Sunday, April 28, 2013

Hiatus

As you might have read in other posts, I have medical reasons for having a low-sugar diet. And right now, my doctor says no chocolate! So I'm going to take a hiatus to try to get better, and I'll get back to this fun pet project when I'm able.

Thanks for reading!

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Indi Chocolate



Corporate Info: Indi Chocolate is a small batch, bean-to-bar company in Seattle, producing not only dark chocolate but also cacao-infused skin products. A generous co-taster spotted Indi's small storefront in Pike Place Market and brought me a sampling of its dark chocolate bars.

Today's Bars: Four in total: plain, dried cherries, dried cranberries, and crystallized ginger. All include only cocoa beans, cocoa butter, sugar, and cherries/cranberries/ginger.

Appearance: Indi's plain bar comes in a fancy mold, imprinted with leaves and cacao pods (and some air bubbles around the edges). The others involve spreading chocolate out in a thin sheet, sprinkling on the inclusion, then cooling and breaking up the pieces. Either way, the chocolate has a nice, low-shine sheen and a deep, rich, medium brown color. 

Smell: Surprisingly buttery, and even the plain chocolate is deeply sweet, like dried fruit.

Taste: The plain chocolate starts out sweet, but is followed by a thin, bitter edge that adds complexity, and there's an underlying dark, fruity flavor like dried dates or plums. The chocolate under the inclusions tastes like it might be lower cacao, but I wouldn't swear to it. The cherry and cranberry both work really well, sweet and moist against the bittersweet chocolate. The ginger is surprisingly subtle, more than I personally would like, but for the ginger-wary it would work well. 

Conclusion: Indi Chocolate is a Seattle-local company making a fine chocolate product with good inclusions, especially the fruits.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Theo 70% Nutcracker Brittle



3oz (84g) bar
Ingredients: Organic fair trade cocoa beans, oft. sugar, o. corn syrup, oft. cocoa butter, water sea salt, baking soda, o. almonds, o. hazelnuts, o. ground vanilla bean
12g sugar/42g serving (28.6% by wt.)

Corporate Info: (Copied from 12/15/12) 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 storeorder 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: 70% Nutcracker Brittle, another holiday bar that sounds like a slightly darker, non-milk, nutty version of last week's 62% salted toffee.

Appearance: Actually, compared to last week's, this is exactly what one might think: a little darker, with less white in the color and still a reddish, non-uniform base.

Smell: Really lovely--aromatic and beany/raw but not harsh.

Taste: First, the brittle is totally different from last week's salted butter toffee, more like tiny, crunchy nut pieces with just a hint of candy's crystalline texture. There's also not as much salt, which I think this could have used; the nut flavor is muted compared to the strong, sour and raw flavors of Theo's intense cacao. The most successful bites I get are those with larger brittle pieces, which stand out against the lower proportion of chocolate. 

Conclusion: Theo 70% Nutcracker Brittle is fine, but the nutty brittle's subtler flavors are dwarfed by the intense cacao.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Theo Milk Chocolate 62% Salted Toffee


3oz (84g) bar
Ingredients: Organic fair trade cocoa beans, oft. sugar, oft. cocoa butter, o. milk powder, o. butter, o. corn syrup, salt, o. vanilla
15g sugar/42g serving (35.7% by wt.)

Corporate Info: (Copied from 12/15/12) 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 storeorder 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: Milk Chocolate 62% Salted Toffee, a seasonal blend from this past winter. It's not listed on the site right now, but in my experience, Theo's holiday chocolates tend to be repeated in one way or another in succeeding years.

Appearance: As with most of Theo's chocolate, this is a rich, orangey brown with a slight gloss and minor variations in color and texture (i.e. probably not super smooth and creamy).

Smell: Warm, bright, fruity, beany but not challenging.

