Saturday, December 29, 2012

Fresh & Easy Swiss 72% Dark Chocolate


3.5oz (100g) bar
Ingredients: Cocoa liquor, sugar, cocoa butter, cocoa powder, natural flavor
11g sugar/40 serving (27.5% by wt.)

Corporate Info: Fresh & Easy is a grocery store operating in the Southwestern U.S. The company stocks a combination of large brands and its own store brand, operates relatively small stores, avoids additives in its private label products, and is a subsidiary of a large European chain (note: this may not last)all of which make it sound like a more mainstream Trader Joe's. (Some of the products even look like they could be TJ's private label goods.)

Today's Bar: Fresh & Easy's store brand 72% Swiss chocolate, also containing “natural flavors,” which I'm guessing means vanilla if not others as well. I can't remember where I found this bar, but it certainly wasn't at Fresh & Easy. But hey, whatever.

Appearance: Big, thin, flat. Matte, lending a greyish cast to a medium-toned, slightly reddish bar.

Smell: Sugary, nutty, kind of thin.

Taste: Not a fan. Crunchy, then thick, somewhat chalky, with a thin, sweet flavor. I was reminded of cocoa powder, then recalled a conversation with Nat of Madre Chocolate at the Northwest Chocolate Festival: I was able to try a new, Hawaii-grown chocolate they're working on, which he euphemistically described as “tasting like Oreos” because of its flat, cocoa-powder-like flavor. He pointed out that the challenge was in the fermentation, which is what develops the complex sourness that many good chocolates have, and which was the next step in bringing their new cacao up to snuff. Perhaps it's the fermentation that's bringing me down in the case of Fresh & Easy's product. I will say that today's co-taster thinks this chocolate is okay: “It starts out dry and unremarkable, but then there's a little bit of richness and creaminess that comes out.” He still doesn't think it stands out from the other chocolates we've tried, but he doesn't dislike it as much as I do.

Conclusion: Fresh & Easy Swiss 72% Dark Chocolate is thin and sweet, lacking the rounded complexity of the chocolates I tend to like.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Madre Chocolate Hibiscus Dark Chocolate


1.5oz (43g) bar
Ingredients: Organic fair trade cacao beans, o. cane sugar, o. cocoa butter, Mexican whole vanilla, o. hibiscus, o. bergamot oil

Corporate Info: (Altered from 8/11/12) Madre is basically brand new (circa early 2011), the brainchild of a traveler working on social justice in Central America and a botanist with a focus on food and medicinal plants. There's a lot of passion behind everything written about the company: the “About Us” page of their website, the focus on ecology and direct contact with cacao farmers, the now-funded Kickstarter, and even reviews by fans of their chocolate and their shop in Kailua. The cacao is grown organically, some on the Big Island (in the only U.S. state in which this is possible) and some in Central America, and they make the chocolate bean-to-bar in Hawaii. Madre has already been talked up in Saveur and, at greater length, by food personality Aida Mollenkamp after she visited the founders in Hawaii.

Madre currently produces two lines of chocolate, one inspired by Latin American cacao and flavorings and the other using Hawaiian cacao and flavorings. As you might imagine, this is not cheap chocolate: All bars are 1.5oz (half the size of most common chocolate bars) and range from $6 to $10 each on the website, and they may cost slightly more in stores. The bars are sold all over Hawaii, but they look to be spreading quickly to high-end and specialty stores in the U.S. and abroad.

Today's Bar: Hibiscus in 70% cacao, which I picked up from Madre's booth at the Northwest Chocolate Festival back in September. This bar is made with Dominican cacao, and includes not only hibiscus but also bergamot oil as a flavoring. I expect the hibiscus to impart a bright, sour note; I'm less familiar with bergamot outside of Earl Grey tea, but Wikipedia says that it's the bitter, sour, fragrant skin of the citrus fruit that is used as a flavoring. Here, I assume it will add complexity to the clear tartness of the hibiscus.

Appearance: Madre's usual funky mold, semi-glossy, in a pleasant, creamy-looking orangey brown.

Smell: Slightly acrid, fresh, and spicy.

