Friday, February 26, 2010

Theo Organic Fair Trade Mint Dark Chocolate 70% Cacao

3oz (84g) bar
Ingredients: Organic fair trade cocoa beans, oft. sugar, oft. cocoa butter, o. mint oil, o. ground vanilla bean
11g sugar/42g serving (26.2% by wt.)

Theo is one of my favorite chocolate companies. It’s based right here in Seattle, and while I haven’t yet been on the tour of their Fremont factory, one of my regular stops in that neighborhood is the storefront where visitors can sample most of their bars. (Most local stores carry a decent selection of Theo bars, and several are available nationally.) In addition to the bars the company makes delicate truffles, caramels, and other confections in a wide variety of interesting flavors. Most of their ingredients are certified organic and fair trade, they’ve partnered up to produce a vegan line, and they change some flavors seasonally. (Again, this is Seattle.) All those credentials do come at a price, but it’s a relatively reasonable $4 for the 3oz. bars in their Classic Collection, which includes the mint bar.

The reason I’m reviewing Theo’s mint bar this week is to compare it with last week’s Endangered Species dark mint. That bar had a similar cacao and sugar content, but otherwise the two diverge. Recall that the Endangered Species chocolate was very middle-of-the-road, a little chalky, and with only a touch of mint. The Theo chocolate is rich and creamy. Its darkness isn’t the sort of depth you get lost in but rather a sweet-tart juiciness like rose hip or hibiscus tea. The mint is much brighter than that in the Endangered Species chocolate, though it’s not at all overwhelming. The large, thin, smooth bar breaks up easily without bending or shattering, and all the flavors linger for a while, which isn’t necessary but is interesting. This isn't my favorite chocolate ever, but it's a very good mint bar.

Conclusion: Theo’s dark mint bar is an excellent option when you want your fix of mint.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Endangered Species Chocolate Dark Chocolate with Deep Forest Mint 72% Cocoa

3oz (85g) bar
Ingredients: Bittersweet chocolate (chocolate liquor, beet sugar, cocoa butter, soy lecithin, vanilla), mint flavor
12g sugar/43g serving (27.9% by wt.)

For me, Green & Black’s 85% is intense, perhaps too much in large doses but also loyal and worth returning to again and again. In that context I’ve found the Endangered Species bars to be affable filler: appealing at first glance, easy to keep around, a pleasant diversion, but never delivering more than expected--and sometimes less. To their credit they are available all over the place and at a reasonable price point (often on sale), come in several strengths and flavors that fit my requirements, and taste good enough. I often buy two or three at a time and keep them around for when I want to choose from a variety of flavored bars. Where they fall short is simply that there’s better out there: more interesting, more vivid, more whatever.

The mint flavored bar is a typical example. It’s sweet but not saccharine, a bit chalky, with a mild but not faded chocolatey-ness. There’s only a hint of mint, barely enough to cool your breath. I’m not saying a bar should wallop you over the head with its mix-ins--if you’ve read my other posts you know I’m sensitive to balance (albeit based on my personal tastes)—but there’s something to be said for having a mint bar taste of mint, you know?

Still, it’s perfectly fine, and I think sometimes it’s okay to pass on the challenging and passionate and fill out your dance card with the ready and amiable.

Conclusion: Endangered Species Dark Chocolate with Mint 72% Cocoa is over-mild, but it will do.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Blanxart Dark Chocolate origin Ghana 80% Cacao

1.7oz (48g) bar
Ingredients: Chocolate liquor, sugar, cocoa butter, vanilla, lecithin
10g sugar/48g serving (20.8% by wt.)

[Note: Blanxart’s website isn’t the most user-friendly, so most of the links here are to outside sites (none of which I necessarily endorse).]