Taste: Texture is a little chalky and chewy, with the candy crunch of the toffee. Flavor has Theo's usual sour notes, and they linger for a very, very long time, along with a little astringency and some rawness. During the eating, though, the milk softens the sour impact just enough to make this an easy chocolate to munch. The salt is a great addition to the toffee, as I think that without it, the toffee wouldn't stand up to the chocolate's strong flavors.

Conclusion: The milk and salt in Theo Milk Chocolate 62% Salted Toffee works well with Theo's strong chocolate base.

[Note: As you can see, I was intrigued enough to start in on this bar before I'd photographed it!]

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Mānoa Chocolate



Today I'm looking at a new-to-me company inspired by a trip home to Hawaii: Mānoa Chocolate. While picking up a few groceries I found several Mānoa bars, and more or less went all-in on this pricey chocolate, selecting three to take back home with me. 

Corporate Info: Mānoa Chocolate is new new new. Though the "history and mission" link on the site only brings up a brief "about" page, the oldest blog post on the site is from April 2012, when they were still building the factory in Kailua, Oahu and sourcing beans from Hawaii and abroad. Here you'll find a great video interviewing Mānoa's young founder, Dylan Butterbaugh, and taking you on a tour of the very small operation. The company has a great mission--among other things, to expand Hawaii's locally-grown cacao industry; thus, Mānoa makes its chocolate bean-to-bar, though as I said, only some of the cacao is from Hawaii. It also uses other Hawaiian ingredients like sea salt and coffee beans, and while the focus here is not crazy flavors, Mānoa makes some bars with goat milk, which I don't think I've seen elsewhere. An intriguing start for a young company! Oh, and in case you're wondering why Mānoa comes out of Kailua and not, well, Mānoa, supposedly it's not about the location.
 
Today's Bars: 
  • 72% Bolivia Goat Milk: Cacao nibs (presumably Bolivian), cane sugar, goat milk powder, cocoa butter. 
  • 66% Goat Milk Hamakua Hawaiian Crown: Cacao nibs (presumably from Hamakua, on the Big Island), cane sugar, goat milk powder, cocoa butter. 
  • 60% Dark Milk Breakfast Bar: Cacao nibs, cane sugar, whole milk powder, cocoa butter, coffee beans (Hawaiian).
Note: Mānoa Chocolate's product line changes continuously. It routinely uses Hamakua cocoa beans, for example, though based on the website, as of this writing it's only in a 72%, non-milk bar. The Bolivian bar seems to be the current incarnation of the 72% single-origin bar, though I think it always includes goat milk. And the listed goat milk option is still 66%, but with (at least in the photo on the site) Peruvian beans. Either way, you get a fun blend of different milks and non-milks, Hawaiian and non-Hawaiian cacao, and so on.

Appearance: All three are shiny and smooth, in a rich red-brown, and the reverse of the Breakfast Bar is densely sprinkled with nibs and whole coffee beans.

Smell: 
  • 72% Bolivia Goat Milk: Wow that's good, full and rich and beany and fruity, with some rawness, a little sourness, and no bitter or "off" odors.
  • 66% Goat Milk Hamakua Hawaiian Crown: Not unlike the above in terms of the description, but slightly muted and with a higher, nutty note.
  • 60% Dark Milk Breakfast Bar: Even more muted, less raw, with something thin and bitter underneath, though still rich and full. No clear coffee scent.
  
Taste:
  • 72% Bolivia Goat Milk: Texture is a little chalky, then melty. Flavor is bright and rounded and a little sour, not goaty at all, but with a little of milk chocolate's smooth, easy-to-eat character and plenty of dark chocolate's punch. 
  • 66% Goat Milk Hamakua Hawaiian Crown: Texture is only slightly chalky and thicker. Flavor is not nearly as strong, with some freshness in the back of the throat and a smooth, sour cream vibe, not as interesting as the 72% Bolivian by my taste but pleasant and still somewhat raw.
  • 60% Dark Milk Breakfast Bar: The texture of the chocolate is, again, chalky and thick, with the soft crunch of the nibs and brittle crunch of the coffee. Flavor is nice, dark but not strong, nutty, without the sourness of the other bars, and just a little coffee from the beans (roughly one bean per rectangle). Not bad, but not my favorite.

