Thursday, January 24, 2008
One of the new products I’ve been looking forward to at the Fancy Food Show a couple of weeks ago was Caffe Acapella new line of Coffee Confections.
It’s genius really. Instead of chocolate, which is a combination of cocoa solids, cocoa butter and sugar, this is a combination of coffee beans, cocoa butter and sugar. Let me warn you, it’s pretty intense.
I was careful to do my tasting of these in the morning because of the obvious caffeine content.
Caffe Acapella Espresso was the first on my list, I figure I should start with the strongest. The little heart is a solid piece, .35 ounces. It has a strong snap to it and a good melt on the tongue thanks to the cocoa butter and some milk. It smells rather like freshly ground coffee. It has a concentrated coffee flavor that includes those dark roasted notes, woodsy tones and of course some bitterness. It’s well rounded out with some sugar, perhaps a little too much, but then the bitterness kicks in again at the end.
The texture is good, very much like chocolate, only with slightly more grain than usual.
Honestly, I usually don’t like “whole bean” coffee candies, I’m kind of a purist and only want the water that has passed near a coffee bean, not eat the whole thing. But I think regular readers know my affinity for anything combined with cocoa butter. This is basically a white chocolate product.
Caffe Acapella Cappuccino looked pretty much the same color as the Espresso, I expected a slightly milkier appearance. It has a softer bite to it, and melts a bit quicker. It’s sweeter and definitely milky ... almost to the point of being a bit sticky. The bitterness is pretty much absent, but so are the more complex coffee flavors.
The Caffe Acapella Caramel Macchiato may look like the others from the outside, just a nicely puffed up heart. However, inside is a reservoir of salty caramel. I’ve never actually had a caramel macchiato drink, so I can’t say whether this is a good candy-version or not. I can say that it’s very sweet, verging on throat burning (which is pretty much what’s kept me away from the drinks ... that and the regular price). My least favorite of the three.
Caffe Acapella Coffee Confections come in two formats, the little individually wrapped hearts I have here and 2.5 ounce bars. I’m not sure what the caffeine content on these is, but I don’t think my little “one-cup-a-day-never-after-noon” system could handle a whole bar.
I don’t see this format of the product on their website, just the full-sized bars. If you can get a hold of these (and keep a sharp eye out at coffee houses and at the checkstand at upscale markets), it’s a good way to sample their product line. Personally, I’d stick with the Espresso one, just because I’d be eating these for the coffee kick.
You can buy online at their webstore or use their product locator to find a shop near you that carries them. (Raley’s seems to be the only place in California that carries them, so I think I’m outta luck.) The ingredients look all natural (except I don’t know if the mono and di-glycerides in the Macchiato qualify ... can someone make a call on that?).
Michelle at Candy Addict called these Awesomely Addictive. She mentioned a more noticeable grain in hers, it’s been a full year since her review, so I suspect they’ve been conching a bit longer to get this smoother product. She also said that a full bar would be too much, I’m guessing these little morsels are an answer to that.
Tuesday, January 22, 2008
Here’s something I haven’t seen at the stores. Nestle has expanded their Crunch Stixx line into the coffee arena with these Nestle Crunch Cappuccino Stixx. They come in a vivid red box that actually stopped me in my tracks at the Dollar Tree.
I was actually a little worried that this was a product that had come and gone and these were remnants, but these had an expiry date of May 2008, so for just a buck (they’re $2 or more at the grocery store), I figured I should give them a go. (I’ll admit I’m still confused because they’re not listed on the Nestle-Stixx website.)
(This is the same Dollar Tree where I stood there wondering why there were two different package designs for Goetze’s Caramel Creams ... then I looked at the expiration date, some were perfectly fresh and new, the others expired in early 2006. They were both the same price. Seriously, why would I buy the old ones, except perhaps as a wrapper collector? I bought the fresh ones.)
The official definition of these on the package is milk chocolate covering a wafer filled with cappuccino creme. I think they’re positioned to be a calorie-controlled portion, as they’re only 90 calories per stick.
Honestly, I didn’t expect much. I expected sweet milk chocolate and fake coffee creme.
However, they smelled pretty good. Like a good hot mocha. The crisp of the wafer tube was good, bland but with a slight cereal taste. The inside cream had a strong coffee essence to it and some actual bitterness. I welcomed that light bitter bite to go along with the sweet chocolate.
This is what Coffee Crisp should be like ... good coffee flavor, not too sweet with some light crunch and real chocolate.
I ate them. I ate them all.