Taste: I tried this bar at the festival and liked it, so though I didn't remember the nuances, I knew I would enjoy it. The chocolate itself is crunchy melting to waxy, rich, and not too sweet. I can definitely sense the bergamot in here, as the flavor is layered, with the bitter, fragrant citrus rind oil, the straightforward, fruity sourness of hibiscus, the fresh, tropical cacao, and the sweet sugar to anchor it all.

Conclusion: Madre Chocolate Hibiscus Dark Chocolate is a well-crafted layering of fresh, sweet, sour, and bitter flavors.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Theo Dark Chocolate Peppermint Stick



3oz (85g) bar
Ingredients: Organic fair trade cocoa beans, oft. sugar, oft. cocoa butter, o. peppermint oil, o. vanilla, o. corn syrup, water, sea salt, baking soda
11g sugar/42g serving (26.2% by wt.)

Corporate Info: I've written about Theo Chocolate many times, and in short, it's a great Seattle company making bean-to-bar chocolate and creative, often seasonal confections (you'll see more in-store than online) that are organic and fair trade. You can visit Theo's retail store, order online, or find a selection of Theo's bars at upscale and health food stores nationwide. My only beef with Theo is that I tend to find its usual 70% dark chocolate base too sour as a match for flavorings, but that's a personal taste issue.

Today's Bar: One of Theo's “holiday” bars, its 70% with peppermint candy.

Appearance: Theo's usual long, simply molded bar, in a very dark reddish brown.

Smell: Simultaneously dark and fruity and bracingly minty.

Taste: Chocolate combined with with tiny crunchy crystals of varying size. And it's not as minty as I thought! According to the ingredients list, the chocolate is what contains the peppermint essential oil, while the “brittle” is just sugar, corn syrup, cocoa butter, water, salt, and baking soda. Looking at the candy cane on the wrapper, you expect a rush of strong mint candy when you bite into the very distinct crystals, and it doesn't happen—they're just sweet and crunchy within a somewhat minty and fruity chocolate. That's not bad, especially if you don't want your chocolate to taste like a breath freshener, but it's jarringly counter to expectations. On the other hand, it's sweet but not too sweet, and not a bad match with the mint flavor or the candy's crunch.

Conclusion: Theo Dark Chocolate Peppermint Stick is a medium-mint, fruity chocolate with small, irregularly shaped, flavorless candies within.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

The Tea Room Chocolate Fusion Raspberry Rooibos


1.8oz (51g) bar
Ingredients: Organic cacao, o. cane sugar, o. cacao fat, o. red raspberry rooibos tea, soy lecithin
10g sugar/25.5g serving (39.2% by wt.)

Corporate Info: The Tea Room is a small, California-based company started by a Swiss chef and later hotel manager. I can't find much more information about the company itself, including in the press, but it seems pretty small and focused on tea, imported macarons, and tea-infused chocolate treats. All of the cacao is organic and non-GMO, and it's sourced with farmers' quality of life in mind while consciously avoiding the Fair Trade label. The Tea Room's bars and some other items are sold nationwide, mostly at gourmet and health-food-type markets; I found mine at an upscale, local chain pharmacy.

Today's Bar: Raspberry Rooibos in 60% cacao. I drink a lot of rooibos tea, so I wonder if I'll be able to identify it in the chocolate.

Appearance: Again, The Tea Room's blocky bars. Surprisingly, this 60% isn't significantly lighter than last week's 72% cacao, though this particular bar looks a bit glossier than the other one.

Smell: Definitely raspberry, with a light chocolate scent.

Taste: Okay, there's a lot of raspberry in there, which I think overwhelms the rooibos. I find rooibos in general to be distinctive but subtle, and chocolate might be too much for it—or maybe it's just the fact that the raspberry stands out so much. Texture is thick and rich, but otherwise just okay.

Conclusion: The Tea Room Chocolate Fusion Raspberry Rooibos offers mostly raspberry flavor and thick texture.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

The Tea Room Chocolate Fusion Maté & Cacao Nibs


1.8oz (51g) bar
Ingredients: Organic cacao, o. cane sugar, o. cacao fat, o. yerba maté tea, o. star anise, o. cacao nibs, soy lecithin
7g sugar/25.5g serving (27.5% by wt.)

