Friday, December 23, 2011
These little bars called Starbucks Dark Chocolate with Via Ready Brew are found only at Starbucks cafes (not even on their website) and feature the Starbucks Via Ready Brew instant coffee as a flavor base. The packaging is simple and effective, it’s a tough paper and foil combination. The package says that this little chocolate bar is 100% natural roasted instant and microground coffee blended into rich, dark chocolate.
It’s rather small, at 1.2 ounces, but for such an intense thing, it’s an appropriate size. (And with a calorie count of 160 according to myfitnesspal, it’s not on the Starbucks website or the wrapper.)
The bar shape and size is clever and incredibly portable, like a narrow and thick companion for your iPhone. The bar is in four little sections, the top is molded with some very nice typography.
The color of the bar is exceptionally dark, much darker and blacker than I usually see in just chocolate bars.
Starbuck’s has done an awful lot right with this little bar. The texture is very smooth but still intense. It’s about the coffee for the most part, but the elements of the chocolate are also in a strong supporting role.
The coffee flavors are concentrated. It’s a little acidic, smoky and woodsy. The coffee notes are less intense, but don’t fight. The texture is smooth though the bar has a bit of a dry finish. The powdered coffee isn’t chalky or gritty at all, which is a great bonus over chocolate covered coffee beans.
There’s no indication what the caffeine content was on this bar, and as I’m sensitive to the stuff, I made sure to eat only half of this for breakfast this morning.
It’s a really strong bar, smooth for something with whole coffee beans in it, flavorful and nicely portioned. The price of $1.75 seems steep at first, but as a coffee replacement that you can pull out at any time, it’s a great deal. If you’re traveling, especially driving, and need to have something at the ready, this is a great option.
I’ve never actually tried the Via Ready Brew was a drink. I do, however, buy it for use in baking. I make an incredibly intense triple salty chocolate (cocoa, melted chocolate & chocolate chips) espresso cookies with Via Ready Brew. It makes the recipe ingredients insanely expensive (between the two bags of good Guittard chocolate chips and Via it’s about $11 for a batch, and that doesn’t include the standard ingredients). So if you have the money, I do think it’s much better than espresso powder or ordinary Folger’s crystals for baking.
Starbucks posted a bit about the ethical sourcing of the chocolate on their blog in two parts: part one & part two. One of the posts indicates a relationship with Tcho, but another blog reports that the chocolate bars are made by Santander.
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?
Monday, November 21, 2011
In the world of fair trade chocolate, it’s hard to find a balance between the ethical sourcing of the ingredients and the actual likeability of the finished product. One brand that has struck a good, mass appeal approach is Divine Chocolate. They’re based in the United Kingdom, but the chocolate is made in Germany.
Their product range in the United States is primarily 3.5 ounce tablet bars, with a few holiday items each year. The ingredients are Fair Trade certified as much as possible.
I picked up the Divine 70% Dark Chocolate with Ginger & Orange at Cost Plus World Market. I like the idea of a chocolate bar with a little bit of flavor and maybe even a candy-like flair to it.
I really like their new bar mold. The old one was simple and generic. The new one is the same format, but with little icons in each of the pieces. I like the thickness of the bar and the divisions - easy to snap apart and ideally sized for a bite.
The bar has an excellent and crisp snap. The scent is a bit woodsy, mostly from the ginger but with a well rounded cocoa note to it. The ingredients were not simply candied orange and candied ginger though. Instead it was something called Orange Granules which were made from orange juice, apples, sugar, rice flour, fructose, pectin, citric acid and orange flavor. Seems odd to make something that’s normally considered garbage (orange peels). The ginger is also just natural ginger flavor, no actual pieces.
The result are little sticky, slightly tacky orange bits. They’re good in the sense that they taste fruity, a little zesty and tangy with a lot more juice taste than orange peel. They’re not at all fibery, though they did get stuck in my teeth.
The dark chocolate is smooth with a silky melt and well rounded flavor. There’s a little hint of bitterness to it, but it’s tempered by the woodsy but slightly drying ginger. I was hoping for a little warm kick from the ginger, but that never really formed.
