Wednesday, February 9, 2011
Chuao is a small village in Venezuela, but to chocolate aficionados is the name for criollo cocoa beans from the area. Casey at The Chocolate Note has some wonderful coverage and photos.
For many years Amadei (Italy) had an exclusive deal for the beans from the region, so the only chocolate made from them was Amadei’s Chuao bars. The bars were hard to find and of course quite expensive (though bars from Chocolat Bonnat existed, that’s kind of another story). And of course there was just the one company’s concept of what was best about the beans (from the fermentation to the roasting & conching). Amadei is no longer the only purveyor of the coveted beans. I picked up three different bars from three different countries to see how they created a chocolate bar from the esteemed cacao: Chocolat Bonnat (France), Amano (USA) and Coppeneur (Germany).
The Chocolat Bonnat Chuao bar is the largest of the group, a generous 100 gram bar (3.5 ounces). It’s 75% cacao and Kosher. There are only three ingredients in the bar: cacao, cocoa butter and sugar. No emulsifiers like soy lecithin and no vanilla.
The packaging is simple and the same as all the other Bonnat bars I’ve had. It’s a large bar with petite but thick rectangular segments. It’s wrapped in a simple paper-backed foil which is then covered in a simple glossy, embossed paper sleeve.
The bar has a beautiful sheen, a light touch of red to the brown color and though the photo makes it look a creamy color, it’s really quite dark.
The scent is rather earthy with a few green notes like olives. The melt is exquisite, smooth and thick without being chalky or dry. The chocolate is flavorful, angled mostly towards the deep flavors like smoke, coffee, dried cherries and molasses. There are some slight mineral notes, like iron. While it sounds like this would be heavy and rich, it still comes off a little lighter than that, mostly because of the texture and a lighter acidity. There’s a trace of bitterness towards the end but nothing distracting, more like a finish of a citrus marmalade.
I’m already quite fond of Coppeneur. From the packaging, which is this smart little matte black “wallet” that’s sealed with a dot of wax to the beautiful design of the bar’s mold. I’ve bought several of their Ocumare bars in the past (straight dark chocolate and Mit Chili & Cacao-Nibs) but never wrote about them. They’re difficult to find in the United States, I’ve been buying my bars at Fog City News in San Francisco.
Like the Bonnat bar, the Coppeneur Chuao Dunkle Schokolade is made only with cacao mass and sugar. There is no added soy lecithin or vanilla. This bar is 70% and comes in a 50 gram tablet (about 1.76 ounces).
The bar has a similar red hue. The format of the bar is different from both the Bonnat and Amano, so I photographed them together. It’s quite thin but has an excellent snap to it.
The initial melt is quick and smooth but the thing I noticed first was the raisin flavors and light tangy notes. Though it’s only 70% instead of the 75% of the Bonnat, it’s not sweeter though perhaps a little more acidic and has a dry finish. Though most of the flavor notes were overwhelmingly fruity, like prunes and raisins and dried cherries there were some light roasted notes of pecans. Towards the end, the flavors got deeper with notes of toffee, leather and tobacco.
There were a couple of little gritty bits, this bar is a 70 hour conch. I have another set of bars from Coppeneur that I got in Germany that are paired: a 70 hour conch and a 100 hour conch. I’ll be trying those soon.
This bar comes in the same package style as the other Amanos, a slim and glossy box. The bars are 2 ounces (56 grams) and wrapped in a sturdy gold foil. This bar differs from the other two in the ingredients: cocoa beans, sugar, cocoa butter and vanilla beans. So I was curious what the vanilla beans would contribute to the profile of the Chuao cacao. The cacao content is 70% and is Kosher (note that it’s also made in a facility with nuts, peanuts, dairy & soy present).
I find the size and format of the bar to be ideal for the way that I like to each dark chocolate. The bar is thick, but not so thick that a lot of chewing is necessary. The segments are a great size for a single taste and the foil is of good quality for rewrapping and saving for later.