Corporate Info: The Tea Room is a small, California-based company started by a Swiss chef and later hotel manager. I can't find much more information about the company itself, including in the press, but it seems pretty small and focused on tea, imported macarons, and tea-infused chocolate treats. All of the cacao is organic and non-GMO, and it's sourced with farmers' quality of life in mind while consciously avoiding the Fair Trade label. The Tea Room's bars and some other items are sold nationwide, mostly at gourmet and health-food-type markets; I found mine at an upscale, local chain pharmacy.

Today's Bar: I selected two bars based on how dark they were, and today's is 72% cacao infused with yerba maté and also including cacao nibs. For those who've never tasted yerba maté, it's a South American plant whose leaves can be used like tea, imparting a grassy flavor as well as a hit of caffeine.

Appearance: The Tea Room's bars are not especially exciting to look at, just sharply molded into a rectangular grid. The color of this one is quite dark, more black-brown than I'd expect for 72%, with a slight gloss.

Smell: Deep, but not fruity, more of a dried, “brown” vibe.

Taste: Wow, that's deep. The flavor stands out, punchy and dried-fruity, and the texture is super rich and creamy. Not a lot of sourness, no edges, but lots of lingering, dark dried fruit and a sort of dried grassiness, which I presume is the maté. Nibs seem to be few and far between, detectable mostly only in a slightly less smooth texture, which actually provides some interesting variation, if not a stark contrast.

Conclusion: The Tea Room Chocolate Fusion Maté & Cacao Nibs is deep and dark, but not bitter.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Chuao Chocolatier Salted Chocolate Crunch



2.8oz (80g) bar
Ingredients: cacao, sugar, cacao butter, soy lecithin, vanilla, sea salt, panko breadcrumbs (wheat flour, dextrose, yeast, salt)
15g sugar/40g serving (37.5% by wt.)

Corporate Info: (Copied from 11/17/12) According to its stylish website, Chuao Chocolatier is a San Diego-based company founded by two brothers from Venezuela, who named the company after a region of their homeland. Chuao's whole deal is interesting chocolate combinations, in bars like maple bacon and potato chip (see the production here), and in confections like smoky macadamia and goat cheese & pear. You can buy Chuao's products at its well-regarded retail locations in Southern California, at other select stores, or at large chains like Whole Foods and Target.

Note: The site calls Chuao the “first Venezuelan Chocolatier based in the United States,” but aside from this pricey bar I can't find a claim that their cacao is sourced in the region of Chuao or in Venezuela generally, so I won't be labeling the company single-origin.


Appearance: Shiny, in a grey-yellow-brown that's surprisingly a touch lighter than last week's Chuao Firecracker, despite presumably being in the same base. Maybe the chipotle darkened the other bar?

Smell: Hm, subtle, which again surprises me compared to last week's—but my co-taster says he thinks this one smells stronger. Subjective senses!

Taste: So I had to step back from sugar over the last few weeks, which explains why this 60% cacao base tastes very sweet to me. That aside, it's quite nice. The chocolate is mild but with a light, bitter aftertaste, reminiscent of the lingering taste of a cup of coffee; my co-taster similarly reflected “you can really taste the toastiness—browned, I guess a little carbonized.” The breadcrumbs offer a pleasant, crispy crunch, varied and never mushy. The well-incorporated salt rounds out the flavor, which I think of as achieving balance but my co-taster expanded, commenting on the way the toasty/bitter flavors, salt, and sweet all pull in different directions, offering a broader experience.

Conclusion: Chuao Chocolatier Salted Chocolate Crunch is both complex and well balanced, in terms of both flavor and texture.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Chuao Chocolatier Firecracker



2.8oz (80g) bar
Ingredients: 60% cacao, sugar, cocoa butter, soy lecithin, vanilla, chipotle chile, pasilla chile, sea salt, candy (sugar, corn glucose, lactose, carbon dioxide)

Corporate Info: According to its stylish website, Chuao Chocolatier is a San Diego-based company founded by two brothers from Venezuela, who named the company after a region of their homeland. Chuao's whole deal is interesting chocolate combinations, in bars like maple bacon and potato chip (see the production here), and in confections like smoky macadamia and goat cheese & pear. You can buy Chuao's products at its well-regarded retail locations in Southern California, at other select stores, or at large chains like Whole Foods and Target.

