Thursday, February 7, 2013
A few weeks ago I got a note from a Starbucks rep who let me know that they had some newish chocolate items by the register at the coffee shops. (Launched last Fall.)
I picked out their Starbucks Salted Almond Chocolate Bites since some of the other varieties looked like they were a bit melted. They also have Salted Caramel and Almond, Caramel Brûlé, Creamy Peanut Pretzel, and Berry Medley.
The package describes them as, “Triple chocolate covered almonds with gray sea salt.” They’re made with milk chocolate, though it’s a very dark milk chocolate both in appearance and flavor. The tube is about 3.75 inches tall and 1.5 inches around. So it fit easily in my purse but still holds a hefty 2 ounce single portion.
The thing I noticed is that these are small. In a way, that’s a good thing. They fit well in the tube and they are consistent in size. But they’re barely the size of a Peanut M&M. So I knew that either the chocolate was very thin or the almonds were very small ... or a bit of both.
The chocolate is good quality and has a soft and smooth melt. The salt is in the chocolate, and also may be clinging to the almond. The salt is integrated, not in little flakes or crystals. So the whole thing had a salty note. Honestly, too salty for me. There’s more than 200 mg per package, which is far too much for something that’s supposed to be sweet. Often the salted caramel items that I get have 60 mg or so ... this is just too much.
The almonds are perfectly roasted so they’re crunch and have a toasty flavor (I usually eat my almonds raw) and balance well with the ratio of chocolate. But I can’t buy these again because of the over-salted flavor. I’m still up for giving the other varieties a try. It’s a pretty good value for a premium-styled product sold at a store where this is an average price for a good. The portion is more than fair, especially if you’re in the mood to share.
They’re made on shared equipment with peanuts, other tree nuts, wheat and eggs. There’s no statement about the sourcing of the chocolate, which is disappointing because Starbucks makes such a bit deal about their sourcing of their coffee.
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.
Wednesday, August 19, 2009
I was in Starbucks over the weekend, which is pretty rare for me. In this instance I was waiting for a coffee drink I was picking up for The Man, so I looked around at the gift offerings, snacks and candy. It’s rare for me to double back, wait in line and purchase something after I’ve already ordered but here I was, doing just that.
In the case of these Assorted Gum Drops it was a no-brainer. First, they were only one dollar. I had a buck (and no sales tax). Second, they were all natural and came in four flavors: Tangerine, Pineapple, Raspberry and Watermelon.
How often do you see pineapple or watermelon gum drops? I don’t see them often enough, that’s for sure.
Of course I hopped back in the car and put them in the center console and promptly forgot about them until Monday at lunch. I feared they would be a melted blob ... happily even though the car interior was well over a hundred, they looked exactly like the moment I purchased them. Firm and distinctly separated.
They’re little gum drops. They range from the size of a green pea all the way up to a garbanzo bean. Since they’re a bit artisan (which is code for inconsistent) they varied quite a bit. For some reason all of the pineapple ones were about half the size of the watermelon.
The texture is firm, but not as hard and clingy as something like Dots. They’re also not quite as sticky as jelly candies like Spearmint Leaves.
I chose my bag poorly and most of them were watermelon instead of pineapple and tangerine which I fully expected to love.
Pineapple - were nearly clear. They had a firm bite, they weren’t quite a jelly or pate de fruit. Sweet and fragrant, they’re not tangy and not quite jammy either. It tasted more like a really subtle coating on a candied apple. I was sad to see that I only got four in my package.
Watermelon - these light pink pieces didn’t smell like much, but biting into them they were definitely watermelon. And not that fake watermelon flavor that Jolly Ranchers come in. They had a tangy bite as well, and maybe even a little hint of bitterness towards the end (something that seeds can do sometimes). They were refreshing.
Raspberry - was a dark red. They were quite deep and sweet with a little woody essence of the seeds. It tasted like boiled berries, not quite as fresh and clear as some fruit pate I’ve had.
Tangerine - these were nicely done. Not quite as tangy as I’d hoped but a good blend of juicy sweet and zesty.