The first flavors I got were woodsy and green with a little citrus peel twang in there of grapefruit. The melt is smooth but a little more gritty and sugary than the previous two bars ... and when I say gritty, that’s just a comparison. Taken by itself I don’t know if many folks would notice. The vanilla is noticeable in the flavor profile, I definitely got some oak cask and cognac flavors in there and the finish has that vanilla note and the freshness of white tea. There are more floral notes, like orange blossom and jasmine. But there’s also a kind of volatile quality, a sort of burn like orange oil can give after a while.
I’ve been nibbling and formulating my tasting notes for these bars for about two months. I traveled with the bars, taking them all the way to Europe and back. The Venezuelan Chuao beans are extraordinary and very expensive. They create a wonderful chocolate, apparently every chocolate maker is able to do something extraordinary and unique with the beans. The price is prohibitive though and in some ways it makes me question spending that much on a bar ... the Chuao bars are usually priced 20-25% more than the other bars in that company’s line - so my Coppeneur bar was $8, where a regular single origin bar from them would be $6 and these are only 50 grams to begin with.
My final conclusion is that everyone makes a wonderful chocolate bar from these beans. But I’ve also been very impressed with each of these company’s chocolate bars made with other less expensive beans, they’re simply good chocolate makers. I’m not convinced that the chocolate bars are worth the premium for these beans in particular, but fans of chocolate in general should try at least one of the bars made from Chuao beans as a point of reference. Personally, I’m not afraid to go back to blended bean bars, which offer a good balance of consistency of flavor over they years and affordability. But with some folks, once you go Chuao you never go back.
Friday, December 17, 2010
I found the Divine Milk Chocolate with Spiced Cookies while in San Francisco last month. It seemed like the perfect place to pick up a limited edition bar for the winter season, as San Francisco always seems to be cold when I’m there.
I usually like the Divine packages; I like the simplicity and flexibility of the icons on the solid color field. The designs are color coded so it’s easy to pick out your favorite on a crowded shelf at the store. This breaks with that tradition and the wrapper sports a shiny red ribbon and bow. Not a pretty hand tied bow, but one of those cheap stick on bows. The design is done with a bit of tromp l’oiel that just ruins it because of the violation of scale.
The bar is made of mostly fair trade ingredients (the chocolate and the sugar) and is all natural though not organic.
The bar is soft, both because the cookies are crumbly and the milk chocolate isn’t quite as crisp as some. The chocolate has a very strong yogurty-dairy flavor to it, a little on the side of cheese even. I’m not keep on this more earthy and grassy flavor of milk chocolate. The chocolate melt is also a bit thick and sticky but very smooth. The cookies are quite good and have a well rounded flavor profile with a hint of ginger, black pepper, a graham cracker base and a hint of salt.
I liked it and eventually finished the bar (with a little help) but I don’t think this is quite for me. It’s a good candy bar that uses fair trade chocolate, but it’s not what I’d consider a good chocolate bar. The spiced cookies are a nice change from crisped rice and plain ginger, but not quite enough for me to wish that they’d make this bar all year round.
Tuesday, October 12, 2010
The package calls it the Finest Assortment of European Chocolates. They’re priced pretty well for an upscale styled hostess gift, I paid $5.29 for my box that weighs 8.8 ounces (that’s less than $10 a pound). The ingredients are heavy on the sugar and milk and a bit lighter on the cacao content, but it’s all real chocolate in there.
I picked these up mostly because I’ve never reviewed them. But I was also curious if there was a difference between these and the newer Werther’s Chocolates.
The assortment comes in a smart and spare little box. It’s made of thin card but styled to fit the sticks perfectly. There are 20 but only 7 varieties ... so the breakdown was a little odd for my tastes:
The little bars are three inches long and 3/4 of an inch wide. There’s a little score in the center to snap them in half easily. All are imprinted with the word Merci on each segment.
I didn’t take an individual shot of this one. It’s a milk chocolate bar, the wrapper has a purple band on it. The filling is a sweet cocoa paste that’s rather truffle like. It’s all quite buttery and melts well, there’s even a slight hint of salt to it. It didn’t do much for me, there’s something missing, probably a stronger chocolate note.
The focus on this piece is milk. Actually, it’s more like butter. The melt is silky smooth and quick with a slight grain to it. The dominant flavors are powdered milk, caramelized sugar and a light note of cocoa.