Note: The site calls Chuao the “first Venezuelan Chocolatier based in the United States,” but aside from this pricey bar I can't find a claim that their cacao is sourced in the region of Chuao or in Venezuela generally, so I won't be labeling the company single-origin.
 
Today's Bar: Chuao's Firecracker Bar, 60% cacao with sea salt, chipotle, and Pop-Rocks-type popping candy. Hm.

Appearance: Shiny, not especially red/orange/yellow medium brown, in an interesting mold (as you can see above). The back surface is pebbled with the candy pieces and possibly also the salt.

Smell: I mostly get a fresh/raw, sour, bitter (in a beany way, not acrid) chocolate smell, with perhaps a touch of smokiness from the chipotle but nothing obvious.

Taste: Ooh, that's fun. The chocolate is decent quality, with the beany, fresh flavor I got from the aroma. Depending on what hits your tongue first, you either get saltiness or the popping candies, which have little flavor but add a Nestle Crunch sort of crispiness that morphs into the crackle of Pop Rocks that fill your mouth as you chew but never threaten to explode—this isn't candy you'd have to eat on a dare. Chipotle is slow to arrive after the sweet-salty chocolate, mostly resulting in a slow but prominent burn in the back of the throat; a co-taster says he also feels the heat on the back of his tongue. I think I find the 60% cacao a tad too sweet for my taste, though that's after having eaten a good quarter of the bar.

Conclusion: Chuao Chocolatier Firecracker is likably crackly, smoky-burny, and sweet, a novel if not necessary combination.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Equal Exchange Organic Mint Chocolate With a Delicate Crunch



3.5oz (100g) bar
Ingredients: Organic fair trade chocolate liquor, oft. raw cane sugar, oft. cocoa butter, peppermint crisps (oft. cane sugar, oft. peppermint oil), oft. vanilla
14g sugar/37g serving (37.8% by wt.)

Corporate Info: (Altered from 5/5/11) Massachusetts co-op Equal Exchange is serious about fair trade, organic growing methods, relationships with farmers, and everything that goes along with it. I'm actually overwhelmed by the extensive website, but suffice to say that the reason behind the company's founding was to do good via products that now encompass your usual array of tasty and potentially problematic foods from the tropics (chocolate, coffee, tea, bananas, etc) and a few other locations (almonds, olive oil). At this point they're well-established and respected (the Better World Shopping Guide gives them an A+), so if you care about “Corporate Info” enough to read this paragraph, this is the sort of company you'll love.

This Bar: Equal Exchange produces a bunch of different single-origin and flavored bars, of which I've only reviewed the orange in 65% cacao. Today's contains some sort of crunchy mint candy, and for whatever reason they've used 67% cacao here.

Appearance: Matte, greyish, with a little orangey undertone. Nothing special.

Smell: Not like mint exactly, but light and refreshing. Otherwise, nutty and sweet, not especially chocolatey.

Taste: Actually, that's really nice. The chocolate is crunchy melting to waxy, mild, and sweet, with just a little sour, and the little mint crunches are super tiny, adding fresh, sweet texture rather than tasting like separate candies. This isn't your super high quality stuff, but it's easy to eat and you'll be supporting a great company.

Conclusion: Equal Exchange Organic Mint Chocolate With a Delicate Crunch is fine, mild chocolate with itty bitty mint crunchies that offer texture and refreshing flavor.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

All My Sins Peppermint Mischief 70% Cacao Dark Chocolate Peppermint Coffee Beans


5.5oz (156g) bag
Ingredients: Fair trade unsweetened chocolate, ft. sugar, ft. cocoa, soy lecithin, ft. vanilla, ft. coffee, gum acacia, medium chain triglycerides, peppermint flavor, confectioner's glaze
8g sugar/35g serving (22.9% by wt.)

