do a full review of them but I wanted to show them to you:
The newest addition to the ChocoPod line. I got this one in a simple little cellophane bag, so I didn’t think it was fair to give it the full tilt boogie review without final packaging.
It’s similar to the classic Spicy Maya ChocoPods, just a little cacao pod shaped disk of 60% dark chocolate, weighing in, I guess, at a little over a third of an ounce, it’s about two bites.
The inclusions make it a little bumpy in spots. The chocolate smells more like chili, but a little sweet and smoky. There are a lot of pop rocks in there, they’re completely unflavored, just lightly sweet little sugar bits ... that just so happen to pop. Some of the little bits, however, are salt crunches.
Some bites are pretty poppy, some bites are really hot, others are salty. It’s a noisy bit of chocolate (and even got a few sneezes out of me).
It’s a fun little diversion. I appreciate that it’s a small piece, not a huge bar, but I don’t think I’d want more.
Rating: 7 out of 10
First, you’ll probably note that I don’t mention PEZ much on Candy Blog. I don’t like it. The candy just isn’t very good and the idea of collecting the little dispensers never thrilled me. But I fully applaud those who get into it.
PEZ has brought out a few other flavors of their candy tablets. Last year it was Cola and they have a Sugar Free version as well. This year they’re highlighting the Chocolate version.
As you can tell from the photo, they’re very light in color, which should give you an indication of the depth of the flavor. It tastes like I’ve inhaled some Cocoa Pebbles. Not actually eat then, just, you know, been near the Cocoa Pebbles dust. They’re sweet but have just a slight cocoa note.
Rating: 3 out of 10
It’s an organic twist on classic tastes.
So just looking at it, with only the name to go off of, I thought, “this is a white chocolate bar with dried raspberry bits in it.” Which sounded pretty good in my head, kind of like the Hershey’s Limited Edition one a couple of years back ... but organic!
Hmm, somewhere I led myself astray. It’s not white chocolate, it’s a non-colored confection made of organic sugar, organic whole milk powder and organic fractionated palm kernel oil. And it’s crunchy. Those presumed raspberry bits are actually crushed raspberry flavored hard candy.
It took me a while to get used to the texture, but it wasn’t creamy enough for me.
Rating: 5 out of 10
These little milk chocolate covered nuggets smell sweet and like a light coffee drink. They’re about the size of a garbanzo bean, though some are twinned (not that it keeps me from eating them). The nugget inside isn’t quite as hard and crunchy as a biscotti, but they’re plenty crunchy. They’re almost like graham cracker nuggets.
The combo is quite nice, easy to eat and keep munching.
Rating: 8 out of 10
It’s not an illusion in the photo, these are very dark, like clumps of tar. The chocolate covered dried cranberries are not as flavorful as I’d hoped. Honestly, I’ve tried a few products over the years and none of them have really satisfied me. The cranberries, while soft and chewy, they’re just not tangy or flavorful. The chocolate is sweet, but not dark and flavorful enough ... though the texture combo of the creamy melt and moist chew is good.
They’re probably jam packed with antioxidants, but I’ll probably stick with chocolate covered raisins, if only because they’re cheaper and provide pretty much the same experience.
Rating: 6 out of 10
Tuesday, May 20, 2008
One of the more timely items I got from the All Candy Expo folks is this box of Crackheads candy. It’s been around for at least a year, but I haven’t seen it in stores.
I first saw them on ThinkGeek and reviewed on CandyAddict. I wasn’t terribly interested in them, after all, they’re just chocolate covered coffee beans, not exactly an innovative new product. The unique selling proposition in this case is that they’re in “single serve” boxes and come as a mix of both white chocolate and dark chocolate coatings.
The boxes look similar to Lemonheads or Boston Baked Beans. Easily portable and resealable.
