Friday, April 19, 2013
Theo Chocolate is the first organic and certified ethically source chocolate company in the United States. I first tried them when they launched in 2006 and have been pleased with the diversity of confections. They make solid chocolate bars, smaller “candy bars” with inclusions and flavors as well as a line of bonbons and caramels. It’s a great fusion of classic chocolate making with new flavors and social responsibility.
One of their new bars is Theo Chocolate Salted Almond Dark Chocolate (with 70% Cacao). It’s a simple blend of dark chocolate beans and almonds with a touch of sea salt.
Note that the bar packaging has changed in the past few weeks, so the new ones won’t be bright pink, look for these. The bar is organic, vegan, soy and gluten free though it’s manufactured on shared equipment with products containing milk, eggs, wheat, peanuts & other nuts. The cacao and sugar is sourced through Fair for Life (which assures the social responsibility of the sourcing).
The bar is simple, just a series of long segments, there’s no splashy custom molded design here. From flipping the bar over, I can see that the almonds in pieces, not whole (which is fine with me).
The scent of the chocolate is deep and woodsy with notes of coffee. The snap is good and the molding is excellent without any bubbles or voids (which can be an issue with inclusions).
The flavor of the chocolate is strong, it’s a little acidic and has strong coffee notes along with some smoke. The sugars are forward (along with a little of the salt note) and the chocolate has a slightly dry and olive finish. The almond bits are well distributed, fresh and crunchy with a nicely roasted flavor.
Overall, an extremely satisfying bar. The cocoa profile was a little dryer than I like, not quite as buttery as I prefer my texture, but the nuts and just the right hint of salt make this exceptionally easy to eat for a 70% bar.
Friday, April 5, 2013
In February I went to Hawaii, to the island of Kauai. One of the reasons I chose it for a vacation spot was that Hawaii is the only place in the United States where cacao can be grown. (I’ve seen a few trees here and there in botanical gardens, but I wanted to see them outside, fruiting.)
Kauai does not have a long history of growing cocoa, and it’s not an easy tree to grow. But there are some small farms that have planted cacao in the past 10 years and those trees are now bearing enough pods to make truly Hawaiian chocolate. (In fact, you can grow all three major ingredients on the islands: cacao, sugar and vanilla.)
There are a couple of places on Kauai to see cacao being grown, I chose a tour called Garden Island Chocolate Farm Tour led by Koa Kahili. Koa also runs Nanea Chocolate. What interested me in the tour was not just the chocolate but that fact that the tour would lead us through a small farm where we’d get to see and taste the fruits that grow on Kauai. I was hoping to get to taste some of the exotic tropical fruits we hadn’t seen in the grocery store or at the farmers market since we arrived on the island.
The tour was at a small location, something I’d call a demonstration farm, not a full plantation with acres and acres of each tree. About three dozen people gathered early in the morning, full of sunscreen and bug repellant. We walked around the small farm and Koa would pluck fruits from the trees and share them with us. There was a wide variety, some fruiting and others just flowering or dormant. We tried a few different kinds of oranges, grapefruit and limes. There was a large avocado tree, with avocados larger than grapefruits.
The highlight for me, of course, was the cacao. There was a small grove of small cacao trees planted in rows, not more than two dozen of them and not more than seven years old. They were about six feet tall and had full grown pods. Unlike apple or orange trees, which bear their flowers and later their fruits at the ends of the branches, the cacao puts out flower right on the trunk or branches (kind of like a fig tree does). The flowers are small (see above) and are pollinated by tiny flies.
The pods are tested for ripeness by scraping the shell with the back of machete or knife and it’s not green. Since there were not that many trees and the largest one nearby did have some pods, we could see that someone had tested those within grasp several times (the scratches turn black later).
The key experience for me was the fresh cacao. One ripe pod was opened and passed around for each person in the group to take a bean and a little of the flesh. The rind is tough and stiff, kind of like a pumpkin, but more textured. Within that is a softer inner layer, then the pulpy center surrounding the 30-50 seeds. The beans are firm and fibery, about the size of a flattened pecan (in shell). The pulp is white and a cross between musk melon and mango. It’s tangy and watery with a stringy sort of syrupy texture. It has no relationship at all to the flavor of the roasted beans.