Corporate Info: Pop Quiz. Q: What's weird about All My Sins? A: The brand doesn't have a website, or any other identity as far as I can see. According to the package it's distributed by John B. Sanfilippo & Son, Inc., which according to this site filed a for trademark on the name (All My Sins With None of the Guilt) earlier this year. JBSS was founded in Illinois in 1922 and sources nuts commercially, for store generics, and as the brand Fisher. I found the All My Sins product at Whole Foods.

Today's Confection: This is All My Sins' dark chocolate item, which is why it's the one I bought!

Appearance: Shiny (that'd be the confectioner's glaze) and dark.

Smell: An appealing mix of chocolate and heady roasted espresso, with a light burst of mint.

Taste: Quite nice, if more or less what you'd expect. The chocolate coating isn't too thin or thick, and it holds up with its rich texture and dark but mild flavor to the crunchy, roasty coffee beans. The mint is kind of an afterthought, but I have to admit it adds a layer of refreshment to the dark and somewhat bitter (just because it's coffee) confection. I can't wax poetic about these—they don't have the gourmet texture or complexity of, say, Pacari's chocolate covered cacao beans—but there's nothing “off” in the balance of flavors, the thickness of the coating, or the beans.

Conclusion: All My Sins Peppermint Mischief 70% Cacao Dark Chocolate Peppermint Coffee Beans are a satisfying snack for those who like their candy caffeinated or coffee with their chocolate.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Stirs the Soul Salted Chocolate Pleasures


Ingredients (maybe?): Coconut palm sugar, coconut milk, chocolate liquor, cocoa butter, coconut oil, vanilla

Corporate Info: I'd never heard of Portland, Oregon's Stirs the Soul until near the end of my visit to Seattle's annual Northwest Chocolate Festival. (I was only able to stay a few hours, so I expect to discuss the festival in related posts rather than on its own.) By that point my head was swimming: I'd seen countless thin, flat, brown rectangles and tasted many smooth, complex chocolates that were mostly running together in my mind, though I hadn't yet been blown away by anything and was actually considering going home with nothing.

Near the back of the convention floor I stopped at Stirs the Soul's undeniably hippie booth and figured it was another company that put ideology over quality chocolate...and then I had my first surprise of the afternoon. Daren Hayes comes off as a chatty, earthy-crunchy hippie, a self-taught chocolate maker (albeit one with a culinary degree) who had the good sense to hire a chocolatier or two, and they're doing interesting work. I actually liked (though not loved) the bars, which are made using organic, raw cacao, with alternative sweetners (coconut palm sugar, date sugar, agave, honey) and fairly interesting flavors like hemp and maitake mushroom, spiced chai, and orange goji. The truffles I took home aren't available on the website, but they're what blew me away, and if you're interested in the bars and other confections, you can buy them online or at one of these natural food stores.

Today's Confection: Daren had two “Pleasures” available for tasting, the Salted Chocolate and another (I think Turkish coffee, which I remember also being excellent); I overheard him saying something about them being a sort of cross between a caramel and a truffle. There's no label on the little cardboard boxes he had for sale, so I asked him for the ingredients and he rattled off what I listed above, noting that there might be one or two more that he couldn't remember. I've tasted raw chocolate in the past and used all three of the coconut ingredients he mentioned, and while I like them, I expected something fairly oily and harsh. Instead I ended up buying a box of four.

Appearance: Imperfect squares, with a very dark coating and a light, haphazard sprinkling of salt crystals and what I assume to be crushed cocoa nibs.

Smell: Not strong, but earthy, smoky, and dark.

Taste: Texture is pliable outside, very soft and slightly chewy inside, which must be the “caramel” in the caramel-truffle cross. Flavor is intense: complex, moody, dark, smoky, roasted—but not especially bitter or sour. These remind me of strong coffee and the scent of pot smoke (I'll only admit to having attended concerts as a teenager, and eventually learning what I was smelling around me), with the salt crystals majorly punching up the flavor halfway through chewing. I have no idea what fine European-style chocolatiers would think, as the texture, intensity, and smokiness are a long way from many super-creamy, mild truffles and sweet, buttery caramels, but I could eat one of these daily and always feel impressed and satisfied. I wish I had more.

