Friday, August 25, 2006
Equal Exchange has been at the forefront of the fair trade chocolate and coffee movement in the United States for twenty years. But I think they understand that it’s great to give people a living wage and all, but the important thing is to sell something of value to the customer to keep everything in motion.
At their launch, the Equal Exchange chocolate products were rather mundane. Don’t get me wrong, they were nice, but the selection wasn’t very exciting. They’ve remedied that with the introduction of three new bars: Mint Chocolate, Espresso Bean Chocolate and Dark Chocolate with Pure Cocoa Nibs.
The Organic Chocolate with Espresso Bean is made with a 55% cocoa solid chocolate (the lightest chocolate of the three new bars) with good reason. Coffee is a powerful flavor and needs a good balance in order for both flavors to shine though.
In general I’m not fond of coffee bars that have coffee grounds (or bits, whatever) in them. The chocolate itself is infused with the coffee flavors, which are dark and pungent, a little smoky and acidic. The beans are crunchy and crisp, which is better than some fibery ones that some companies put in their bars. But still, it’s just not my thing. The chocolate was wonderfully buttery but very sweet so that it can stand up to the espresso beans. Of the three bars, this is the one that I still have some left of. (7 out of 10)
Organic Mint Chocolate. This dark chocolate bar made with 67% cocoa solids was quite a surprise. I fully expected it to be dark, mint flavored chocolate. Instead, it’s a mint crunch bar. It’s not quite like a mint bark that has little pieces or starlight mints in it. Instead it has little sugary grains of mint in it. The grains aren’t large, like big sugar crystals. The chocolate itself is not as sweet as the espresso bar, and has a strong acidic quality to it with a complex chocolate profile. Then as you chew or allow the chocolate to dissolve on your tongue you come across these little crystals of mint. It made the bar much more fun than I expected.
The acidity of the bar still got in the way of the mint, it just wasn’t the ideal match for me. (8 out of 10)
Organic Dark Chocolate with Pure Cocoa Nibs. Now this is the bar for me! 68% cocoa solids make this a pretty dark bar. The acidity here doesn’t bother me a bit, because it goes right along with the blissfully crunchy and rich cocoa nibs. Every nib was great, no fibery ones, no bad ones. The crunch of the nibs isn’t quite like a nut, they’re not quite as fatty tasting, but crisp and of course flavorful, creating a new texture without interrupting the pure chocolate density of the bar.
If you’re a nib fan, you should really seek out this bar. I’ve tried the Endangered Species bar and the Scharffen Berger and this bar really wowed me. At about $3.50 per bar retail for a 3.5 ounce bar they’re a good value for high-end chocolate. Add in the social responsibility and you’re silly not to at least give this bar a try. (9 out of 10)
I’ve been spotting Equal Exchange at Whole Foods, so keep your eyes open. If you have a favorite store that you shop at that doesn’t carry them, ask. (They don’t know what you want unless you tell them!) You can order on the Equal Exchange website, but only in full boxes of 12 for the bars.
Equal Exchange bars are not only organic but Fair Trade certified ingredients are used whenever possible, including the sugar. I think the only part that isn’t fair trade is the organic vanilla bean.
William at Chocolate Obsession has a large review. Siel at GreenLAGirl had a tasting party, so you can see lots more opinions on the bars there. If you’re interested in anything that has to do with incorporating fair trade, social responsibility and environmentalism into your everyday life, she’s your girl.
Wednesday, July 26, 2006
Come on, half the fun of this candy is the packaging! They’re eensy-weensy liquor bottles made out of chocolate! They’re even smaller than those little bottles you find in the honor bar or on airplanes.
After those awesome martini cordials I had from K Chocolatier that were so freakishly expensive, I was hoping to find something similar at a fraction of the price. While these don’t quite measure up, they’re still pretty good. The unique selling proposition here is that they don’t have that sugar shell inside like the K Chocolatier Martinis did.
I didn’t eat all of them, but I did try quite a few. The first one I started with was the Drambuie. I’m not that fond of Drambuie, I find it a tad sweet and so was this.
