Monday, June 20, 2005
Name: New Tree Chocolates: Vigor, Forgiveness & Tranquility
I reviewed another of these bars, called Renew a few weeks ago and I wanted to try other flavors. I found these little boxes with tasting bars at the Farmer’s Market and picked up an assortment. The one that had me most intrigued was Tranquility which bills itself as soothing. It’s milk chocolate with Lime Blossom and Lavender in it.
The packaging, first of all, is delightful. I put a quarter in the photo so you could see how tiny these bars are. New Tree extols itself as all natural, healthful chocolate what eschews genetically modified organisms (I’m not sure if Monsanto has gotten around to modifying the cocoa plant) and infuses their Belgian made chocolate with sometimes incongruous flavors and extra fiber. Turns out the no GMO part applies to the soya lecithin.
The Tranquility bar was very nice. It’s not terribly smooth, which is often what happens when you put dried stuff in chocolate. For Belgian milk chocolate it’s a bit sweet, but it doesn’t have that milky taste. The lavender notes come through loud and clear and leave a pleasantly fragrant note on the tongue long after the chocolate has dissolved. I wasn’t able to detect the lime blossom, but I’ve never eaten lime blossoms before and they might taste just like lavender for all I know.
I had to try the Vigor bar early in the day, as eating a full ounce of this is the equivalent of one cup of coffee (and I’ve already had a cup of coffee). At 73% cocoa, this bar smells unabashedly like pure chocolate. But upon putting it in my mouth, it melted quickly and I tasted only slight hints of rich coffee flavors. Naked coffee and chocolate are a great combo, as they both are roasted and smoky and contain lots of alkaloids. This is a barely sweetened bar that also boasts that it contains extracts of guarana. I’ve had more mocha tasting bars in the past and to be honest, I don’t want a caffienated chocolate bar, because I’d be tempted to eat it later in the day and then curse it as I couldn’t sleep later in the evening. But if you’re good with caffeine at all hours, maybe this is the bar for you. I don’t recommend pairing it with Red Bull or other energy drinks unless you enjoy heart palpitations.
The last bar, Forgiveness, was in the yellow box and was flavored with lemon and said that it helps metabolism. Again, a very dark bar with 73% cocoa. This bar also smells suspicously like chocolate with a slight lemon essence to it that’s more obvious after eating. It’s not a zesty taste, like a lemon bar or anything, just a hint of it. It’s actually very nice, a big difference from the heavily flavored bars from BruCo (don’t get me wrong, I liked those, too). The “helps metabolism” part got me curious though. There are “natural extracts of cactus” in it. Now, correct me if I’m wrong, but there are a lot of cactus out there ... that’s like saying something vague like has “natural nuts” in it. The website says that the cactus is Opuntia ficus-indica. A quick google search reveals that this is a prickly pear, and looks a lot like one I have in my back yard. Further searching reveals that this particular cactus also contains mescaline. I’m sure that my teensy bar that’s less than a third of an ounce does not contain any measurable amounts.
I guess this is where I can get into the topic of candy for snacking and candy for savoring. There are some folks who enjoy wine and drink it for the joy of drinking. Then there are some folks who enjoy wine for all its nuances and savor every sip. I’m somewhere in the middle there when it comes to candy. I love consumer candy, stuff you just eat, that you put in your mouth and you finish and you want more. This New Tree stuff and many of the other gourmet bars are not meant for munching. They’re more complex, like a fine cheese or something. As a reference, I still have a little bit of the Renew bar left and it’s been weeks. This is not candy that calls out to me to be eaten. (Yes, sometimes I hear the candy calling me ... mostly things like maltballs and I can also hear smarties calling from several hundred yards.) Maybe some will accuse me of not being sophisticated enough and I’d be inclined to agree with them. You can dress up my vitamins in gumballs or chewables, but that doesn’t make them candy. Candy is a treat, not a chore.
