Thursday, December 8, 2011
Single origin chocolate and single origin coffee sound like an excellent fit. Askinosie Chocolate, one of America’s few (but growing) number of bean to bar craft chocolate makers has paired with Intelligentsia one of America’s fair trade, artisan and single origin coffee roasters.
As with all of Askinosie’s creations, the bar is thoughtfully packaged. It comes in a glassine sleeve that’s tied shut with a little loop of twine from the bags that the cocoa beans arrive in. Inside there’s a folded sleeve label over the cellophane sealed bar. It all fits back together pretty well, which is good because I can’t eat this bar in one sitting.
It’s three ounces and cost $9.50, which is a bit steep, except compared to everything at Intelligentsia. I’ve only had their coffee twice, both times was a dry cappuccino and both times it was intense but brewed nicely - not burnt, not too acrid or acidic. (I don’t go for the darkest roast of the day, either.)
The bar has 18 squares, spelling out Askinosie Chocolate. The color of the bar is exceptionally dark, glossy and has a clear snap to it.
The scent is quite strong with more of a woodsy, coffee grounds scent than a brewed note. The texture of the bar is noticeably stiffer too. The melt is smooth but slightly chalky and dry at first. There’s plenty of cocoa butter to thin it out after a few moments, kind of like the crema on a cup of espresso.
The coffee flavors are strong, bitter and rather overwhelm the chocolate. The ingredients are cocoa beans, cane juice, coffee beans and cocoa butter. So there’s no vanilla in there, no emulsifiers.
I found myself returning to bar, even though I had to be very restrained in my portions because of the strength of the coffee. I appreciated how well blended it was, that the bar wasn’t just a superior chocolate bar with a bunch of coffee grounds thrown in like so many other companies seem to do. The flavors linger, with more mild notes of licorice, apricot, fig and molasses.
The package says there are two servings, I was much happier with six pieces over the full nine, but I’m the kind of gal that just has a small cup of coffee in the morning (an actual 8 ounce cup). Lest you feel bad about the calories (154 per ounce), there’s also almost 4 grams of protein, 4% of your calcium and 14% of your RDA of iron in that ounce. I can’t hazard a guess on the caffeine.
It’s not an every day bar, which is fine because it’s hard to get a hold of (at Intelligentsia cafes or their website) and pretty expensive. But as a substitution for three coffee drinks, it’s mighty fine, just as satisfying, far more portable and ready when I am. Now ... when is a white chocolate/coffee bar coming out?
Wednesday, November 9, 2011
Last year Ritter Sport sent me a one of their Europe-only bars, Ritter Sport Espresso. I even bought one when I was in Germany in February. Now they’re selling them in the United States, which only makes sense since we’re the largest coffee consuming country in the world (source).
The bar is Fine Quality European Chocolate made with Natural Ingredients. The bar isn’t explained or teased much on the front, just with robust Arabica coffee and the back just gives the description as Milk chocolate with a coffee cream filling. It also has snowflakes on it, which leads me to believe that it’s a limited edition winter bar and might not be available year round.
The ingredients list is short, but not as pure as I’d like it to be when it’s advertised as being made with natural ingredients. (Just because it’s natural, doesn’t mean I want it in my chocolate bar.)
There’s a caution about shared equipment for peanuts, almonds, hazelnuts, other nuts and wheat. (Plus it contains soy and dairy ingredients.)
It’s real milk chocolate for the bar part, but the filling is primarily a sugar and oil paste. Palm kernel oil doesn’t have quite the same political reputation that palm oil does, nor the trans fatty content that partially hydrogenated oils. Still, I do not consider that to be a cream, even if cream is added to it. But let me set aside my ingredient rantings for a little tasting. Because I was really looking forward to this bar.
I don’t know what it is about the way that Ritter Sport bars are packaged or handled, but they’re always pristine when I open the package. (Sometimes the bars are broken, but not scuffed.)
