Monday, December 27, 2010

Describing Chocolate

As I rack up the chocolate reviews, I frequently encounter bars whose scent and taste I can't accurately describe. Some flavors are obvious to me, like dark red berries and raisins, tropical fruit, or red wine, but those don't always fit the bill. Other times I might use the same term, like tart, to characterize two bars that are indeed tart but in different ways, so my description is lacking.

With these weaknesses in mind I'd like to try a more rigorous vocabulary, and this chart seems like a good place to begin. I can think of two potential downsides. First, it might not help you as a reader to hear that a given bar smells of mushroom, or tastes of cedar. I'll try to minimize the over-description by first noting that the chocolate is mild, or bitter, or whatever else you might experience as someone who just wants to eat chocolate that tastes good. The second problem is that I don't entirely know what I'm doing. Chocolate doesn't usually come at you with a strong punch of vodka, ashes, or grass, so I'll be reaching for what are often very subtle flavor distinctions. I apologize for any confusion this may generate, and I hope you enjoy the process nonetheless. I think it'll be fun!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Dagoba Xocolatl Rich Dark Chocolate Chilies & Nibs

2.83oz (80g) bar
Ingredients: Organic cacao beans, o. cane sugar, o. cocoa, o. cocoa butter, soy lecithin, o. cacao nibs, o. chili powder, o. maca, o. vanilla, o. nutmeg oil, o. milk

I admit I've already made up my mind about Dagoba. First, there's the history. You won't see much of it on Dagoba's website, just the founder's name and the company's sustainability goals. Let's try Wikipedia... Ah, I see: Founded in Colorado and later moved to Ashland, Oregon, Dagoba was bought by Hershey in 2006. There's still a retail store in Ashland; I've been there, and it was small, quiet, and dull, the only company presence a woman who seemed to be office staff. I can't tell if production remains there or somewhere else. The vague, minimalist website lists the retail store address with no phone number, online orders direct you to San Francisco, and a general (866-) number has Eastern Standard Time office hours. Hershey wants to elicit your organic/sustainable warm fuzzies while standing behind an opaque, soulless wall.

Second, the taste. I've tried to like Dagoba chocolate. It's organic, it's often on sale (something big companies like Hershey can afford), and it comes in lots of flavors. But in my experience, it's just not good. Take the Xocolatl bar here. It's pretty and smells like raisins, which can be nice. The texture is of dense, chalky-type chocolate rather than creamy or waxy, and there's that subtle crunch of nibs. But the flavor comes on sour and harsh, without much complexity or interest besides. In some of the bites, I taste something “off” in the back of my mouth. There is a nice afterburn in this subtly spicy chocolate, but the chocolate itself just isn't good. I ate my last piece ten minutes ago, and I'm still tasting sour.

As I've said before, I understand why small chocolatiers sell to large companies. If those large companies act transparently, and absorb the brands' standards as well as their names, it's hard to be critical of the merger. I'm certainly not seeing transparency here. What about the chocolate? To be honest, I don't remember how Dagoba chocolate tasted before 2006; maybe this is how it always was, and presumably some people like it. Personally I'd like to think it was better once upon a time, because this really isn't doing it for me.

Conclusion: Dagoba Xocoatl Rich Dark Chocolate Chilies & Nibs is harsh and sour, albeit with a nice chile afterburn.

P.S. That “maca” in the ingredients is a Peruvian root. Based on a quick Google search, it sounds like it has a bitter and polarizing flavor. Dunno if that made any difference in the chocolate.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Askinosie: Three Dark Chocolates

70% San Jose Del Tambo Ingredients: Cocoa beans, sugar, cocoa butter
8g sugar/42.5g serving (in full-size bar; 18.8% by wt.)

75% Soconusco bar not currently available

77% Davao Ingredients: Cocoa beans, organic cane sugar, cocoa butter
7g sugar/42.5g serving (in full-size bar; 16.5% by wt.)

I'd never heard of Askinosie until I found these single origin mini packs at my local chocolate specialty shop. As high-end chocolate isn't cheap, I thought it might be fun to do a sort of tasting flight with these little bars, and I picked three of them more or less at random. I ended up with the following “Itty Bars”: 70% San Jose Del Tambo (Ecuador) Nibble Bar; 75% Soconusco (Mexico) Bar; and 77% Davao (Philippines) Bar. I've since looked up the various bars on Askinosie's website, though the Soconusco chocolate isn't currently available except as white chocolate.