It’s a milk chocolate bar with a filling of sweet, milky hazelnut paste. It’s very sweet but has a good grassy and roasted flavor of hazelnuts to it. I’d probably prefer it in dark chocolate ... but then again if I were really looking for a gianduia fix I’d go for some Caffarel. It’s definitely rib-sticking.
Coffee and Cream
This was far and away my favorite. It smells like freshly ground coffee. There are two layers, a dark chocolate and a white chocolate base. The coffee is far and away the strongest flavor, so much so that I couldn’t really detect any chocolate notes in there. The texture is smooth and has an excellent melt that’s a bit firmer than the milk chocolate varieties. The coffee is bold with a light acidic note and a hint of charcoal and toffee.
The Dark Mousse is dark chocolate filled with a chocolate cream. The bar was beautiful looking, glossy and nicely tempered. The chocolate has strong berry notes with a little hint of black pepper and raisins. The mousse filling was a little more of a paste than a cream but wasn’t very sweet, it was like a good chocolate frosting. The whole thing had a lightly dry finish to it.
I was confused at this point about the difference between Dark Cream and Dark Mousse. Dark Cream was more like a dark bar, no filling as far as I could tell.
The flavor was like a dark milk chocolate, there were strong dairy notes, something I didn’t get at all from the Dark Mousse. It wasn’t as sticky or sweet as the milk chocolate and also had a hint of a dry finish to it without being chalky. It was firmer than the nut and milk versions of the little bars, but it was still pretty soft and melted quickly into a puddle in my mouth. (It was not swirled though like the Werther’s Dark Cream was.)
This was my second favorite variety. As far as I can tell it’s just the milk chocolate with crushed almonds and hazelnuts. The scent is still sweet and milky but has a great roasted nut flavor. The little nibs of nuts are chewy and fresh - mostly hazelnut comes through.
I enjoyed these, though I hesitate to say that they’d satisfy any of my strong chocolate cravings. This had a wonderful texture and luxurious melt, but not a lot of cocoa punch. I see them more as accompaniments than stand alone treats.
Each stick is about 73 calories (it does depend on the variety) and features 14% of your recommended daily allowance of saturated fats. (But there’s also a bit of protein, calcium & iron in there.) There are also a lot of allergens in here. The only ones that aren’t listed are eggs and of course shellfish.
As for the Werther’s Chocolates that Storck also makes ... I don’t see any reason to pick those up instead of these unless you’re only going by price. The ingredients seem a bit better, I like the packaging and the fact that you get a variety in the box is a plus in my mind (though if you don’t like all the flavors that’s a negative). They really are a great hostess gift and a nice item to have on hand to serve with coffee or dessert. A little stack along with some cookies would make an excellent little treat without being too fussy. And the word Merci doesn’t hurt, everyone enjoys a little thank you.
Monday, September 20, 2010
Last week I reviewed the Werther’s Original CaraMelts which were a buttery flavored white confection. I found them confusing and disappointing. But I had hopes that Storck who makes the Merci Chocolates and Chocolate Riesen caramels could do chocolate well.
So I picked up these Werther’s Original Caramel Chocolates Dark Cream. They’re billed as Rich European Cream Chocolate Marbled with Smooth Creamy Caramel. That marbling of smooth creamy caramel had me worried, as I don’t think that you can mix caramel and chocolate together to make a chocolate-like product, it yields something more like a caramel product.
The ingredients sounded pretty good - there’s a lot of milk in there in various forms, but none of the weird tropical oils that I experienced in the CaraMelts.
The pieces are just like the CaraMelts and pretty much the same as the traditional Werther’s Original hard caramel pieces. They’re ovals about 1.25 inches long and a little under an inch wide. They have an attractive swirl of two kinds of chocolate, a dark milk chocolate and a white chocolate along with a hefty extra dose of cocoa. They’re wrapped in little twisted plastic with maroon color coded ends.
I loved the look of the swirly pattern, each piece was different and the swirls go all the way through the chocolate piece (not like some Hershey’s Kisses that just have stripes on the surface).