The scent is dreamy. There’s a milky dairy note (a little caramel and butter) but the perfect level of coffee to it - rich and woodsy.
The chocolate is a little soft, and the center is even softer. The chocolate melt is cool and smooth, the center is a little grittier because of the coffee powder. The milk chocolate is quite sweet and the filling is less so, with a light salty note to it though there’s not actually any salt in it.
The espresso flavors are not quite ... because of all of the milk notes. It’s more like a dry cappuccino than an espresso, which would be made with a dark chocolate (dairy free would have been great for vegans). I expect there’s a bit of caffeine in here, since there’s real espresso powder, I made sure to eat mine early in the day.
It’s not the perfect coffee chocolate bar, but for about $2.00 or so, it’s achingly close I had to give it a 9 out of 10. The coffee flavors are pure, not flavored, and it’s not junked up with other caramel or hazelnut flavors. I wish it was really a ganache cream made with butterfat in there, but then it wouldn’t be $2 and probably wouldn’t be a shelf stable. Next step would be fair trade (but they do have a pretty good track record for ethical sourcing).
Monday, September 26, 2011
While on vacation on the central coast earlier this month I made my regular stop at Sweet Earth Chocolates in San Luis Obispo to pick up some rations for our vacation rental.
I bought some turtles and some other items for immediate consumption and then a few items to bring back to Los Angeles for review. One item that I sampled in the store is their Fair Trade Certified & Certified Organic Bittersweet Chocolate Drops. Yup, I went on vacation and I brought back a bag of chocolate chips.
It’s 12 ounces of 65% dark chocolate with only three ingredients - organic cacao (liquor, cocoa butter & cocoa powder), organic sugar and organic vanilla.
I love the bag. It’s simple, the same sort of wax lined kraft paper bag with a wire-fold closure that you get fresh roasted coffee beans in. It has the same bean bag heft and satisfying crunch when squeezed.
The pieces are small, some as large as a dime but most the size of a flattened standard baking chocolate chip (2/3 of an inch). The smooth disk shape makes them easy to eat and melt in the mouth, no spiky top.
There’s a light tangy note to the pieces upon melting with a slightly dry finish. It’s much sweeter than I would have expected for a 65% chocolate. The flavors are woodsy and smokey with notes of figs and molasses, they’re on the coffee side of the rich flavors. In fact, the package was sitting on my desk one morning and a co-worker said “Your coffee smells really good today.” I didn’t actually have any coffee, it was the open bag of chocolate that smelled like that. On another day the smell was so distracting, I had to close the package up and put it away.
I’m sure this would be great for baking, hot chocolate or pudding. But I was content to just snack away on them. It was no compromise, in the sense that these were organically grown, fair trade certified and not overpackaged. It was $9.50 for the bag, but for 12 ounces, I thought it was a pretty good deal compared to some of the chocolate bars that I buy for the same price but only get 3.5 ounces.
They’re made without soy or dairy (so they’re vegan) but are processed in a facility that has both.
As more of a novelty item I tried their new caramels. They’re like gourmet milk duds. I picked out the Coffee Caramel. The little quarter pound bag is very simply done. A cellophane bag sealed with a little twist tie. (They had samples in the store, I tried the orange and chili one and found it a little too spicy for me, so I opted for the coffee.)
Instead of a glossy coating of chocolate on the house-made caramel nibs, these are coated in chocolate and then rolled in cocoa. They’re lumpy and mis-shapen, some are flat and others are rustically spherical.
The chew is smooth and sweet with some good flavors. The primary flavors are woodsy, a combination of the dark chocolate and cocoa coating plus a little note of coffee. The caramel itself is interesting, the toasted and burnt sugar flavors are missing, are are the butter notes, but still it doesn’t end up tasting like syrup. There’s a little note of cinnamon and coconut in there, but that could be my imagination.