Conclusion: Stirs the Soul Salted Chocolate Pleasures' hippie pedigree and culinary aspirations make them an intense, satisfying surprise.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Trader Joe's Organic Stone Ground Salt & Pepper Dark Chocolate

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2.6oz (73.7g) in two discs
Ingredients: I lost the label for this (it's a sticker on the back), but the Taza product contains just organic cocoa beans, organic sugar, salt, and pepper, and is 55% cacao.

Corporate Info: (Copied from 10/6/12) I've had very mixed results with Trader Joe's chocolate, enough that I rarely review it. The quirky-gourmet company is hit or miss anyway, with some products being regular purchases for years, some becoming favorites and then disappearing from shelves, and some straight up disappointing. There isn't much to say aside from a fun fact: The US's beloved Trader Joe's is owned by Germany's ALDI, which operates discount supermarkets all over Europe—and that explains why we saw packages of dried fruit and nuts labeled Trader Joe's in an ALDI in Osnabrück.

This Bar: (Altered from 10/13/12) Trader Joe's is known for offering store brand goods that are possibly lower-cost, identical products made by a name brand manufacturer and sold in very similar packaging that makes the connection even more obvious. Today's stone-ground cacao discs look mighty familiar, don't they? Well, they're as close as you can come (without being 100% positive) to Taza's two-to-a-package, spoke-scored, stone-ground Salt and Pepper Chocolate Mexicano, which I actually haven't reviewed here, though I can't compare the ingredients as I write this (see above). TJ's is only $3.99, while Taza's is $4.50 on its website and $5-6 in stores around my city. I don't have the Taza product here, but I can review TJ's discs alone. So how are they?

Appearance: This actually has a slightly darker, redder undertone than last week's 70% bar, despite being lower cacao (I think). Again, it's glossy with a grainy cross-section, due to the stone-ground cacao and sugar crystals.

Smell: Rich, dark, and a little sweet, with the black pepper adding a spiciness that doesn't stand out but rather makes the chocolate smell more complex.

Taste: Again, the texture is gritty, reflecting both the cacao and the sugar. The first flavors that hit me are salty-savory and sweet, not chocolatey, which is interesting. The salt and pepper don't taste strongly salty or peppery but rather contribute to an overall savory flavor, with the flavor-enhancing properties of salt and the slow burn of pepper. The sweetness stands out, probably because of the lower cacao content (I think) as well as the separate sugar crystals, which makes it a little too sweet for me but does provide a good counterpoint to the savoriness of the salt and pepper. Personally I'd like to taste this spice blend in 70% cacao, but it works if you like more sugar in your chocolate.

Conclusion: Trader Joe's Organic Stone Ground Salt & Pepper Dark Chocolate is sweet and savory, with the interestingly gritty texture of stone-ground cacao.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Trader Joe's Organic Stone Ground 70% Cacao Extra Dark Chocolate


2.6oz (73.7g) in two discs
Ingredients: Organic cocoa nibs, o. cane sugar
10g sugar/37g serving (27% by wt.)

Corporate Info: (Copied from 10/6/12) I've had very mixed results with Trader Joe's chocolate, enough that I rarely review it. The quirky-gourmet company is hit or miss anyway, with some products being regular purchases for years, some becoming favorites and then disappearing from shelves, and some straight up disappointing. There isn't much to say aside from a fun fact: The US's beloved Trader Joe's is owned by Germany's ALDI, which operates discount supermarkets all over Europe—and that explains why we saw packages of dried fruit and nuts labeled Trader Joe's in an ALDI in Osnabrück.

This Bar: Trader Joe's is known for offering store brand goods that are possibly lower-cost, identical products made by a name brand manufacturer and sold in very similar packaging that makes the connection even more obvious. Today's stone-ground, 70% cacao discs look mighty familiar, don't they? Well, they're as close as you can come (without being 100% positive) to Taza's two-to-a-package, spoke-scored, stone-ground 70% Cacao Puro Chocolate Mexicano, which I haven't reviewed here. The ingredients are practically the same (TJ's lists “cocoa nibs” to Taza's website's “roasted cacao beans”), but TJ's is only $3.99, while Taza's is $4.50 on its website and $5-6 in stores around my city. Unfortunately I don't have the Taza product here, but I can review TJ's discs alone. So how are they?