Thursday, January 3, 2008
First is the Nestle KitKat Peanut Butter from Canada. The format on this bar is the single chunky finger. This is actually larger at 1.76 ounces than the American single finger bar which is 1.59 ounces. I found this bar at Mel & Rose’s Wine & Liquors on Melrose Ave a month ago.
The bar is thick and chunky but follows the standard KitKat formula.
There are wafers with cream filling then a thick stripe of peanut butter all covered in milk chocolate.
The package smelled strongly of raw peanuts when I opened it. Roasted peanuts have a deep and smoky tone to them, this was that higher octave scent, like freshly snapped peas mixed with peanuts.
The crunch of the bar was good, but there’s definitely a lot of chocolate in operation here. The peanut butter stripe is great. It’s very flavorful despite being so thin. It’s not sweetened at all, in fact it’s pretty salty. I preferred eating this bar like I eat most KitKats. I nibble off both ends of chocolate, then all the chocolate off the sides. Then I eat the less-chocolatey remains.
It was really good and I think I’d buy this if I could find it at my local store. Far more satisfying than a regular KitKat (4 grams of protein - one more than a regular) and not nearly as sweet.
Rating: 7 out of 10
She sent me Ginger & Pistachio which I already reviewed and loved last spring. The new-to-me flavor was Cafe Cortado. It’s a vanilla caramel with coffee.
Unfortunately I’m not keen on coffee beans in my food. It might be that I have a problem with caffeine or it might be that I don’t care for the texture, but these just didn’t do it for me. I tried a few, but I was very aware that I needed to eat them before noon (as I don’t drink coffee after that) which always made me feel pressured.
The great news though is that the wrapping of the caramels has been changed to a heavier waxed paper. They no longer stick to the paper and are far easier to keep popping in your mouth. The box looks deceptively small but holds a quarter of a pound of rich, boiled sugar & butter. You can order direct on their website for about $6.99 a box (less if you order more).
Rating: 8 out of 10
They’re not a transparent gummi, instead they’re opaque and matte. They’re still very soft and bouncy. They have a distinct bite, not a rubbery as a German gummi. The thing that was most clear was that this is a real fruit product. The texture feels a bit like pear, there’s a slight grain to it. Then there were a few bits of zest in there.
The flavor is predominantly tangerine with a little dollop of grapefruit & lemon in there for good measure. Completely addictive, I ordered two bags and ate both. They’re small bags though at only 35 grams each. I can’t remember how much I paid for them and of course JBox doesn’t have them on their site right now. (Here’s the official webpage.) See Sera’s review.
Rating: 8 out of 10
The Traditional Halva bars from Sultan’s Finest Foods are little .71 ounce bits of plain halva. They’re smooth and creamy with a strong sesame flavor to them.
It’s the perfect portion size, if only I can find them somewhere. These are made in Tunisia, and may be the first Tunisian candy mentioned on the blog! They’re imported by Agora International and come in a sugar free version as well. I think these sorts of sesame snacks are ideal, especially for hot weather. It’s creamy and filling, not too sweet and of course does better in hot weather than chocolate.
Rating: 7 out of 10
I’ve seen the Sencha Green Tea Mints at stores for years. I just couldn’t get my brain around them for the longest time. I like a mint that has some zazz to it, and the idea of green tea in a mint seemed to defeat the purpose.
These were sample packages that I picked up at ExpoWest which is for natural products. They’re usually sold in little maroon or dark colored tins with a clear top. These compressed candies are made from xylitol & sorbitol, which are natural sugar alcohols. They have a cool feeling on the tongue (and shouldn’t be consumed in large quantities because of some digestive troubles they can cause) and a subtle flavor.
The three flavors I got were: Delicate Pear, which is just slightly fruity and sweet. Green Tea was subtle and while fresh tasting, didn’t leave that minty burn.
The tea ingredients are fair trade and xylitol is supposed to be a pretty good base for gum & mints (not bad for your teeth, but bad for dogs). It’s hard to find sugar free mints that don’t have artificial sweeteners in them, so if you’re looking for something that fits that niche, these might be for you.
Rating: 5 out of 10
I’m very late with my write up on Stained Glass Candy. I ordered it online about a year ago. I expected it to be pretty little hexagonal disks of candy (about the size of a quarter), but the photography on their website didn’t prepare me at all for how lovely this stuff was.
Though it’s expensive for hard candy at $12.95 a pound (when you order 2 pounds), I figured I’d give it a try. The cool thing is that you can custom design your flavor mix, so I chose one pound of herbs & spices: cinnamon, hot cinnamon, wintergreen and anise. The second pound I did as fruits: banana, orange, lemon and pineapple.