Since Starbucks has a reputation for being absurdly expensive, I was pleased overall that these broke that stereotype. It’s a nice portion for one person or to share. The flavors probably go best with an iced tea instead of coffee. Unfortunately the label says that they’re made in a facility with wheat, eggs, soy, nuts and dairy ... so it’s not the perfect substitute for those who can’t touch the rest of the stuff in the pastry case.
I’d love to see a spice version which would go great with coffee or most teas.
Thursday, July 30, 2009
It was launched barely more than a year ago with little promotion to support it, no website (just a page on the Starbucks site) and a baffling retail plan where it was sold everywhere except Starbucks.
The line included coffee & tea infused chocolate bars, tasting squares and truffles. The packaging echoed Starbucks strong image, was all natural and made no direct mention of Hershey’s as the manufacturer. For Christmas special flavors were created that echoed the seasonal coffee drinks. However, the new brand was a tad on the expensive side and entered the mass-manufactured upscale chocolate market just terms like staycation entered the vernacular.
So last week as Hershey’s announced huge second quarter profits, it also formally announced that they were discontinuing the Starbucks Chocolate line.
CNN Money summed it up pretty well:
Added to that happy news about their profits (which were the result of cutting manufacturing costs by closing factories in the US, moving to a Mexican facility, raising prices and using cheaper ingredients), Hershey’s also formalized the discontinuation of Cacao Reserve, Hershey’s own branded high end chocolate line. (Hershey’s also closed Joseph Schmidt, a chocolatier line based out of San Francisco earlier this year and moved all production for Scharffen Berger to Illinois.)
The Caramel Macchiato Truffles come in a nicely packaged pair at the ghastly price of $1.39 at the drug store. Honestly, if this sort of truffle pair was available at an actual Starbucks to accompany my plain coffee, I might have gone for it more regularly. With the “startling news” that coffee drinks contain huge amounts of calories which cause cancer, a simple cup of coffee with cream and two truffles would actually be a smaller indulgence than an actual Caramel Macchiato.
I’ve never had a Macchiato (I’ve never actually had anything fancier than a latte or mocha in all my years), so I can’t comment on how well it mimics the frothy creation described thusly by Starbucks:
The milk chocolate shell is nicely molded. It holds a fudgy, smooth cream that tastes a bit like a mocha cheesecake. Sweet, a little tangy with a light coffee taste and maybe, just maybe a hint of toffee (caramel).
It was pretty sweet but with coffee it works ... though the actual coffee overpowers the not-much-coffee-taste.
In the end, I don’t think it was bad timing that sunk this line. I think it was bad merchandising - it should have been available at actual Starbucks. And a year is far too little to decide the success of a new line of chocolate. My view is that Hershey’s is uninterested in building brand loyalty through quality.
The only thing that makes sense about this is the statement on the side of the box:
Watching Cadbury & Mars move more and more towards ethically traded and sustainably grown & harvested cacao, I’m not seeing much for Hershey’s except from their Daboga arm. I can see where this Starbucks line is just a liability for profits. Hershey’s has shown itself to be more concerned with profits (and high profits, not just tidy ones) than the quality of its products and place within the economies it locates itself.
Monday, December 1, 2008
The Hershey’s & Starbucks marriage has moved quietly out of the honeymoon stage. I see the products around quite a bit, though I haven’t been tempted to buy any again since I tried their launch line of items.
Then I saw their new holiday truffles. They have three new variesties that I spotted at both Rite Aid and Target.
The new truffles are: Peppermint Mocha Truffles, Gingerbread Latte Truffles and Eggnog Latte Flavored Truffles.
I stared and stared at the two packages for Gingerbread and Eggnog and I couldn’t figure out the difference. Gingerbread was going to be a little more on the cinnamon side and eggnog was going to be more on the nutmeg side. Both are milk chocolate.
Even though they were on sale, I opted for just the Eggnog ones. I think nutmeg is a hugely underrated spice and I love the combination of milk chocolate and nutmeg. (Frances bought all of them though.)
First let me say that I’ve never had a Starbucks coffee drink before. I’ve had straight lattes and cappuccinos and tried their Chantico hot chocolate before, but I’ve never had any of their flavored drinks. Like my aversion to sodas, I just don’t care much for sweet drinks. So I can’t compare the experience of this truffle to one of their actual hot Eggnog Lattes.