Overall, it’s a very good bar, it’s also a crowd pleaser, in the sense that most folks will go for a fruity bar over a straight 70%. I like the package design and the added design elements on the bar mold now. It would be nice to see fewer ingredients on the list, but at least they’re all real things.
Though the bar gets high marks for being fair trade, Kosher, non-GMO and vegan, it is made on shared equipment with wheat, milk, almonds and hazelnuts.
Wednesday, November 2, 2011
Seth Ellis Chocolatier of Boulder, CO makes an interesting line of candy cups called Sun Cups. They’re nut free, gluten free, use all organic ingredients plus ethically source chocolate, no soy, no peanuts and is Kosher. They do contain dairy.
The first set of products they introduced were sunflower butter cups (hence the name Sun Cups) in milk chocolate and dark chocolate. This cup is accurately described by the name, they’re chocolate cups with a peppermint cream filling. They package is the same size and weight as Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups - 1.5 ounces (so 3/4 of an ounce per cup).
Their most recent addition to the line is their Sun Cups Dark Chocolate Mint Cups.
The packaging is dark and honestly looks a little more foreboding than most mint and chocolate candies I sample. The package is also compostable.
The cups are nicely made, perfectly level and with no cracks, scuffs, blemishes or oozing. The proportions inside the chocolate cups are very nicely done. Unlike some other cups I’ve had where there’s a strange chocolate hump on the bottom of the cup or too much top crust, these are consistent throughout.
The chocolate is crisp and nicely tempered. It’s deep and rich and only barely sweet, in fact, it’s downright bitter compared to the sweet center. The fondant filling is kind of strange. It’s not a smooth gooey sauce like the center of a Junior Mint or the crumbly slightly airy center of a York Peppermint Pattie. It’s soft, though stiff enough that it doesn’t flow. It’s grainy, but in a smooth and consistent way that frosting can be. The color is like turbinado sugar, natural but still clean looking. The filling is made from cream, sugar, peppermint oil and white chocolate. So there’s a light, creamy butter flavor to it along with a clean flavor of peppermint.
The mint doesn’t overpower the dark chocolate. Nothing can overpower the darkness of this chocolate, it has a slight dry bite to it that’s hard to overcome even with what feels like a pure sugar center.
I want to love these and I had no trouble eating both for the review, but I don’t feel like I’ll find myself in the right mood for something so intense again. I’m sure that there are some folks out there who have been longing for a really bitter peppermint pattie experience, so hopefully they’ll find these and keep the product line in business.
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, September 20, 2011
I found them at the Baywood/Los Osos Farmer’s Market where Danna J. Dykstra Coy sells them in all sorts of formats. She makes her vegan/gluten free cups from mostly organic ingredients and whenever possible, from locally grown produce. (The chocolate is from Guittard.) For a handcrafted confection, I found them very affordable. The peanut butter cups come in three different sizes. I opted for a box called the JoybittyBox 16 which has the medium sized cups with four each of the four different flavors. I paid $13.00 for my box of goodies, which I thought was pretty fair. I also picked up two of the large sized cups (like a traditional Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup size) for $3.00 for a pair.
The cups are tucked into the rather small, unbleached kraft paper box, stacked two deep. There are Traditional Peanut Butter, Olallieberry/Raspberry, Blueberry/Lemon and Local, Raw Honey. The design on the tops of the cups are just decorative, the only way to tell them apart is the color or design on the fluted paper cup.
Each little cup is about 3/4 of an inch across on the bottom, which is about the same as a foil wrapped Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup miniature. However, the top is like a spilled over, generous muffin top.
The most notable flavor of the set is the Peanut Butter & Olallieberry/Raspberry. The Olallieberry is very popular on the central coast. It’s a curious hybrid berry that’s best illustrated by this genealogical chart on Wikipedia. I’m going to start with that, because all of them effectively tasted like raspberries were somewhere nearby, even if some cups were seedless.
The peanut butter is soft and creamy, not at all dry. The seeds are large and a bit distracting, but at least tell me which variety I’m eating. The chocolate is smooth and creamy and a little cool on the tongue; though dark chocolate, it’s not too dry or intense for the combination. There are a few little crystals of sea salt in there too, which provide a strange little crunch a pop of flavor.
