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.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

A Reflection on Changing Tastes

Blogging about chocolate week after week has changed my tastes in the stuff. It's less the eating than the self-reflection: determining what makes one bar different from another, noticing patterns in what I like and what I don't, and adjusting my preferences as new bars challenge my senses.

Some of the changes are ones I expected, like a tendency to prefer darker (say 85% cacao) or lighter (60-70%) chocolate depending on what I've been eating lately. The same goes for other flavor elements and textural variations, which I seem to like in different ways at different times. Sometimes a new sensation can be impressive in part because it is novel; if I try that chocolate again later, I might think it's bland, or too strong, or a bit off. I try to be mindful of this phenomenon when I declare that a bar's flavor is well-balanced or overly sweet or sour or whatnot, but no matter what, my tastes are as changeable as anyone else's.

I have discovered some constants. Occasionally I'm blown away by a small piece of a chocolate with a distinctive flavor—it's like taking a bite of good funky cheese—but by the same token, I don't usually want a large chunk of it. For standard size bars, I like something that isn't too sour or bitter but is complex enough that I want to keep eating. Texturally, I generally prefer a more waxy or creamy chocolate to a brittle or chalky one. I don't care much about sheen, though. A glossy bar can be creamy and smooth or unpalatably fatty tasting, and a dull one can be rich and deeply chocolatey or crumbly and bland, so while I note appearance, it doesn't mean much to me.

As far as inclusions and flavorings go, I like those that have a real presence. What I think of as good dark chocolate isn't a blank canvas, it's interesting and varied and perfumed; any extracts or pieces should complement the chocolate in intensity, neither overwhelming nor being overwhelmed. The few exceptions to this rule have been when I believed the chocolatier specifically wanted the additional flavor to bring out a new dimension of the chocolate. I've tasted this with spices and occasionally fruit, and of course there's the vanilla in many chocolate bars, which usually doesn't scream “vanilla” so much as quietly enhance the chocolate itself.

I feel similarly about texture. Inclusions might add interest or variation, crunch, chew, whatever, but they shouldn't cause me to ask “what are they trying to do with this?” I once ate a (never-reviewed) bar that was supposed to be fruit flavored but tasted like it had some sort of vaguely fruity candy dust embedded in it. The flavoring had neither the taste nor the texture of the fruit on the label and, seen from another angle, wasn't so counter to expectations that I would think it to be intentionally challenging—it was just gritty, bland candy. Bleh.

Finally, my reaction to certain brands has changed over time. I've always admired Theo's methods and goals, bold inclusions and flavorings, and sampling experience, but now that I've tried it many times over, I find its basic 70% chocolate to be too sour and not a good match for some of its pairings. (By contrast, I've been very impressed by many of the confections and some of the lighter bars, including but by no means limited to the super-creamy 45% cacao milk chocolate bar and the outstanding vanilla bar.) Once upon a time, my go-to dark bar was Endangered Species' 88%, but I now prefer Green & Black's 85% and have actually turned several friends onto that bar as well. My preferences may change yet again, as I'm trying more high-end chocolate and appreciating what it offers that cheaper bars cannot. But then, I suspect my financial constraints will keep my head out of the clouds.

Admittedly this post is pretty darned self-indulgent (okay, the whole blog is self-indulgent), but I think it's important. Even if they come across as the final word on a product, reviews are inherently subjective, and it's nice to remind myself of that once in a while.