The narrow domed pieces are very attractive. Nicely molded and aromatic. I got an immediate whiff of chocolate and nutmeg with a little hint of rum flavoring.
The chocolate shell is shiny and nicely tempered. The chocolate is sweet but has a slight pop of coffee flavors. The sugar, cream and palm oil ganache center is creamy with a few little bits of spice in it. There’s a very slight hint of coffee from time to time, but for the most part this is a chocolate piece about the egg nog flavors, not espresso.
Overall, as I’ve found with egg nog in the past, this is pretty sweet stuff. The piece is nice, but as I’ve noticed with the other truffle boxes, I kind of want a variety. I did see a gift box at Target that had a mix of Mocha, Peppermint Mocha and Gingerbread Latte Truffles, but at $10 for less than 6 ounces it was a worse deal ounce for ounce than the stand up boxes. So I think I’m just going to keep my eye on it and hope it’s still there after Christmas. Or go to a real chocolatier and get something that’ll really roll my eyes back in my head.
As drug store chocolates go, they are all natural and Starbucks makes a point of saying that their coffee and chocolate are sourced ethically and grown sustainably (doesn’t say anything about the palm oil though). They’re certainly better than most other mass-produced boxed chocolates in that respect. Kosher.
Wednesday, March 26, 2008
Though I admit freely that I take samples from candy companies (always fully disclosed to you, dear readers), the new Starbucks chocolates line was one of the rare times when I actually asked for a tasting kit when the press release arrived via email. (Usually companies specifically offer to send me something, about half the time I say yes.) I actually had to ask twice, as the first person never actually sent it. (Or my UPS guy is wise to the contents of the packages delivered to my house.)
The biggest reason for asking was because I knew that this tasting kit existed and the idea of going out and buying 7 different boxes at over $5 each was kind of prohibitive, even for someone who has a line item in her personal budget for candy.
There are lots of chocolate bars out there that feature coffee and tea combinations (Joanie’s Smiles, Dagoba, Dolfin, Theo, to name a few). So whatever Starbucks was going to come up with should be distinctive. What they have going that that most others don’t is a line of “truffles”. Each comes in a single flavor box (4.2 ounces) and retails for $4.99 to $5.49. I saw them at Target yesterday for $5.29.
The smelled of freshly ground coffee even before taking a bite. The dark shell is shiny and has a decent snap to it.
Where I didn’t care for the inclusion of the crushed coffee beans in the chocolate tasting squares, this truffle just goes for flavor and texture.
It’s a very dark mix of flavors, much stronger on the coffee than the chocolate side of things and with just a hint of acidity and bitterness.
I tried eating these truffles blind at first, just having one in the car without looking at the wrapper.
I thought this one tasted like fudge. Nice fudge, but plain old chocolate fudge. The ganache center was smooth, but still not a decadent buttery melt that I’d associate with something called “truffle.” I really wasn’t getting the mocha vibe here.
Then I felt really full and even though I was in the car for another half hour I didn’t feel like eating any additional truffles. Basically, this was my least favorite of the four ... not bad and I’d probably be happy with it in a mix of truffles, but pretty unhappy if I’d bought a whole box.
Oops, I photographed this one up-side-down. It’s supposed to look like a little teacup.
The center is a mild and buttery ganache with a strong chai scent and flavor to it with a slight grain. The flavor notes, like the tasting square of the chocolate, omit the clove that’s so commonly the loudest part of chai and instead focuses here on cardamom & ginger and perhaps only the lightest hint of cinnamon & black pepper. I like the combo very much, I think it goes well with the milk chocolate. (But YumSugar didn’t like that at all, she thought it was missing its essential chai-ness).
I’ve never had a Tazo Chai, as Starbucks won’t serve it unsweetened, so I can’t say how this flavor profile compares for fans of that drink.
It’s definitely a strong dose of vanilla here. It was easy to smell those bourbon vanilla notes even before cracking the shell in my teeth.
The white ganache has little flecks of vanilla in it and a mildly sweet flavor. The dark chocolate shell balances it all very well, a little bitter, a little bit of a dry finish.
It goes very well with coffee.
I loved the little wrappers. They have cute little icon designs on them that kind of reflect the flavors inside and an extra foil wrap around the chocolate itself for extra protection.