But let me back up a little bit here for a moment. When I was a teenager I was obsessed with candy. As I got older I found ways of getting money to buy it, but there was a certain lattitude in the house when I was growing up that sweets that you made were more permissible. So to ease a craving I would actually make candy or cookies. And sometimes I would make frosting. Just frosting and eat it. At first making frosting involved a recipe (and sometimes the smearing of the result on Ritz crackers, Saltines or bread). Later frosting was simply: butter, powdered sugar and cocoa. Cream until smooth and consume from the same dish. If there was no cocoa in the house, vanilla frosting would result. (Other variations of desperation would be brown sugar & butter, sometimes with peanut butter.)
The point of that story is that I’ve eaten a lot of butter mixed with cocoa. Pounds of it. I’m very familiar with the mouth feel, smell and the taste of it. The Dark Cream Caramel Chocolates are like chocolate butter. If that’s what you want, well, here it is. The melt is quick and smooth. There’s a buttery taste to it, but more of a clean dairy note than a powdered milk or yogurty tang. It’s certainly not at all fake tasting either. There’s a light salty note, like cocoa often has. They’re slick when melting, but not in a thin or greasy way.
In short, they’re very fatty. The cocoa flavors are well rounded, mostly woodsy, brownie-like with a little coffee note. But they’re cocoa flavors, I don’t quite get actual chocolate from it.
I liked them quite a bit, much more than I thought I would for a product that has, by my calculations, 170 calories per ounce. (Most chocolate is about 145 or so.) There’s also a lot of cholesterol in there for something called Dark Cream (I guess that’s the cream part) - 10 mg. But all that milk also gives the serving of 7 pieces (240 calories) 3 grams of protein, 10% of your RDA of Iron and 6% of your Calcium.
I like their packaging, as I’ve mentioned before, it’s spare and light but still protects the candy. It’s made in facility with all the major allergens: wheat, soy, milk, tree nuts, peanuts. (No eggs mentioned.)
Wednesday, September 8, 2010
I like the bag, it’s a little gusseted mylar/plastic bag that stands up easily. There’s not a lot of extra air or weight to it, so it seems efficient but still inviting and durable.
The package says that they’re Soft Creamy Caramel that Melts in Your Mouth. I didn’t know what that meant because the image on the front was just a drawing, not a photo of the actual product. The ingredients list didn’t actually sound that tasty: Sugar, Vegetable Fat (from one or more of the following: Sheanut Oil, Illipe Butter, Mango Oil, Sal Oil, Palm Oil), Cream Powder, Sweet Whey Powder, Butter Fat, Maltodextrin, Skim Milk Powder, Fat Reduced Cocoa, Soy Lecithin, Caramel Sugar Syrup, Artificial Flavor, Salt.
It sounds like some sort of artificial coffee creamer.
The pieces inside are individually wrapped and look a lot like other Werther’s Original Caramel products. Each was well protected and emerged looking in good condition.
The pieces are odd. They’re stocky oval swirls of solid “white confection” in some sort of butter toffee flavor. I was thinking they’d be like butterscotch baking chips. The color is kind of dead - it’s not yellow (or even artificially colored at all) but more of a that grayish color that some people turn before they faint. They’re shiny, but not slick looking. The color reminds me of support stockings.
The smell is, well, buttery. It’s fake but not like the Buttered Popcorn Jelly Belly. It’s pleasant and not overwhelming. There’s a lot of milky dairy notes to it, and guessing from the ingredients that’s an authentic scent. The bite is like a white chocolate confection. It’s quite smooth but lacks a good melt - it’s like the melting point is a little too high for the human mouth. So it’s vaguely waxy and greasy at the same time. The flavor is lightly salted and buttery with a toffee and caramel note.
I just can’t figure out why I’d want to eat these, unless I was looking to put on weight and perhaps get some calcium (8% of your RDA in 7 pieces). They’re not too sweet, but also just not very satisfying for any of the cravings I get on a regular basis.
I like the classic Werther’s products, but their diversion into chocolate products (I don’t know what to even call this) is hugely disappointing. I think the best caramel product Storck makes is Reisen.