The second one I tried was the one I was most curious about - Ricard, which is an anise flavored liquor. I’ve never had straight Ricard, so again, it’s hard to judge. What I found was that it was rather sweet and not at all anisey. It’s definitely alcoholic, but not as strong as I’d expect for a liquer.
Next was the Stoli Oranj, but unfortunately this one ruptured somewhere along the way and there was a little bit of sugary crust at the bottom of the bottle and a smidge of the liquid missing. I ate it anyway. It was okay. The chocolate was fine, but the alcoholic bite was pretty much gone.
The Stoli Vanil was also very nice, without much of a flavorful bite, but the chocolate shines through effectively. The last one I had was Cointreau, which I think was my favorite. A little touch of orange, not quite as sweet as the others and still with a subtle alcoholic bite.
They’re very nice and certainly far cheaper (and probably more widely available) than other real alcohol filled chocolates. The filling was a little syrupy, but I’m guessing you can’t put true alcohol without some sugar stabilizer in there or else they’ll dissolve the chocolate.
It’s kind of hard to peel the little bottles sometimes and of course if you hold them in your hand for any length of time you risk softening the chocolate to the point of an accident when unwrapping.
So if the liqueur chocolates are an evening things, maybe the coffee chocolates should be considered a morning one.
These flavored coffees are cloaked in the same dark chocolate and again, have no sugar crust in them. This is a big difference over the Pocket Coffee that I reviewed before.
I tasted a few of the varieties, though I think there are more. You can only buy them in the assortments, so there’s no point in wishing you could buy only one kind.
Cappuccino - a nice sweet coffee inside chocolate, but it didn’t seem to have much of a dairy component to it, no milkiness at all.
Toffee Macchiato - this one confused me, but I have to admit that I’ve never had a macchiato. It tasted like coconut and coffee, which is not a bad thing, but it certainly doesn’t seem at all like toffee.
Espresso - this is the money shot. Very much like the Pocket Coffee, not as sweet as the others. It was a bit tangy and rich.
Vanilla Frappe - that’s the one pictured unwrapped and tipped out ... so you can see I didn’t get to taste it completely. Sometimes I have to sacrifice for the art.
Irish Cream Coffee - this one was sweet as well and had a pretty mellow minty quality, but very little coffee flavor in the mix.
I’ve never seen these at the store, but I’m sure they’ll be more prevalent as the holidays get closer. They’re a pretty nice hostess gift for the right person and if CandyWarehouse’s price is any indication, they’re not even that expensive.
Tuesday, July 4, 2006
Canada and the UK have Nestle Aero and Cadbury Bubbly bars. Israel has the Elite and Korea and Japan have Lotte Airs. Everyone else seems to have an aerated chocolate bar except for the United States. It’s not like we’ve been completely denied. Nestle did have a chocolate bar called the Choco’lite back in the 70s, but that didn’t go over well.
Maybe we’re just waiting for the right bar.
I was really looking forward to seeing Bubble Chocolate. Mostly because they’re using higher quality chocolate. The cacao content on their dark bar is 60%. There’s apparently a lot of engineering involved with balancing the viscosity and whatnot when doing different things to chocolate, so I’ll leave that to the industrial engineers. Apparently you can’t just foam up regular chocolate and expect a great result - there are a lot of things to take into account.
Bubble Chocolate comes in three varieties: Milk, Coffee Milk and Dark 60% Cacao.
My Coffee Milk Chocolate bar got a bit banged up in the trip back, so that pile above is just of the dark and milk chocolate. Handsome, aren’t they?
They’re huge looking, twice as thick as a normal 100 gram bar but only 80 grams. It’s kind of odd to pick them up, because it’s so surprising how light they are - 50% air ... that’s some lite chocolate. It’s kind of like pumice!