As a gourmet Milk Dud, I was happy, though they are certainly more expensive, don’t have quite the shelf life and are kind of messy with the cocoa coating.
I will continue to visit the Sweet Earth Chocolate shops in San Luis Obispo when I’m in the area. It’s easy on and off the 101 if you’re traveling through the area. My previous review of the shop is here (with photos).
UPDATE: Sweet Earth changed the name of their company to Mama Ganache.
Tuesday, August 9, 2011
Meiji is one of the major confectionery companies of Japan with recognizable brands like Yan Yan, Hello Panda, Chelsea and my favorite GummyChoco. I admire their products quite a bit, their flavors are bright and authentic and the attention to detail is excellent. Last year I reviewed their standard Meiji Milk Chocolate bar and found I really liked their intense flavor style. So I picked up this box called Meiji Corot which simply called them chocolate ball in English on the otherwise Japanese package.
Meiji also packages their candies well, but this is the first one I’ve really had an issue with. The box is large, it’s 4.25 inches high and 2.75 inches wide, that’s larger than a deck of poker cards or a box of cigarettes. Inside the box is a little mylar packet. It protects the candy well and certainly kept it fresh, but there’s only 1.48 ounces of candy in here - a standard bag of Milk Chocolate M&Ms as 1.69 ounces.
Hershey’s came out with a similar product last year, called Hershey’s Drops. They’re also big disks of solid chocolate with a light, shiny glaze to keep them from sticking together.
The chocolate balls are actually oblate spheroids - a squashed ball. The aspect ratio or flatness of the spheroid is determined by the dimensions. The major axis is 1.5 times the length as the minor axis. (They’re .75 inches across and about .5 inches thick at the center.)
The candies are 3.5 grams each, so a hefty little bite of chocolate compared to an M&M which are about .85 grams.
They’re creamy and milky with a chocolate pudding flavor to them. The dairy flavors are distinct and the chocolate is quite powerful, certainly a more dominant note. There’s a strong bitterness that I don’t think I get with most consumer milk chocolate products. It’s toasted and maybe even a little smoky with notes of plain old charcoal. I enjoy the flavor, it’s munchable with a great texture but a little more sophisticated than a standard milk chocolate candy.
The ingredients are not quite as desirable as the plain Meiji Milk Chocolate bar. This version of Meiji’s milk chocolate also contains some vegetable oil filler (though there’s also plenty of cocoa butter in there). The curious ingredient towards the end of the list was trehalose. Trehalose is a sugar, a disaccharide made of two glucose molecules. It’s only 40% as sweet as the standard sucrose (a disaccharide made of one glucose and one fructose molecule). I’m not quite sure what its purpose here is, it’s not here in great quantities, as it’s on the list after the soy lecithin (which is usually less than 2% of the overall mass of any chocolate product).
I also recently picked up some of Meiji’s 40th Anniversary editions of their popular Meiji CoffeeBeat chocolate candies. I’ve reviewed them before, but these versions were in different packaging and came in two versions - a milk and dark version.
The Milk version, in the tube, has a great sweet latte flavor to it. The coffee is quite strong and rich and the sugar and milk mixture is reminiscent of caramel. The one in the box didn’t come with any additional English descriptions but I can say that the milk flavors are downplayed at the coffee flavor is extremely strong, yet the texture is still creamy and smooth with a lingering charcoal bitterness.
I love these little nuggets. They’re about the size of a real coffee bean or an M&M and feature a solid coffee flavored chocolate core covered in a thin crunchy shell. I don’t know why we don’t have these or something like these widely available in the United States.
The Meiji CoffeeBeat keep their 9 out of 10 rating. (If they were more affordable and easier to find, they might get a 10 out of 10.)
Thursday, June 9, 2011
Ovation Chocolate Sticks are one of those candies that you’ve probably seen before but rarely thought much about them one way or the other.