Wednesday, September 1, 2010
As if Ritter Sport doesn’t have a large enough repertoire of bars, they have been introducing seasonally-themed limited editions. I tried the Fruhlingsspezialitaten 2010 that I found at a local import shop earlier this year. They included Haselnuss Krokant, Cashew in Alpenmilch and Bourbon Vanille. The summer versions were not so easy to find in the States but some Ritter Sport folks were happy to help me out with some samples. The summer flavors were: Stracciatella, Pfirsich-Maracuja Joghurt and Waldbeer Joghurt.
The Stracciatella features 37% cacao milk chocolate and a bourbon vanilla cream filling with chocolate bits.
It’s been many years since I’ve had real Stracciatella, which is a gelato (Italian ice cream) with stripes of chocolate that form little crunchy flakes or chips. In my experience it was usually dark chocolate.
I recall being excited by the spring version of Bourbon Vanille, but then disappointed by the lack of rum-laden vanilla notes. Here too I thought that the kind of fudgy vanilla cream center was a little bland. It’s not fatty and doesn’t quite melt in my mouth. It also isn’t very flavorful ... but also not very sweet or sticky. The little chips in it are small and don’t really add much flavor to it. I think I would have been really happy if this was a dark chocolate bar, I think that’s the kick it needs - some really rich dark chocolate. However, plain vanilla ice cream with chocolate chips has never been a favorite flavor of mine, so this might be the perfect bar for folks who do like that.
Ritter Sport is also big on yogurt. I’ve tried their Yogurt, Strawberry Yogurt and Olympia bars before. The only other country that I’ve noticed with such a fanaticism for yogurt flavored candy is Japan.
The Pfirsich-Maracuja Joghurt is a white chocolate shell with a peach and passion fruit yogurt cream center. There are also little rice flakes thrown in there for texture and crunch.
The bar is simple and plain, a soft and creamy yellow/white chocolate bar.
When I saw the reviews of this bar, I really wasn’t interested. I like real peaches and I find passion fruit okay but not my favorite. So a white chocolate bar flavored with these ... along with yogurt (which is good stuff but not exactly a candy flavoring), well, I just didn’t think they could pull it off.
But they did! It’s utterly surprising. It smells like passion fruit - a tangy and sharp floral and tropical scent that goes well with the dairy yogurt note. The peach is a faint pine and pear whiff in the background. The white chocolate is sweet but rather smooth. The rice flakes give it a little crunch, like there are freeze dried fruit bits in there. It’s milky but mostly fruity.
I wouldn’t buy this often, but I do see its appeal and I’m glad that Ritter Sport is taking a few risks with outside the box flavors in their limited editions.
The Ritter Sport Waldbeer Joghurt seemed positively the tamest and safest flavor of the bunch. Waldbeer is forest fruits, or basically mixed berries. The package shows blackberries, blueberries and strawberries.
The format is similar to the Pfirsich-Maracuja Jogurt in that it’s a yogurt cream center flavored with fruit and studded with little crisped rice flakes. The chocolate on this bar is milk. At first glance it didn’t seem that different from the classic Strawberry Yogurt bar that Ritter Sport is already known for.
It smells nice, exactly like berry yogurt - there’s the floral notes of the berries and the dairy twang of the yogurt.
The flavors are pleasant and the yogurt takes a back seat as the berry flavors come forward. The milk chocolate is smooth and give a slight dairy contribution, but also keeps the whole thing from getting too sweet. The rice flakes have a little crunch, but there are also little bits of freeze dried berry in here too, so sometimes they’re tangy and sometimes they’re more of a light malty cereal flavor.
Overall it’s decent. Munchable and satisfying, but not quite what I’d find myself craving. These may be available online at shops like GermanDeli.com and eBay.com.
Don’t take my opinion as gospel, see: Gigi Reviews Waldbeer Yogurt, Cinabar reviews Waldbeer Yogurt, Candyholic (German) reviews Waldbeer Yogurt and Stracciatella, ZOMGCandy reviews Stracciatella, It’s All About Limited Edition reviews Stracciatella and Jim’s Chocolate Mission reviews Stracciatella and Summer Limited Editions in Mini form.