Dark Chocolate - the bar has a nice aroma that mixes berries and smoke. Despite the high cacao content, it’s very creamy and sweet. There’s a fudgy consistency to it as it melts so distinctly different than a regular un-bubbled chocolate bar. The airiness of the bar seems to make the scent of the bar carry better too, as you eat it. There’s a slight grain to the chocolate as it disintigrates, but no trace of the chalkiness I’ve complained about with other aerated bars.
Milk Chocolate - the bar is much sweeter than the dark, but also melts far quicker on the tongue. It’s a little stickier too, but exceptionally smooth. The milk flavors are not at all like the dairy chocolate I usually have from Cadbury or European Nestle. This is much more American tasting. I don’t know the cacao content on this chocolate, but it’s certainly dark looking. I was a little disappointed that there’s vanillin in here instead of real vanilla. However, if they’re keeping the bar under the $2 price point retail, I can see this as an acceptable compromise.
Coffee Milk Chocolate - this one smells like a coffee house - fresh and warm and roasty. There’s real coffee in there, but happily no coffee grounds (which is kinda a pet peeve of mine). It’s especially creamy and has a really nice melt on the tongue. This bar has no vanillin in it at all, and that may be why I’ve gravitated towards it. It’s a tasty bar, totally satisfying. The coffee isn’t fake tasting like some of the Hershey products, and it’s not grainy or too bitter. It is sweet, as it’s the milk chocolate, not the dark. But on the whole, my favorite of the three.
Overall they’re nice, munchable chocolate bars with an interesting texture that highlights the flavors. It’s not the best chocolate in the world, but it’s very tasty and enjoyable. It will never replace a good, high quality bar but I feel like it’s more than a novelty item.
As a serving suggestion, I do not advise that you let the chocolate get too warm. When it gets warm it gets fudgy and pliable and the airyness doesn’t quite hold.
Bubble Chocolate is still completing their first orders to get them in stores, but right now you can expect to see them at Trader Joe’s in September.
Interesting note from label: made in Belarus.
POSTED BY Cybele AT 6:26 am
Wednesday, June 21, 2006
No, you’re not seeing double - I did post a review of something very similar this morning. Like the Golden Bonbon I picked up, these are smaller torrone-style nougats that are individually wrapped for freshness and easy snacking. If you think they look suspiciously similar and are confused because they have the same initials, it’s not by coincidence. Golden Bonbon used to run the Golden Boronia facility but sold it recently.
Trust me, Golden Boronia made a good deal. These are tasty candies that rival the Golden Bonbon ones. The biggest difference is the flavor set. Both have the standard Almond and Coffee (though I didn’t taste the Golden Bonbon version of that) but then they diverge. Golden Boronia are made in Australia - another country known for their nuts.
Almond - sweet smelling without a trace of amaretto notes. The almonds are fresh and the nougat is soft and smooth. Not as much of a honey hit as I like, but very pleasant.
Apricot - sweet and complex apricot aroma that highlights the honey flavors. Almond and apricot are wonderful companions and the light sweetness of the nougat combined for a very satisfying treat. Well, it was satisfying while I ate it. Now I want another one.
Green Tea - this was the one that stopped me dead in my tracks at the All Candy Expo. I love green tea and the delicate flavor seems a logical match for nougat. The nougat smells like sweet green tea and tasted like a sweetened matcha. The nougat is even a soft earthy green color. It’s a little grainier than the others, but the refreshing and lasting green tea flavor is really nice. There’s a slightly darker note of flavors in there, as match often has, but none of the bitterness that I sometimes find in matcha candies.
Cappuccino - it smells like sweet, sweet coffee. The color is a little darker, like it’s been toasted. The coffee flavor is more like espresso than a milky coffee. It tastes a lot sweeter than the others do, for some reason. The flavor is nice, not too strong but missing the honey notes that I love so much in my nougats.
All of the flavors (plus Peppermint) come in a crunchy version. The crunchy version tastes more like the crisped outside of a toasted marshmallow. They’re nice (the peppermint is very strong) but I prefer the soft ones.
Their website says they’ll ship anywhere and I tried making an order for a 1 kg mix (about $21 USD) but the shipping was going to be an additional $52 ... I made a request for where I can find them locally cuz I don’t like to pay more in shipping than for the actual product.