Appearance: Medium brown with yellow undertones. Glossy on the surface but grainy (i.e. stone-ground) in cross-section, with visible sugar crystals.

Smell: Sweet, dried/”brown”, light brown sugar. Not molasses-y, but with some caramelized, raisiny elements.

Taste: Texture is gritty and fudgy. Flavor isn't especially dark, but has a light spiciness, like nutmeg and ginger—that's the dried, “brown” smell I was getting. Slightly sour, little bitterness. The flavor's mild complexity and texture's variation makes this easy to keep eating.

Conclusion: Trader Joe's Organic Stone Ground 70% Cacao Extra Dark Chocolate is gritty, fudgy, and relatively mild, making it easy to munch.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Trader Joe's 72% Cacao Dark Chocolate



1.65oz (47g) bar
Ingredients: Cocoa mass, sugar, cocoa powder, soy lecithin, cocoa solids
13g sugar/47g serving (27.7% by wt.)

Corporate Info: I've had very mixed results with Trader Joe's chocolate, enough that I rarely review it. The quirky-gourmet company is hit or miss anyway, with some products being regular purchases for years, some becoming favorites and then disappearing from shelves, and some straight up disappointing. There isn't much to say aside from a fun fact: The US's beloved Trader Joe's is owned by Germany's ALDI, which operates discount supermarkets all over Europe—and that explains why we saw packages of dried fruit and nuts labeled Trader Joe's in an ALDI in Osnabrück.

This Bar: Just a random 72% cacao bar with no special selling points other than a small “Imported from Belgium.” It's worth noting that, unlike most chocolate bars I review, this one lists cocoa powder in the ingredients. I wonder what that will do to the flavor, if anything?

Appearance: Small and blocky, in a very medium brown with the normal level of gloss.

Smell: Roasted, bitter, kind of harsh.

Taste: Texture is waxy, melting into thick and somewhat chalky, the latter of which I expect has to do with the cocoa powder. Flavor is intense and bitter, with undertones of butter and nuts. The bitterness actually has some complexity, so even though it's a little harsh it's not totally all over the place and doesn't have super-off-putting edges, so honestly it's not all that bad, but it's amazing the difference between this 72% bar and many others with similar levels of cacao. Cocoa powder wouldn't be my first choice of chocolate bar ingredients, and I wouldn't go out of my way to buy this again, but if you relish bitterness it's worth a shot.

Conclusion: Trader Joe's 72% Cacao Dark Chocolate is strong and bitter, but passable if you like that sort of thing.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Domori Cacao Criollo 70% Porcelana


0.88oz (25g) bar
Ingredients: Cocoa mass, cane sugar

Corporate Info: [Altered from 1/23/11] A Google search on Italy's Domori mostly finds retailers and the occasional layperson like me, not news articles or other credible sources of information. (One minor exception is a short blog post from 2005 by famed pastry chef David Lebovitz.) Domori is currently a subsidiary of gruppo illy, which also owns several other high-end brands including the obvious illycaffè. Otherwise I'll refrain from making any claims about Domori as a company and just point you to the areas of its website that talk about its plantation, the company today, its production process, and so on. It's not all that enlightening, but the focus (whether in reality or just marketing terms) seems to be on quality and flavor. The bars are very small and pricey, so they'd better be high quality!

This Bar: I received the Porcelana from a friend, who absolutely loves Domori and this bar in particular. It's made with prized criollo beans from Venezuela, which supposedly have a subtler, “finer” taste. Domori's website claims the Porcelana bar has “hints of bread, butter, and jam for an exhilarating round palate.” Hm, okay.

Appearance: Domori's thin, flat shape with a low-key sheen and orange undertone. (The photo above was taken some time after I received the bar, so my description is based on my having rubbed my thumb over the bloom evident there.)

Smell: Not strong, but earthy, bitter, and roasted.

