Saturday, January 26, 2013

Fearless 70% Matcha Green Tea Peppermynt




2oz (56.7g) bar
Ingredients: Organic raw cacao, o. unrefined cane sugar, o. matcha green tea, o. peppermint
7g sugar/28.35g serving (24.7% by wt.)

Corporate Info: [Altered from 6/2/12] Fearless was 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. Fearless is also notable for its aesthetic, a combination of earthy-crunchy (recycled-looking paper boxes) and super cute, as the font is friendly, the logo is a tiny elephant, and the mold embosses the elephant and a bunch of stars on the bars and takes a “bite” out of the corner of the bar. I'd argue that the cute-ification of the raw, organic message is a great way to go, taking what might otherwise be perceived as a solidly hippie company and making it more approachable. As of last September Fearless only produced five bars, and now there are seven, so look for more from Fearless in the future.

Today's Bar: The same simple cacao and unrefined sugar, 70% like their other flavored/inclusion bars, with added matcha and peppermint. As you'll see from the link, since I bought this bar the packaging and logo have changed: The elephant now has wings, and the new bar is “Green Tea Mint.” I'm curious whether or not the bar's formula has changed as well.

Appearance: Very slightly glossy, in a pleasantly orange-ish brown, and of course Fearless's excellent molding.

Smell: A little mint, and something green-brown in not-too-strong chocolate.

Taste: Not quite my thing. The chocolate has a nice raw beaniness, but I'm not sure that's well matched by the low-level mint, and the matcha adds a sort of lingering, dusty, bitter flavor that doesn't work for me, though it might be very right for matcha fans. The texture is smooth and thick (though not ultra-smooth like many European bars), so the overall vibe is more complex than just “raw.” Still, I think matcha takes raw cacao's potential for bitterness and makes it a definite reality, and that's not the way I'd want to go.

Conclusion: Fearless 70% Matcha Green Tea Peppermynt emphasizes bitterness, and I don't think the matcha or mint bring out the best notes in the raw cacao.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Trader Joe's Takes Flight: A Dark Chocolate Tasting Odyssey, Part II


Corporate Info: (Altered from 10/6/12) Quirky-gourmet grocery store Trader Joe's tends to be hit or miss, with some products being regular purchases for years, some becoming favorites and then disappearing from shelves, and some straight up disappointing. I've had similarly mixed results with their chocolate, but there's constant turnover, they contract with a whole assortment of manufacturers, and they aim for reasonable price points, so it's worth it to keep trying. There isn't much else 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.

Today's Bar: An assortment! This “Dark Chocolate Tasting Odyssey” is in the same line as the bar with toffee, walnuts, and pecans and the caramel-filled bar with black sea salt, but it includes seven separate and interesting bars! Two are 2oz versions of full-sized products, the salted caramel bar I've already reviewed and a coconut caramel one I still intend to review, so I won't cover them here. Further, you can buy each of those separately, and I've seen both in stores off-and-on for the last year, so you can probably find them if you want them. In contrast, I've only seen this assortment once, so I'm going to cover it in a two-part mega review rather than stretching it out over five posts.

So what, then, are today's bars? Every bar in the assortment is in 70% cacao, and aside from the two caramel-filled ones discussed above, all are regular chocolate with inclusions. Last week I looked at coffee & cocoa nibs and chili & cinnamon; today is even more interesting, with Almond Ginger, Orange Hibiscus, and Salt & Pepper Potato Chip!

Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Chocolate Bar 70% Almond Ginger


2oz (57g) bar
Ingredients: Chocolate liquor, sugar, cocoa butter, soy lecithin, vanilla, almonds, ginger, cane sugar, salt
18g sugar/57g serving (31.6% by wt.)

Appearance: Again, plain, slightly purply chocolate, with raised almond pieces on the back and flecks of white almond in cross-section.

Smell: I get the ginger, actually, in the form of something spicy and fragrant within the light, nutty chocolate.