Traditional Peanut Butter lives up to the reputation of a tried and true comfort candy. The creamy chocolate, the salty peanut butter is all just about balanced. If I had any complaint, it was that biting into the pieces was difficult because the tops always smashed the rest of the cup, whether bitten right side up or upside down. If you find there’s too much chocolate for your ratio preference, it’s pretty easy to either pop the top off or nibble around the edges for an added treat.
Peanut Butter & Blueberry/Lemon is fresh tasting, the little hint of zest just gives it a little pop that goes well with the sea salt. The blueberry could easily be mistaken for the scent of the raspberry, as I didn’t notice any actual blueberry bits in this one but the slight note of iced tea was there that I always associate with blueberries.
Peanut Butter & Local, Raw Honey - honestly, I’m not sure which one this is. I tried two that were what I’d call plain. The one I think is the honey cup is much smoother. I didn’t get any honey notes on any of them but there was a buttery, beeswaxy note to it.
The big issue I had was figuring out what I was eating. The first few I knew what cup color I picked out, but later as there were fewer in the box, they tumbled out of their cups. It would make much more sense if the designs on the top said what they were.
I don’t know if I’d order these via the web, but that’s mostly because I have such issues getting chocolate in good condition in Los Angeles (it’s hot here and every delivery company seems to insist on driving my packages around in a hot vehicle for about 6 hours before delivering, even if it’s an overnight package). If I’m back in the area, I’d definitely find a way to hit the local shops or farmers market that carry these cups. They’re just different enough from the commercial fare and the fact that they’re ethically sourced makes the price tag seem inconsequential.
I’m going to say that these are all natural, however, I’m not certain about the colorings used in the transfer designs on the tops, so if you’re sensitive, ask first.
For the record, as far as the raspberries go, I’m most fond of Black Raspberries.
Monday, August 29, 2011
In my recent travels abroad I picked up a lot of chocolate bars. Here’s a brief little run down of three of them:
As a little reminder, I went to Amsterdam and Cologne earlier this year. There are flavors there that just aren’t very well known in North America. One of the new flavor trends that I noticed was Absinthe (I’ve seen a little of it in the United States but its influence in The Netherlands was a lot more ubiquitous).
So when I spotted this bar from the Chocolatier Marc Antoine called Edelbitter Absinth Truffle, I though it would be a perfect item to pick up as it would probably travel very well.
The box was stiff and nicely designed with the sickly green swirls of anise & wormwood liqueur. Inside the bar was in a simple cellophane sleeve but remarkably unscathed by its journey.
The bar was big and the pieces were chunky. The dark chocolate was glossy with large reservoirs of the dark chocolate truffle filling inside. The truffle was smooth and creamy and very soft, almost like a caramel sauce. The scent was definitely on the grassy fennel side of things, even before I bit into it. The dark chocolate was smooth and bitter though had a lot of cocoa notes mixed with a sharp and tangy anise. The truffle center had a lot of licorice flavors, very soft and fluffy notes that were sweet along with a little hint of eucalyptus and some other botanicals.
I wouldn’t call it a hallucinogenic experience, but it was a wonderful, strong herbal bar that I enjoy quite a bit. There as a little alcoholic burn to it but it was more like tequila.
Rating: 8 out of 10
The package was a big, flat square, about 4.5 inches. The box was pretty and featured raised and gold embossed lettering for the logo and the image on the front of a clay oven. The chocolate is described on the front a little more puro ciccolato fondente con fichi affumicati or “pure dark chocolate with smoked figs” - so it’s the figs in it that are smoked, not the chocolate itself.
The back of the package is in a bunch of different languages and featured notices about recycling but most importantly that Cuorenero does not use any dairy products other other major allergens, that means no gluten, no eggs, no soy, no peanuts, no nuts with hard shell (walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, etc.), no celery, no mustard, no sesame seeds, no sulfur dioxide, no lupines, no shellfish and no fish. On top of that, all their ingredients are GMO-free.
The ingredients were: cacao mass, sugar, cocoa butter, smoked fig pieces, sunflower lecithin and flavours.
The bar is beautiful, a thick circular slab sectioned into 16 wedges. The bar smelled like molasses, deep and sweet with a lot of notes of smoke, leather and pipe tobacco. The chocolate flavors were tangy and had notes of coffee and charcoal. The figs were little bits with the occasional seed. There were notes of dark rum, raisins and the grassy fresh notes of figs. The smoke flavors were like cognac and fine whiskey.