The seeds themselves are rather lilac in color, and taste, well, rather boring. A little acidic and lacking creamy oomph of the cocoa butter. Each pod, which weights about 400 grams, yields about 10% of its weight in dried, fermented beans. So one pod is about as much chocolate as is required for a nice, high quality chocolate bar. (If the bar contains 40 grams of cacao, which is then supplemented with another 15 grams of sugar to make a 72% cacao bar.)
After harvest, pods are cracked open, the pulp and beans are scooped out and left to ferment. The fermentation process can be done “naturally”, which basically means they’re just left in a pile with some banana leaves covering them while they naturally ferment. But in some climates they need a little help and are put in wood boxes to keep the heat more regulated to reach the required temperature. The same goes with drying, which happens after the fermentation process is complete and the beans have turned dark red. The pulp is shed naturally as is some of the shell as they dry and are raked around. After that, they’re ready to be roasted and made into chocolate products. (Okay, I’ve really simplified this.)
The next part of the tour was a tasting. Instead of just sitting and eating piece after piece of chocolate, this was a little different. There were fruits as well as chocolate. Some of the chocolate was in bean form, some in bar form, some in truffle form and then fresh pieces of local fruits to mix it up and give us a rest. There were at least twelve tastings, which for me is a lot at once, and gets me pretty wired. (So some I opted out of, especially if they had stuff like, oh, lard in them.)
We tasted garlic chocolate and dark chocolate and nut infused chocolate and some with ginger and other spices. We ate raw beans and toasted beans. We tried soursop and shared an avocado the size of a cantaloup. It was interesting.
One of the most accessible bars Koa makes for his Nanea line is the Nanea Coconut Milk 60%. It’s just cacao, sugar, coconut and vanilla. It’s still a rather high cacao content bar, even for a dairy milk bar, so it’s a very strongly chocolate bar.
I liked the simple packaging. The bar is wrapped in a heavy, paper-backed foil and then has a sleeve over it for the particular bar. Inside the sleeve is a great photo of cacao beans in a cacao pod. A lovely touch.
The bar molding is simple. It’s a two ounce bar with segments across its width. Easy to snap into pieces.
You’ll need to like the flavor of coconut to love this bar. The fun part is that it uses coconut milk, not coconut flakes. So all the flavor is there, but none of the texture. The chocolate is a little chalky and robust. The coconut is sharp, kind of like a cheddar cheese can be sharp. It’s woodsy and nutty with a sort of cutting note towards the end. The cocoa has a lot of the same woodsy characteristics along with a wholesome fudge brownie batter flavor.
If you know someone who likes coconut but is also dairy averse, this is a great option.
My prize from this tour though was this small batch bar, Nanea Kauai Chocolate - Wainiha & Kilauea made only with beans from Kauai from two different plantations. The bar was untempered, which explains its chalky appearance and slight bloom. However, the texture is really nothing like you’d expect looking at it.
So I’m just going to describe my impressions, even though they don’t make sense. The texture is smooth and creamy but light, like a mousse on the tongue. That doesn’t mean that it’s actually airy, it just feels that way. It’s a little waxy at first, it takes a moment for the heat of my mother to melt the cocoa butter (remember this is untempered, which means that the cocoa butter has formed into one of its other crystalline forms). There’s a slight grit to it, but overall it’s consistently smooth. The flavors have a lot going on. There’s some orange blossom notes along with peppery carnations. Then there’s the bitter background, which reminded me a bit of beer. There’s also a sort of yeasty quality to it, like egg bread. When I first tried it, it was like eating Challah flavored chocolate. There are some light hints of smoke or maybe lapsang souchong tea. But what’s missing throughout out this is a sense of chocolate. Lots of chocolates, especially bars from single estates have strong flavors in them, but there’s always a sense of chocolate. In this bar I never really got the blatant and expected chocolate flavors.
This bar was tempered, I bought it at a farm-to-table restaurant shop called Common Ground in Kilauea. (I also picked up some cocoa butter soap there, too, which my mother gave rave reviews.) Though it’s a petite bar (only 1.5 ounces) it was $13. Islands, they’re expensive.