Before I try the chocolate, who are these Askinosie people? The complex website is a bit of a pain (just try perusing the news section) and could use a copy editor, but basically the company was founded in Springfield, Missouri by ex-lawyer Shawn Askinosie, his wife, and a business partner. They try to work with the cocoa farmers in person, pay them fair wages, and share a percentage of the profits with them to encourage high quality. Aside from specialty items their chocolate is just beans and sugar—no vanilla or soy lecithin—and they try to be as organic as possible short of going through the certification process. (See the FAQ for more.) They sound like lovely people.

Back to the Itty Bars. Each gives you two wafers of plain chocolate, with the Nibble Bar having nibs on the back. Let's take them one at a time...

70% San Jose Del Tambo with nibs has an underlying tropical scent, like bananas. The texture is dense and thick, coating the mouth with cacao, and the flavor is dark with minimal sweetness, but not bitter chocolate with some of the bitterness removed. Nibs add texture and more of that tropical banana vibe, something I've tasted in other nibs too. Aftertaste is light, tropical, and short-lived.

75% Soconusco has a minimal smell, quiet and banana-free. It's dense but not so mouth-coating, more bitter, almost like chocolate distilled to its essence: just enough sugar to get past the wince factor and on to the cacao, not especially fruity or tropical or rich, just chocolate. The aftertaste is a bit sour, but it's more like intense chocolate than free-floating acid. Overall a neat experience.

77% Davao also doesn't smell like much to me, so perhaps I'm not especially creative today. It tastes sweeter than the Soconusco, probably because it has that red wine quality, tannic but also fruity in a way that speciously reminds me of sugar. It's not berries or cherries or raisins; my co-taster says fresh currants, which I've never eaten myself, but perhaps that'll be helpful to you. Either way it's not overwhelming or off-putting, though there is a long, lingering bitter finish that isn't the most pleasant.

All in all, this was a fun way to compare three subtly varying bars. My favorite was the 75% Soconusco, though I didn't love it enough to pay for this premium chocolate. If you feel like spending a little cash, you could do worse (and support worse companies) than to pick up some of Askinosie's chocolate.

Conclusion: Askinosie's 70% San Jose Del Tambo with nibs is tropical and thick; 75% Soconusco is the essence of dark chocolate; and 77% Davao is winey and somewhat bitter.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Seeds of Change 61% Cacao Dark Chocolate With Coconut

2.99oz (84.8g) in three 1oz bars
Ingredients: Organic chocolate, o. cane sugar, o. cocoa butter, o. milkfat, o. soy lecithin, o. vanilla, o. coconut, natural flavor
8g sugar/28g serving (28.6% by wt.)

I bought Seeds of Change's coconut bar for several reasons. 1. I'd seen the brand in the grocery store many times but somehow hadn't tried it yet. 2. I finally caught some of it on sale. 3. I was curious whether someone could combine flavorful dark chocolate and mild coconut in a balanced, worthwhile way.

While this is a common tall, 3oz brick, it's not a single bar but rather a card-stock envelope containing three individually wrapped 1oz bars. The copy's a little silly (“The Seeds of Change mandala is an ancient symbol of abundance and vitality...”), but the bars are pleasantly stubby and scored into the usual rectangles with a nice little imprint on top. The chocolate isn't especially light or dark and is just barely glossy, and it smells rich and coconutty, vividly reminiscent of suntan oil, Mounds bars, and other sweet, perfumy coconut products.

That's just about how it tastes, too: Sweet, rich, only mildly chocolatey, and with a lot of coconut. Compared to Theo Seeds of Change actually uses less sugar per serving, but this chocolate tastes sweeter. That's probably in part because it has a significantly lower cacao content, which means less intense chocolate to compete with the coconut. Lower sugar, lower cacao...what makes up the difference? Milkfat, and possibly a greater percent of added cocoa butter. Fat can mellow sharp flavors—strong spices plus coconut milk create curry that is complex but not overwhelming; parmesan or blue cheese tempered with cream makes a mild sauce. I also wonder if the “natural flavor” in the ingredients infuses the chocolate with coconut flavor, because I don't think the suntan oil/Mounds vibe is coming from the shreds of coconut alone.