Each piece came sealed in a little clear plastic sleeve with the name of the flavor printed on it. This was helpful as I’d ordered both cinnamon and hot cinnamon (definitely a difference!). The shapes were lovely, the colors clear (except for banana), distinctive and tasty. I loved the pineapple and anise especially.
The downside is that they’re a little softer than some hard candies, so they either need to be stored in a fridge to keep them from losing their shape eventually or just eaten quickly. The softness also means that they stick to teeth and can’t be crunched. But I kind of like slowly shaping them to the roof of my mouth.
I probably wouldn’t order these again unless I had a special need for them like a party or something. They’d make nice wedding favors or for a shower or something. But at five times the price of regular hard candy, it’d have to be a very special occasion or a very special flavor.
Rating: 6 out of 10
Monday, December 31, 2007
I’ve seen these at the Walgreen’s since this summer but didn’t really feel like paying $3.50 for a bag of something that I can’t quite get my head around. I was hoping to try them at the All Candy Expo, but the Necco booth doesn’t really “do” samples of anything other than their most common products.
Instead I found them last week on sale along with the Christmas items for 50% off. So at $1.75 for 10 ounces, I felt like a fool not buying them.
I believe the product is called Cafe Select Chocolate Coffee Trios but there’s so much going on with the package. Things like “Made with Real Coffee!” and “Espresso - Cappuccino - Latte” and then the disclaimer, “Naturally & Artificially Flavored Crunchy Coffee Centers in Rich Chocolate.”
This is one of those occasions where I think my photos look better than the one on the package.
Basically, they’re malted milk balls, only with a coffee flavored center instead of malt. The center is amber colored with an even aerated crisp. There were perhaps two or three “duds” in the whole package (ones that had deflated or weren’t ideally sized, which is really good quality control in my opinion.
Espresso - a dark chocolate shell and a coffee crunch center. The chocolate shell isn’t very dark or rich, but beyond the “shellac” on the outside, it’s creamy and not grainy or chalky. The crunchy center is a little salty and less like a malted milk “cereal puff” and more like a sponge candy or center of a Cadbury Crunchie. The coffee flavor is mild, but since it’s not very sweet the coffee flavors come through.
Cappuccino - the milk chocolate makes this a little sweeter than the espresso one, but I can’t detect any difference with the crunchy center. I prefer the dark ones.
Latte - these are kind of freaky looking. The color is less “creamy” than I think they intend, it looks more like a rock than some foamed milk. However, they tasted richer than the cappuccino ones. These were my second favorite, but also the rarest in this mix.
Overall, I was really pleased with these. I know there are better upscale versions from Koppers & Marich, but for something I found at the drug store (and at half off), I found them really tasty and a great change of pace. I’ve been hungering for a coffee candy lately, and this just might be it.
Necco makes another variety called Cafe Select Chai Tea Trios, which also sound kind of interesting (but strangely named) but I haven’t run across them yet.
In other news, Necco was purchased by a consortium of investors and it sounds like the company will continue to make candy (I can see where folks might think their assets are more valuable than their products). Here’s a press release with more financials in it and an easier to understand article.
Friday, December 21, 2007
There’s hardly anyone who can argue politically with the qualifications of Sjaak’s Organic Chocolate Assortment. It’s organic, it’s fair trade certified and even vegan! (For locovores, it’s also made in California.)
I first visited Sjaak’s chocolate shop when I lived in Eureka, CA back when I was in college. (I didn’t frequent the shop since I worked for a rival shop down the street.) My brother even lived in an apartment above the shop for some years and ended up becoming a friend of the family.
Flash forward eighteen years and now I see what I thought was just a little local chocolatier at the Fancy Food Show ... and then at Whole Foods!
The packaging isn’t the most exciting part about these chocolates, it’s an ordinary green box with gold lettering and a little window so you can peek at half of the chocolates. Inside is a gold plastic tray with each of the candies in its own fluted paper cup. Out of the box they’re quite attractive.
The key on the back reveals what each is. In my assortment I had: Coffee Truffle, Almond Creme, Raspberry Truffle, Pecan Caramel, English Toffee, Solid Dark Chocolate, Almond Truffle, Hazelnut Creme and Peanut Caramel. Instead of dairy fats Sjaak’s opts for soy milk, palm oil and sunflower oil.
I shared this box with Bronwen, my local vegan taster, so she may pipe up down in the comments with her thoughts.
Solid Dark Chocolate - I thought this was a good place to start. Most good dark chocolate is vegan, so this is a no brainer. There were two little medallions molded with a daisy on the front and wrapped in foil. The chocolate is rather sweet and not terribly rich and dark. If you’re a milk chocolate fan, this is probably a good place to start with dark.