Conclusion: To focus on one standout feature: Goat milk complements dark chocolate with the mellowness of dairy but also meshes its sour flavor profile with cacao's raw, sour, beany notes. For that and other reasons, Mānoa Chocolate is a neat addition to the Hawaii chocolate scene.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Chocolove Chilies & Cherries in Dark Chocolate



3.2oz (90g) bar
Ingredients: Cocoa liquor, sugar, cocoa butter, soy lecithin, vanilla, dried cherries, ancho chilies, chipotle chilies
14g sugar/30g serving (46.7% by wt.)

Corporate Info: (Copied from 3/16/13) I have a soft spot for Chocolove, having lived in near its hometown of Boulder, Colorado and enjoyed the company's samples in my local Whole Foods. It's a relatively young company (Wikipedia says 1996; Chocolove's website indicates similar), hasn't yet been bought by a giant conglomerate, and claims it has taken or is taking several steps toward "sustainability & social responsiblity." On the other hand, Chocolove produces only three organic, fair trade bars and is rated a C by the Better World folks (same as Hershey's, much better than Nestle), so I don't want to give them my unconditional Choco-love (ha ha, I crack me up). But it's cheaper than most premium chocolate—$2-2.50 a bar—and reliably tasty.

Note: Chocolove's flavored dark bars are in 55% cacao, which I know I'll find too sweet, but I can't help but be enticed by all the flavor options.

Today's Bar: Dried cherries with two types of chiles, mild ancho and smoky chipotle, in 55% cacao.

Appearance: Another purple-grey brown, in Chocolove's quilted mold, with a somewhat bumpy back.

Smell: Sweet and rich, with the nose-filling scent that is clearly the chile, though it doesn't strike me as distinctively chile-ish.

Taste: Sweet and thick, then the chew of the dried cherries, then their sweet and sour flavor, then a slow build and finally throat-prickling chile. The spice isn't at all overwhelming--either heat or smoke--more of a rounded addition that adds to the overall flavor and experience, complementing the sweet-tart cherries and mouth-coating chocolate. Really an excellent combination.

Conclusion: Chocolove Chilies & Cherries in Dark Chocolate combines thick, sweet dark chocolate and chewy, sweet-tart cherries, with the mouth-filling support of prickly, not overly hot or smoky chile.  

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Chocolove Cherries & Almonds in Dark Chocolate



3.2oz (90g) bar
Ingredients: Cocoa liquor, sugar, cocoa butter, soy lecithin, vanilla, dried cherries, almonds, rice flour, sunflower oil
13g sugar/30g serving (43.3% by wt.)

Corporate Info: (Copied from 3/16/13) I have a soft spot for Chocolove, having lived in near its hometown of Boulder, Colorado and enjoyed the company's samples in my local Whole Foods. It's a relatively young company (Wikipedia says 1996; Chocolove's website indicates similar), hasn't yet been bought by a giant conglomerate, and claims it has taken or is taking several steps toward "sustainability & social responsiblity." On the other hand, Chocolove produces only three organic, fair trade bars and is rated a C by the Better World folks (same as Hershey's, much better than Nestle), so I don't want to give them my unconditional Choco-love (ha ha, I crack me up). But it's cheaper than most premium chocolate—$2-2.50 a bar—and reliably tasty

Note: Chocolove's flavored dark bars are in 55% cacao, which I know I'll find too sweet, but I can't help but be enticed by all the flavor options.

Today's Bar: Cherry and almond in 55% cacao.

Appearance: Purple-grey brown in Chocolove's quilted pattern, with rounded bumps and visible almonds on the back.

Smell: Sweet and nutty. I don't get cherries per se, but there's a little dried fruit in there.