They’re really nicely panned coffee beans. Though they’re not all consistent in size, the panning is excellent with shiny coats and well-tempered chocolate. The white chocolate is real white chocolate made with cocoa butter. The mellow malty milky flavors go really well with the coffee bean. This was the first time I’d had a white chocolate coated one, and it’s a natural match - the fatty sweetness with the dairy flavors are pretty much a dense version of a latte.
The dark verison are not nearly as sweet, but still provides a nice counterpoint to the dark and lightly bitter beans. The beans are crunchy without being fiberous or too burnt tasting. My box had a bit more white chocolate to it, but I was okay with that.
The “creator” of Crackheads, John Osmanski, was on The Big Idea with Donny Deutsch last night on CNBC. The segment was One Minute to Millions where they featured a panel of three experts: Kevin Nealon (who was there promoting his book and probably provided the consumer point of view), Pam Macharola of Blair Candy and Brian Pipa of Candy Addict!
The product was introduced with a little pretaped segment. It made no mention of the fact that chocolate covered espresso beans have been around for at least 30 years. They’re pretty widely available, at least in specialty stores or at coffee locations like Starbucks (and of course the new Hershey’s Starbucks chocolates). While the back of the box has a breakdown of caffeine content of other beverages (cocoa, cola, tea, coffee & espresso), it doesn’t exactly spell out the caffeine content of the actual product. However, the Crackheads website pegs it at about 120 mgs (about half of a cup of coffee).
Osmanski introduced the product as a solution to those low caffeine moments, especially for students and academics.
The new tagline “because everyone’s addicted to something” works well with the name. The product packaging has been redesigned since my sample (you can see the new one here). But the general consensus from the panel was that the name would never have the wide appeal that would guarantee it placement on the shelves of stores like Walmart (which might be necessary to make millions off a single $2 product). Instead it would probably stay in places like Think Geek and coffee houses (where it’s currently found).
While I think it’s a good quality product, the packaging feels a bit downscale, not rising to the $2 per package price tag - which translates to over $24 per pound (the Starbucks version is about $12 a pound). The name, which tries to co-opt drug culture fails ... there may be other names that might fit the addiction tag better (but I’m not going to come up with it here, Osmanski has a blog if you want to give him feedback directly). Perhaps coming up with two lines, one under this name and another more mainstream version would be a success story worthy of follow up on Donny Deutsch.
(I suspect that Osmanium doesn’t actually manufacturer these, just repacks them, as they package says that they are made in a facility that processes peanuts & tree nuts. The website also says that they’re Kosher. My prime candidate as the maker of these is Koppers Chocolates.)
Wednesday, April 30, 2008
After Valentine’s Day I picked up some discounted items from Target. I haven’t re-visited much of the Choxie line since my initial tastes on their launch, so I figured it was time to see what else they had.
The box they came in was a goofy flat affair, I think just this stack with a red ribbon is a fine gift (and I threw out that box pretty much as soon as I got home). The assortment contains two milk chocolate bars and two dark chocolate bars.
The one that interested me the most was the Milk Chocolate with Roasted Almonds & Sea Salt. True to its name, it was a nice dark milk chocolate with big almond pieces (they tasted buttery like Marcona almonds) and there were some pretty intense large pieces of sea salt in there (the picture on the box makes them look like little pieces of popcorn).
The milk chocolate is a very dark and smooth version, it goes really well with the crisp crunch of the almonds. The sea salt was quite apparent, but the mixing of it was a little off. Sometimes I’d arrive at whole reservoirs of the stuff, it’s a little offputting to get more than a few grains at once. But still, an addictive bar. Though I shared it, I ate most of it in a day and a half.
The second bar was the Milk Chocolate Cashew Almond Cherry Bar which I thought sounded terrible at first, especially when I saw that it also had salt in it.
However, it won me over. The cashews & almonds aren’t as plentiful in this bar and the salt is only a slight glimmer now and then. The cherries are soft and chewy with a bright tangy note that infuses those bites.