I feel kind of bad for not liking these bars more, like I’m not sophisticated or stylish. I also feel bad because they’re so hugely expensive. Which I guess goes to prove that good quality candy does not have to be expensive. And expensive candy is not neccesarily great.
I think over the past few months as I’ve been trying more of these bars, my favorite fancy flavored bar has been the Dagoba Milk Chocolate Chai. I ate that, it tasted good and I wanted more. That’s what I want in my candy ... one that gets me addicted.
Friday, June 17, 2005
Name: Malted Milk Balls
As I’ve stated before, I love malt. I will eat spoonfuls of Ovaltine malted milk powder straight from the jar. Good malt balls are not easy to find. First, they have to be covered with real chocolate. Those egg-shaped ones available around Easter are usually some fake chocolate compound and too sweet. The best bet is usually in the bulk candy aisle at the grocer if they carry Harmony Foods bulk chocolate covered malted milk balls.
Earlier this week I placed a bulk order from Wilbur and one of the items was their Malted Milk Balls. These are not simply malted milk balls covered with a thin layer of chocolate, they’re super thick with high-quality milk chocolate. The malt inside is crisp, large and very malty with a touch of salt.
They are by far the best malted milk balls I’ve had in my life. My big question is if anyone knows if naked malt balls exist, you know, just the malt balls without the chocolate coating.
Rating: 9 out of 10.
Thursday, June 16, 2005
Name: Emperor’s Ginger Tea Chocolate
A few months ago I reviewed another flavor of this chocolate, the Jasmine Green Tea. To refresh your memory, these are cute little foil-wrapped medallions of rich milk chocolate infused with tea and stacked in a little can. This version is green tea and ginger. If you’ve been reading candy blog at all, you know I’m a huge chocolate and ginger fan. This take on the combination however, is disappointing.
The chocolate is sweet and smooth, there is not grainyness like I’ve experienced with other infused chocolates. The bite of the ginger comes across quite quickly, but has less woodsy bite to it than just a slow burn. Don’t get me wrong, the peppery feeling is really refreshing, but it tastes more like ginger powder than fresh ginger. I get no hints of tea to it at all.
I do like that there aren’t ginger pieces in it, just the pure essence. This is not snacking chocolate, but something to enjoy in small pieces, perhaps with some tea and shortbread. The packaging is really nice and my purchases of this brand have always been fresh, but the price is a bit high.
Rating: 7 out of 10
Wednesday, June 15, 2005
I’ve seen these bars before, usually in import stores, and as I recall I picked up one or something similar in London when I was there. It’s basically a milk chocolate Nestle bar that’s been whipped into a froth and then quickly molded into a bar. It creates a bit of a lighter feeling treat than a dense chocolate bar.
What’s amazing about this is when you look at the bar unwrapped, it looks like a king sized bar, but it weighs about the same as a regular bar. It’s overwhelmingly sweet and chocolately smelling. Upon biting into it, it yields easily, more like marshmallow or fudge than chocolate. In fact, that’s what it resembles most to me, fudge. It’s definitely very chocolatey, a little sticky feeling in the mouth, but because of all the air, it melts fast, bursting on the tongue.
Note that because of the bubbles, I suspect that it’s a little more prone to softening in the summer warmth than other bars, so you might want to store this one in the fridge. In fact, I’ve heard that some folks prefer it that way.
On the whole, it was a pleasant bar. The chocolate is very milky, as European chocolate usually is and if you like that, you won’t be disappointed. I find European milk chocolate tastes a little like powdered milk to me which is not an entirely pleasant reminder.
My rating: 6 out of 10.
See also - taquitos.net review.
Tuesday, June 14, 2005
Name: Wha Guru Chew
Reading over the ingredients list, I’m wondering what this has to do with the Yogi Bhajan. But I suppose even the most enlightened among us wants a sweet now and then. While there’s nothing bad about these caramel nut bars, they contain no trans fat and use brown rice syrup and evaporated cane juice instead of corn syrup, I’m struggling with the health food aspects of this. Aw hell, let’s just call it candy and be done with it.