Tuesday, June 13, 2006
While on the show floor I came across this booth on the first morning, in one of the first aisles I went down:
Real Espresso! Liquid Center!
I was thinking it’d be the American version of Ferrero’s Pocket Coffee from Italy. And we really need those.
There they were, looking so lovely on the silver platter. I had gotten up at 5 AM, so maybe my judgement was a little clouded by 9:30.
I took one and bit into it. No liquid center! Only a shiny, soft and bitter tar. Like that stuff that’s left at the bottom of a coffee pot when you’ve left it on the heating element overnight.
But in order to be fair about them, I took another on the last day to bring home and trash with photographic evidence.
Well, lo and behold the one I brought home had the liquid center!
The texture might have been more satisfying, but the flavor was no better. Still bitter and acrid, syrupy sweet and without as many of the coffee notes that I would have liked. The chocolate was decent, but completely overshadowed by the center. And the production concerns me as well, if one of the samples I got was sub-par, I wouldn’t be terribly confident about a whole box of them being consistent.
I have no idea where they sell these, or much about the company at all. I hope that they can tweak though, because it’s obviously a good idea if Pocket Coffee has been doing so well. The big difference here is that there was no sugar granules in here like I found with the Pocket Coffee, so maybe it’s a completely different process. I’m wondering what their Espresso Secret is ...
Friday, April 28, 2006
I picked these up last December and have been munching on them.
There are some things that I really like about Scharffen Berger chocolate, but few of them have to do with taste. I like the idea of them. I like their design aesthetic, I like their vibe, I like their factory. I, unfortunately, don’t care much for their chocolate. Of course there are exceptions, such as the Chocolate Covered Cacao Nibs, it just goes to show, you can’t judge all products by their brand.
Try as I might, I just can’t like their plain chocolates.
Extra Dark 82% Cacao - yes, it’s very dark lookin’ stuff. Lustrous and glossy, it has a nice snap and a strongly chocolatey smell. The immediate burst on the tongue is an astringency that just sucks you dry. There are some anise notes and even some basil all laced with an unpleasant bitterness. The chocolate itself is smooth but very sour. It’s great for making sauces though and this is the stuff I used at Thanksgiving for making a hard sauce for pecan pie.
Mint 62% Cacao - really, really minty. No, seriously ... you’ll take a bite and look at it the little bar and wonder why it even resembles chocolate. Kind of sweet, there’s a strange smoky quality to it that doesn’t really go with the mint.
Semisweet - after tasting the Extra Dark, this was more than semisweet, it was very sweet. It’s got a very strong woodsy base to it that reminds me of cedar. It’s slightly grainy, like the sugar isn’t completely emulsified with the chocolate or something. There is only the slightest indication of the acidity and astringency of the darker chocolate but it does have a hint of black pepper that I find very nice. Still, the mix of sweet, butter and chocolate flavors just isn’t right for my palate.
Milk Chocolate 41% - again with the tartness. Even the creamy dairy notes are missing, it’s smooth but it’s missing the fullness of flavor. There are lots of flavors at work here, but none of them particularly chocolatey.
Mocha - the coffee notes here are well rounded and feel much more honest than most coffee chocolates that I’ve tried. But it’s not as smooth and has both the acidity of the chocolate and the coffee that just combines in a way that in a way is tasty, but keeps me from eating a lot. But really, why would I want to keep buying a chocolate just because I don’t want to eat it that much?
I know I send some pretty mixed messages when it comes to Scharffen Berger. I raved about the Chocolate Covered Cacao Nibs, but I don’t like the chocolate that they make them into. I can’t explain it, so I’ll just let it be what it is.
Wednesday, April 26, 2006
One of the most talked-about candy stores in New York City has to be Dylan’s Candy Bar. Unlike Economy Candy, Dylan’s is all about display and experience. Also unlike Economy Candy: you pay a premium.
