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.
Friday, June 2, 2006
All the upscale chocolate bar makers are doing single origin bars lately. I was pretty excited about the Dagoba bars, because they’re organic and they’re ethically traded (some is Fair Trade Certified). I’ve enjoyed Dagoba chocolate in the past and my only complaint really has been that they’re skimpy on the inclusions when they feature nuts or fruit.
I’ve not seen this array of tasting squares in stores, so I ordered it online.
The assortment contains four each of the Pacuare and Los Rios, and only two of the Milagros. The little tasting squares are 9 grams each and have the same design on them - a set of crossing lines and then a little V with some leaves, which I’m guessing signifies varietal.
Pacuare - Costa Rican Trinitario (68%) - lovely medium chocolate brown tones with a good snap and instant melt on the tongue. Strong smoky & toasted notes and tart bite. There are some interesting charcoal elements with a little bit of a pepper burn right before the finish. The acidity is only noticeable at the start and it finishes quite sweet.
Los Rios - Ecuador Arriba (68%) - dark and lustrous. Immediate coffee notes with a good buttery melt. Rather Sweet and not too acidic but a strongly dry finish. The oddest flavor note I found in this bar (consistently across several of the squares) was an olive note. I thought I was nuts at first but with four bars to try, I noticed it on two of them.
Milagros - Peruvian Amazonia (68%) - wonderfully buttery with some notes of cinnamon and raisin. A nice dry finish with a little tart, acidic bite. The smoothest of the bunch. (This variety is certified Fair Trade.)
Overall the buttery quality and smoothness of the chocolate shines on these. Not at all chalky, they are a bit on the sweet side. I wouldn’t be adverse to seeing these bumped up to 70% cacao and just reduce the sugar not the cocoa butter.
The texture and taste on these feels much more accessible than some of the Scharffen Berger, Chocovic or E. Guittard. I haven’t done a head to head mixing brands yet, but maybe someday.
The tasting squares option is expensive, but you can get the larger bar assortment if you’re not looking to share.
Note: Dagoba did recall some of their chocolate recently due to lead content and the Los Rios 68% part of the single origins line was part of the recall. It appears that the lead contamination happened somewhere in the supply chain (the cacao), not in the manufacturing. Los Rios is not available yet (as far as I’ve seen) but the other affected lines like Eclipse are just getting back on shelves now.
Monday, May 29, 2006
In honor of the Memorial Day Holiday, I thought I’d do a candy that you usually find when you’re at a big summer event. Cotton Candy is one of those treats that I think most of us enjoy on the midway at the fair or other vacation spots. I’ve never bought cotton candy (or candy floss as the Brits and Canadians call it) for home consumption.
Pure Fun’s candy floss has a unique twist - it’s organic and all natural. That’s right, it’s made from pure, organically farmed cane sugar and a touch of natural flavoring/colors. They also make note that it’s vegan, which is kind of funny because I’ve never had cotton candy made with animal products before (I know some vegans take exception to commercially processed sugar because it might be filtered through charcoal that might contain animal bones).
The packaging also bills that there are no trans fats and no cholesterol. Well, I’m sorry, but DUH! I’m not sure who doesn’t know that cotton candy is spun sugar and how could it have any fats - good, bad, trans or otherwise? It’s also low in sodium, why isn’t that on the label? But the important thing is that this 1.5 liter tub contains only 2.12 ounces of sugar. I was watching Unwrapped over the weekend and one segment mentioned that good cotton candy is 80% air. You can eat the whole tub and it’s only 240 calories (all carbs though).
One serving is said to be a quarter of the tub. Which was actually a satisfying amount for me. I’m not sure if you could put a tub like this in front of a kid and expect them to eat only a portion. Of course, I’m not sure how you’d “serve” it otherwise ... take out the scissors and cut off a quarter of it and put it on a plate?
Okay, enough of the snarking. They were nice enough to send me five tubs containing four flavors ... so let’s get to it!
Canadian Maple - this was pure genius! How could there not be a maple cotton candy before now? It’s a natural flavor combo and the taste is insanely good. Woodsy and sweet and of course the texture of the fluffed sugar is sublime. This one had the best texture of the four, ultra smooth and superfine. Since they gave me two tubs of this, I took one next door and everyone thought it was “expletive-deleted-good.” By far this was everyone’s favorite who tried them all (including me).