These are fab. I can’t tell you how fab these are. The caramel is flavorful and soft, the nuts are fresh and crunchy and the smell is pure buttery sweetness. The only problem I have with them is that they’re very soft, so you taking them out of the package is nearly impossible and even getting the package open without scissors ended up too much of a challenge for me.
Cashew Vanilla - the right sweet notes of vanilla blended with buttery cashews. There are also sunflower seeds in here, which add an extra crunch and earthy taste to the bar to balance the sweetness of the caramel. A little touch of salt balances it all out.
Almond Ginger - it doesn’t smell quite as inviting as the cashew vanilla bar (I don’t think ginger smells that good inherently, as it has a rooty/earthy smell). But biting into this bar wipes away any hesitation that this bar will be as good as the former. The ginger pops out as a spicy base for the sugary caramel and the mild almonds. A slight trace of lemon zest links all the flavors together well.
Peanut Cashew - this one diverges from the recipe of the above two which are sweetened primarily with brown rice syrup and evaporated cane juice. This is sweetened with clover honey (and barley malt syrup). This honey base makes for a less viscous caramel but really amps up the flavor. The first tone you get upon biting into it is a strong orange essence. In addition to the peanuts and cashews are sesame seeds and sunflower seeds. Of the three this was my least favorite, though still worthy of trying.
Monday, June 13, 2005
Name: Chimes Ginger Chews
How could you not love something that comes in this nifty tin? Chimes has three different kinds of ginger chews, Peppermint (this review), Peanut Butter Ginger (previous review) and Ginger. I believe that The Ginger People also have the same repetoire and that these are all probably made in the same factory somewhere in Indonesia.
There are about 14 of these individually wrapped chews stuffed into this tin. The lid slides back for dispensing, though they’re jammed in there pretty good and not that easy to just dump out. Further, when opening the little individual wrappers, the chews sometimes get stuck to the plastic.
Beyond that, once you’ve got on in your mouth, it’s instantly minty. The chew is soft and sticky with a distinct barley sugar note to it (I like that). As you chew, the spicy notes of the ginger come through and as you’re done with the chew, the burn of the ginger lasts for quite a while. They’re very satisfying but as snacks, I think the packaging is great because I don’t think you’d want more than two or three of these at any given time (the peanut butter ones, however, I think lend themselves to greater consumption).
On the whole, now that I’ve tried all three of these flavor combinations I think I prefer the plain ginger, then the peanut butter and then these. Not that these aren’t good, but I don’t really think that mint and ginger are the best of all possible flavor matches. The Ginger People also make an Apple Ginger chew that I think I’m going to have to seek out now.
Rating: 8 out of 10.
Friday, June 10, 2005
Name: Caffarel (Finissimo cioccolato fondente con croccante gentile)
This adorable square bar is from Italy with 57% cocoa content. Unfortunately somewhere along the way it was not stored properly and got a bit of a bloom. In fact, this is a good time to talk about chocolate bloom.
Chocolate is make up for cocoa solids and cocoa butter (and sugar). Sometimes if the chocolate is not tempered properly, or stored improperly (variations in heat) the chocolate will become unstable. This will cause some of the cocoa butter to separate from the cocoa solids and migrate to the surface of the chocolate as “bloom”. It looks like some sort of chalky powder or something, but it’s just the fat. It’s not dangerous, chocolate that’s bloomed is edible, though it will probably end up tasting a bit chalky because the cocoa butter is no longer emulsified with the cocoa solids and sugar. Most importantly, it’s not mold, though it often looks like it.