The bar traveled well. I always appreciate a really thick foil wrapping. (I also kept it in the fridge once I got to my hotel, which sounds extreme, but the fridge didn’t actually work and only kept our fruit at 70 degrees, which is perfect for chocolate.)
The texture of this bar is exquisite, it’s smooth and has a quick melt with a burst of flavor. Some bars that have this quick melt have a thin flavor density. This is wonderfully nuanced. It’s floral, with jasmine notes along with the same eggy bread flavor that the Nanea Wailuia bar had. The woodsy flavors are green and grassy.
I loved the tour, though everyone who goes to something that like needs to be flexible about what will occur. Orchards, farms and plantations are places where stuff is grown, they’re on their own schedules. They have bugs and you’re outside and it may be hot or damp or smelly. A lot of the success depends on being open to whatever experience is presented. Koa was knowledgeable and affable, the grounds were easy to walk and there was a great variety of stuff to look at and taste. The rest of the group on the tour was also very good, including the children. The weather was cooperative. The price is a bit steep, at $55 each but it was also three hours and involved a lot of chocolate.
Friday, March 29, 2013
The world of candy bars has changed a lot in the past 100 years, since the first mass-produced combination bars appeared in stores. At first local candy companies made bars that were distributed regionally. Eventually, after World War II, candy bars became national brands. You could find a Hershey’s Milk Chocolate, Snickers bar or a Butterfinger at most candy stores though there were still plenty of local brands.
Today the candy landscape is dominated by just a few international brands, and the new upstarts that are found on the fringes fit into a different niche now. They’re special interest bars. These are the bars that incorporate local ingredients, fit into special manufacturing concerns like allergens, or in the case of the Eli’s Earth Bars from Sjaak’s Chocolates, they’re vegan (made without any animal-derived ingredients).
The new line of bars is interesting, because they’re not quite versions of already-popular candy bars. The Celebrate Bar is A delicious coconut caramel topped with whole almonds surrounded by chocolate. That doesn’t sound like any other candy bar on shelves today.
How did they make it vegan? Well, here’s the pretty short list of ingredients:
I’ve had two of these bars now. The first one I photographed and ate. Then I searched months and months to find them in stores again. Both bars looked the same, a long chewy plank of coconut caramel topped with whole almonds and then covered in a vegan milk chocolate. The milk chocolate is made without any dairy ingredients (but in a shared facility, so not appropriate for those with allergies) but uses real cocoa butter.
The chocolate itself is chalky and has a soft cereal note to it. The cocoa flavor is lacking, but overall it’s a pleasant coating. It’s kind of like how I feel about hot cocoa made with water instead of milk; I’ll drink it but I wouldn’t choose it. The chewy center is quite good, a very dense coconut and caramel combination. The caramelized sugar notes are missing, but the texture is great.
It’s an interesting bar and I had to throw my expectations about the milk chocolate out the window. This is not really a vegan milk chocolate, it’s just a very mild chocolate - the rice milk makes it something different in both intensity (which is what milk does to chocolate) and texture (which is kind of sad). I would probably prefer this bar with a true dark chocolate coating, but I understand the goal here was to make it with a milder chocolate. It still doesn’t match up to the expectations I have for milk chocolate, but if I toss those out and just experience this, I was surprised at how much I liked it. (It’s similar to how much I like Goldenberg’s Peanut Chews, even though they don’t use a real chocolate coating.)
Wednesday, January 30, 2013
I mentioned a while back that Mars was going to convert all of their Dove Chocolate over to Rainforest Alliance certified cocoa this year. I saw the first bars in the store sometime around New Years and picked up this Dove 71% Cacao Silky Smooth Dark Chocolate.
The bar was on sale for $2.49, so it’s a pretty good deal for a 71% bar that’s 3.3 ounces. The nutritional panel lists that half the bar is a single serving. The 42 gram portion is 20 grams of fat. Good fat, of course… it’s made with cocoa butter which is supposed to be pretty good for your heart or at least not bad for it.