Peanut Caramel - I was curious what a caramel would be without butter and milk and while this didn’t have that buttery smooth taste, it was very nice. It reminded me of a good quality Goldenberg’s Peanut Chew (which also has no butter in it). The peanuts and the dark chew of the caramelized sugar and the sweet chocolate went well together. It was kind of a charcoal note to the roasted peanuts, but that brought a richness to it, almost like coffee.
English Toffee - I thought this would be an actual hard toffee, instead it was a truffle creme with little caramelized sugar bits in it. It was an enjoyable texture combination, like many of the pralines that I’ve had lately. The creme of the center was a little thin feeling on the tongue, mostly because there’s nothing like butterfat for a rich taste (mmmm, cholesterol).
Pecan Caramel - pretty much a pecan version of the Peanut Caramel, this was pretty darn good. I could eat a whole box of these. The lack of butter was more than made up for with the woodsy pecan flavors and crunch.
Almond Truffle - this was the first truffle I tried. The powdered sugar coating kind of put me off, as I thought it started the whole thing off very sweet. The truffle center is very smooth, but again, it feels thin and watery when it melts, it’s just missing some deep complexity that the dairy brings to the combination.
Coffee Truffle - the stronger flavors and the cocoa dusting made this a darker and richer tasting truffle. The center was smooth and melted quickly, thus giving up the coffee notes very quickly but dissipating. I could have used a stronger coffee kick or a dark chocolate.
It’s really nice to see someone trying to get all the elements into their chocolate line. The box was fresh and each piece looked great. They were also very generous pieces, oddly enough, one of the better values at Whole Foods when it comes to their politically correct candies ($41.25 a pound). If you’re lactose intolerant but enjoy fine chocolates, this might be the best option out there (though beware, the box warns that they do share equipment that processes dairy so it’s not for those with severe allergies). I think I’d still opt for butterier cousins, so I’ll have to give their regular line another try here sometime.
Friday, December 14, 2007
The box heralds that there are “Six Stylish Varieties” and that they’re “Imported from Belgium.” While I like my chocolates to be attractive (and perhaps even stylish), I’m much more interested in them tasting good. The back of the little sleeve goes on to say, “Our hand-decorated chocolates are crafted by a European chocolatier who was among the first to create designs directly on the chocolate’s surface. Our collection contains six distinctive styles with exotic fillings such as Grand Arabica and Cardamom & Orange.”
Like most of the other chocolates at Trader Joe’s, these are nestled in a plastic tray with no fluted cups for the candies. While the tray does a great job of protecting each piece, it does make it a little harder to just pluck the pieces out and put them on a plate for serving. I guess we’re supposed to bring the whole box to the table or something.
The inside of the lid provides the key for the chocolates. The varieties include: Cardamom & Orange, English Toffee, Winter Spice, Grand Arabica, Yucatan and Double Hazelnut. While half of them feature a dark chocolate coating, all have a milk chocolate center of some sort. This was not communicated on the exterior of the package, so I was a bit disappointed. However, the pieces are a generous “two bite” size. Not too big so that you can’t have a nice variety to taste and not too small that you don’t get a good burst of the flavors.
I’ve always preferred enrobed or dipped chocolates to molded ones, so these win on that mark. The flavors aren’t as adventurous as some others that look similar and they’re not really that distinctively different from each other. I’d love to have some darker experiences (or at least know that it wasn’t to be).
The packaging is by far the most appealing at Trader Joe’s as well. Just slip off the little sleeve and it’s a sassy looking presentation box. As far as value goes, at $6 for 7 ounces ($13.59 per pound), this is nice stuff with real ingredients. If you know you’re never going to be able to afford the stuff at thrice the price (well, more but saying quintuple doesn’t rhyme) such as MarieBelle, Recchiuti or Richart, this is fun “pretend” chocolates to simply enjoy but not necessarily savor. They definitely come in on the winner side of hostess gifts.
Wednesday, December 12, 2007
Trader Joe’s always has an interesting assortment of candies and sweet goodies around the holidays. But without brand names (and previous years) to guide you, how do you know what’s good ... or even what’s inside the box? I’ll devote the rest of the week to the Trader Joe’s hostess gifts.
First up is Trader Joe’s Fair Trade Chocolate Truffles because nothing says thank you for having me in your home than not oppressing people six thousand miles away. It frees you up to drink in celebration instead of out of guilt!
This box is certified by Equi-Trade as commerce equitable! The box looks kind of like a take out container, with pretty amber and brown African designs. Inside are two layers. There are 14 truffles in five flavors (Spicy Hot Chocolate gets shorted with only two of those, three of each of the others).