Taste: Saltier than I expected, with crunchy almond slivers and tiny bursts of bright crystallized ginger. All three come in separately, so each bite varies in terms of texture and flavor. The chocolate is still reasonably bland, a little chalky, and sweet, but this bar is more about the inclusions so it works out.

Conclusion: Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Chocolate Bar 70% Almond Ginger has varied flavor and texture within okay chocolate.

Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Chocolate Bar 70% Orange Hibiscus


2oz (57g) bar
Ingredients: Chocolate liquor, sugar, cocoa butter, soy lecithin, vanilla, hibiscus powder, orange oil, tea: elderberry, apples, hibiscus, rosehip, kiwi, strawberry, sunflower petals, rose, corn flower, raspberry, passionfruit, natural flavors
18g sugar/57g serving (31.6% by wt.)

Appearance: Again, plain, slightly purply chocolate.

Smell: Cohesive but complex fruit, ranging from fragrant and perfumey to sweet-tart.

Taste: Hm. The chalkiness of the chocolate base doesn't work here, as it contrasts poorly with the fruit flavor. Aside from that, very fruity and sweet-tart, leaning toward sweet, with tiny crunches, probably the hibiscus powder. I think I can taste the exotic spice of the orange oil, and aside from that it very much reminds me of the sorts of fruit teas that use hibiscus as a foundation, bright and tart and layered. It also works well with the mild chocolate, though I do think it could stand up to a darker, more sour-bitter-beany variety. Unfortunately, the contrast with the texture is awfully weird, and that's what gets to me in the end.

Conclusion: Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Chocolate Bar 70% Orange Hibiscus is complexly fruity, with a chalkiness that contrasts oddly with the flavoring.

Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Chocolate Bar 70% Salt & Pepper Potato Chip


2oz (57g) bar
Ingredients: Chocolate liquor, sugar, cocoa butter, soy lecithin, vanilla, organic clarified butter, sea salt, potatoes, safflower and/or sunflower oil, rice flour, black pepper, white pepper, yeast extract, garlic powder, onion powder, citric acid, black pepper oil, jalapeño powder
18g sugar/57g serving (31.6% by wt.)

Appearance: Again, plain, slightly purply chocolate.

Smell: Salty and savory on top of light, nutty chocolate.

Taste: Neat! There's the crispy crunch of the potato chips, along with their light, savory flavor (these are “salt and pepper” potato chips, which also means other flavor punchers like yeast extract and garlic and onion powders), a nice amount of salt and pepper...it actually works really well. Again, this chocolate has some unpleasant chalkiness, but it can be overlooked with this inclusion and the mild flavor works much better than would something more “chocolatey,” whose bitter and sour notes would probably contrast poorly and/or overwhelm the savory notes.

Conclusion: Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Chocolate Bar 70% Salt & Pepper Potato Chip is surprisingly full of potato chips, and their texture and savory flavor works well with the mild chocolate.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Trader Joe's Takes Flight: A Dark Chocolate Tasting Odyssey, Part I


Corporate Info: (Copied from 1/12/13) Quirky-gourmet grocery store Trader Joe's tends to be hit or miss, with some products being regular purchases for years, some becoming favorites and then disappearing from shelves, and some straight up disappointing. I've had similarly mixed results with their chocolate, but there's constant turnover, they contract with a whole assortment of manufacturers, and they aim for reasonable price points, so it's worth it to keep trying. There isn't much else 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.

Today's Bar: An assortment! This “Dark Chocolate Tasting Odyssey” is in the same line as the bar with toffee, walnuts, and pecans and the caramel-filled bar with black sea salt, but it includes seven separate and interesting bars! Two are 2oz versions of full-sized products, the salted caramel bar I've already reviewed and a coconut caramel one I still intend to review, so I won't cover them here. Further, you can buy each of those separately, and I've seen both in stores off-and-on for the last year, so you can probably find them if you want them. In contrast, I've only seen this assortment once, so I'm going to cover it in a two-part mega review rather than stretching it out over five posts.