I was grateful to try my first Choxie single origin bar with the 62% Ghana Cocoa. I recently had another Ghana bar from Tcho, which I found to be a little too gritty for my tastes. This bar is smooth. The flavors are spot on “chocolatey” with some vanilla notes and a little cedar & tobacco. It’s a tasty bar, though not quite buttery enough for me if it’s going to be on the low end of the cacao percentage. But it’s also pretty sweet, so a nice started bar for those who don’t like the intensity of some of the higher cacao.
The box for the Dark Chocolate Espresso Bar showed the bar, like the one above, surrounded by coffee beans. I didn’t know if that meant whole coffee beans or fine grounds when I bought the assortment (I could only see the fronts of the boxes). The ingredients say “ground coffee” but I was still afraid that I was going to get coffee grounds in my chocolate.
The package smelled like the coffee aisle at the A&P where we used to grind our own 8 O’Clock coffee when I was a teen. Mostly coffee but also slight wafts of tea, cocoa and sweet sugary General Foods International Coffee flavors.
The grounds are palpable as the chocolate melts. The coffee flavor is mellow, not burnt or caramelized tasting, just a medium roasted vibe. And of course all those coffee beans integrated in. The chocolate has a good melt to it, is pretty smooth otherwise and stands up rather well to the otherwise overwhelming coffee. (Nicole at Baking Bites has a nice review of this bar, too.)
At the reduced price (expiration isn’t anywhere to be found on the packages, maybe I shouldn’t have thrown out the box), these were a great deal. I’m not sure if I would pay $4-5 for one of these in the future (well, maybe the almond & sea salt bar), but keep an eye out for their assortments (perhaps after Mother’s day?). The ingredients are all-natural and the dark chocolates have no added butterfat. They are not, however, Kosher.
Other recent reviews: The Girl Tastes has a lot of more recent Choxie introductions, Rosa tried the Key Lime Truffle Bar, Candy Snob tried the Espresso Truffle Bar, Secret Hideout thinks Choxie is better than Godiva (and I don’t disagree) and OffBeatEating tried the Coconut Truffle Bar.
Thursday, April 17, 2008
It’s often puzzled me why there aren’t more organic candy bars out there. For the most part candy bars are made (or can be made) with all natural/organic ingredients pretty easily. Why no one does this is beyond me, so for the most part candy fiends with an eco bent have to eat just chocolate (sometimes flavored) or hard candies or pay for bars to be flown from far away places and pay ridiculous prices for kinky combinations ... in reality all I want is the tried and true candy bar, only made with pure ingredients.
Crispy Cat has a nice line of candy bars that seem to defy that notion that candy bars have to be made with sub-par ingredients. Their bars are also dairy free, gluten free, non GMO and use a large proportion of organic ingredients (70-90% organic, depending on the bar). In fact, their ingredients list only looks long because they put things like “organic” or “made with gmo” all over it.
They come in three varieties: Toasted Almond, Roasted Peanut and Mint Coconut ... all with dark chocolate.
Here’s what Joel, the founder of Crispy Cat has to say:
The Toasted Almond features dark chocolate, crispy rice & toasted almonds.
It has a wonderful dark, woodsy and chocolatey aroma. The bite is a bit stiff, it’s not quite crunchy and certainly not chewy. It’s just lumpy.
Once I got used to the complex center, I was pleased with the combination of flavors and textures. It’s part crisped rice, a little bit of a caramel-like chew to hold it together, a toasted sugar flavor and some pieces of almonds for an added crunch. I would have preferred a lighter crunch to it, something easier to chew (either crispier or softer).
This bar also has a crisped rice center. In this case it’s a bit fluffier and softer than the others, with a light peppermint scent.
Instead of the firm and chewy center, this one was a bit crumblier and has big pieces of naturally sweet coconut in it. It’s an interesting flavor combo, very tropical and fresh, a bit of a grassy note to the whole thing.
I can’t say that I loved this one, in fact it was my least favorite of the three. But I can’t help but be pleased that someone is paying attention to coconut these days. I love the stuff.