The bar looks like all the other Dove items these days. It’s seductively smooth with easy to break off domed pieces. The snap isn’t quite stiff, but not soft either. It’s, well, I can’t describe it any other way except fatty. See the above fat content for confirmation.
The Dove flavor profile is always a bit thin for my tastes, it’s like the chocolate is parallel to the cocoa butter instead of integrated. That may have something to do with Mars’ proprietary Cocoapro flavanol enhancement. Perhaps there’s some sort of process that it goes through that sanitizes it in this manner. The good news is that in this bar, that’s less of an issue. The melt is wonderful, buoyant and soft without a hint of grit. The cocoa flavors are lightly bitter, woodsy with a floral note that I don’t get from their regular dark. The melt is like a pudding, soft and creamy but still quite thick.
I had a few Dove Promises in the regular dark to compare. The regular dark is quite sweet and again, a little thin on intensity though a well rounded brownie batter chocolate flavor. I much preferred the 71% and didn’t feel like the lack of sweetness was a compromise. The deepness of the flavors was much more concentrated. I’ll be curious to see if these show up in the foil-wrapped Dove Promises line.
I know that in many stores this will be one of the few certified sustainably sourced bars, so it’s nice to finally have a choice when you’re at the drug store or a big box retailer.
Friday, January 18, 2013
It’s easy to dismiss this bar as one of the flash-in-the pan intersections of hipsterism. Mast Brothers are bearded bean-to-bar chocolate makers based in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn and part of the trend of micro-producers of formerly mass-marketed products. This bar mixes their carefully sourced (but unnamed) beans with coffee beans from the famed Portland, OR coffee roasters, Stumptown (they also have a Manhattan location).
I admit that I do love very good coffee, though I also drink the mediocre stuff rather happily. (Lately I’ve been indulging in a weekly cappuccino made with Verve beans served up by the excellent baristas at Short Cake at the Farmers Market in Los Angeles.)
I want a chocolate bar that evokes all the pleasures of a well made espresso shot in a portable solid - mix the coffee with chocolate instead of hot frothed milk. Both contain strong akaloids and bitter tannins but the cocoa butter might give a slower release to those flavors than hot water.
One of the distinguishing features of Mast Brothers bars is the packaging. They’re wrapped in distinctive papers, this one with an appropriately evocative deep red with black line art of a vintage motorcycle. Inside the thick paper wrapper, which is sealed on the back with a large label, it’s also wrapped in a good quality gold foil.
The bar was nicely tempered. I know that working with other inclusions that also have oils in them can be problematic (sometimes I note a hint of bloom around nuts in dark bars). The look of the bar is interesting, it’s not completely smooth and this is accurate to the actual texture of the chocolate itself. It looks a little lumpy (though that could just be the artisan style of the bar molds), but I found it gritty.
The bar is exceptionally dark looking, and the flavor matches. The coffee notes are bold: smoky with aspects of toffee, molasses and oak. I can’t really tell where the coffee stops and the chocolate starts, but the flavors I thought were from the cacao were a little more green. Some olive and dried cherries (with the accompanying tartness) with another little note of lemon zest. The melt is not quite smooth, I’ve mentioned the grittiness already, I found this in other Mast Brothers bars (I’ve never reviewed them before). The finish is a bit dry, but not chalky.
Overall, it’s not my ideal cup of coffee. I will say that the coffee is bold and stands out from the chocolate without being too sweet nor too bitter. I’ll probably finish the bar (though I can’t eat it late in the day because it is actually caffeinated), but I don’t think I’m going to buy another. I’d say as far as bean to batch bars married with single origin roasters go, I’m still the most fond of the Askinosie and Intelligentsia marriage.
The ingredient list is simple and short: cacao, cane sugar and coffee beans. No emulsifiers and no vanilla. There’s no statement about nuts, gluten or dairy on the wrapper.
Note: Eagranie of The Well Tempered Chocolatier also reviewed this bar last year, but hers was a different iteration, which contained more whole beans. For more about Mast Brothers, check out this 2009 NY Times article about Brooklyn food producers.