Root Beer - I was expecting something subtle here, as cotton candy isn’t really known for “flavor” but the root beer here was intense. A good, slight, wintergreen burn after it dissolved kept me eating more and more of it. It’s like a spun root beer barrel!
Licorice - I’m not sure how this is going to go over with other people, but I thought this was an excellent flavor. It smelled a little medicinal, but on the tongue it was great. It was like a black jelly bean, except my tongue didn’t change color and there are no sticky bits stuck in my teeth. It’s a lovely
Bubble Gum - I’d heard about this before and so I saved it for last. It doesn’t smell quite right and looks an awful lot like insulation. A little musty odor combines with the sweet sugar. Holy Moly it’s bad. I don’t know why it’s bad and I’m not sure I want to know, but the taste is off. Bubble gum flavor (as in Bazooka) has always had a little wintergreen hint in my mind and then there are bubble gum flavors that are a little fruity like JuicyFruit ... this was neither. This was just a jumble of bad associations wrapped up in sweet. Pure Fun needs to dump this flavor or seriously reformulate. If I hadn’t read other reviews of this flavor, I would have thought I had a bad batch.
They make one other flavor, Cinnamon, that wasn’t in my assortment, but if it’s as good as the Root Beer, I’m on board. Their website even has recipes for using candy floss as a pie topper, for sundaes and even in martinis.
I don’t think that pure sugar can ever be considered a health food, but without the addition of preservatives, artificial flavors or colors as well as their organic, vegan and Kosher certifications, Pure Fun has removed any trepidation anyone might have for buying a cool and sweet indulgence. The smallish tub also controls portions. I honestly didn’t think I would like this as much as I did, but I’ve found myself sneaking little bits of fluff over the past few days of all three of the good flavors.
The only issue at the moment is where to buy this fluff. They’re not in stores yet (or at least not according to their website) and everyone who has tasted it has found it via a show of some sort (Candy Expo Toronto or Fancy Food Expo). They don’t even sell it directly through their website. I’ll try to post an update when I hear that it’s for sale. I don’t even know what the expected price is for one of the tubs. I’d be willing to pay as much as $4 for it.
UPDATE: I almost forgot, check out the Candy Critic - he’s also gotten a hold of some, and you can see how he does his reviews (which really isn’t that different from how I do mine).
POSTED BY Cybele AT 7:18 am
Wednesday, May 24, 2006
After my rave review of Green & Black’s White Chocolate (which surprised even me) I got an email from a representative of Green & Black’s asking if I’d tried their Ginger bar. They were reading the blog and knew how much I loved ginger! Of course when I said I hadn’t seen it in the store yet (Target has a rather limited selection), she offered to send me some. (And some other bars which I’ll review in the coming weeks.)
It’s a beautiful bar, with the same simple foil wrapping cloaked in a paper wrapper. The bar was shiny with small sections that gave a good snap. It smelled distinctly smoky and earthy. The dark chocolate is 60% cocoa content.
The first flavors I noticed when letting the chocolate melt on my tongue were a rather tart lemon and then a lingering burn of black pepper. Later the rooty, earthen flavors emerged, giving the bar more of a ginger flavor than a chocolate one.
The crystallization of the ginger gives the bar a more distinct graininess. It’s also rather sweet. I liked the spicy burn, and I found it very munchable, but the acidity kind of bothered me after a while. (But I have been eating a lot of pineapple lately and may be working with a disadvantaged tongue.)
The integration of the two flavors and textures isn’t quite right for me. Don’t get me wrong, it’s tasty, but I really wanted more essence of ginger and less graininess and of course more of the creaminess and flavors of the chocolate. I do like how generous they are with the ginger, much better than the ratios in the Dagoba chocolate bars I’ve had (their Chai bar has scant ginger content). I still favor the panned ginger chocolate pieces that I’ve been getting at Trader Joe’s, but if you don’t have access to those, this would be a good fallback treat.
I have a few more bars that they sent me to try, so I’ll be adding those to the site within the next couple of weeks. On my list is their Caramel, 70% Dark, Hazelnut & Currant and Espresso.
