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.
Tuesday, July 11, 2006
Candy Blog reader Karen clued me in to Villars bars. I had no idea these Swiss-style milk chocolate bars had MALT in them! I’ve seen them at the checkout at Trader Joe’s for some time, but the old-fashioned looking packaging just didn’t grab me.
Don’t be misled - they’re not malted milk bars or anything, must sweet, creamy Swiss milk chocolate with a little hint of malt. If I didn’t know better, I would have said it was hazelnut, but it’s definitely a malty quality.
The packaging is quite nice, a decorated box with a flip and tuck top for storing uneaten portions and the bar itself is cloaked in thin aluminum foil. A little thin for my taste, but it’s nicely designed with large and flat with flowers inside each of the squares (I’m going to say they’re edelweiss). This chocolate doesn’t have that cloying dairy flavor that some other Swiss chocolates have but it is creamy and certainly melts easily.
I ate the bar pretty quickly as it was hot this weekend and for most of the time it was the consistency of fudge because it was about 90 degress in my house. Instead of breaking off small pieces (after I’d broken into big ones for the photograph while it was still cool in the morning), the bar pretty much bent or tore. Holding the pieces in the heat was dicey too, as they got very slippery.
I fear that chocolate must be put aside for the rest of the summer or reserved for the early morning cool.
But back to the chocolate bar! It’s a great deal for a Swiss style chocolate with a more interesting malty hit than you might be used to. If you’ve got a Trader Joe’s around you, pick one up. They also have a dark bar (no malt) and a hazelnut bar (which I’ll be trying after it cools off).
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.
Friday, October 28, 2005
I was really excited about doing this review. While I enjoy candy of all kinds, especially chocolate, it’s hard sometimes to balance that with not destroying the earth and human lives. Fair Trade is only recently developing as a mainstream option for many products. For those of you not familiar with the concept, first you have to remember that cocoa pods from which chocolate is made are grown in tropical regions all over the planet and require a large amount of space and time to cultivate. Those regions also happen to be ones where farmers are particularly poor and have fewer economic opportunities. I cannot claim to be an expert on this subject, but it seems to me that the folks growing cocoa, which is not necessary for life, should at least be paid a living wage for it and not be exposed to terrible working conditions. Since chocolate and candy is a luxury item, it seems to make the most sense to start with it and coffee and teas as a way of changing the lives of those in these areas.
Of course the most important thing about sending a message with your pocketbook is that the product be good. Good intentions are nice, but if the chocolate isn’t good enough for me to want more, I’m not going to buy it just because it’s the right thing to do because wasting food is also bad. (The next step, of course, is to have it easily accessible, too.) So, instead of skipping to the bottom for the verdict, I’ll say that these are worth the trouble of finding them.
The bars are not only fair trade, but made from all organic ingredients, including the sugar (which is organic raw and unrefined cane sugar) and nuts. Also, for those who are wondering, it’s certified Kosher. Inside the plain wrapper (which has some wonderful information inside about Fair Trade and Equal Exchange) the bar itself is sealed in a mylar like white plastic wrapper that seals out odors and keeps the chocolate fresh. The chocolate is made it Switzerland.
Organic Dark Chocolate with Almonds: a wonderful aroma arose when I opened this package. The chocolate is shiny and smooth and has a great snap and smelled chocolately, a little sweet and perfumy. Inside are lightly crushed (chopped?) almonds. The chocolate itself is 55% cocoa mass and has some wonderful fruity notes like you’d find in a good red wine. Not overly smoky or dry, it has a nice smooth finish was the cocoa mass is exceptionally smooth. For me, this bar rivals the Chocovic Ocumare.
Organic Very Dark Chocolate: incredibly dense, with immediate earthy tones, this is a very dark bar with 71% cocoa mass. The bar has a good snap and an incredibly smooth melt. There’s a noticeable acid note as it yields on the tongue and gives up more fruity flavors like apricot and cherry. The finish is dry and not at all sticky or sweet. But like I experienced with the Chocovic Guaranda, there are no middle notes to round out the flavor.
Organic Milk Chocolate: for fans of dairy milk chocolates, such as Cadbury, you’ll be very happy with this bar. It’s very much in keeping with the traditional Swiss milk chocolate. The first ingredient is not chocolate (that’s 38% though), it’s Whole Milk Powder. So, this is milky stuff, kind of sticky and though not overly sweet, it’s not a good association for me. That aside, this chocolate is exceptionally smooth and has nice cocoa undertones give the whole bar a toasty feeling. I think what does that is that one of the ingredients is ground hazelnuts ... not a lot of it, but it’s a nice nutty complement.
Ratings: Milk & Very Dark - 7 out of 10
Friday, August 26, 2005
Before I had a candy blog I had trouble getting people to bring me gifts from their travels. Maybe I was too embarrassed to actually ask for candy from other countries, but now it’s a given that if any of my friends (hell, friend’s friends) goes anywhere interesting, they are tasked with bringing something back.
At first the name was kind of scary. Krachnuss sounds like “knuckle cracker” to me. And that hazelnut on the package? It’s bigger than a chestnut. However, open up the wrapper and it’s pure delight.