Thursday, December 20, 2012
While I was shopping at Whole Foods outside of Philadelphia back in September, I spotted these Nectar Nuggets Peanut Butter Cups. I’d never seen the before, but there was a little tag next to them that said “They’re Back!” so I figured they must be a local favorite.
There were three varieties on the shelf, and I picked up one of each: Milk Chocolate Peanut Butter Cup, Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cup and Almond Butter Cup.
The name Nectar Nugget didn’t ring any bells for me, but with the little picture of a bee in the corner of the wrapper and the word nectar in the name, I thought perhaps these were honey sweetened. That would definitely be interesting!
The cups are of the same proportions that we’re all accustomed to, two inches wide at the top and only one half an inch high.
The chocolate used for Nectar Nugget is Rainforest Alliance certified, so it’s sustainably grown and audited to assure that no child labor or slaves are used.
It smells a bit grassy, like real peanuts but not dark roasted ones. The chocolate has a nice sheen. There’s a little bit of a cloudy spot on top of the center, but I forgive that with real peanut butter, as the natural oils tend to migrate.
The peanut butter in the Nectar Nuggets is extremely smooth but also quite thick. It has a nice melt, like chocolate or fudge. The salt is light and gives the peanut butter a sort of warm feel as it melts. The milk chocolate is quite sweet but has a much quicker melt than the peanut butter and creates a good backdrop. It’s not particularly milky, but also not very chocolately, just a nice sweet texture.
The package says that it’s Giant Size, which is 1.2 ounces ... a bit bigger than a standard Reese’s, but not what I’d call a King Size. The thick texture of the peanut butter makes it quite filling for me, so much so that I had to space out my review of this set of cups over several days (and I’ve been known to eat a lot of candy in one day).
The ingredients include milk, so it’s not a true dark chocolate (nor vegan) item. Like the other cups, the package says that there are 5 grams of protein in each cup. This makes them rather filling without that too-much-sugar crash later.
The dark chocolate cup is tough, but in a way it’s worth it. The dark chocolate is smooth and buttery, though it starts a little waxy and stiff if it’s cold. The peanut butter feels drier than the milk chocolate version. The melt of the dark chocolate is quick and really fatty, it rolls around on the tongue quite a bit. The cocoa flavors are very deep, nutty and on the bitter side. It brings a whole smoky flavor to the cup.
I was wondering if this actually was a nut butter or a marzipan, but it’s definitely nut butter.
The Almond Butter cup is interesting. Most notably, the nut butter interior is quite salty, especially compared to the sweet and smooth chocolate. It’s 80 mg of sodium (same as the peanut butter ones) which is actually less than a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup. Like the peanut butter varieties here, the nut butter is a little on the dry side, but not crumbly, quite smooth and fresh. Instead of the roasted and grassy flavors of peanuts, the almond butter is a bit less vivid. Instead, the textures were the focus and the milk chocolate was more noticeable.
It still lacked a pizazz for me, but that’s probably because I was indoctrinated as a child into the peanut butter culture of North America. Even so, since they’re made in a facility with peanut butter, they’re not suitable for those with allergies to peanuts.
They were good and I appreciate the attention to details with the ingredients and the portioning. The ratios are good. They’re not my ideal cup but the fact that they’re ethically sourced and have no artificial preservatives tip my opinion in their favor. So I think I might pick them up again even though they were pricey (I think they were $2.00 each or something close to that) but probably wouldn’t seek them out at a special store. (They contain soy, milk and peanuts or almonds but there’s no statement about gluten.)
Monday, October 22, 2012
I’m quite fond of Chuao Chocolatier’s bars, which are made in Southern California. The packaging is spare but eye-catching and distinct. I’ve come to know the brand well enough to be able to spot a new bar on the shelf easily because of the color-coding. One that I’d been looking forward to finding is the Chuao Honeycomb 60% Cacao. The bar is a Dark Chocolate Bar with Caramelize Honey.
I was excited about this bar because Chuao used to make a fantastic item for local Whole Foods markets. It was a thick bar with large chunks of sponge candy (here they’re calling it honeycomb). I haven’t seen it in the market for several years, so I was hoping this bar would be a more widely available version.