The center felt fattier though had the same number of calories as the Toasted Almond at 220 it has 10 grams of fat (TA has only 9).
The dark chocolate is rather bitter but has a decent melty texture. The crunchy rice, peanut butter and peanut chunk center is tasty. It’s dark and nutty, a bit salty and only lightly sweet. This one hits it out of the park as far as a peanut candy bar can go.
It definitely tasted like a candy bar, not one of those nutrition bars.
I was kind of surprised to see that they weighed only 1.75 ounces, it’s actually bigger than a Snickers bar, which gives the perception of a much larger mass of satisfaction.
Overall, these are fun and have very few compromises. And what’s the biggest one? Price. These retail for $2.50 ... that’s three times the price you’d pay for a non-organic bar. Pretty startling. But compared to other premium meal replacement bars, they can hold their own. The two nut varieties have 4 grams of protein (not from soy, though they do use soy lecithin so they’re not soy free) and 2 grams of fiber. They also clock in at 220 calories, which is a decent snack. I’d probably prefer these in a smaller variety though ... they’d make an awesome Halloween Treat if they came in snack size.
The Roasted Peanut bar is the one most likely to appeal to kids but none are too mature to miss with a true candy bar fiend.
I’d also recommend a bit of a change in the design of the package. I’m not sure who it’s supposed to appeal to, but it’s not grabbing me. They call themselves “tree huggin’ treats” and have the image of a couple of arms around a tree on the left size of each wrapper. (I’m not sure where the cat comes in.) The website looks completely different and inconsistent from this (but I’m not keen on the web’s cartoon designs either).
I’m not quite sure about them, they’re definitely on the right track and I’d be most inclined to eat the Roasted Peanut again, but if I were faced with eating one of these or a Lara Bar, I’d probably go for the Lara Bar.
Want to win some? Check out Crispy Cat Chronicles, if you can guess Ann’s new baby’s height, weight & birthdate you can win three cases of the bars of your very own.
Wednesday, April 16, 2008
Ghirardelli has really expanded their line of chocolate bars over the past five years. Not only that, I see their products everywhere now thanks to the expansion of higher end chocolate into grocery stores and drug chains. They even have a charming chain of ice cream stores.
But I’ve ignored them on the blog for a long time. Probably because my initial impression of them has been that the chocolate bars is waxy and bland. But they’re wildly popular and have been making chocolate since 1852 in the Bay Area, one of my favorite candy destinations, so I needed to put those impressions to the test.
That’s not to say that I don’t use their chocolate chips, I prefer them to Nestle’s Toll House Morsels or Hershey’s Baking Chips and they’re often on sale for a decent price.
So I picked up this assortment of tasting squares after Christmas when they were on sale. They feature the new line of Intense Dark in three different flavors.
The Espresso Escape wrapper says: dark chocolate with finely ground espresso beans in 60% cacao. As usual I was worried about the bits of coffee beans, but in thsi case they really were so finely ground as they matched the particle size of the cocoa solids.
Roasted brewed coffee flavors mixed with the woodsy taste of real beans. Very little chocolate flavor here, it’s all coffee but with a smooth chocolate texture. Good cocoa butter melt, very silky. Light vanilla overtones. But the cedar and smoke is quite tangy.
While I enjoyed the texture quite a bit, the flavor was just a little too, well, Intense (tm).
The Mint Bliss package says: dark chocolate with natural mint in 60% cacao. What the front of the package doesn’t mention is that there’s also some unidentified “artificial flavor” in this as well.
Nice buttery texture, but an incongruous tangy and musty taste along with the peppermint. It’s more of a fresh peppermint leaf taste, not a pure peppermint oil, which is a nice change of pace from their Peppermint Bark that I had over the holidays. But the combination of flavors still doesn’t quite jive for me.
It has a nice buttery melt with a light cool feeling but the flavor is a little thin. It’s a little fruity, on the raisin side of things.