Taste: This is another sweet and thick dark Chocolove bar, but unlike last week's, with its tart freeze-dried raspberries, this one includes sweet, chewy cherries and pieces of almond. The cherry does have a bit of sweet-sour charm (and I do love cherries in chocolate), and its texture is a great addition, but mostly it doesn't cut the sweetness of the chocolate. The almonds are tasty but intermittent: Not all squares include enough almond to taste. So this isn't my favorite, but really it's a pretty good bar.

Conclusion: Chocolove Cherries & Almonds in Dark Chocolate has good textural variation from the cherries and the intermittent almonds and a slight tartness in the sweet cherries, and is overall a good, fairly sweet, rich bar.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Chocolove Raspberries in Dark Chocolate



3.2oz (90g) bar
Ingredients: Cocoa liquor, sugar, cocoa butter, soy lecithin, vanilla, freeze dried raspberries
13g sugar/30g serving (43.3% by wt.)

Corporate Info: (Altered from 10/15/11) I have a soft spot for Chocolove, having lived in near its hometown of Boulder, Colorado and enjoyed the company's samples in my local Whole Foods. It's a relatively young company (Wikipedia says 1996; Chocolove's website indicates similar), hasn't yet been bought by a giant conglomerate, and claims it has taken or is taking several steps toward "sustainability & social responsiblity." On the other hand, Chocolove produces only three organic, fair trade bars and is rated a C by the Better World folks (same as Hershey's, much better than Nestle), so I don't want to give them my unconditional Choco-love (ha ha, I crack me up). But it's cheaper than most premium chocolate—$2-2.50 a bar—and reliably tasty

Note: Chocolove's flavored dark bars are in 55% cacao, which I know I'll find too sweet, but I can't help but be enticed by all the flavor options.

Today's Bar: Raspberry, as in freeze-dried raspberries as an inclusion.

Appearance: Red and grey undertones in Chocolove's usual quilt-like pattern. The back is covered in bumps of raspberry coated with chocolate.

Smell: Mild but fresh, with a hint of raspberry and nuts.

Taste: Okay, yes, this is sweet, but the freeze-dried raspberries retain their tart flavor, so I get a hit of sour freshness to cut the mild, sweet, and creamy chocolate. The creaminess is a good match for the sugar, too, because while it might be sweeter than I like, it's evened out by a rich flavor and texture. Raspberry seeds add to the textural variation--not that there are tons, but there are enough to crunch a little and stick in my teeth, which is actually a boon in that it provides a lingering sour counterpoint to the chocolate. Success.

Conclusion: Chocolove Raspberries in Dark Chocolate's sweet, thick chocolate and crunchy, tart freeze-dried raspberries balance each other well.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Cachet Lemon & Pepper


3.5oz (100g) bar
Ingredients: Cocoa mass, sugar, lemon granules (inulin, lemon extract, lemon zest), cocoa butter, butter oil, black pepper, soy lecithin
14g sugar/38g serving (36.8% by wt.)

Corporate Info: (copied from 2/23/13) Cachet is a subsidiary of Kim's Chocolates, a Belgian company founded in 1987 that makes bars and confections under the Cachet name as well as a line called KC Chocolatier. I'm not sure what the difference is in terms of branding, other than that Cachet is "available in supermarkets and at many confectioners," while KC Chocolatier is in "specialist chocolate shops, delicatessens, Duty Free shops and on board aeroplanes." Cachet offers a fairly large assortment (click through to see groupings), including a few sugar-free varieties, though I notice that no ingredients are listed on the site. 

Today's Bar: Lemon & Pepper in 57% cacao, again one of Cachet's "fruit tablets." Contains the hated "granules."

Appearance: Plain old medium brown, slightly glossy.

Smell: Not strong. I get both lemon and pepper, which is nice, and a little mild chocolate.

Taste: Waxy chocolate, then lemon--not too candy-ish, but also not fresh-tasting or sour--then the crunch of a few granules, then the prickle of black pepper. I could've done without the granules, even for the texture they add, but there aren't many and the flavor they contribute is fine. I like the black pepper, a spice I don't find often in chocolate, which here is both distinctly perceivable and not too strong. The chocolate, while mild and sweet, is well balanced with the mild flavorings--greater sourness or bitterness or what have you would create a totally different flavor profile with this particular lemon and pepper, and in this bar it works.

