Saturday, February 23, 2013

Cachet Cocoa Nibs

3.5oz (100g) bar
Ingredients: Cocoa mass, sugar, cocoa nibs, cocoa powder, soy lecithin 
10g sugar/38g serving (26.3% by wt.)

Corporate Info: Cachet is a subsidiary of Kim's Chocolates, a Belgian company founded in 1987 that makes bars and confections under the Cachet name as well as a line called KC Chocolatier. I'm not sure what the difference is in terms of branding, other than that Cachet is "available in supermarkets and at many confectioners," while KC Chocolatier is in "specialist chocolate shops, delicatessens, Duty Free shops and on board aeroplanes." Cachet offers a fairly large assortment (click through to see groupings), including a few sugar-free varieties, though I notice that no ingredients are listed on the site. 

Today's Bar: Cocoa nibs in 70% cacao, apparently part of the "signature" line of tablets (i.e. bars). I found it (and two other bars) in a German deli for about $4. 

Appearance: Nondescript orangey brown in a wide, flat mold. 

Smell: Tart, beany, red-fruity.

Taste: For a relatively uninteresting-looking bar with a generic European corporate pedigree, this is actually pretty good. It's reasonably sweet but with a high density of nibs, whose hearty crunch and tame but raw flavor (they very much blend in) add a break and interest to a perfectly adequate base. The chocolate itself has a syrupy dried-fruit flavor with a little sourness for balance and a slightly chalky, thick texture that isn't my favorite but works okay if I don't think too much about it. This could be a decent go-to snacking chocolate, especially because the nibs' crunch make it somewhere between plain chocolate and a nut-studded (and not too sweet) candy bar in terms of munching satisfaction.

Conclusion: Cachet Cocoa Nibs feels generically European, but the decent chocolate and high nib concentration make it a satisfying snack.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Chocolate Shops in Victoria, BC, Canada

I recently visited Victoria, British Columbia for the first time, and in my first couple hours there I spotted a tourist magazine with a cover article about Victoria-area chocolatiers! My free-form trip suddenly had a focus; I cross-referenced the chocolatiers described in the article with Yelp reviews and my ability to get around, and ended up at three shopsand, sadly, forgot to take photos. So here are my reviews of three shops, albeit in pictureless form.

Of the three shops, one is all over Canada and has a U.S. presence as well, one is a Victoria-based chain that also sells online, and one is for local patrons only, which hopefully means there's something of interest here for everyone. 

International: Chocolaterie Bernard Callebaut

Chocolaterie Bernard Callebaut is based out of Calgary, Alberta, was founded in 1983, and otherwise doesn't go into much depth on its site. According to Wikipedia (and the Chicago-area Bernard Callebaut site), Chocolaterie Bernard Callebaut was founded by a descendent of the more famous Callebaut, he of the Belgian company that is now part of multinational Barry Callebaut. Chocolaterie Bernard Callebaut currently operates under the corporate name Cococo Chocolatiers and has stores (some corporate-operated, others independently owned) all across Canada, one in the Portland, Oregon area, and one in the Chicago, Illinois area.

The store I visited in Victoria was spare, with a long confections counter and shelves for bars, bags of chocolate shavings, and other creations. I ordered about a half-dozen chocolates, including the cinnamon ginger, trio, and bernard. So how were they? Nothing blew me away, but all were pleasant, with fine molding, creamy fillings, and subtle flavors. High-end but not all that interesting, though I had no problem finishing them off. Yum.

Order Online: Rogers' Chocolates

Rogers' Chocolates is totally Victoria: It was founded in 1885 in Victoria, and Rogers' eight stores are all located in British Columbia. I visited the “heritage storefront” on tourism-friendly Government Street and found it charmingly packed with confections and boxed items in an old-fashioned, wood-paneled setting. And the chocolates? Eh, they were okay, large and too sweet, so that divorced from their setting, back in my hotel room, I ate only bites of several before deciding I'd rather spend my calories on something else. But I would return to Rogers' for the ambience, focusing my purchases on the things I expect to be big and homey, like brittle and the turtle-like “Empress Squares”. So...meh.

Locals-Only: Chocolat Chocolatiere de Victoria

Chocolat Chocolatiere de Victoria's website just says that the company was founded in the 1990s nearby, then moved to downtown Victoria in 2004. Other articles note that the chocolatier is Helene Pappas, though I also found an April 2011 obituary for a Helene Pappas, though no other articles about her death (in, say, local business news), so perhaps that Helene is a relative. Regardless, Chocolat's storefront on a busy street had a family vibe, with an older gentleman (founder? father?) speaking familiarly with two women at the counter (daughters?) and with several visitors of various ages and appearances as they walked past the counter and chatted in a hallway in the back. There was a confections counter front and center, and to the left a case of chocolate desserts and a smaller counter for serving various chocolate drinks. A long set of seats along the front window and a separate nook of bistro tables and low, cushioned seats completed the sense of Chocolat as a great coffee-shop-like place where I wished I could become a regular.