They should sell a mixed box of these. Heck, they should sell the sample box I got as a gift selection. (It probably doesn’t need the full 3 ounce bars in it though, since the tasting squares are pretty much the same thing. I haven’t opened those yet as I wanted to get through the truffles first. I’m planning a head-to-head with Choxie 3 ounce bars.)
Basically, the Chai and Vanilla are the two that I’d be most likely to buy, but I don’t know if I’d want a whole box ... I’d like a mix like the Tasting Squares are offered. There’s a fifth flavor as well, a Macchiatto, but that’s not sold via retail outlets at this time.
What I’d probably be most likely to do is buy one or two to have with my coffee while sitting at the Barnes & Noble ... except that’s not really the kind of life I have where I sit around in bookstores. And I don’t go into Starbucks very often, there really aren’t that many in my area that are more convenient that the indies and I’m kinda cheap and just as likely to stop at the 7-11 or McDonalds if we’re talking chains. But maybe the enticement of a little $1.00 piece of chocolate would make me stop and relax.
Monday, March 24, 2008
I rarely go into a Starbucks, but I do drink their coffee at the office sometimes. I think my favorite blend of theirs is the Estima (which they don’t make available for our office, drat). At home I’m more likely to drink Trader Joe’s but I’m not a coffee snob, I’ll buy coffee at 7-11, McDonald’s, happily drink the stuff on an airplane and of course at many of the local coffee houses in Los Angeles.
I’m not a “coffee drink” person. I just like a cup of coffee with some milk in it for the most part, but I’ll drink a capuccino now and then. I think coffee is a flavor that’s good enough to be savored by itself. No need for caramel, hazelnut syrup or other intrusions of flavors. (I do drink Mexican Mochas in November.)
I was still eager to try the new line of Starbucks Chocolates and happily accept the offer from some PR folks for a tasting kit (shown here, which is not available for retail sale).
I am kind of picky about my coffee and chocolate combinations though. I like my chocolate smooth, and I don’t usually want to eat my coffee beans. (I had a seriously dangerous chocolate covered coffee bean problem in college that led to an EKG and some stern words from a doctor about moderation.)
So I greeted the new Starbucks and Hershey’s chocolate venture with a little trepidation, mostly worried that both would bring the worst they had to offer to the products (Starbucks high prices and Hershey’s inflated prices for substandard quality or playing off the cachet of their Artisan Confection lines Dagoba & Scharffen Berger without delivering).
Their new product line consists of chocolate bars and tasting squares. There is the standard dark and milk plus two infused with tea flavors (Passion Fruit and Chai) and then a Mocha dark chocolate and a Citron dark chocolate. As expected they also have chocolate covered coffee beans (in milk chocolate) and a line of four different kinds of truffle-style bonbons.
The venture between Starbucks & Hershey’s is a strange one. Starbucks makes the sourcing of their coffee beans part of their marketing effort, with a pledge that they pay above market rates to the growers. It’s not quite fair trade (though they do have the Estima blend that is certified fair trade), it has certainly raised awareness of the issue of growers of our non-essential items like coffee and now chocolate. In this case the package makes note:
It’s unclear from that webpage if the chocolate in the Starbucks branded chocolate products was obtained within these principals or not. The package (on the other side) says “Manufactured for Artisan Confections Company Berkeley, CA 94710 USA under the authority of Starbucks Coffee Company”. (Emphasis mine) I’m still not sure who made these products. (Clay Gordon tried to get more info on this subject, but was unable, but I agree that the couldn’t be made at the Scharffen Berger space in Emeryville and I’m more inclined to believe they were made by the Dagoba folks.)
The good thing is that the risk with these is low for the consumer. They’re all well priced items, none more than $5.49 and available at local drug stores and discount chains. (I already spotted the full line at RiteAid.)
The ingredients on all the items are good, real vanilla, no PGPR though no indication what the cacao levels are on the products. (Well, also no indication of what the caffeine levels are on the coffee ones!)
To start, I tried the Milk Chocolate Covered Coffee Beans. They feature the Caffe Verona beans at the heart, sourced from around the world and prepared in the Italian roast style. Inside the little stand up box the glossy beans are sealed inside a clear cellophane bag. The size is 3.5 ounces and retails for $4.99 to $5.49.