Thursday, April 13, 2006
Last fall I got to try Equal Exchange Chocolate. The company has done a good job of balancing respectful business practices with making a good product.
I was excited about these miniatures - the other bars I tried were 3.5 ounces, which is rather sizeable bar. I like a lot of variety in my candy so small pieces (even if I buy a lot of them) help me to maintain my portion control and get some variation. These wee little buddies are only .16 ounces each.
What’s also different about these little bars is that they’re 55% cocoa solids. The other versions of theirs I tried were 70% cocoa in the dark and the 55% had almonds in it. The almond bar I tried really reminded me of the Chocovic Ocumare.
Without the almonds of course I can concentrate more on the chocolate itself. The first thing I notice, besides the beautiful dark glossy sheen, is that it’s sweeter on the tongue. The scent is slightly acidic by very chocolatey. The bar melts quickly on the tongue, releasing some very nice light fruit notes of apricot and cherry blossom. It’s a well rounded chocolate but not too complex and not at all acidic. In my opinion, because of the sweet start, this is a dark bar children might like.
The only bad thing about these is that you have to buy them by the case if you want them direct from Equal Exchange. They’re about $18 a pound. However, if I were planning a wedding or large event where I wanted to send a tasty message in a little favor, this might be a good choice. You also may start seeing these more at Whole Foods and other retailers as they grow. I actually like this chocolate better than the Endangered Species - the buttery quality and smoothness of the chocolate feels more decadent (if you can feel decadent with a fair trade, organic, kosher, all natural product).
If you’re interested in ordering, they don’t ship when the weather is warm, so if you don’t get it this month you’ll have to wait until the fall.
Tuesday, March 7, 2006
I don’t know what came over me. I bought a bar of white chocolate. I know there are purists out there who don’t think that white chocolate is chocolate at all. But if the stuff that is called mockolate (cocoa solids and hydrogenated or palm oils) can’t be called chocolate because it’s lacking cocoa butter, then this stuff that has cocoa butter but not the cocoa solids can at least be called white chocolate.
Each year, as Easter gets closer, against my better judgment I want white chocolate. I don’t actually like white chocolate, it’s usually so sweet it makes my throat hurt and has some sort of electrical effect on my fillings so as to give me a jolt. But there it is, I get to craving it.
I know it has to do with those molded chocolates that my paternal grandmother used to put out on display at Easter. Little bunnies and molded white chocolate baskets filled with different colored white chocolate lollipops. It always smelled of vanilla, sugar and jelly beans ... far sweeter than anything had a right to be. It was like it was some sort of super-dense sugar confection. I’ve mentioned candy season before, and it’s important to note that Easter is the final holiday in Candy Season - so it’s probably the reason that I felt the need to gorge on the highest sugar content products available to me.
But I’d heard that the Green & Black’s Creamy Vanilla White Chocolate Bar was different. So, I bought one at Whole Foods. Rationalizing the whole time that I was doing it for you, dear readers. I was taking the white chocolate bullet for you, so that you might avoid it.
I opened the wrapper and instead of being greeted by something that looked like paraffin, it was creamy colored and flecked with real bits of vanilla. It smelled milky and sweet, but not sticky. A mix of cognac, butter and honey.
The first ingredient is still sugar (well, organic raw cane sugar), but it boasts 30% cocoa content and 28% milk. If you like the dairy milk flavor of European milk chocolates, like Cadbury, then I think you’ll like this bar. It’s sweet, but flavorful, with a good hit of bourbon notes in the vanilla. The bar melts smoothly and velvety on the tongue and leaves me wanting more.
I ate the whole bar yesterday at work, which is saying a lot. I don’t usually consume something this big in one sitting. (Even an eight hour sitting.) Something about a rainy day makes me want to snuggle up with a nice bar of sugar, dairy and fat. Mmmm.
This bar has done something dangerous, it’s changed my mind about white chocolate. Luckily, I’ve only come to the conclusion that I like Green & Black’s White Chocolate. I can’t give it a ten ... let’s face it, I’m prejudiced ... I just can’t do it. If I cave in and buy another one, I’ll come back here and update the rating. The true test is whether I want it after Easter is over.
Note: Though Green & Black’s is a UK company, the bar was made in Italy. Green & Black’s is now owned by Cadbury Schweppes. This bar is organic, but not fair trade certified.