Tuesday, August 17, 2010
I enjoy following candy companies on Twitter and visiting their Facebook pages; they often point out interesting information about products and manufacturing that I wouldn’t have known about on their websites.
Last week Ritter Sport mentioned an article about the nine different kinds of chocolate. That’s not different bars, that’s nine different kinds of chocolate used for different purposes in their wide variety of bars, including four different milk chocolates.
Last week I also got a package from the Ritter Sport representatives in the United States of some of their new bars and even a few Europe-only varieties. The Ritter Sport Olympia is one of those bars not available in the United States. It was first introduced in the 1980 to coincide with the Olympics. Then it was brought back last year. It’s an interesting description for a bar: Joghurt - Honig - Nuss - Traubenzucker which is Yogurt - Honey - Hazelnuts - Grape Sugar.
The bar looks like most other Ritter Sport bars. 100 grams in a 4x4 array of pieces. Easy to portion and nicely sized bites.
The bar simply smells sweet and a little like cocoa breakfast cereal. There’s no hint of the honey or hazelnuts within.
Biting it, I was immediately struck with the taste of tangy goat cheese. It wasn’t a great initial flavor, it was like it was a little salty and gamey. But I kept at it, you know, because this is my job.
The milk chocolate is completely dominated by the dairy notes of the yogurt cream center. The cream is soft and fudgy, but pretty creamy overall. There’s a tangy note to it, like, well yogurt or buttermilk/sour cream. There are two kinds of crunches studded within - little bits of hazelnut and then little honeycomb crunches. There’s a light hint of honey from time to time that lingers at the end.
It’s vastly different from anything I’ve had in the United States but it reminds me of some of the dairy heavy Kinder products (though they’re rarely yogurty). It was hearty and satisfying and not too sweet. I liked the idea that it was like a Greek yogurt candy bar, but then I remembered, I like the idea of the Greek yogurt lifestyle more than the actuality. I can see why this isn’t sold in the US, but it might be fun for them to release it as a Limited Edition during Olympics years.
Thursday, August 5, 2010
On my recent trip to Ohio I was delighted to visit the local Aldi twice. I was worried there wouldn’t be much candy in the summertime, as I know that Christmas and Easter are the best time to visit Aldi’s candy section. I wasn’t disappointed with the variety of candy. I’ll have coverage in the coming weeks of many of my finds, but first the one that I was most excited about: Choceur Chocolate Crisp Bars.
This cute box holds a compact stack of little chocolate covered wafers with hazelnut creme. There are 10 little bars in there, each portion is two bars, but each finger is only 95 calories for those watching their tally.
The package describes them as crisp wafers and hazelnut creme covered in fine milk chocolate. What that amounts to is a hazelnut KitKat knock-off.
The little fingers are nicely wrapped in a stiff paper-backed foil. They’re 4.5 inches long and about .75 inches wide. They pieces are in three distinct segments though each of those is more than a bite.
I admit that I had a little trouble with keeping these from the heat. (No air conditioning for the first five days of my trip.) My other goods did fine, but for some reason the way I packed these wasn’t insulated enough. However, the texture and consistency is unmarred.
They smell slightly toasty and sweet with a little milky note. The bite is soft and very crispy. The hazelnut cream is a lot more forward than the cream filling in KitKats. The cream is in between the wafer layers (looks like only two layers instead of KitKat’s three) but also heaped under the domed top, too. The milk chocolate coating is sweet and has that European dairy twang to it. The crispy wafers are light and flavorless which allows the hazelnut cream to be the most recognizable note. There’s also a slight malty flavor to it all. The crisp and airy wafers along with the slightly sticky-sweet chocolate actually makes a good combination. A single bar isn’t quite enough to satisfy on its own, but again, two are the recommended dosage.
The price is great, they’re $1.79 for the box of 10, which means that each bar is about 18 cents. That’s a crazy good deal for a real chocolate product. (It also says on the package that there are no preservatives or artificial colors - but it’s not like it’s all natural or a particularly great list of ingredients which include fake vanilla and palm oil, albeit low on the list.)
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.