Double Dark - these were quite nice looking. The 70% dark chocolate coating is a little on the acidic and “high note” side, but is buttery smooth and on its own has a slightly dry finish. The ganache center is melty-smooth. It’s firm when bitten in half, but melts quickly. It has similar flavors as the shell, giving the whole truffle a consistent flavor, with the only difference in the textures.
Field Raspberry - this one was easy to pick out from the rest, the dark chocolate shell had little raspberry bumps on the top. I was kind of surprised at the pink color of the filling. It’s a light ganache, not quite white chocolate. Sweet, tangy and very much an authentic raspberry flavor. It overpowered the dark chocolate, but there were other, more chocolatey experiences in the box.
Cappuccino - has a milk chocolate shell with a little cap of white chocolate. It’s sweet and has a nice creamy milk chocolate ganache center. It’s more firm than the raspberry one. The coffee notes are a little, well, coffee-ish instead of true rounded coffee. But then again cappuccino is often as much about hot milk as it is about espresso. This has nice milky flavors in it as well.
Spicy Hot Chocolate - it’s a very pretty truffle. A glossy dark chocolate shell and a spiced dark chocolate center. However, the spices gave this more of a woodsy flavor reminiscent of cupboards and cardboard than warm chili. It was smooth, but I was glad when I got rid of these two and they stopped infecting the others with that kind-of-sour spicy note.
Creamy Milk - the milk chocolate shell has a strong dairy component reminiscent of fine Swiss chocolate. It’s a creamy smooth shell with an achingly silky ganache center. There’s not a hint of grain in here, though it is a bit sweet it never becomes sticky or cloying.
As a gift, the packaging is okay, it does communicate the fair trade aspects, which I’m guessing is one of its biggest selling points. It’s nice and compact, but not as easy to just open it up and dig in because it’s double-deckered (and the plain truffles are on the bottom, not all mixed up). The cream “label sleeve” in the center of the box slides off and then it actually looks much better (that’s where all the nutrition facts are). As far as price goes, $7 for six ounces of fair trade chocolate with all-natural ingredients is pretty freak-tacularly good. They’re not the best truffles I’ve had, but for the price (less than $20 a pound) they’re certainly an incredible value and should get you kudos when given as a gift or served to guests.
These were made in Canada. (I suspect that they’re made by Terra Nostra, seeing how there aren’t that many Equi-Trade chocolate companies in Canada.)
Tuesday, October 2, 2007
The cookie and caramel covered in chocolate combination is pretty flexible and creating new versions of this doesn’t mess with the essential Twix-ness (just like there are many different cream and chocolate variations for the KitKat).
I’ve been searching for a good coffee flavored candy bar for years, for a country so obsessed with coffee it’s rather surprising that we don’t have one. (Yes, I’m aware of the Coffee Crisp and it just doesn’t do it for me.)
The bar is the standard construction: a chocolate cookie with a stripe of coffee-flavored caramel covered in milk chocolate.
It smells sweet and a bit like caramel and graham crackers but not much like coffee at first.
Once broken in half and the caramel revealed it has a pleasant roasted-coffee aroma. The caramel is a bit salty with an actual authentic-tasting coffee flavor to it (in addition to the natural and artificial flavors they list espresso ground coffee as an ingredient). The chocolate cookie is crumbly and crunchy with it’s own salty contribution. The milk chocolate on the outside is super sweet but pulls it together.
I didn’t like the bar much when I first tried it out on the floor (I split a package with Ginny). But I have to admit that it was day two and I’d really only been eating candy for 36 hours (except for an awesome pile of shrimp at a party the night before).
But with the clarity of a lone bar on my desk without the clutter of a gagillion other flavors in my mouth and a billion other conversations flitting by on the show floor ... I really like this bar. I think it’s the best Twix bar I’ve ever had. Yes, it’s still a little sweet for me, but in combination with some nearly black coffee, it’s growing on me.
You can expect these to start showing up later this year (reported release date is December 2007). In other news, if you were a fan of the Triple Chocolate Twix, it’s actually back in the miniature form. Mars released a few “autumn mixes” this year (that included the Vanilla, Strawberry & Mocha 3 Musketeers). The Twix one has regular Twix, Twix Dark Chocolate and Twix Triple Chocolate. I found them at RiteAid in the Halloween candy aisle.
I hope the Twix Java at least finds its way into a seasonal bag ... and in dark chocolate please!
UPDATE 9/29/2009: Mars has announced that TWIX Java will become part of their permanent line of candies. You can expect them in stores starting in April 2010.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.