The back of the package has a more enticing bit of marketing copy: The Honeycomb bar is a sweet bouquet of silky dark chocolate and crunchy, caramelized honey. Its pleasing layers of tropical flavors and contrasting textures seduce chocolate lovers like bees to a flower.
Chuao uses non-GMO ingredients, including the soy lecithin and the corn syrup for the honeycomb. chuao also sourced their chocolate through a project called Aguasanta Growth Initiative in Venezuela.
The bar has a wonderful decorative design for its mold. They’re changing their packaging yet again, so keep an eye out for the newer designs. Here’s a peek at the ChocoPod version. (Here’s what they looked like back in 2006 when I first tried them.) While it’s fun to look at, it is a little more problematic for portioning. The bar doesn’t break evenly around the “pod” pieces and of course it’s harder to tell how much of the bar you have eaten. (Besides all of it. That’s easy no matter the shape.)
There were a few little voids at the bottom where the mold didn’t fill properly and the same on the bottom of the bar where there were bubbles.
The bar is deep and toasty. The chocolate has a coffee note to it but is complemented by the burnt sugar flavors of the sponge candy. It’s a clean toffee note, with no hint of butter, just the scorched honeycomb. There are some hints of minerals and an earthiness to it. The honeycomb provides a little texture, though it has a bit of a crunch, it also dissolves quickly, like shards of cotton candy.
I was hoping for a bit more differentiation between the chocolate and the honeycomb, at least as far as the textures.
It’s funny that I had to go all the way to Pennsylvania to find a bar that’s made right here in California (and that I’ve been looking for in local stores). But it makes sense that Pennsylvania would be the target market, they’re the folks that make such fantastic pretzels and have innovated so much in the sweet and salty combination. I think I found the Chuao Potato Chips in Chocolate 41% Cacao bar at Wegman’s, and it was even on sale.
The package says that it’s an Ultra Premium Milk Chocolate Bar with Kettle Cooked Potato Chips.
The bar is made from all natural ingredients, the potato chips are made with sunflower/corn and/or canola oil and this wrapper does not say anything about GMO ingredients.
This is an odd bar. I can’t quite put my finger on it. Part of it may be the inclusions. As you can see from the photo, the bits of the potato chips are quite small, I’d call them potato slivers or shards. So the texture doesn’t allow for a full bite of potato chip, but more of the flavor without the crunch. The chocolate smells milky and has a wonderful, silky melt. The chips are at once light and dense. They have a strong crunch, even for their small size. They’re salty and earthy, with a rooty, potato skin flavor to the that’s common to the kettle cooked variety of chips.
In both bars I wanted more of the inclusions ... but it’s hard to fault these bars when the chocolate is so good as well. Chuao never disappoints me with their chocolate. I think my favorite bars are still the Chinita Nibs and their Coffee and Anise bars, which are both rather hard for me to find as well.
Wednesday, October 10, 2012
Taza Chocolate makes their chocolate from bean to bar in Somerville, Mass. What sets them apart from the many other small batch chocolate makers that have sprung up in the last 10 years is that they stone grind their chocolate in the rustic, classic Mexican tradition. Taza sources their cacao through direct trade sources to assure quality and ethical practices.
They make a wide variety of products but the ones of most interest to me are the Mexicano Discs. They make 10 different varieties, but I got samples of two that I thought would represent the style best: Cacao Puro Chocolate Mexicano 70% and Taza Salted Almond Chocolate Mexicano. I also noticed recently that Trader Joe’s has started carrying a strikingly similar set of chocolate discs, so I’ll throw in some notes about that.
The Taza website describes the Taza Discs as Rustic, round dark chocolate discs with a distinctively gritty texture, some sweet, some savory, some spicy. The packages have two discs in them, 2.7 ounces total (1.35 ounces each).
The discs are either for eating straight from the package or making into a drink by mixing with a whisk (or molinillo if you want to be authentic) and some hot milk (or water).
The Cacao Puro Chocolate Mexicano 70% is organic, gluten free, soy free and dairy free plus Kosher and made with only two ingredients: organic cacao beans and organic cane sugar.