It’s sweet, only the lightest trace of bitterness. Light dry finish.
Ghirardelli has some other versions in their Intense Dark line, including the Midnight Reverie that has 86% cacao, Evening Dream with only 60% cacao and two other flavored 60% called Citrus Sunset & Toffee Interlude. They also have some filled bars that I haven’t tried yet.
Overall, it’s nice stuff, certainly worth the price and a fun little pickup for coffee or after dinner, maybe a mid-day munch. I like the 10.6 gram squares, it’s a good size for a little taste of chocolate.
Note: the Mint Bliss & Espresso Escape have milk fat in them, so are unsuitable for vegans, but the Twilight Delight is milk-free (though made on equipment that processes dairy).
Wednesday, March 26, 2008
Though I admit freely that I take samples from candy companies (always fully disclosed to you, dear readers), the new Starbucks chocolates line was one of the rare times when I actually asked for a tasting kit when the press release arrived via email. (Usually companies specifically offer to send me something, about half the time I say yes.) I actually had to ask twice, as the first person never actually sent it. (Or my UPS guy is wise to the contents of the packages delivered to my house.)
The biggest reason for asking was because I knew that this tasting kit existed and the idea of going out and buying 7 different boxes at over $5 each was kind of prohibitive, even for someone who has a line item in her personal budget for candy.
There are lots of chocolate bars out there that feature coffee and tea combinations (Joanie’s Smiles, Dagoba, Dolfin, Theo, to name a few). So whatever Starbucks was going to come up with should be distinctive. What they have going that that most others don’t is a line of “truffles”. Each comes in a single flavor box (4.2 ounces) and retails for $4.99 to $5.49. I saw them at Target yesterday for $5.29.
The smelled of freshly ground coffee even before taking a bite. The dark shell is shiny and has a decent snap to it.
Where I didn’t care for the inclusion of the crushed coffee beans in the chocolate tasting squares, this truffle just goes for flavor and texture.
It’s a very dark mix of flavors, much stronger on the coffee than the chocolate side of things and with just a hint of acidity and bitterness.
I tried eating these truffles blind at first, just having one in the car without looking at the wrapper.
I thought this one tasted like fudge. Nice fudge, but plain old chocolate fudge. The ganache center was smooth, but still not a decadent buttery melt that I’d associate with something called “truffle.” I really wasn’t getting the mocha vibe here.
Then I felt really full and even though I was in the car for another half hour I didn’t feel like eating any additional truffles. Basically, this was my least favorite of the four ... not bad and I’d probably be happy with it in a mix of truffles, but pretty unhappy if I’d bought a whole box.
Oops, I photographed this one up-side-down. It’s supposed to look like a little teacup.
The center is a mild and buttery ganache with a strong chai scent and flavor to it with a slight grain. The flavor notes, like the tasting square of the chocolate, omit the clove that’s so commonly the loudest part of chai and instead focuses here on cardamom & ginger and perhaps only the lightest hint of cinnamon & black pepper. I like the combo very much, I think it goes well with the milk chocolate. (But YumSugar didn’t like that at all, she thought it was missing its essential chai-ness).
I’ve never had a Tazo Chai, as Starbucks won’t serve it unsweetened, so I can’t say how this flavor profile compares for fans of that drink.
It’s definitely a strong dose of vanilla here. It was easy to smell those bourbon vanilla notes even before cracking the shell in my teeth.
The white ganache has little flecks of vanilla in it and a mildly sweet flavor. The dark chocolate shell balances it all very well, a little bitter, a little bit of a dry finish.
It goes very well with coffee.
I loved the little wrappers. They have cute little icon designs on them that kind of reflect the flavors inside and an extra foil wrap around the chocolate itself for extra protection.
They should sell a mixed box of these. Heck, they should sell the sample box I got as a gift selection. (It probably doesn’t need the full 3 ounce bars in it though, since the tasting squares are pretty much the same thing. I haven’t opened those yet as I wanted to get through the truffles first. I’m planning a head-to-head with Choxie 3 ounce bars.)
