Saturday, January 28, 2012

Mast Brothers Chocolate The Brooklyn Blend

2.5oz bar
Ingredients: Cacao, cane sugar

This past fall I took a long-awaited trip to the East Coast to see friends, and a buddy in New York City introduced me to Brooklyn's own Mast Brothers Chocolate. Sad to say we didn't have time to visit the company's tasting room, but I did come home with two bars, and this week I'll tackle the aptly-named Brooklyn Blend, one of a small assortment of the usual sorts of bars (spicy, coffee, salt, nut, etc.). This bar is just plain 74% chocolate, and the copy describes it as having “hints of plum, tobacco and earth.” Leaving aside the lack of an Oxford comma (it just doesn't sound right that way!), is that description borne out by my taste buds?

Corporate Info: Mast Brothers is based in hipster-soaked Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and the eponymous brothers do fit the description. The company's website doesn't go into many details about the operation itself, but it does link to articles that describe the process as bean-to-bar and at least partially organic and direct trade. (If you're really interested, follow through on those links to see photos and much more on Mast Brothers.) Reviews seem to be love-it-or-hate-it regarding the taste, prices, and aesthetic of the chocolate, and indeed a lot of the press seems to be related to its uniquely patterned packaging. Mast Brothers' products are available mostly in New York, but also in select high-end food stores around the country.

Appearance: Mostly matte, and a bit pale as dark chocolate goes. (Also broken, but this happened to all the chocolate I brought back from NYC in my tightly packed suitcase.)

Smell: Pretty basic. Warm, with a nutmeg vibe and notes of caramelized raisin.

Taste: Different! Flavor is light, sweet-tart like juicy orange citrus or, sure, maybe plum. I could definitely get earthy from it. I'm not a smoker so I don't know about tobacco, but I could see something fresh and green (it doesn't say dried to me), though not smoky at all. Very little bitterness or tannins. In normal-person language, it's kind of tart and refreshing. Texture is chalky and thick—not in a bad, powdery way but also not waxy or anything like that. When you try to break off one piece it fractures into several small chunks, and it tastes a little crumbly too.

Conclusion: Mast Brothers Chocolate The Brooklyn Blend is light and tart, with a somewhat chalky texture.

[Update 2/4/12: Since I wrote this, Mast Brothers' website has changed and now I can't find a "where to buy" list that covers brick-and-mortar stores. I'm leaving the link in case they change it back.]

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Divine 70% Dark Chocolate

1.5oz (45g) bar
Ingredients: Fair trade cocoa mass, ft. sugar, ft. cocoa butter, soy lecithin, ft. vanilla
12 sugar/45g serving (26.7% by wt.)

Corporate Info: (Copied from 4/5/11) I've written about Divine before, and while I didn't love the chocolate, the company is pretty amazing. It grew out of a Ghanaian co-op run by and for small-scale family farmers with a mission to buy the farmers' cocoa at fair prices, increase women's involvement, and work toward environmentally sound growing methods. The co-op eventually decided to produce its own chocolate, and in 1997 formed Divine Chocolate with investment capital from an assortment of socially conscious groups including for-profit corporations, nonprofits, and faith-based charities. The beans are grown in Ghana, the chocolate is produced in the UK, and subsidiaries distribute the finished product in North America and Europe. The investing organizations and the farmers' co-op all receive dividends from their shares in Divine—and the farmers' corporate presence means they're also part of decision-making processes. Everyone benefits in a fascinating globalized web of grass-roots organizing, international business, and social responsibility—it can be done! Divine is listed highly in both my sources of socially-focused chocolate producers, though while nearly all ingredients are fair trade, they are not organic.

Appearance: Divine's basic 70% dark chocolate comes in a standard 3.5oz size and in this blocky, solid little bar. Chocolate is orangey-brown and shiny.

Smell: A friendly sweet and sour, like a tangerine, which is to say not acrid or pungent or especially dark.

Taste: Texture is creamy—probably that extra cocoa butter—and after you chew and swallow, there's a little chalky residue. Flavor is nutty and sweet, with a little sour balance so it's not sickly. Not bitter or tannic. Again Divine doesn't blow me away, but this chocolate is just fine and, as I've said many times, it's a great company.

Conclusion: Divine 70% Dark Chocolate is a mild sweet-sour, nothing special but easy to eat.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Theo Organic Fair Trade Salted Almond Dark Chocolate 70% Cacao

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

Corporate Info: I've reviewed and discussed Theo many times before, so I'll just direct you backwards for company info. I review Theo often for many reasons: It's a good company, it's local here so I see the bars around a lot, it does a lot with dark chocolate, and it adds new bars from time to time so there's often something new to try. Today's bar is new, but not too long ago they came out with a version in 45% milk chocolate and I highly enjoyed it, so I'm anxious to try this one! My fear is that I won't like it the way I don't like many of their 70% bars, in that the base is too sour for me personally. I keep coming back to Theo's 70% bars in part because I love the company and in part because I hold out hope that one of these days, the inclusion and the tart base will turn out to be a perfect match, at least to my taste buds. One more go-around...

Appearance: Low-gloss, very reddish brown with lighter flecks visible under the surface.

Smell: Tangy like red fruit and yogurt, a little nutty.

Taste: The chocolate is indeed somewhat tart, but as I chew it, somehow only parts of what I'm tasting register as sour! The rest of each bite is more balanced among sour, bitter, and tannic, as in a light-bodied red wine, and there's just enough sugar to meet those flavors. The mellow flavor of the small chunks of almond doesn't come out much at all in comparison to all that, but their al dente firmness provides some low-contrast texture. Finally, the tiny flakes of salt contribute a flavor that's less saline and more like centers of heightened chocolate intensity, which add to the general sense of complexity. This wouldn't be a favorite for me, but for those who like this complex flavor profile, it's pretty interesting.

Conclusion: Theo Organic Fair Trade Salted Almond Dark Chocolate 70% Cacao has a lot going on: the sourness, bitterness, and tannins of a light red wine, the texture of almond pieces, and heightened flavor around salt crystals.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Whole Foods Dark Chocolate Pear & Almond

3.5oz (100g) bar
Ingredients: Chocolate liquor, sugar, almonds, cocoa butter, butter oil, inulin, pear, natural flavoring, soy lecithin
14g sugar/38g serving (36.8% by wt.)

Corporate Info: See two weeks ago, both this section and the introduction. This week's bar isn't organic or whatever else; it's Whole Foods' attempt at upscale chocolate flavors. So how do they do?

Appearance: Flat, lightly textured, deep reddish brown, with pale flecks under the surface. A cross-section reveals slivered almonds and, due to slightly different color and shape, what must be tiny pieces of pear.

Smell: In both color and smell this is actually dark, probably at least 60%, though the package doesn't say. Light, nutty, winey. No pear smell as far as I can tell.

Taste: What stands out is pear, which based on the ingredients is just in the pieces (“natural flavoring” is in parentheses next to pear, along with inulin and dehydrated pear; there's no “flavoring” in the chocolate itself), but it jumps out like liberally applied pear extract, sweet, with a candyish texture but a real ripe pear vibe, as in a pear Jelly Belly. Almonds are more low-key and textural, and chocolate isn't in front but does have some winey flavor, so it doesn't get lost.

Conclusion: Whole Foods Dark Chocolate Pear & Almond isn't for lovers of super dark chocolate, but it does provide pear flavor, almond texture, and a legitimate dark chocolate foundation.