Thursday, February 9, 2006
I was searching for this bar for a while. I’ve only tried one other milk chocolate bar from Dagoba (the Chai), so I was curious to see what their plain milk chocolate was like without all the other embellishments. But I think that milk chocolate shines well with some textured interest like nuts, so this was next on my list of bars to try. However, I didn’t see it at Whole Foods or Wild Oats. This bar was given to me by Amy, the neighbor.
This bar is milk chocolate (high cocoa solids content at 37%) with hazelnuts and crisped rice.
The Dagoba milk chocolate is insanely smooth. It’s very milky and has a slight floral note to it, maybe orange blossom, but it’s not soapy. It is, however, very sweet. The dairy part of the milk chocolate is a little sticky and tastes like powdered milk, though much better than a Cadbury. The crisps in the bar are fun, but few and far between. I counted three or four per “stick” of the bar. I’m not asking for them to be as dense as a Nestle Crunch, but a little more frequent would be nice. The hazelnuts were similarly scarce, though I think they imparted some of their nutty flavor to the rest of the bar nicely.
I think I wanted more nuts, or maybe something a little more from such an expensive bar. Don’t get me wrong, I love many of the other bars I’ve tried (Roseberry) but this one didn’t quite sing for me. It’s still a solid performer and I wouldn’t turn it down if someone offered it to me, but I doubt I’ll buy it again.
Wednesday, January 18, 2006
There are a lot of good things about chocolate. It tastes good and in moderation it could actually be a good addition to a normal diet. But one of the suprising things is that chocolate may actually be good for tropical economies and ecosystems as well. See more here.
There are quite a few free trade/organic chocolate companies now, but one that’s making the best inroads with consumers, including kids, is Endangered Species Chocolate Company. (I have no data to back this up, just my awareness of people’s affection for it and that I see it in far more stores than other bars of the same type.) They have a huge selection of bars and chocolate formats, good packaging and a pretty good distribution network. Oh, and they taste good, too!
Because Endangered Species has such a large selection of bars, I thought I’d start small. I saw these little impulsive tasting squares called Bug Bites that came in both dark and milk chocolate. They’re obviously a little bit of chocolate for the kids, but I’m a kid at heart and I love bugs.
The little .35 ounce squares are Fair Trade certified, organic and Kosher. The little nibble has a butterfly on it and though the package says something about a bug trading card, I didn’t get any in either of my packages. The milk chocolate is very sweet and in the style of the European dairy milk chocolate bars. It has a good milky, woodsy smell, but is probably too sweet for me. It’s exceptionally smooth and I’m sure will please children quite readily.
The dark square was exceptional. Very fruity, with some apricot and cherry notes it also had some woodsy balsam qualities. It was buttery and had a slightly bitter finish that wasn’t too dry.
Though not all the bars are completely Fair Trade or completely organic Endangered Species Chocolate Company donates 10% of profits to protect wildlife (including those animals featured on the bars). Inside the wrapper is a profile of the animal on the package, in this case it is the bat and notes that of the 45 species in the United States alone, 7 of them are endangered.
I was specifically looking for this “Bat Bar” which is 75% cocoa content and cocoa nibs. I hadn’t seen it at Whole Foods, where I’ve been picking up my other organic bars. Whereas the other nibby products I’ve tried like the Michel Cluizel Noir au Grue de Cacao and Max Brenner Dark Chicao have large nib pieces in them, this bar had kind of crushed bits in it. This has its advantages, but it also creates a different sort of bar.
First, this is a very dark bar. At 75% cocoa, it’s already pretty dense. Because the nibs are crushed smaller they impart a bit of a grain to the chocolate that I didn’t detect at all in the Bug Bites, so I’ll credit that to the nibs. The nibs add a wonderful variation in texture though, with a good fruity burst in spots and sometimes and unpleasant astringency. Nibs are pretty high in fiber too, so eating a serving gives you 3 grams of fiber! I wish the entire bar wasn’t quite so sweet though.
I think if I’m going for a nibby fix I’m going to stick with the Scharffen Berger Chocolate Covered Cacao Nibs ... but the wide availability and decent price of the Engangered Species bar would make it a close second.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.