Saturday, January 12, 2013

Trader Joe's Takes Flight: A Dark Chocolate Tasting Odyssey, Part I

Corporate Info: (Copied from 1/12/13) Quirky-gourmet grocery store Trader Joe's tends to be hit or miss, with some products being regular purchases for years, some becoming favorites and then disappearing from shelves, and some straight up disappointing. I've had similarly mixed results with their chocolate, but there's constant turnover, they contract with a whole assortment of manufacturers, and they aim for reasonable price points, so it's worth it to keep trying. There isn't much else to say aside from a fun fact: The US's beloved Trader Joe's is owned by Germany's ALDI, which operates discount supermarkets all over Europe—and that explains why we saw packages of dried fruit and nuts labeled Trader Joe's in an ALDI in Osnabrück.

Today's Bar: An assortment! This “Dark Chocolate Tasting Odyssey” is in the same line as the bar with toffee, walnuts, and pecans and the caramel-filled bar with black sea salt, but it includes seven separate and interesting bars! Two are 2oz versions of full-sized products, the salted caramel bar I've already reviewed and a coconut caramel one I still intend to review, so I won't cover them here. Further, you can buy each of those separately, and I've seen both in stores off-and-on for the last year, so you can probably find them if you want them. In contrast, I've only seen this assortment once, so I'm going to cover it in a two-part mega review rather than stretching it out over five posts.

So what, then, are today's bars? Every bar in the assortment is in 70% cacao, and aside from the two caramel-filled ones discussed above, all are regular chocolate with inclusions. Today I'm looking at Coffee & Cocoa Nib and Chili & Cinnamon.

Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Chocolate Bar 70% Coffee & Cocoa Nib

2oz (57g) bar
Ingredients: Chocolate liquor, sugar, cocoa butter, soy lecithin, vanilla, cocoa nibs, coffee beans
17g sugar/57g serving (29.8% by wt.)

Appearance: Straight brown, i.e. not reddish or orangey, and mostly matte. The back shows a few small, raised pieces of what I'm guessing is cocoa nib.

Smell: Sweet and nutty, with barely a hint of coffee.

Taste: That's pretty good! The texture is more chalky than waxy, but with the intriguing grit of coffee grounds and crushed cocoa nibs. Flavor is sweet (note: I haven't been eating much sugar lately) and nutty, not especially complex, with the fatty flavor of cocoa butter and and a light, lingering coffee taste. More latte than espresso.

Conclusion: Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Chocolate Bar 70% Coffee & Cocoa Nib offers some grit for texture and a light, creamy coffee flavor.

Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Chocolate Bar 70% Chili & Cinnamon

2oz (57g) bar
Ingredients: Chocolate liquor, sugar, cocoa butter, soy lecithin, vanilla, ancho chili powder, cinnamon, guajillo chili powder, cayenne pepper
18g sugar/57g serving (31.6% by wt.)

Appearance: As with the coffee bar, the base used for this chocolate is a deeper, more purply brown than the also-common reddish or orangey, and has little gloss. The back surface is mottled with very small raised bumps.

Smell: Ooh, I totally get both chili and cinnamon! Not strongly, but still. Again, the chocolate is light and nutty.

Taste: Again, a little chalky, with chew. Then I get the prickle of the cayenne, a low level of the other chilis (I'm not sure I could tease out the flavors), and finally a surprising amount of cinnamon compared with other, similar bars I've tried. I don't know if they used ground cinnamon or if it's just the chalkiness of the chocolate itself, but overall it's a little too powdery for my taste. On the other hand, it's still pretty neat to taste serious cinnamon flavor in my chocolate, and along with the lasting heat of chili in the back of my throat.

Conclusion: Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Chocolate Bar 70% Chili & Cinnamon has prickly, lingering heat, significant cinnamon flavor, and a texture that's a bit too powdery for me.


  1. Nice review - I think this sampler provides a nice range of exotics for a reasonable price.

    Any idea who makes the chocolate? It doesn't say anywhere on the package.

  2. I don't. Some of Trader Joe's products are nearly identical to name brands, including features like box shape and design, but its chocolate has always been a mystery to me. And given the wide variety of chocolate items it produces (including the box shape and design), I wonder how many different companies it might use!