I’ve found Spanish chocolatier Blanxart’s products intriguing in the past, so I bought three different bars to review. One, the Chocolate a la Taza bar intended for making hot chocolate, turned out to be clearly mislabeled in terms of sugar content (among other things), so while I like it, it will have to be eaten by someone else. Said Someone Else polished off the entire bar of Dark Chocolate 85% with Nibs before I had a chance to taste it and then asked me to buy another.  Take from that what you will, and I’ll officially review the bar another time. I did still have most of the small Dark Chocolate origin Ghana 80%, which also comes in a full 3.5oz (100g) size, so by default it’ll be my first review of Blanxart’s chocolate.

Unfortunately, the fat little 1.7 oz bar presents a problem right off. It’s a dense, hard chocolate molded into what are essentially scored blocks (rather than thin tiles), so how do you eat it? You could chip away at it with a knife or chocolate chipper, as from a big block for baking, but it doesn’t seem like that was what this bar was made for. It’s not waxy, so you can’t bite through it cleanly; it fractures and comes off in crunchy chunks. I did resort to this option (trying to avoid the alternative, sloppy gnawing), but “crunchy” isn’t an ideal texture for plain chocolate, and with each brittle bite I got little chocolate crumbs on my shirt. I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt and consider that perhaps it’s just too chilly now, and this bar might soften up in the summer heat.

Flavor-wise, I want to be a fan, but I can’t. To my taste buds this bar is just too sweet, even given the relatively low amount of sugar on the label. Bars with milk, or perhaps a different balance of flavors, seem to meld chocolate and sugar well. Here the two seemed separate, with a thin but sickly sweetness hitting me right away, staying throughout, and even hanging around minutes after I’d swallowed. The chocolate underneath tastes like it must be interesting, not de-fanged ersatz chocolate, but I had a hard time appreciating it because the sugar was so dominant. Adding to the problem slightly is the texture: Once crunched, the chocolate at least melts quickly in the mouth, but it’s very creamy in a way that adds to the sense of syrupy sweetness.

I’ve had some great bars from Blanxart (often with too high a sugar content for me at present) and I hope to review more. I’m sorry to say I didn’t like this one, but hey, at least I didn’t spring for the full size!

Conclusion: Blanxart Dark Chocolate origin Ghana 80% Cacao is too sweet and difficult to eat. 

Friday, February 5, 2010

Lindt Creation 70% Pure Chocolate

5.3oz (150g) bar
Ingredients: Chocolate, sugar, cocoa butter, butterfat, cocoa powder, soya lecithin, vanilla extract
11g sugar/45g serving (24.4% by wt.)

Last week I gave Lindt its first review on this blog, and it was a poor one. At the end I noted that I wasn’t writing Lindt off entirely, and this week I wanted to make good on that promise by reviewing an entirely different sort of bar, the Creation line’s mousse-filled Pure Chocolate. (The other two Creation bars are Cherry & Chili and Orange, which layer a fruit syrup on top of the same mousse.) I’ve bought this bar several times before and enjoyed it as an alternative to a solid bar, and though I usually find it for about $5, it’s less than $1 per ounce, which I consider reasonable for decent chocolate.

Incidentally, the large bar is divided into only 10 squares, and I don’t always want that much chocolate at once. Fortunately the mousse is fairly solid, so I break the squares into smaller pieces inside the packaging and fish them out to eat at my leisure. (By contrast, the syrup-filled bars are gooey and messy. Since quickly scarfing a whole square isn’t always pleasant or cost-effective, I don’t buy them often.) Eating angular shards is actually even nicer, because the denser outer layers often separate from the creamier inner one, which highlights the fun difference in textures. As for the flavor, it's fairly uniform but well balanced, creamy and mild but unmistakably dark, and just tart enough to be interesting. I wouldn’t call it complex or especially deep, but it has some edge, and a lingering finish that doesn’t turn bitter.

Conclusion: Lindt Creation 70% Pure Chocolate is a bit different but not so silly as to be merely novel. It's a good twist on the plain bar.

Update 08/10: I've been looking for the Creation line for months but haven't seen it on store shelves and it's no longer listed on Lindt's website. They do list other dark truffle-filled bars, none dark enough to qualify for this blog. Shame--I write one positive review of Lindt and they discontinue the product!