I'm not sure this is for me. The richness reminds me of the center of a Lindor Truffle, sweet and fatty, and though I used to love them my tastes have changed. But it definitely doesn't overwhelm the coconut, and if that appeals to you, by all means try this bar. The company is pretty neat too, and they have other interesting-sounding flavors (albeit in the same chocolate) that I'd be interested in trying if I found them on sale again.

Conclusion: Seeds of Change 61% Cacao Dark Chocolate With Coconut is sweet, mild, coconutty, and very rich.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Theo Organic Fair Trade Nutcracker Toffee Dark Chocolate 70%

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

I'm a sucker for seasonal bars. Their novelty gives me a reason to revisit familiar brands, and it's just fun to spot something new on the shelves. This winter Theo offers tasty-sounding milk chocolate bars, seasonal caramels, and two dark chocolates: Peppermint Stick and this review's Nutcracker Toffee. Okay, so it's just another toffee-nut inclusion, and I haven't been so enamored of late with Theo's 70% mix, but I like toffee and I don't see it too much in dark chocolate, so there you go.

The bar looks and smells like Theo's other 70% bars: medium-dark, simply molded, and almost pungent. Will it taste like the others too? Verdict: Ehhhh. It's not bad, it's just that I don't get much toffee and nuts in there. I can see them, tiny beige (nuts) or shiny (toffee) pebbles in the solid brown of the chocolate, but as with spring's coconut bar, the inclusions are simply drowned out by a strong, vividly flavored chocolate. I know this is a matter of personal taste, but I really wish Theo would come up with a milder chocolate for its flavored 70% cacao bars. For now, I'll just have to resist the pull of those seasonal novelties.

Conclusion: Theo Organic Fair Trade Nutcracker Toffee Dark Chocolate 70% tastes like the rest of Theo's dark chocolate.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Madécasse Chocolate Sea Salt & Nibs

2.64oz (75g) bar
Ingredients: Cocoa beans, sugar, cocoa butter, soy lecithin, sea salt
14g sugar/37.5g serving (37.3% by wt.)

I've seen Madécasse bars for a while, elegantly rustic in their raffia-tied paper envelope, but they're a high-midpriced option and I've generally had something cheaper or more novel to try, so I've passed them by. Not long ago I saw Madécasse on sale and went for it, picking up this sea salt and nibs bar and accidentally overlooking its slightly high sugar content. I haven't eaten many sea salt bars, because while I enjoy the salty-sweet combo, I haven't seen much of it in super-dark chocolate. This isn't super dark, either, but there are certainly worse things than to be stuck with a slightly-too-sweet chocolate bar.

So how is it? The front looks clean and sharp, the back is laid with jagged waves of nibs, and the scent is sweet in that fragrant-tropical-fruit sort of way. The flavor is a bit tart, with the crunchy nut-like texture of nibs, and then a sudden punch of salt. It sounds overwhelming, but after a piece or two the saltiness becomes much mellower, a background counterpoint to the sweet/bright/nutty chocolate. Taken together it's enjoyably complex, more interesting than most plain chocolate while just containing the usual ingredients and salt. Personally I shy away from tart chocolate—my palate just tires of it quickly, so I won't go out of my way to buy this again, but in my opinion this is still very good stuff.

Bonus: According to Madécasse, not only the cacao but also the finished product come from Madagascar, and they pay their farmers “above fair trade prices.” Assuming that's true, then good on them. Good chocolate, too.

Conclusion: Madécasse Chocolate Sea Salt & Nibs uses basic chocolate and salt to create a complex, interesting bar.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Amber Lyn Sugar Free Dark Chocolate & Mint

1.2oz (34g) bar
Ingredients: Chocolate, maltitol, cocoa butter, soy lecithin, vanilla, mint extract
0g sugar; 15g maltitol per bar

I'm wary of sugar free chocolate because I've had bad experiences with it: Too sweet for my taste, overwhelming sweetener flavor, low-quality chocolate, and...well...gastrointestinal side effects. Occasionally I'm tempted to give it another shot, in this case because of a gift from a gracious relative who bought some from an enthusiastic Amber Lyn representative at Costco. It's a sampler of 15 bars in seven flavors, so I'm either in the money or saddled with a lot of junk. For tasting purposes, I've selected a mint bar. Yes, I could try the plain dark chocolate or dark chocolate with nibs to get a purer sense of what Amber Lyn has to offer, but I wussed out and went with something that, if need be, might better hide lousy flavor.