The process for making the chocolate is very simple. The roasted cacao is placed in the stone mills and ground, then ground a second time with the sugar added. As noted on their website, it’s not a lot of processing, no conching and no emulsifiers are used. The chocolate is then tempered and molded into the discs.
(My photos for the Puro turned out poorly, so just imagine this Salted Almond is the Puro. It really looks the same, just a smidge darker.)
The look of the bars is a little dusty, less than glossy. The snap is solid, these are tough and dense bars. The melt is, well, not very smooth. It’s described as rustic and rustic is what it is.
The overwhelming flavor note I had was green wood, it’s a little like black tea, with other notes of lemon peel, raisins and a hint of figs and leather.
The texture is grainy, there are grains of sugar, which are interesting because they dissolve quickly. Then the is the grit of the large cacao particles. This gives the overall flavor of the chocolate a sort of variation, there are parts where the flavors might start as citrusy but then after chewing (yes, later because of the grit, there is more chewing than a really smooth dark chocolate might obligate me) some other flavors come out, like the tobacco and tea.
The chocolate here is only 40% cacao, with a larger proportion of sugar plus the almonds and salt taking up the other 60%. I really expected the cross section of this one to look more rustic, with more bits of almond in there, but it’s really well integrated.
It’s quite sweet, the graininess is taken up with the sugary grains with a hint of salt. I didn’t catch much from the almonds, except that they gave it a more creamy and mellow flavor that moderated the bitterness of the cacao better than the sugar. The chocolate flavors were also evened out, so I just got a sort of fudge brownie flavor from the whole thing.
I tried making a hot chocolate with this, since that’s part of the appeal of the Mexican-style of rustic chocolate. I didn’t put a lot of chocolate into it - about half of a disc for about 6 ounces of whole milk, I’ll probably add more next time. It’s best to use a whisk for this, all I had was a fork, so there was a lot of stirring (and a good thing that I didn’t fill up the cup all the way). The flavor is much more nutty and the sugar dissolves completely. The grittiness of the cocoa part goes away (until you get to the sludge at the bottom which is then a mix of almond bits and cacao nibs, which is also great).
I prefer this as a hot drink to a bar for eating, but that’s just me. It’s a bit expensive and requires a lot more work than just dumping a powder into some hot water, but I appreciate good ingredients and can take that extra minute for the stirring. (And now that the weather is getting cooler, I need a sort of whisk that’s ideal for one cup of chocolate.)
The final one I have notes on is the Trader Joe’s special version, Organic Salt & Pepper. It has 54% cacao, so it’s a bit darker than the Almond version. The only real difference between this disc set and the Taza branded ones is the fact that there are no little letters T A Z A on the molded sections.
It smells dark and peppery with some rum notes. The salt is much more forward than the Salted Almond. The gritty texture seemed to go well with the rustic flavors of salt and pepper and the grainy sugar. The cocoa flavors were a bit lost though did remind me of brownie batter. Of the three that I tried, this was my least favorite, but mostly because of the overall sandiness. The heat of the black pepper takes a while to warm up, but lends some nice tones.
The style of chocolate is interesting and definitely different from the standard fare and novelty chocolates these days. Really, I think this chocolate will shine as a drinking product, not for straight eating. But that’s a personal preference. If you’re looking for a chocolate that’s easy to portion, made with vegan ingredients, that has no GMO ingredients, emulsifiers or gluten or added vanilla bean then this is a fantastic option.
Update 10/29/2012: Per the suggestions of readers that I should drink this as hot chocolate, I did just that with one tablet of the Salted Almond. I found it a little bland, but very rich. So for the remaining discs, I made chocolate pudding. The recipe was 1/4 cup of corn starch, 3 cups of milk and three discs (about 3.5 ounces) of chopped chocolate. I warmed the mixture on the stove over low heat while I used a whisk to completely incorporate the corn starch, then as the chocolate melted to emulsify it. Then turned it up to medium heat, stirred constantly until it just started to thicken and boil. I added some vanilla extract (optional). It’s very rich, not at all sweet.
For my mix I had one disc of Salted Almond and two of the Cacao Puro. I wasn’t interested in the Salt & Pepper as pudding.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.