Basically, the Chai and Vanilla are the two that I’d be most likely to buy, but I don’t know if I’d want a whole box ... I’d like a mix like the Tasting Squares are offered. There’s a fifth flavor as well, a Macchiatto, but that’s not sold via retail outlets at this time.
What I’d probably be most likely to do is buy one or two to have with my coffee while sitting at the Barnes & Noble ... except that’s not really the kind of life I have where I sit around in bookstores. And I don’t go into Starbucks very often, there really aren’t that many in my area that are more convenient that the indies and I’m kinda cheap and just as likely to stop at the 7-11 or McDonalds if we’re talking chains. But maybe the enticement of a little $1.00 piece of chocolate would make me stop and relax.
Monday, March 24, 2008
I rarely go into a Starbucks, but I do drink their coffee at the office sometimes. I think my favorite blend of theirs is the Estima (which they don’t make available for our office, drat). At home I’m more likely to drink Trader Joe’s but I’m not a coffee snob, I’ll buy coffee at 7-11, McDonald’s, happily drink the stuff on an airplane and of course at many of the local coffee houses in Los Angeles.
I’m not a “coffee drink” person. I just like a cup of coffee with some milk in it for the most part, but I’ll drink a capuccino now and then. I think coffee is a flavor that’s good enough to be savored by itself. No need for caramel, hazelnut syrup or other intrusions of flavors. (I do drink Mexican Mochas in November.)
I was still eager to try the new line of Starbucks Chocolates and happily accept the offer from some PR folks for a tasting kit (shown here, which is not available for retail sale).
I am kind of picky about my coffee and chocolate combinations though. I like my chocolate smooth, and I don’t usually want to eat my coffee beans. (I had a seriously dangerous chocolate covered coffee bean problem in college that led to an EKG and some stern words from a doctor about moderation.)
So I greeted the new Starbucks and Hershey’s chocolate venture with a little trepidation, mostly worried that both would bring the worst they had to offer to the products (Starbucks high prices and Hershey’s inflated prices for substandard quality or playing off the cachet of their Artisan Confection lines Dagoba & Scharffen Berger without delivering).
Their new product line consists of chocolate bars and tasting squares. There is the standard dark and milk plus two infused with tea flavors (Passion Fruit and Chai) and then a Mocha dark chocolate and a Citron dark chocolate. As expected they also have chocolate covered coffee beans (in milk chocolate) and a line of four different kinds of truffle-style bonbons.
The venture between Starbucks & Hershey’s is a strange one. Starbucks makes the sourcing of their coffee beans part of their marketing effort, with a pledge that they pay above market rates to the growers. It’s not quite fair trade (though they do have the Estima blend that is certified fair trade), it has certainly raised awareness of the issue of growers of our non-essential items like coffee and now chocolate. In this case the package makes note:
It’s unclear from that webpage if the chocolate in the Starbucks branded chocolate products was obtained within these principals or not. The package (on the other side) says “Manufactured for Artisan Confections Company Berkeley, CA 94710 USA under the authority of Starbucks Coffee Company”. (Emphasis mine) I’m still not sure who made these products. (Clay Gordon tried to get more info on this subject, but was unable, but I agree that the couldn’t be made at the Scharffen Berger space in Emeryville and I’m more inclined to believe they were made by the Dagoba folks.)
The good thing is that the risk with these is low for the consumer. They’re all well priced items, none more than $5.49 and available at local drug stores and discount chains. (I already spotted the full line at RiteAid.)
The ingredients on all the items are good, real vanilla, no PGPR though no indication what the cacao levels are on the products. (Well, also no indication of what the caffeine levels are on the coffee ones!)
