Friday, March 26, 2010

Theo Organic Fair Trade Toasted Coconut Dark Chocolate 70% Cacao

3oz (84g) bar
Ingredients: Organic fair trade cocoa beans, oft. sugar, o. toasted coconut, oft. cocoa butter, o. vanilla bean
13g sugar/42g serving (31% by wt.)

I know I’ve talked a lot about Theo lately, so I promise I’ll take a break after today! I first noticed this toasted coconut bar on Theo’s website and kept an eye out for it for a few weeks, then finally spied the pastel pink wrapper in my local bookstore’s Theo display. It’s one of their seasonal offerings for spring, though other than the wrapper color I’m not sure what makes coconut particular springy. Regardless, I was pleased to find such an unusual combination. Okay, yes, coconut is a common (if divisive) ingredient in mass-market chocolate candy bars, but I’ve rarely seen it in such dark bar form, and it seemed like fun.

First the good news: The coconut contributes an interesting shredded texture, almost crispy at first bite, that is also fine enough to mostly avoid post-chew stringiness. Now the bad news: The bar seemingly uses Theo’s usual 70% cacao blend, which has a long, sour finish. The coconut flavor is subtle, and I think it would’ve been better paired with a much milder chocolate—not less dark, just with some of the tart edges shaved down. I love the texture, but I don’t think the flavor pairing works.

Conclusion: Theo’s Coconut 70% cacao bar has a fun texture, but the sour chocolate overwhelms the more delicate coconut flavor.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Theo Organic Fair Trade Spicy Chile Dark Chocolate 70% Cacao

3oz (84g) bar
Ingredients: Organic fair trade cocoa beans, oft. sugar, oft. cocoa butter, o. pasilla chili powder, o. guajillo chili pepper, o. cayenne chili powder, o. cinnamon, o. orange zest, o. orange oil, o. ground vanilla bean
11g sugar/42g serving (26.2% by wt.)

As I’ve written before, I’m a big fan of Seattle-based Theo, from its tasting room to its creative flavors to its ideals. Thus I tend to pick up any new-to-me Theo bar that fits my low sugar requirement, like this chili-flavored bar with orange and cinnamon background notes. In the last few years I’ve seen a lot of chili and cinnamon chocolate, and I’m assuming the trend has to do with food lovers’ embrace of “traditional” foods--in this case, the way the Maya, Aztecs, and later Spanish conquistadors consumed chocolate.

So how does it taste? It’s a smooth, creamy, mild bar with a nice sugar content that at first just tastes like chocolate. After a second or two the pepper begins to reveal itself slowly, until it reaches a pleasantly medium level of heat: mouth filling, but not the sort you’d only submit to on a dare. What I’m assuming are the pasilla and cayenne provide much of the spice, but there’s an interesting bit of texture from the tiny flakes of guajilla (the only chili ingredient not listed as “powder”). The orange flavor is present only upon reflection and I can’t taste the cinnamon at all, but I suspect they’re both there mainly for balance and complexity, which is why the bar isn’t called “Spicy Chile, Cinnamon, & Orange”. My personal taste would prefer a real hit of cinnamon along with the chili, so I don’t think I’ll go out of my way to buy this bar again (and at $6 it wasn’t cheap either), but the flavor profile was obviously well thought out and for lovers of chile chocolate it’s a very good bar.

Conclusion: Theo’s Spicy Chile 70% Cacao bar is well balanced, with a predominant chili flavor that is complex and neither meek nor overwhelming.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Trader Joe’s The Dark Chocolate Lover’s Chocolate Bar 85%

3.5oz (100g) in two individually wrapped 1.75oz bars
Ingredients: Cocoa mass, sugar, cocoa butter, soy lecithin, natural vanilla flavor
6g sugar/40g serving (15% by wt.)

I don’t have the best track record with Trader Joe’s chocolate. On second thought that’s not entirely honest, as I’ve only had trouble recently. Even when they’re not especially high quality, TJ’s candies are often addictive (try the mini peanut butter cups!), and for a short time when I was experimenting with 100% cacao bars—in very small doses—TJ’s carried a particular baking bar that I enjoyed to a surprising degree. It’s with my current diet’s very dark bars that I haven’t been so impressed. One memorable disappointment was the 73% cacao bar with almonds, the one in the pink foil wrapper, which sat partially eaten in The Chocolate Basket for ages before I finally tossed it. I couldn’t bring myself to review it because I’d have to eat it again, and I began this blog for fun; suffering for journalistic integrity is a somewhat lower priority. Thus, despite Trader Joe’s relatively low prices I’ve gravitated toward other brands, and this 85% cacao bar remained unopened in the basket until this week, when I decided to bite the bullet (and the bar--har har).

The good news is that it’s pretty decent. Inside the cardboard box are two smallish, flat bars, so you can open one and leave the other in its airtight plastic wrapper. The texture is as creamy and  smooth as 85% cacao bars tend to get, without any distracting chalkiness or brittle flakes. It has a sort of thin, nutty sweetness that might appeal to some, and it’s fairly bitter, a bit too much for me but interesting nonetheless. Both of those flavors aren’t quite my bag, so I don’t think this bar will be giving any repeat performances here, but I suspect there are chocolate lovers who would really enjoy it.

Conclusion: Trader Joe’s 85% bar is interesting but not to my taste.

P.S. I'm labeling this origin: Colombia, but since it doesn't explicitly say "single origin" on the box, it's possible they mean that it includes chocolate from Colombia. No promises.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Green & Black’s Organic Dark Chocolate with Whole Cherries 60% Cocoa Content

3.5oz (100g) bar
Ingredients: Organic chocolate liquor, o. raw cane sugar, o. cherries (o. dried cherries, o. sunflower oil), o. cocoa butter, soy lecithin, o. vanilla extract
12g sugar/40g serving (30% by wt.)

As I’m generally a fan of Green & Black’s products I’ve tried most of their dark flavored bars too, and this is one I pick up every so often. It is exactly what it says: chocolate with whole cherries. The plentiful cherries are bracingly tart and chewy, the sweeter chocolate is creamy and dark enough to hold its own, and the two play off each other beautifully. The whole cherries add greater textural interest than smaller pieces would, and the flavor is more inspired than similar but tired cranberry.

Personally, I would prefer a slightly darker and less sweet chocolate, but I realize that others might not feel the same way, and as it is the pairing is well balanced. This is the bar I end up eating most quickly—not because it is necessarily better than others (though it is very good) but because it is tasty, interesting, and not so dark and intense as to overwhelm after a few bites. It’s a good thing I don’t buy it regularly!

Conclusion: Green & Black’s Dark Chocolate with Whole Cherries is simple yet inspired and well balanced.