Conclusion: Cachet Lemon & Pepper isn't the highest quality of anything, but it's provides a perfectly functional and mild version of an uncommon flavoring in chocolate.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Cachet Blackberry & Ginger


3.5oz (100g) bar
Ingredients: Cocoa mass, sugar, blackberry granules (inulin, blackberry flavoring, blackberry powder), cocoa butter, butter oil, ginger granules (inulin, ginger flavoring, natural flavorings), soy lecithin
14g sugar/38g serving (36.8% by wt.)

Corporate Info: (Copied from 2/23/13) Cachet is a subsidiary of Kim's Chocolates, a Belgian company founded in 1987 that makes bars and confections under the Cachet name as well as a line called KC Chocolatier. I'm not sure what the difference is in terms of branding, other than that Cachet is "available in supermarkets and at many confectioners," while KC Chocolatier is in "specialist chocolate shops, delicatessens, Duty Free shops and on board aeroplanes." Cachet offers a fairly large assortment (click through to see groupings), including a few sugar-free varieties, though I notice that no ingredients are listed on the site.

Today's Bar: Blackberry & Ginger, one of Cachet's "fruit tablets," in 57% cacao.

Appearance: Medium brown with pale flecks beneath the surface.

Smell: Fake-fruity, sweet and candy-like berry rather than fresh or tart or dried. Chocolate is mild under the fruit scent.

Taste: Too-sweet berry perfume, then the crunch of the "granules," then a sweet, slightly chalky, but generally pleasant very mild chocolate. I'm not getting ginger almost at all, though since I'm looking for it I think I can pull it out just a touch. I've decided I don't like "granules"--this isn't recognizable dried berry, or candied ginger, or hard candies flavored with either, it's some sort of unholy creation that's supposed to taste like them, and it only does in a broad, not-real-food sense. Ugh, and now I taste lingering "natural flavoring blackberry type" (the actual text in the listed ingredients)...blech. A letdown after last week.

Conclusion: Cachet Blackberry & Ginger is redolent of fake berry, with the odd texture of industrial "granules." I don't like it.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Cachet Cocoa Nibs



3.5oz (100g) bar
Ingredients: Cocoa mass, sugar, cocoa nibs, cocoa powder, soy lecithin 
10g sugar/38g serving (26.3% by wt.)

Corporate Info: Cachet is a subsidiary of Kim's Chocolates, a Belgian company founded in 1987 that makes bars and confections under the Cachet name as well as a line called KC Chocolatier. I'm not sure what the difference is in terms of branding, other than that Cachet is "available in supermarkets and at many confectioners," while KC Chocolatier is in "specialist chocolate shops, delicatessens, Duty Free shops and on board aeroplanes." Cachet offers a fairly large assortment (click through to see groupings), including a few sugar-free varieties, though I notice that no ingredients are listed on the site. 

Today's Bar: Cocoa nibs in 70% cacao, apparently part of the "signature" line of tablets (i.e. bars). I found it (and two other bars) in a German deli for about $4. 

Appearance: Nondescript orangey brown in a wide, flat mold. 

Smell: Tart, beany, red-fruity.

Taste: For a relatively uninteresting-looking bar with a generic European corporate pedigree, this is actually pretty good. It's reasonably sweet but with a high density of nibs, whose hearty crunch and tame but raw flavor (they very much blend in) add a break and interest to a perfectly adequate base. The chocolate itself has a syrupy dried-fruit flavor with a little sourness for balance and a slightly chalky, thick texture that isn't my favorite but works okay if I don't think too much about it. This could be a decent go-to snacking chocolate, especially because the nibs' crunch make it somewhere between plain chocolate and a nut-studded (and not too sweet) candy bar in terms of munching satisfaction.