The bar is simply molded, quite glossy and in a medium brown. There's no percent cacao on the wrapper, but by weight it's about 56% non-sugar, and since there isn't much else in there I'd say we're talking a 50-something-percent cacao bar. It smells minty and sweet, without a strong chocolate scent, like most lower-cacao chocolate. When I tried to break a piece off in the chilly room I'm writing in, it snapped hard down the middle, so to taste it I gnawed along that edge. Moment of's actually quite pleasant. The mint is bright and fun, the chocolate is dense and sweet, and while the sweetener doesn't taste like sugar, it's pretty inoffensive.

For my purposes I won't be eating too much of this chocolate. I don't want my palate to get used to sweets again, and I don't want to bring on maltitol's side effects. But if I could tolerate the maltitol and I were reeling from, say, a diabetes diagnosis, I might be happy to keep a big ol' Costco box of Amber Lyn's chocolate around—though I'll have to taste the plainer varieties to be sure.

Conclusion: Amber Lyn Sugar Free Dark Chocolate & Mint is a fine substitute for low-cacao mint dark chocolate.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Scharffen Berger Bittersweet 70% Cacao Dark Chocolate

3oz (85g) bar
Ingredients: Cacao beans, sugar, cocoa butter, soy lecithin, vanilla beans
13g sugar/43g serving (30.2% by wt.)

Once upon a time I heard Berkeley, California's Scharffen Berger touted as the source for American dark chocolate. Nowadays it's owned by Hershey (as is Oregon's Dagoba), and the Berkeley plant was closed last year. While I respect small chocolatiers' decisions to sell their companies, in the aftermath of a big sale the chocolate's history no longer means much to me. So make no mistake, what I'm looking at here is a Hershey product, albeit one from a different recipe than the iconic Hershey bar. Can present-day Scharffen Berger's 70% Cacao bar stand on its own?

This bar certainly looks mid- to high-end, thin and flat, glossy and imprinted with crossed lines and the Scharffen Berger logo. Its smell isn't distinctive, though it's nicely chocolatey. A cross-section breaks cleanly and looks dense and uniform. The taste: first rich and creamy and fairly sweet, then intense in a sour way, darker tasting than some other 70% bars I've had. It's not super interesting (but then, most bars aren't) and not mild or balanced enough to be an everyday bar for me, but it's legitimately tasty.

Personally, I wouldn't buy this over a comparable bar from an independent company. It's not especially cheap (If I recall correctly, I've only seen it for $4 and up) or organic or fair trade, and Hershey doesn't need my money. But taste-wise, it's decent.

Conclusion: Scharffen Berger Bittersweet 70% Cacao Dark Chocolate is dark, dense, and creamy, not amazing but good.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Valrhona Abinao Chocolat Noir Dark Chocolate 85% Cacao

70g (2.46 oz) bar
Ingredients: Cocoa beans, sugar, cocoa butter, soy lecithin, vanilla
5g sugar/40g serving (12.5% by wt.)

Several months ago I received this bar from a friend, opened it, ate a bit, put it aside, and didn't get back to it until now. What I'm saying is it might not be quite at its best, so whatever I think about it today might not be completely fair. Still, we're talking Valrhona here [link warning: lots of flash and irritating music], so I didn't want to leave it off the blog entirely.

In the intervening months the bar has bloomed a bit on the edge, but otherwise it's still the same dark medium-brown with a very dull surface. Up close it smells like the chocolate version of dark roast coffee, toasted and almost smoky. It breaks into hard, brittle pieces but then melts quickly into something delicate and smooth. Though it's still strongly flavored, the light creaminess helps balance the sour and tannic elements: This flavor might have been called pungent, but instead it's merely intense. The finish is mouth-drying and bitter, not my favorite final impression but interesting anyway.

Conclusion: Valrhona Abinao Chocolat Noir Dark Chocolate 85% Cacao brings a contradiction in textures and a just-barely-tamed intensity.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Irregular Posting

I have generally tried to post weekly, each Friday or Saturday. Recent events have made it difficult to maintain a strict schedule, so for a while posts will be more irregularly timed but hopefully still once a week.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Chocolate Santander Colombian Single Origin 70% Cacao Dark Chocolate Pineapple Bits

2.3oz (65g) bar
Ingredients: Cocoa mass, sugar, cocoa powder, cocoa butter, soy lecithin, pineapple extract
19g sugar/65g serving (29.2% by wt.)