I got this box of Ovation Cappuccino Sticks in a box of samples from Sweets & Snacks Expo. They’re made by Sweet Works, the same company that makes Niagara Chocolates, Florida Tropic Chocolate and Sixlets.
The box is a great presentation format for chocolate sticks. It’s hexagonal with a wonderfully colored and folded lid (that would make an excellent hat if done in felt). The colors are great and actually made me rethink my position (or lack of one) on Ovation sticks.
Inside the box are about 44 individually wrapped sticks of chocolate flavored with real coffee.
The sticks are rather small (but also low in calories, about 15 calories each) at 3.33 inches long. The construction is fun, the center is a coffee milk chocolate (with plenty of actual ground coffee in there) covered in bittersweet chocolate. The effect is a strong coffee flavored stick. It’s creamy, a little on the sweet side, but with plenty of coffee punch. It’s a little bitter at times and I’m not that keen on the coffee grounds left over in my mouth. But the flavors are really good - the woodsy and deep roasted coffee, a light touch of milky cream and of course the background of chocolate.
I don’t see myself just eating these as a candy, but they are a nice accent for a dessert tray, with coffee or perhaps stuck into a bowl of ice cream.
Online these look a bit pricey. The box holds 4.4 ounces (about .1 ounces per piece) and looks like it might retail for about $5 a box. For that I might opt for a bit better chocolate bar, but for sharing, especially for a little hostess gift, this is a nice presentation and decent quality item.
Wednesday, May 25, 2011
Since I’m on the topic of classic candies this week (starting with Orange Slices) another favorite are what are simply called the Raspberry. They’re a simple construction that mimics the actual berry quite nicely: it’s a gummi center covered with crunchy colored nonpareils in the approximate size and shape of a real raspberry.
Quite a few companies make them, Haribo’s are probably the most famous, but there’s also a great version made here in the United States by Jelly Belly (they also come in a white grape version called Champagne Bubbles).
Today’s new item is Bebeto Premium, a line of crunchy coated gummis made in Turkey by a company called Kervan. They’re being introduced to the American market at the Sweets & Snacks Expo in Chicago this week. I picked up a few samples in Cologne at the ISM candy fair there in February, and now that I know that they may be available here, I thought I’d review them.
The product line boasts all natural flavorings and colorings. They’re packaged in stand up bags with zip lock tops for freshness and each variety comes with two flavors in the mix. I got to try three of their new varieties: Tropical, Berry & Turkish Coffee
Tropical: The crunchy bits outside are sweet and have a very light fruity flavor. It isn’t until I got to the gummi center that the flavor really developed. The Tropical Ananas (Pineapple) was intense, a good blend of tartness and those pine and rosemary notes that fresh pineapples have. It was more like the fresh flavors than the canned ones. The Tropical Orange was a little more subdued, but with a good dose of zest in there to carry off a fully developed fruit flavor.
ones were rather like I expected. Blackberry starts very sweet with the light, crunchy nonpareils but then gets a good fruit jam kick from the gummi center. The flavor notes were dark enough to be considered blackberry. The Raspberry was more fragrant and floral than the Blackberry and of this pairing, it was definitely my favorite. Happily I also experience no flavor interference from the colorings.
The Turkish Coffee & Mint variety was the one I was looking forward to the most. I know that coffee or anything creamy sounds like an odd match for a gummi base, but I’ve had some wonderful Japanese versions, so I know it can be done well.
As this is an actual Turkish candy from a Turkish candy company, I expected a lot from their Turkish Coffee. The package was a mix of brown and white candies, the brown ones were the coffee (obviously) and white was mint.
The Turkish Coffee pieces smelled wonderful, like strongly sweetened, fresh coffee. The coffee flavor, in this piece, was much more apparent on the outside with the little crunchies. So far, so good. I was enjoying it and looking forward to the more intense coffee center. But that didn’t happen. The center was tangy. Generically tangy, but still with a coffee note to it. It’s like someone tossed a spoonful of lemon juice in my coffee. I thought for a while it was an error, that the little packet I had was a mistake, that they were changing over a production line. But every packet I had (I think I had four or five of these little samples that had three or four pieces each in them that I gathered from several different places - both the press room and the booth for Bebeto) was the same.