Taste: Texture is super rich and creamy. Flavor is indeed subtle but with a thin, bitter edge and long finish. I'm getting earthy and dried, like dirt or mushrooms, plus there's that long-lasting but not especially tannic (as is often the case) bitterness that reminds me of the aftertaste of strong, dark-roasted coffee. Lots of complexity here.

Conclusion: Domori Cacao Criollo 70% Porcelana is smooth and subtly earthy, with a long-lasting bitter finish.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

B.T. McElrath Super Red Chocolate Bar


3oz (85g) bar
Ingredients: Chocolate liquor, sugar, cocoa butter, butter, soy lecithin, vanilla, tart cherries, strawberries, raspberries
12g sugar/43g serving (27.9% by wt.)

Corporate Info: [Copied from 5/26/12] Minneapolis's B.T. McElrath was founded by a chef, and accordingly seems to focus on creating unusual flavored bars and interesting seasonal confections. No organic/fair trade here. B.T. McElrath's Chile Limón Bar is one of my favorites, and while I was less enamored with the seemingly popular Salty Dog, I'm always up for more of the company's fun flavor combos.

Today's Bar: 70% cacao with cherries, strawberries, and raspberries. I'm not hugely into berry bars, but that's just a matter of personal taste, and it's always interesting to see how different companies approach the fruit in terms of size, sweetness, consistency, etc.

Appearance: Semi-glossy with yellow undertones and, on the reverse, bumps from chocolate-covered fruit pieces.

Smell: Mild, though a broken bar reveals the scent of light, dried raspberries and strawberries, with the freshness of freeze dried fruit (a la Just Tomatoes) rather than than fruit that is sweet and moist or artificial and overpowering. I should note that I opened this bar long before I had a chance to review it, and sometimes that means a lot of the scent is lost.

Taste: The chocolate is B.T. McElrath's usual, mild and creamy (see the extra fat in the ingredients). The small, copious berry pieces add a punch of tart, fruity flavor and a slight crunch and chewiness, and the red flecks look nice in a broken bar, as you can see accurately on the box. As a co-taster said as he grabbed for another square, “This is such good chocolate!” Because berries aren't my thing I won't go out of my way to buy this bar again, but if the description sounds good to you, you probably won't be disappointed.

Conclusion: B.T. McElrath Super Red Chocolate Bar is mild and pleasant, with tiny punches of flavor from fresh-tasting fruit.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Fearless 75% Dark as Midnight


2oz (56.7g) bar
Ingredients: Organic raw cacao, o. unrefined cane sugar
6g sugar/28.35g serving (21.2% by wt.)

Corporate Info: [Copied from 6/2/12] Fearless is totally new to me, but I spied its frankly adorable boxes (tiny elephant! lightning! cloud/bite out of corner! friendly font!) on sale and bought a couple boxes. The company was apparently founded in 2006 in California, uses recycled paper for the outer boxes, and makes bean-to-bar chocolate with organic ingredients and direct trade cacao from specific plantations in Brazil, with a special focus on raw cacao. All of this may or may not mean anything to you, but I think I can safely say that Fearless is full of good intentions, part of what I'm seeing as a young cohort trying to bring chocolate into the modern age more thoughtfully, with an eye toward (or blatant focus on) sustainability and treating growers well. The small-company, bean-to-bar model is one way of doing it (contrast with Divine, for example), and it's a fine option. Good for them. Oh, and Fearless currently produces only five items, a plain 75% bar and four 70% bars with interesting flavor combos.

Today's Bar: Fearless's plain chocolate, in 75% cacao rather than the 70% they use in flavored bars.

Appearance: Fearless's usual fairly matte bar with the great mold, though I'd venture (without having the others in front of me) that the 75% chocolate is slightly glossier and has a richer, redder hue than its fairly grey 70% base.

Smell: Fresh, raw but rounded, earthy.

Taste: Like Fearless's other bars, this one crunches before melting into something smooth and thick. The flavor is tart and beany, like cacao nibs with a super-creamy texture; there are undertones of something fragrant and tropical, maybe banana, but the predominant flavor is sour and somewhat tannic without being seriously bitter or harsh.

Conclusion: Fearless 75% Dark as Midnight has a creamy texture and a bright and raw but tempered flavor. It's wild cacao that's been tamed for your palate.