I bought Chocolate Santander's pineapple bar during a trip to Chocolopolis. It caught my eye because it seemed like a nice change of pace, conjuring images of an only-in-the-tropics merger of sweet chocolate and chewy pieces of sweet-tart dried pineapple.

This sharply molded, deep brown bar does smell of sweet tropical fruit, as well as the nuttiness I remember from my first Chocolate Santander bar. The chocolate is nutty, tart, and dryly tannic—fine, but not exactly what I was envisioning. The pineapple, while plentiful, is in such small pieces that they can't possibly be really chewy, though they do have enough presence to stick around in all their tiny glory as the chocolate melts in your mouth. They also contribute a hint of the fruity sharpness particular to pineapple, but the strong-tasting chocolate base dominates here.

I have to admit I'm disappointed, though I'm not sure I'm being fair. This bar is just more sour than I had hoped, without the corresponding juicy sweetness I think of when I crave pineapple or the creaminess I thought the chocolate might contribute. On the other hand, I should have remembered that Chocolate Santander uses a stronger, sourer chocolate than the ideal I had in mind, and for what it is it's not bad. Maybe this is just not for me.

Conclusion: Chocolate Santander Colombian Single Origin 70% Cacao Dark Chocolate Pineapple Bits is strong, tart chocolate with a light touch of pineapple.

Monday, October 18, 2010

ChocoLate con Aceite de Oliva Virgen Extra Bio (Organic 70% Cacao with Extra Virgin Olive Oil)

70g (2.4oz) bar
Ingredients: Organic cocoa, o. cocoa butter, o. cane sugar, o. extra virgin olive oil (5%), soy lecithin
11g sugar/40g serving (27.5% by wt.)

I wasn't sure what to expect from this Spanish bar other than a novel experience. The pairing of chocolate and olive oil is like coffee and cheese or prosciutto and salsa, two gastronomic powerhouses that arise from different parts of the globe and don't sound quite right as a team. Then again, I guess chocolate and olive oil can both be creamy and rich, with an enveloping perfume and a distinctive flavor, so maybe they're not so far apart after all. Would that come across here?

The bar has a common, matte brown appearance, though the molding design is fairly interesting. Where this chocolate really gets me is the aroma: Mostly chocolate with...something else, something subtle and hard to recognize. It doesn't smell at all like the bottle of olive oil on my kitchen counter, and I bet that's because they're different types; the one in the chocolate strikes me as mouth-filling and buttery. This flavor carries through on first taste: The olive oil hits the tongue first, then as the chocolate begins to melt, that flavor melds with what turns out to be a very creamy, sweet chocolate, a good match for a rich-tasting olive oil. I find the aftertaste to be more of the same, mostly chocolate with some subtle variation, but another taster here felt it showcased the olive oil again.

Inevitable intrusion of personal taste: I don't like buttery olive oils. I figured olive oil flavors varied but were all good until I found myself recoiling from certain bottles, as the aroma and flavor struck me as overwhelmingly greasy, kind of like rancid oil. I thought maybe I just needed a better quality bottle until I found that some I liked some cheap varieties just fine. What I was reacting to was the particularly buttery type, which is why I have a big bottle of inexpensive grassy, fruity extra virgin olive oil in my kitchen and a bit of an aversion to this chocolate. That's not to say anything about its quality, because it really is luscious and creamy, and interesting in a quiet way I haven't seen before, and plenty of people like buttery olive oils. In light of this, I would love to try some of this company's other bars.

Conclusion: ChocoLate con Aceite de Oliva Virgen Extra Bio is smooth and rich and worth a try—unless you don't like buttery olive oils (or, obviously, olive oil in general). 

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Venchi Assenzio Pure Extra Bitter Chocolate with Absinth

45g (1.58oz) bar
Ingredients: Cocoa powder (22-24% cocoa butter), cocoa butter, cocoa mass, sugar, dill, Artemisia absinthium extract, soy lecithin, vanilla.

Venchi's absinthe-flavored 75% cacao bar is unlike anything else I've tried. It looks like any old small bar with fancy wrapping, but the licorice-like scent is powerful, unmistakeable even when the bar was wrapped. I bought this chocolate because it was novel and exotic, but to be honest I'm not a huge fan of licorice and its cousins (cousins in odor only—anise and fennel are barely related to licorice), so it took a few weeks of daring myself to review The Absinthe Bar before I finally bit the bullet.