If you’re a chocolatier and looking for a new flavor combination, please try smoked, dried fruit in dark chocolate. Then let me know how I can buy some from you.
The bar was 60 grams (2.1 ounces) and I think I paid about $6 for it at the Cologne Chocolate Museum Gift Shop (I think it was 4 Euros). Cuorenero Website.
Rating: 10 out of 10
Zotter is a popular maker of fair trade candy bars in Austria. They’re crazy. If you think smoked figs are off the beaten path, you have not explored the uncharted wilderness of Zotter. I’ve had two of their bars before, Banana Curry and Zitrone Polenta. They’re fair trade and organic.
This was another bar that I picked up at the Cologne Chocolate Museums Gift Store (which was a phenomenal chocolate store, if you hadn’t figured that out). It’s Zotter Mandel - Rosen which is almond and rose. (I passed up the Peanuts & Chocolate bar.)
The bar is about 4.5 inches long and about 2 inches wide and weighs 70 grams (2.47 ounces). It’s thin, for a filled bar but rather dense.
Inside there are two fillings layers. The base is a creamy but rather solid almond paste and sandwiched in between two layers of that is a rose petal jelly (which seemed to have a touch of raspberry in it). This was a great flavor combination, classic and sure, a bit Victorian in sensibilities. I liked the delicate almond flavor (no screaming Amaretto here) and even the rose was light and had less of a soapy taste than some other floral flavors I’ve tried. It was fragrant and sweet with that light touch of berry to it.
It wasn’t as crazy bar but like the others I’ve profiled here, it’s unusual for American tastes. It’s not the kind of candy you can get addicted to, it’s hard to find and the flavors come in and out of production. Check out their website.
Rating: 8 out of 10
Wednesday, August 3, 2011
The company also introduced a line of sugar free, all natural mints called Minteas recently that come in these attractive leaf shaped (or surfboard, take your pick) tins. They’re also expensive, but a little more affordable considering the number of servings in the $2 package. I picked out the Minteas Retreat: Lemongrass Yuzu.
The bottom of the tin says: Get away with the soothing calm of wild-crafted lemongrass and the comforting citrus of Japanese yuzu. Relaxing chamomile offers the perfect antidote to stress. A sanctuary for the senses.
The tin says that they use organic botanicals and fair trade certified, organic white tea. (The fair trade tea is a minor component in the ingredients, the second to the last element, right before calcium stearate. There is also some plain old organic green tea in there.) They’re sweetened with sorbitol and xylitol, natural sugar alcohols that feel cool on the tongue and have fewer calories per gram than regular sugars.
The scent of the candies is quite nice, if you like Murphy’s Oil Soap or other citrus based cleaning products and candles, you’ll love this. Each little leaf shaped piece is a little longer than a half an inch. The pressed tablet candy dissolves or crunches, depending on your eating style.
The first thing I get is a sharp, bitter zest note. It’s not quite lemon and not quite grapefruit. It’s yuzu, which is a Japanese citrus similar to a grapefruit in its flavor components, only it’s usually the size of a lemon or orange and costs about $30 a pound here in Los Angeles. There are more floral blossom notes to it than just oily zest.
The little mint has a slight lemongrass note as well, which is kind of gingery and soft. There are other herbal and tea flavors in there, some green tea, which might also contribute some of the bitterness and soapy notes and chamomile, which always reminds me of catnip.
As far as “mints” go, these do have a long lasting flavor, a sort of jasmine freshness that lingers after the candy is gone. But the flavor while it’s in my mouth is a bit bitter, a little too much for me.
The package says that the product was designed in the USA but made in China. However the website says that the “source” of the ingredients is Egypt for the chamomile (ingredient #5 on the list) and Japan for the yuzu (not specifically listed as an ingredient, but probably is part of the “natural flavors” of ingredient #3. I feel misled about their transparency. If they’re going to say that something contains fair trade and/or organic ingredients, I also want to know where all the other ingredients come from. The website says they’re gluten free but makes no mention of their vegetarian/vegan status or any nuts or other allergens.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.