To start, I tried the Milk Chocolate Covered Coffee Beans. They feature the Caffe Verona beans at the heart, sourced from around the world and prepared in the Italian roast style. Inside the little stand up box the glossy beans are sealed inside a clear cellophane bag. The size is 3.5 ounces and retails for $4.99 to $5.49.
They smell very sweet, the chocolate is milky and soft to the bite (so no flaking off). The combination of the crunchy bean at the heart and the chocolate coating is nice. A bit on the sweet side for me, when it comes to coffee confections, but still very nice. The consistent quality of the beans are a highlight. I ate at least a dozen and didn’t get a chewy or acrid one. (7 out of 10)
Milk Chocolate. They say it’s, “Sweet, silky indulgence; rich & rewarding” and I’m inclined to agree. It’s a much smoother chocolate than I’m accustomed to from Hershey’s or even Scharffen Berger. It has some strong vanilla notes and a good milky texture. (8 out of 10)
Dark Chocolate. They say it’s, “Deep, complex flavors; smooth and satisfying” and I think that was overselling it. It was rather sweet but still smooth. It lacked a depth of flavor, but it pairs well with coffee, has only the slightest acidic tang and has a good buttery melt. (7 out of 10)
They come in both 3 ounce bars or a mixed bag of tasting squares (that include the Mocha Dark Chocolate). Bars are $2.99 and the tasting squares are $4.99-$5.49 for 2.6 ounces (kinda silly, really to pay so much more for so much less).
Passion(r) Dark Chocolate features a Tazo herbal blend of hibuscus & natural flavors. It has a very fruity scent and a grainy melt on the tongue. The little grainy bits are tangy and have a strong berry (and hibiscus) flavor to them with a tint of peach and passion fruit. It’s purely a personal thing but I thought this was dreadful ... from the texture to the combination of flavors, the sickly scent and the way it all overwhelms the chocolate. (4 out of 10)
Citron(r) Dark Chocolate is also a Tazo blend of tea leaves and lemon oil. This one smells pleasantly of lemon, but very little of chocolate. The texture is not as grainy as the Passion, but still not smooth. The lemon essence was strong, but had no citrus tang to it, thankfully. Still, no chocolate flavors came though, nor much of the tea base either. (6 out of 10)
Mocha Dark Chocolate should epitomize this fusion of chocolate and Starbucks, right? It smells wonderfully rich, a combination of chocolate and coffee and a dollop of vanilla. It’s apparent looking at the square from the back that it has ground coffee beans in it, not just an infusion of flavor. It’s a bit grainy but crispy when chewed. It’s much like the chocolate covered coffee beans, but has a stronger chocolate flavor to it that isn’t quite overhwhelmed like the others. Still, I’m not one for the bits in there, but I admit that’s a personal preference. (6 out of 10)
Chai Milk Chocolate includes Tazo tea leaves and natural flavors in milk chocolate. It smells quite rich, mostly of nutmeg, cardamom and clove. Though it looks grainy, it’s really quite smooth even with the little inclusions. It has a wonderful spicy mix of flavors without being too sweet. I’m a big fan of spicy chai but can’t stand how sweet it can be. This is a very nice mix, I almost like it better than the Dagoba bar (which has actual ginger pieces in it). (7 out of 10)
What I found most surprising about this collection of chocolate tasting squares branded by a coffee company was that three out of the six of them were tea infusions and only one was actually a coffee flavor. Their slogan for the line of products is, “when coffee dreams, it dreams of chocolate” but I think it should be, “when coffee dreams, it ends up with tea in its chocolate.” Some sort of self-loathing or something. (Or adverse reaction to cannibalism, of course coffee doesn’t want coffee!)
The curious part is that Starbucks is not selling these at their stores or even on their website. They’re a Starbucks experience without a Starbucks shop. Like the Choxie line at Target, I think they’ve done a nice job of finding the essential nature of what they have to offer, packaging them nicely and charging the appropriate amount that people are willing to pay for a personal indulgence.
I’ll have a roundup of the Truffles in a separate post.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.