So what's absinthe? I won't go into detail here because I think most of us have already heard that there's this the green, anise-flavored, slightly illegal liquor that maybe makes you crazy but actually probably doesn't. Regardless, it's worth noting that the cult-favorite spirit with the sexy history experienced a bit of a resurgence in the last decade or so, which makes Venchi's formidably herbaceous chocolate somewhat trendy in a bold and interesting way. Venchi approximates absinthe by using the liquor's characteristic Artemesia absinthium, aka wormwood, as well as dill in the place of fennel, though it leaves out the usual anise. [3/30/11: See the end of the post for an update on The Dill Situation.]

The look: angular, matte, and grayish. The smell: Like absinthe. Fennel, anise, licorice, you know what I'm talking about. As I've mentioned there is no fennel or anise here as in absinthe, so what provides the aura of licorice? I can't find a description of the flavor of Artemesia absinthium itself other than “bitter,” but I've discovered that licorice-haters can buy modern absinthe without the traditional flavor, so it probably isn't coming from the wormwood. Dill, on the other hand, is fairly closely related to fennel, and while they don't taste identical, I'd wager that flavor and odor are what dill brings to the table in this chocolate (perhaps in some high concentration or using a non-leaf part of the plant). Let's give it a taste.

This pairing actually works surprisingly well. The texture of the bar is very smooth (if just a touch chalky) and the chocolate is dark and slightly bitter but mostly sweet and not too intense, which jibes with the oddly sweet undertone particular to licorice and similar plants. While the anise-y quality melds nicely with the chocolate, it also predominates and lingers...and lingers. This bar is for licorice lovers and absinthe fetishists only.

Conclusion: Venchi Assenzio Pure Extra Bitter Chocolate with Absinth is a great bar for a niche market.

[Note: I couldn't find this bar on Venchi's website, though I did see it for sale on a couple other random sites. I bought it in a brick-and-mortar specialty chocolate shop.]

Update 3/30/11: In light of the comment left below, I looked into the ingredient in question as it was listed in Italian, anetolo. The only translation I could find was "anethole," which turns out to be the aromatic compound largely responsible for the flavor of licorice, anise, and fennel. (Fennel as a vegetable is finnochio.) So there you go!

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Vivani Dark Chocolate with 85% Cocoa

3.5oz (100g) bar
Ingredients: Organic cocoa liquor, o. cocoa butter, o. raw cane sugar
6g sugar/42 g serving

Vivani's 85% cacao bar is another organic, pure chocolate + sugar mix, but the German company also produces interesting flavors like green tea and lemon (and far more in Europe). I've had the green tea one before, and while I didn't love it, I respected that it really did taste of bitter matcha powder.

The 85% bar smells great. I mean, if you're not trying to be extra observant it just smells like chocolate, but up close it's actually pungent and earthy—very intriguing. The flavor and texture aren't a combination I'm used to: The consistency is super-rich, the kind that feels like it's melting right into smooth cocoa butter, which I usually associate with mild chocolate, but bitter definitely predominates here. It's not at  all sour, and the other flavors aren't especially intense aside from the astringency. It's all a bit too much for my liking, but still interesting. I wonder if it might be good for baking?

Conclusion: Vivani Dark Chocolate with 85% Cocoa is smooth and bitter.

[Note: I forgot to take the photo until after I'd opened the bar. Obviously.]

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Terra Nostra Organic Intense Dark 73% Cacao

3.5oz (100g) bar
Ingredients: Organic cocoa mass, o. sugar, o. cocoa butter
9g sugar/33g serving (27.3% by wt.)

Vancouver-based Terra Nostra advertises its chocolate as not only organic but also equitable trade (though that's not mentioned on this bar's wrapper) and made with renewable energy. Assuming it's all legit, that's lovely. How's the chocolate?

Well, the reason this review is short is that the 73% cacao bar is in-between in many ways. It's medium brown, standard size, a bit sour, a bit bitter, appropriately sweet. That doesn't mean I think that the quality is mid-range; “in-between” describes this bar because it's quite well balanced. No vanilla, no inclusions, no soy lecithin, just chocolate with good complexity and no extreme or “off” flavors. Thus I don't have a lot to say about it except that I like it. If I found it on sale, I'd buy a bunch for daily snacking.