Located on Third Avenue at 60th Street - it’s a tony address - though not quite Park Avenue it is kitty-corner from Bloomingdale’s. If I could compare the store to something it would be FAO Schwartz. The store is brightly lit and on two levels. The street level boasts a large ice cream bar and featured huge Easter displays when I visited. The ceiling fixtures and shelves are candy themed, with large panels looking like some sort of vine of lollipops growing into the ceiling and large rainbow colored candy canes.
Dylan’s Candy Bar sells a huge range of products, both edible and wearable. The big feature, of course, is candy. The cornerstone is bulk candy and the bins are everywhere. They had a huge selection of all the sugar candy you can think of: gummis, Jelly Belly, Dubble Bubble flavored gumballs and licorice. They have chocolate too, from M&Ms (Colorworks), chocolate covered Oreos and malted milk balls as well as their own line of fine chocolates and flavored Belgian chocolate bars.
There were plenty of folks on hand to help out, none of the lines were very long (I expected the place to be crowded before Easter, but I did make sure to go on a weekday at lunch instead of on the weekend). The salesfolk seemed knowledgeable about the inventory too, which is a pretty big accomplishment with such a wide number of products. The prices for the bulk candies ran about $9.99 and they had some funky stuff, not just in the bulk bins but some fun displays. They had a HUGE selection of PEZ and a great big display of favorite candies chosen by famous people on the lower level. (Frankly, I don’t care much what famous people eat ... I’ll probably care when they ask me to do a custom mix.) There’s lots to look at and do in the store and I saw some children running around having the time of their lives (and their parents looked pretty pleased, too).
Their website features quite a few regional candy bars, so I was hoping to find an Idaho Spud, but it seems that they were fresh out. But I was able to find my Nut Goodie there and I also picked up a few other items that I’ll write about soon. There were also some funky items in the bins, like banana flavored gummi bears and a large selection of candy sticks in a wide variety of flavors and lollipops of all shapes, sizes and colors.
As I mentioned, Dylan’s Candy Bar has their own line of chocolate bars, so I picked up a nice assortment. They come in 10 different flavor combinations, but I picked of the little 1.75” tasting squares as an introduction:
Dark Raspberry - it was a nice dark chocolate bar. Not terribly sweet with a good overtone of raspberry essence to it, but none of the tart bite. The berry flavors mixed well with the earthy and fruity notes of the chocolate itself.
Dark - glossy and dark, there was no indication of the cocoa content here or on the website. It was nice, a little on the smoky side, but very smooth and a tad bit sweet.
Hazelnut - this bar is in the Guanduja-style, the first ingredient is hazelnut paste and the rest of the bar is made up of milk chocolate. It’s soft and creamy and a bit sticky feeling. The overwhelming flavor here is not the hazelnuts but the whole milk powder. The nuts add a level of satisfaction to the bar, but the milkiness just beats the nuttiness out of it to my dismay.
Dark Espresso (unwrapped) - a nice snap but a fair bit of grain in this bar from the ground coffee in it. The coffee flavor itself was good but completely overwhelmed the chocolate flavors and it seemed much sweeter than the Raspberry bar.
Can you tell I’m underwhelmed?
Maybe it started with their frustrating website, maybe I’m spoiled, but I want more info on my purchases. (I had a similar experience in the store.) Maybe I have no idea what a clodhopper is and the clothing ... maybe they could give me info on the fiber content. I want to know how much is in the package, and I want some indication of ingredients.
Maybe the article I read last year about Dylan Lauren rubbed me the wrong way and that’s colored my evaluation of the store. The NY Times line that got me was this:
What’s most interesting is that as I was there, I did not see “The Candy Girl” shopping there. I’m not the sexy, young, thin woman she pursues as a demographic (though maybe two out of four counts). As much as she might be positioning herself that way, the store is about kids - the displays obviously acknowledge that as there was quite a bit of the merchandise marketed to the under-four-foot set. While the store makes it socially acceptable for an adult to come in there and make a purchase(s), a destination like this will always be about children.