They smell very sweet, the chocolate is milky and soft to the bite (so no flaking off). The combination of the crunchy bean at the heart and the chocolate coating is nice. A bit on the sweet side for me, when it comes to coffee confections, but still very nice. The consistent quality of the beans are a highlight. I ate at least a dozen and didn’t get a chewy or acrid one. (7 out of 10)
Milk Chocolate. They say it’s, “Sweet, silky indulgence; rich & rewarding” and I’m inclined to agree. It’s a much smoother chocolate than I’m accustomed to from Hershey’s or even Scharffen Berger. It has some strong vanilla notes and a good milky texture. (8 out of 10)
Dark Chocolate. They say it’s, “Deep, complex flavors; smooth and satisfying” and I think that was overselling it. It was rather sweet but still smooth. It lacked a depth of flavor, but it pairs well with coffee, has only the slightest acidic tang and has a good buttery melt. (7 out of 10)
They come in both 3 ounce bars or a mixed bag of tasting squares (that include the Mocha Dark Chocolate). Bars are $2.99 and the tasting squares are $4.99-$5.49 for 2.6 ounces (kinda silly, really to pay so much more for so much less).
Passion(r) Dark Chocolate features a Tazo herbal blend of hibuscus & natural flavors. It has a very fruity scent and a grainy melt on the tongue. The little grainy bits are tangy and have a strong berry (and hibiscus) flavor to them with a tint of peach and passion fruit. It’s purely a personal thing but I thought this was dreadful ... from the texture to the combination of flavors, the sickly scent and the way it all overwhelms the chocolate. (4 out of 10)
Citron(r) Dark Chocolate is also a Tazo blend of tea leaves and lemon oil. This one smells pleasantly of lemon, but very little of chocolate. The texture is not as grainy as the Passion, but still not smooth. The lemon essence was strong, but had no citrus tang to it, thankfully. Still, no chocolate flavors came though, nor much of the tea base either. (6 out of 10)
Mocha Dark Chocolate should epitomize this fusion of chocolate and Starbucks, right? It smells wonderfully rich, a combination of chocolate and coffee and a dollop of vanilla. It’s apparent looking at the square from the back that it has ground coffee beans in it, not just an infusion of flavor. It’s a bit grainy but crispy when chewed. It’s much like the chocolate covered coffee beans, but has a stronger chocolate flavor to it that isn’t quite overhwhelmed like the others. Still, I’m not one for the bits in there, but I admit that’s a personal preference. (6 out of 10)
Chai Milk Chocolate includes Tazo tea leaves and natural flavors in milk chocolate. It smells quite rich, mostly of nutmeg, cardamom and clove. Though it looks grainy, it’s really quite smooth even with the little inclusions. It has a wonderful spicy mix of flavors without being too sweet. I’m a big fan of spicy chai but can’t stand how sweet it can be. This is a very nice mix, I almost like it better than the Dagoba bar (which has actual ginger pieces in it). (7 out of 10)
What I found most surprising about this collection of chocolate tasting squares branded by a coffee company was that three out of the six of them were tea infusions and only one was actually a coffee flavor. Their slogan for the line of products is, “when coffee dreams, it dreams of chocolate” but I think it should be, “when coffee dreams, it ends up with tea in its chocolate.” Some sort of self-loathing or something. (Or adverse reaction to cannibalism, of course coffee doesn’t want coffee!)
The curious part is that Starbucks is not selling these at their stores or even on their website. They’re a Starbucks experience without a Starbucks shop. Like the Choxie line at Target, I think they’ve done a nice job of finding the essential nature of what they have to offer, packaging them nicely and charging the appropriate amount that people are willing to pay for a personal indulgence.
I’ll have a roundup of the Truffles in a separate post.
Thursday, December 29, 2005
I saw a news item that said that Starbucks is pulling Chantico, a scant year since it was introduced.
It may not be completely gone:
I actually liked the stuff, but my positive review earlier this year was hardly enough to keep it on the menu. I’ve had the drink a total of three times, I don’t go to Starbucks very often (even though they are everywhere). I try to frequent the independent chains, but I would actually patronize them more if their fair trade coffee was always one of the drip coffee options.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.