Conclusion: Terra Nostra Organic Intense Dark 73% Cacao is a good, solid bar.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Amedei Tuscany Toscano Red Cioccolato Fondente Extra 70% con Fragole, Ciliegie e Lamponi (70% Cacao with Strawberry, Cherry, and Raspberry)

50g (1.75 oz) bar
Ingredients: Cocoa mass, cane sugar, cocoa butter, dried fruit (strawberry, cherry, raspberry; 10%), vanilla

I had a little spree at Chocolopolis, buying several bars that were different from my norm, and the one that has called to me the loudest since then is this red-fruit bar [scroll down] from Amedei. It's loveable: The wrapper is pretty, it lists the ingredients in six languages, and the inside is covered in dense, flowery text in phrases like “pleasure and transgression,” “evoking childhood memories,” and “full aromatic potential.” (I know I'm being hypocritical, but come on—it's Italian.)

This is an appealing, super-accessible bar. It's a medium chocolate shade, not too glossy or dull, and the back reminds me of a less-uniform, magenta-studded Nestle Crunch bar. The chocolate smells nutty and fresh, like the freeze dried raspberries you can buy at upscale groceries and camping stores, and it tastes like that too. I'm not sure I get a lot of strawberry, mostly because the tang strikes me as raspberry (perhaps because of the palpable raspberry seeds) and a bit of sour cherry, but then again, unsweetened strawberries have a similar tartness that may be there too. The bits of fruit are lightly crispy, substantial but not chewy, with a bright flavor. The chocolate is also bright and clean and a bit sour, not super intense or dark or bland, which meshes well with the fruit.

Conclusion: Amedei's 70% bar with strawberries, cherries, and raspberries is fresh, fruity, and easy to eat. 

Friday, September 10, 2010

Claudio Corallo 3 Locuras de Cafés com Chocolate

150g box
Ingredients: Cocoa, sugar, cocoa butter, coffee

I bought Claudio Corallo's chocolate covered coffee beans after trying one in the store and liking it, but also in no small part because I was about to take a road trip and thought they might be a good way to stay awake. Fortunately I wasn't driving when I opened the box, as it turned out to be a bit more complicated than just a bag of candy: Nestled in the box were three neatly rolled cellophane bags labeled CAT 1, BB 2, and NM 3, and a full-size piece of paper printed on the front and back. An intriguing start, to say the least.

In brief, the note explains that the three bags contain three different coffee varieties—CAT, BB, and NM—and though all are Arabica, from the same plantation, and covered in the same 55% cacao chocolate, the flavors of the three types of beans are distinct, offering a sort of tasting adventure. Instructions recommend that tasters try the chocolate in the order given, and describe the sensations that should come across.

CAT is expected to hit with a strong punch and then vanish with little lingering coffee flavor, and I that is indeed how I experienced it. The bean has the bitter flavor I associate with a darker roast (mind you, I'm no coffee connoisseur), a contrast with the sweet chocolate on the outside. Once I swallow it, the coffee is virtually gone, with just a hint remaining from anything stuck in my teeth. (How's that for an appetizing image?)

According to the note, BB should taste only of chocolate at first, with coffee then arriving “sweet,” “delicate,” and “with extraordinary persistence,” sticking around “longer than the chocolate.” That sounds about right: To me, this confection tastes mellow, sweet, and creamy, more melded with the chocolate than the CAT was, and with a long aftertaste. It's like a good, rich mocha drink.

The NM is less vividly described, only as a “rare equilibrium” and “unique experience that will linger.” To my taste it's both less and more interesting than the other two: While the CAT was a bit harsh and the BB very enjoyable in an easy way, the NM seems more delicate but also subtly pleasant, like a mocha I could drink every day without being over-bittered (CAT) or riched-out (BB). I'm not sure that's what Claudio Corallo was getting at, but I will say that for general snacking, NM is my favorite of the three.

Of course, I can't forget the chocolate! I like it because it's thankfully non-shellacked, more soft chocolate than hard gloss, which I think matches much better with a crispy coffee bean than the common shiny coating. The flavor might be a bit sweet for me personally—I'm tasting more cream and sugar than deep fruit—but I do think that if it were more than 60-70% cacao it wouldn't balance the coffee well, and I'd allow that even 70% might be too dark to highlight the distinctions among the beans.

What really struck me about this set of chocolate covered coffee beans is that it engenders an interactive experience (review blog or no) and that I found the predictions borne out even by my only semi-sensitive palate. Very cool.

Conclusion: Claudio Corallo 3 Locuras de Cafés com Chocolate is a unique, guided tasting experience.