Conclusion: Cachet Cocoa Nibs feels generically European, but the decent chocolate and high nib concentration make it a satisfying snack.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Chocolate Shops in Victoria, BC, Canada

I recently visited Victoria, British Columbia for the first time, and in my first couple hours there I spotted a tourist magazine with a cover article about Victoria-area chocolatiers! My free-form trip suddenly had a focus; I cross-referenced the chocolatiers described in the article with Yelp reviews and my ability to get around, and ended up at three shopsand, sadly, forgot to take photos. So here are my reviews of three shops, albeit in pictureless form.

Of the three shops, one is all over Canada and has a U.S. presence as well, one is a Victoria-based chain that also sells online, and one is for local patrons only, which hopefully means there's something of interest here for everyone. 

International: Chocolaterie Bernard Callebaut

Chocolaterie Bernard Callebaut is based out of Calgary, Alberta, was founded in 1983, and otherwise doesn't go into much depth on its site. According to Wikipedia (and the Chicago-area Bernard Callebaut site), Chocolaterie Bernard Callebaut was founded by a descendent of the more famous Callebaut, he of the Belgian company that is now part of multinational Barry Callebaut. Chocolaterie Bernard Callebaut currently operates under the corporate name Cococo Chocolatiers and has stores (some corporate-operated, others independently owned) all across Canada, one in the Portland, Oregon area, and one in the Chicago, Illinois area.

The store I visited in Victoria was spare, with a long confections counter and shelves for bars, bags of chocolate shavings, and other creations. I ordered about a half-dozen chocolates, including the cinnamon ginger, trio, and bernard. So how were they? Nothing blew me away, but all were pleasant, with fine molding, creamy fillings, and subtle flavors. High-end but not all that interesting, though I had no problem finishing them off. Yum.

Order Online: Rogers' Chocolates

Rogers' Chocolates is totally Victoria: It was founded in 1885 in Victoria, and Rogers' eight stores are all located in British Columbia. I visited the “heritage storefront” on tourism-friendly Government Street and found it charmingly packed with confections and boxed items in an old-fashioned, wood-paneled setting. And the chocolates? Eh, they were okay, large and too sweet, so that divorced from their setting, back in my hotel room, I ate only bites of several before deciding I'd rather spend my calories on something else. But I would return to Rogers' for the ambience, focusing my purchases on the things I expect to be big and homey, like brittle and the turtle-like “Empress Squares”. So...meh.

Locals-Only: Chocolat Chocolatiere de Victoria

Chocolat Chocolatiere de Victoria's website just says that the company was founded in the 1990s nearby, then moved to downtown Victoria in 2004. Other articles note that the chocolatier is Helene Pappas, though I also found an April 2011 obituary for a Helene Pappas, though no other articles about her death (in, say, local business news), so perhaps that Helene is a relative. Regardless, Chocolat's storefront on a busy street had a family vibe, with an older gentleman (founder? father?) speaking familiarly with two women at the counter (daughters?) and with several visitors of various ages and appearances as they walked past the counter and chatted in a hallway in the back. There was a confections counter front and center, and to the left a case of chocolate desserts and a smaller counter for serving various chocolate drinks. A long set of seats along the front window and a separate nook of bistro tables and low, cushioned seats completed the sense of Chocolat as a great coffee-shop-like place where I wished I could become a regular.

So how was the chocolate? I ended up with nearly a dozen of the intriguing-looking and -sounding confections, among them Chocolate in the Raw, a Dark Mouse, Marzipan, Rosebud, and the wasabi-infused Samurai, and mostly saved them while drinking dark, thick, milk-free Xocolatl and watching the staff wrap red boxes in preparation for Valentine's Day. I nibbled on a few chocolates and saved the rest to finish later, in my hotel room, where I tried and savored them all. Some were more to my taste than others, but I had no regrets: Chocolat's confections look varied and interesting and taste evocative, fun, and creative, and I'd love to return. Excellent.