The best way to prevent this is to buy fresh chocolate that’s been stored properly (stable climate conditions) and then treat it right. When you bring you chocolate home, this gets to be a bit of a tougher proposition. I don’t like storing chocolate in the fridge or the freezer because the variations in temperature and humidity when you take it out can be just as bad. So, if you have a cool spot in your kitchen (usually in a lower cupboard or the back of the closet), it should be okay. In my case, I don’t have air conditioning and live in Los Angeles, so you can see how even in a protected location, some of my chocolate is going to get melty on the hottest of days. In that case, stick it in the fridge, inside it’s packaging and inside a plastic bag of some sort. This will keep the fridge odors from being absorbed and keep it from drying out. Even better, devote a plastic container (good) or glass container (better) with a tight fitting lid for keeping your chocolate. You also might consider throwing a plain old charcoal briquet in there (not one that has added lighter fluid) to absorb odors and any excess moisture). Allow the chocolate to come to room temp before opening and consuming. Otherwise if you open it and there’s any humidity around the chocolate will sweat.
The other (best) option is to get a wine fridge. I know, this seems like a large expenditure, but wine fridges are good for more than just wine. You can keep chocolate in there, some cheeses and vegetables. A dorm sized one won’t set you back more than a couple hundred. This is where I’ve taken to keeping my best chocolate. A wine fridge is usually set at about 58 degrees and of course is climate controlled for humidity. A little humidity is okay for chocolate. Really dry air, especially if you have nuts in there will make the chocolate taste chalky, too.
But now, onto the review of the Caffarel bar.
I ate around the bloomed pieces (which was about half the bar). The bar had a very strong vanilla scent to it and though billed as bitter chocolate, I found it much sweeter than many other bars I’ve tried lately. There are hazelnuts and nougat bits, which gave it a nice crackly component and infused the whole bar with a pleasant toasty tone.
The chocolate was smooth, without a trace of grittiness. Overall, a good bar and a nice portion. Not as waxy as other Italian bars I’ve had in the past, and I’m eager to try other Caffarel chocolates when I come across them. I’m a fan of the Italian tradition of pairing hazelnuts and chocolate (Perugina’s Baci).
Rating: 5 out of 10 (hard call because of the bloom, I’m willing to re-review it if I come across a fresh bar).
Wednesday, June 08, 2005
From the back of the package:
This is fine Belgian dark chocolate (73% cocoa) infused with black currant and grape flavors. Instead of just candy or a sweet treat, New Tree seems to be pushing the health benefits of chocolate, because it contains more antioxidants than a glass of red wine and 10% of your daily vaulue of vitamin D and phosphorous, 6% of the RDA for zinc and E, 15% of your iron and 20% of your magnesium. In addition, there’s a whopping 5 grams of fiber - 22% of the daily requirement!
But health benefits and nutrition aside, unless you want to call these chewable vitamins and make them a chore (and expensive vitamins at that!), taste is what it’s all about…
The scent of black currant and grape is quite evident upon opening the inner mylar pouch. The chocolate was a dense, glossy black and heavy for its size. While the scent of the currants is there, the taste isn’t. The taste is all chocolate. A strong bitter start with a good melt on the tongue yields a slighly grainy feeling to the chocolate, but not an unpleasant one. Then the grape essence returns as the sweetness develops. It has a very dry finish, much like wine, but sometimes (not always) a bitter lingering note.
The snackability of such a rich combination of flavors isn’t really there. I can’t see myself munching on this bar, but definitely sampling it, probably in combination with some nuts or pretzels. It would probably go well with an after dinner plate of cheese and dried fruits as well (and wine or cognac).
The New Tree site heralds the other versions of their chocolate, all with enigmatic power names and functions. Pleasure is just pure chocolate. Vigor is chocolate with a boost of coffee and caffeine with guarana. Forgiveness is chocolate with lemon essence and added fiber and purports to halt absorption of fat. Tranquility is milk chocolate (more sugar than the other chocolates) with lime and lavender. Rejoice is milk chocolate flavored with orange and lime and crisped rice added.
They sell these in 2.8 oz bars or in little boxes with 3 x .9 oz bars of the same flavor. What I’d like to see is one box that has one of each for tasting. You can’t buy from their website and I haven’t seen them anywhere in the stores yet, but I’ll keep my eyes open. If you’re interested you can email them from the website about availability.
Rating: 8 out of 10