Mint was similar. The white crunchies were a strong peppermint with just a hint of spearmint. But the center was tangy. I didn’t mind that as much, I thought of it kind of like a less than zesty mojito.
I love that there are no artificial colorings in these candies. The flavors chosen for this line are great with the exception of the Turkish Coffee. I though the fruit flavors went well together in their pairings. However, the Turkish Coffee was just too weird, when I want a coffee flavored candy, I don’t want too much extra with it. Tartness definitely not a bonus. They’re a little more adult in their packaging and flavor combos, but this can easily be a family candy. I don’t know the recommended retail prices on these, but if they’re comparable to Haribo, they could fit well in the American market. The crunchy coating means they don’t stick together and would look great in a candy dish. I give the fruits a 7 out of 10 but Turkish Coffee gets a 5 out of 10 and should go back to the drawing board.
Tuesday, May 3, 2011
Scho-Ka-Kola has a cult following, especially in Germany. The concept is simple, it’s a caffeine enhanced chocolate. They use both coffee and cola nut to boost the stimulant content which is where the name comes from, Schokolade (chocolate), Kaffee (coffee) and Kola (cola) . It was introduced at the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin by Hildebrand as a “sport chocolate”. Later it was used during the war, especially by German pilots. Today it’s made by Sarotti, which is owned by Stollwerk which itself is now owned by international chocolate giant, Barry Callebaut. It’s still made in Berlin and the packaging has changed little over the years.
The tin is easy to carry in a roomy pocket (though I’d worry about melting). It’s about 3.5 inches in diameter and one inch high. There’s a helpful little thumb-print impression on one side of the lid, press it and the tin opens easily.
The round tin holds little “slices” of the chocolate disk. There are eight slices on each layer of the tin, separated by a stiff piece of waxed paper. A serving which would contain the equivalent caffeine as a cup of espresso. My guess (and part of this is from translating the package) is that a serving is four pieces and the actual caffeine content is about 50 mg. So it’s not a lot, but it’s a mild and even boost. It says to me that munching a few pieces an hour would be a good way to keep a steady dose of caffeine in your system without getting all jittered up.
The chocolate isn’t very intense or dark, it’s 52.5%, but the rest of the content isn’t all sugar either. It’s 2.6% coffee and 1.6% cola nut powder. Kola nuts (or cola nuts) are closely related to cacao and have a fair amount of theobromine as well as caffeine in them but far less fat.
The pieces are thick (just shy of a half an inch) and have these great ridges that make it easier to hold them without getting too warm from your hands and bite. (One piece is less than a quarter of an ounce, so it’s a fine mouthful if you won’t want to bite.) The flavors are quite deep and on the woodsy side. There’s a dry and bitter note to it in the flavor, but it didn’t leave me wanting a lot of water. The coffee flavor is muted, it’s mostly a roasted and charcoal sort of chocolate. Not intense but also not pansy. There were no acrid caffeine flavors for me, so the fact that the caffeine was still integrated into their natural sources probably helped. It probably also means that the caffeine is metabolized a little slower.
I picked up this little tin for 2 Euros, but in the States these things sell for about $6 retail. For $6 I could buy a truly extraordinary bar of chocolate. But if I were traveling in Europe and wanted an alternative pick-me-up to the sub-par coffee that’s found in far too many places, then this is the way to go. Easy to carry and share and with a reliable dosing scheme.
There is a little milk in there, so it’s not a vegan product. The tin also says that it may contain traces of almonds, hazelnuts and gluten.
Thursday, November 18, 2010
Around Christmas Cost Plus World Market usually has an eclectic collection of candies for entertaining and gifting. Many of their products are brands that have very little presence in the United States but are really well priced.