So what, then, are today's bars? Every bar in the assortment is in 70% cacao, and aside from the two caramel-filled ones discussed above, all are regular chocolate with inclusions. Today I'm looking at Coffee & Cocoa Nib and Chili & Cinnamon.

Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Chocolate Bar 70% Coffee & Cocoa Nib


2oz (57g) bar
Ingredients: Chocolate liquor, sugar, cocoa butter, soy lecithin, vanilla, cocoa nibs, coffee beans
17g sugar/57g serving (29.8% by wt.)

Appearance: Straight brown, i.e. not reddish or orangey, and mostly matte. The back shows a few small, raised pieces of what I'm guessing is cocoa nib.

Smell: Sweet and nutty, with barely a hint of coffee.

Taste: That's pretty good! The texture is more chalky than waxy, but with the intriguing grit of coffee grounds and crushed cocoa nibs. Flavor is sweet (note: I haven't been eating much sugar lately) and nutty, not especially complex, with the fatty flavor of cocoa butter and and a light, lingering coffee taste. More latte than espresso.

Conclusion: Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Chocolate Bar 70% Coffee & Cocoa Nib offers some grit for texture and a light, creamy coffee flavor.

Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Chocolate Bar 70% Chili & Cinnamon


2oz (57g) bar
Ingredients: Chocolate liquor, sugar, cocoa butter, soy lecithin, vanilla, ancho chili powder, cinnamon, guajillo chili powder, cayenne pepper
18g sugar/57g serving (31.6% by wt.)

Appearance: As with the coffee bar, the base used for this chocolate is a deeper, more purply brown than the also-common reddish or orangey, and has little gloss. The back surface is mottled with very small raised bumps.

Smell: Ooh, I totally get both chili and cinnamon! Not strongly, but still. Again, the chocolate is light and nutty.

Taste: Again, a little chalky, with chew. Then I get the prickle of the cayenne, a low level of the other chilis (I'm not sure I could tease out the flavors), and finally a surprising amount of cinnamon compared with other, similar bars I've tried. I don't know if they used ground cinnamon or if it's just the chalkiness of the chocolate itself, but overall it's a little too powdery for my taste. On the other hand, it's still pretty neat to taste serious cinnamon flavor in my chocolate, and along with the lasting heat of chili in the back of my throat.

Conclusion: Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Chocolate Bar 70% Chili & Cinnamon has prickly, lingering heat, significant cinnamon flavor, and a texture that's a bit too powdery for me.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Alter Eco Dark Blackout


2.82oz (80g) bar
Ingredients: Organic fair trade cocoa liquor, oft. cocoa butter, oft. cane sugar, oft. vanilla
6g sugar/40g serving (15% by wt.)

Corporate Info: Alter Eco reminds me of Equal Exchange, in that both companies import several organic crops (in this case cacao, quinoa, rice, and sugar) from developing nations, and both attempt to build a new model of globalized business by working closely with the farmers who produce the goods. The globalization goes up the chain, too, as the chocolate is processed in Switzerland and the co-founders are French, American, and Australian. I'd like to think more of these sorts of companies can prove profitable! Chocolate-wise, Alter Eco sells its variation on the standards, using orange peel instead of oil, adding coconut to its toffee, and even mixing in crunchy “quinoa-rice crisps.”

Today's Bar: Blackout, Alter Eco's 85% bar.

Appearance: You know, this is kind of pretty. It's just scored into a large grid, but the molding is clean and the imprint of the Alter Eco logo makes it look a little more “done” than some very simply molded bars. The color is a deep reddish brown with a light gloss.

Smell: Also simple, warm and red-berry tart.

Taste: Crunchy, then a quick melter—super smooth and cocoa-buttery. Ooh, very bitter on the front end, tannic but not heavy, like a light-bodied red wine. There's red fruit in there, tartness and the like, but really the tannins and the smoothness are what stand out for me.

Conclusion: Alter Eco Dark Blackout is super-smooth, a little tart, and dryly bitter like a light red wine.