The other frustration is the price. Candy bars like the Nut Goodie I picked up are $1.49 and the bulk candy, such as Swedish Fish, in a plain plastic bag is $9.99 a pound. The same candy bar at Economy Candy is $.69 and probably about $1.00 at any of the many corner stores in NYC. The same Swedish Fish at Economy Candy were $3.49 a pound. What are you paying for here? Convenience of the address? Packaging? Isn’t that what Ralph Lauren has been selling us for years anyway? Except RL wasn’t taking Levi’s 501s and slapping his own logo on them and selling them for $100 a pair. Is Dylan’s Candy Bar doing that by taking other brands of candy and just dumping them into a clear plastic paint can?
Though I struggle with the the premium I pay at Vosges or Jacques Torres (which is like a fantasy land as well) I can rationalize it because they own their merchandise; they formulated it, they invented it, they make it. When I go into a mega-mart like Target or Toys-r-Us I expect better prices. Dylan’s just throws all of those expectations out the window. Sure, they have their own line of chocolates, but they sell everyone else’s too. They’re just selling you a brand, a bag and a logo. Sure, I have a similar complaint with the candy stores in malls where everything is in bulk bins and they’re selling it all for $8 a pound, whether you’re picking up plain old peppermint hard candies, gummi bears or M&Ms. But when I’m in Santa Rosa, CA, my candy store choices are limited and I accept the premium for variety. Dylan’s is in NYC, one of the most candy cities I’ve ever visited and Economy Candy is a scant four miles away.
I did enjoy browsing the displays, but the frugal part of me couldn’t get over the prices or the sheer gall of selling something that probably cost about $2 a pound wholesale for $10. There were candies there that I haven’t been able to find in other stores, so I appreciate that there were unique items there and there was a wide price range as well so you could get out of there with a bag of candy for under $5 with careful decision making. Part of the attraction of candy for me has always been its affordability and Dylan’s takes that part of the fun away. It’s no longer a simple pleasure, it’s an expensive one.
As the Candy Blogger, I’ll probably return. But as a simple candy consumer, it’s not a place I’d patronize. I found my second home in New York, it’s Economy Candy.
Dylan’s Candy Bar
Tuesday, April 4, 2006
I’m not an energy drink person and I’m not one to start popping caffeine pills either. So what am I to do when I need a little pick-me-up?
A friend of ours who travels in Italy every year suggested Pocket Coffee! Basically it’s chocolate-covered Italian coffee. Because the sweet coffee center is concentrated, it only takes three chocolates to equal a single shot of espresso. Our friends like to get them for traveling as it’s more portable that hot coffee but has the same side effect. I’ve heard that it’s very popular with students, truck drivers and folks on night shifts.
Ferrero is a well-known Italian chocolate brand even here in the United States, with the elegant little Rochers and Nutella as their best-known products. In fact, I’ve never seen Pocket Coffee anywhere in the US before, but not for lack of trying. They’re not even made in the summer, so as a seasonal item it’s likely that getting one out of season means that it’s no longer fresh. But a no-so-fresh Pocket Coffee is just a different experience.
The candy is composed of a syrupy espresso center, then a light sugar crystal shell and then the chocolate. As the candies age the sugar shell will actually grow, taking sugar from the espresso syrup center to create a bigger shell. The ones I tried were a little old (purchased last fall) so they had the extra crystallized shell.
The coffee center is very sweet but smooth with a slightly acidic bite to it. The crystals provide a kind of funky crunch to it, but melt easily if you’re inclined that way. The chocolate is not too sweet and gives a good creamy boost to the whole mix. On the whole the candy is very sweet, a little too sweet for my tastes, but then again, it’s coffee candy. I’m not saying that I won’t eat it again ... though they are messy. If you’re driving, you’re obligated to pop the whole thing in your mouth but if you’re not, feel free to experiment with biting off a corner and sucking out the coffee first.
Finding them in the states may mean ordering online. They’re still being stocked at Capriflavors.com.
If only Cadbury Creme Eggs had a coffee version!
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.