I saw this package of mixed chocolates called Sorini Maxipiu Assorted Chocolate Pralines. It’s a big bag, 500 grams (17.63 ounces) but I was attracted to it even though it was on the bottom shelf because it just looked so different from the little novelty marzipan, torrones and panettone on the shelves. I didn’t recognize the Sorini brand name but the images on the package made the assortment look like a good bet.
The chocolates are nicely packaged and easily distinguished. They’re all in a bright gold mylar with clear print that says what’s inside. There’s also an inner paper-backed foil that just covers the candies and seems to cushion them and keep them from getting scuffed.
There were five varieties. Most of my assortment consisted of the Cereali and Arancia (well over half of the 42 pieces). The other three were Nocciola, Creme and Cocoa Beans.
The Arancia (Orange) is a dark chocolate piece. The chocolate shell is thin but has a nice sheen and crisp snap. The pieces are about an inch and a quarter long, so a nice piece to put in your mouth whole or take two smaller bites.
It smells a lot like orange, but more like orange extract than orange zest. It’s like sniffing a bottle of baby aspirin.
The chocolate center is soft but not creamy, it’s more like a Frango. However, it has a smooth melt once it warms in the mouth. The chocolate notes are strong enough to stand up to the one-note of orange. It’s a bit on the dry side and a little bitter but the chocolate also has a fair amount of sugar in it. It was better when eaten as an accompaniment, like with coffee or strong tea.
I was disappointed that I only got three of the Nocciola and used two in the photo shoot. (I should have been paying more attention.)
There’s a milk chocolate shell with a darker hazelnut paste cream filling. Inside was a half of a hazelnut. It was nutty and fresh but could have used more of a chocolate punch. I would have preferred more of these instead of all the orange ones.
The Cereali is a big milk chocolate ball filled with a milk chocolate cream and crisped rice. The size is similar to a Lindt Lindor truffle, about one inch in diameter.
These are fun because of the texture variations. They smell sweet and very milky. The chocolate shell is milk chocolate and very soft, the center is even softer but has a good sugary cocoa texture that’s extremely sweet but at least not as greasy as the Lindor. There are little crispy rice bits that provide a little hint of malt and salt.
I would prefer a bit richer chocolate, something that’s not quite so sweet.
The Creme piece is basically a milk chocolate truffle.
It smells milky and sweet with a little hint of cocoa (and a bit of a whiff of orange from the other chocolates). The milk chocolate cream center is soft and though not quite silky, it’s very smooth.
It’s a bit like eating a bit spoonful of chocolate frosting. I wasn’t that keen on them, but there weren’t that many of them (I think six), so it was easy to eat around them or just kind of grin and bear it until it was time to eat another variety that I preferred.
Cocoa Beans Crema Caffe was the most interesting of the bunch. Unfortunately all four pieces I got were slightly bloomed. It wasn’t a bad bloom that made the chocolate hard or chalky, just a very slight white haze on the spheres.
The dark chocolate shell has a good flavor profile balanced with woody and coffee notes and a light fruity plum note. The cream center is a mix of strong, sweet coffee and cacao nibs. There are toffee and caramel hints along with the crunchy texture of the cacao nibs.
I paid only $6.99 for well over a pound, so I thought it was a good deal for an assortment. They’re not really my style, I prefer chocolate that’s darker or with more powerful flavors. I wouldn’t say that they’re a great hostess gift, at least not in this bag, maybe if you put them in jar or basket. They do look nice though out of the bag and are an easy item to put into a candy bowl to share with folks for the holidays. They’re individually marked, which is a plus and they are different enough. I don’t know if Lindt fans would be satisfied with the milkier flavor and less slick texture but maybe if you’re looking for something to satisfy a larger crowd they’re a good choice. But if you like something like Ferrero Rocher, I’d say stick with those ... these aren’t for folks looking for nuts.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.