Those are whole hazelnuts in there. It makes for a rather lumpy bar and the hazelnuts are poorly distributed, but man are they good! Not roasted too long, they have an excellent snap and slightly sweet tinge to their nuttiness. The milk chocolate is sweet and smooth and doesn’t try to upstage the delicate hazelnuts. I love hazelnuts, by the way (or filberts as they’re called in the Pacific Northwest) and love how they’re the peanuts of Europe. Even the packages, which give information about possible allergens only mention soy and almonds - there’s no note about any peanuts.
Over the past few weeks the topic of Ice Cubes has come up a few times. At a party, in my interview on Radio Open Source and when Jay gave me this candy bar. For those of you not familiar with Ice Cubes, they’re a little chocolate cubes made with hazelnut paste. However, the pernicious part about them is that the first ingredient is hydrogenated coconut oil. I’m lucky my arteries are still open. My first year in the dorms in college there was a little store on campus that let you use your meal card to buy food - I bought a tub of 100 of these (probably cost me the equivalent of 10 meals). Though I love them, I’ve been trying to resist them ever since then.
Well, along comes a Ragusa bar, and thank goodness the Swiss have made a more wholesome version. You can’t tell from the photo, but the bar is about 5 inches long, 1 inch wide and 3/4” high, and pretty dense for its volume. This little bar is filled with a smooth and cool truffley filling and studded with whole hazelnuts. (If this sounds good, you might also want to try Perugina’s Baci.) Man, this is a good breakfast. The nuts give it just enough of a protein balance to keep the sugar charged filling from causing glycemic overload.
The bar is a bit messy to eat. It’s wrapped in a thick aluminum foil and the chocolate coating only covers the top and bottom, so the sides get kind of sticky. I still haven’t managed to get to the end of the bar and master popping the last of it out of the wrapper. It’s also been a bit warm here in Southern California the past few days and I wasn’t keeping this in the fridge, so on top of its natural softness, it’s downright limp. I might just go get a spoon.
Ratings - Krachnuss - 8 out of 10
Wednesday, August 24, 2005
Name: Blackcurrant and Finest Pink Grapefruit Pastilles
A few weeks ago I got an email from a kind reader named greenhaven suggested that I try Rowntree Blackcurrant Pastilles, since I couldn’t find them, I picked these up. (I know, they’re not at all the same.) I’ll keep looking though, as I remember liking “wine gums” that I bought at a newsstand in London quite a bit. I’m not sure all folks consider pastilles candy, after all, most people think of them as throat lozenges. However, as a person who used to eat cough drops as candy, I fully embrace these as sweets. (One of my favorites was Smith Bros Black Licorice.)
These are soft and chewy, but wonderful to suck on and kind of fold up as it gets smaller in your mouth. The glycerine provides a soothing, moisturizing coating to dry throats. But what’s best about these is the intense flavor. Packed with more flavor than just a gummi bear or hard cough drop, these are zesty. They come in little tins (the size of Altoid tins, only gold.)
The pink grapefruit has a wonderful zest with a good rounded tartness that goes through and through. The blackcurrant is smooth and tart with a good winey note to it. I prefer the grapefruit ones, mostly because I’m just not a blackcurrant fan. These are very soft and I don’t really like them this soft, so sometimes I’ll just leave them open for a day so they can toughen up.
They have 18% of your daily requirement of Vitamin C (in 2 drops) and their ingredients are all natural. If you go on the Dr. Doolittle website (it’s in French) and click on production, you can see how they make the drops by pouring the mix into little molds.
Rating - 7 out of 10 (I buy them a couple times a year, they’re rather expensive)
UPDATE: I found a new local supply of Dr. Dolittle’s Pastilles. They come in Lemon, Blackcurrant and Pink Grapefruit. Different tins now, a lot more expensive. See new review here.
Friday, June 24, 2005
Name: Nestle’s Original Swiss Chocolate
Nestle is known for their milk chocolate and for good reason, the original Swiss chocolate that made them famous is a great chocolate bar. It’s consistently good with a strong milky flavor, smooth and sweet. It’s not easy to find in the states, and if I’m feeling like a European-style milk chocolate bar I usually pick up a Cadbury.
I found this assortmet at Target. (I actually saw it a few months ago but waited until last weekend to pick it up.) The little box says that it’s the perfect gift to share a perfect expression of authentic Swiss chocolate taste. I’m prone to agree that this is a nice hostess gift for someone that likes milk chocolate. Easy to share, and a good assortment.
Inside are seven different varieties, with what seemed like a majority of them being lavender-wrapped lait-milch. There are also milk with almonds, milk with hazelnuts, extrafine dark chocolate and white chocolate. The other curiosities within were one called Dessert which was milk chocolate with hazelnut creme (kind of like a nutella bar if they made them). I really love the combo of hazelnuts and chocolate (Nestle also owns Baci/Perugina now). The nutty, roasted notes of hazenuts go so well with chocolate. If I had my druthers I’d put more of them in the package than the plain milk bars. The other bar that I loved was the one called Chocmel which had chopped almonds and honey. Well, I don’t think it was just honey, I think it was some sort of honey nougat chips. It was very similar to a Toblerone bar, but the honey notes in the nougat chips was much more pronounced. Very good, in fact much smoother and less waxy than a Toblerone. I might pick up a bigger bar if I see this sometime.
Rating: 8 out of 10
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.