So how was the chocolate? I ended up with nearly a dozen of the intriguing-looking and -sounding confections, among them Chocolate in the Raw, a Dark Mouse, Marzipan, Rosebud, and the wasabi-infused Samurai, and mostly saved them while drinking dark, thick, milk-free Xocolatl and watching the staff wrap red boxes in preparation for Valentine's Day. I nibbled on a few chocolates and saved the rest to finish later, in my hotel room, where I tried and savored them all. Some were more to my taste than others, but I had no regrets: Chocolat's confections look varied and interesting and taste evocative, fun, and creative, and I'd love to return. Excellent.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Richart Around the World of Cocoa (Small)

80g box, in 32 thin wafers
Ingredients: Unknown. Definitely cacao and sugar, milk as an option, probably soy lecithin (“Nutrition Facts” online includes “contains: soy”), possibly vanilla but I'm guessing not.
Sugar content depends on options chosen.

Corporate Info: Richart is a high-end French chocolatier selling mostly confections along with macarons. Richart was founded in 1925, and today its products can be found in its French boutiques, a shop in New York City, and online.

Today's Box: Richart's Around The World of Cocoa (small), a very nice holiday gift from a loving relative who shares my interest in chocolate. In this box are four different chocolates (the company selects from eight options), each presented in a stack of eight thin, square wafers: Sarajiva 37% (with 33% milk, from the “Indian Ocean” region), Sambiraja 70% (Madagascar), Chuabello 82% (Venezuela), and Linkaterra 100% (Peru). For $29.00, this is not an everyday sort of treat, but it's a pretty neat gift for a chocolate lover, including oneself!

  • Sarajiva 37% is yellow-brown and creamy.  
  • Sambiraja 70% and Chuabello 82% are similar medium browns, with the 70% slightly greyer. 
  • Linkaterra 100% is a deep reddish brown, not as dark as one might think. All are mostly matte with a brushed sort of gloss.
Smell: Let's see... 
  • Sarajiva 37%: Sweet, super mild, and like fresh cream. 
  • Sambiraja 70%: Not strong, but roasted and nutty. 
  • Chuabello 82%: Also not strong, but bitter and charred. 
  • Linkaterra 100%: Sharp and sour.
  • Sarajiva 37%: This is good milk chocolate, rich and creamy and sweet but not saccharine.  
  • Sambiraja 70%: Richart's chocolate is as smooth as advertised, texture-wise, with the flavor here having a bitter edge but not heaviness: this isn't a tannic, fruity red wine chocolate but rather something roasty and bitter but soft.  
  • Chuabello 82%: Wow! This chocolate is deep and has very little sweetness, with a quite small, thinly bitter undercurrent. Smooth but thick, heavy but not punch-in-the-mouth flavorful. Interesting. 
  • Linkaterra 100%: Okay, so this is 100% cacao, which means no sugar or anything else to smooth out or punch up the flavor. Here that means a slow-building, rounded sourness with no edges, and a super-thick but smooth texture. I'm sure I'll finish this variety last, but it's not unenjoyable.

Conclusion: Richart Around the World of Cocoa (Small) is a fun, high-end chocolate tasting experience.

Formatting Issue, Cont.

So I've figured out what's going on: I have the blue links problem ever since my word processor of choice, LibreOffice, updated a few days ago. I now need to either re-install the old version or come up with a new "host" for my pre-blogging review process, which is a minor pain and might take a few days. Back shortly, I hope!

Friday, February 8, 2013

Formatting Issue

I've been writing up a couple posts (for tomorrow and next week) and have discovered some formatting problems, specifically with the color of (I think) links that have been clicked already. I suspect the issue may have something to do with a recent update in the program in which I write reviews, and then the transition when I copy/paste them into Blogger. I'm waiting to see if the finished posts look the same once they've been published, but in the meantime, I'm sorry for the weird, dark blue links.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Fearless 70% Exploding Coconuts


2oz (56.7g) bar
Ingredients: Organic raw cacao, o. unrefined cane sugar, o. raw shredded coconut
7g sugar/28.35g serving (24.7% by wt.)

Corporate Info: [Copied from 1/26/13] Fearless was founded in 2006 in California, uses recycled paper for the outer boxes, and makes bean-to-bar chocolate with organic ingredients and direct trade cacao from specific plantations in Brazil, with a special focus on raw cacao. All of this may or may not mean anything to you, but I think I can safely say that Fearless is full of good intentions, part of what I'm seeing as a young cohort trying to bring chocolate into the modern age more thoughtfully, with an eye toward (or blatant focus on) sustainability and treating growers well. The small-company, bean-to-bar model is one way of doing it (contrast with Divine, for example), and it's a fine option. Good for them. Fearless is also notable for its aesthetic, a combination of earthy-crunchy (recycled-looking paper boxes) and super cute, as the font is friendly, the logo is a tiny elephant, and the mold embosses the elephant and a bunch of stars on the bars and takes a “bite” out of the corner of the bar. I'd argue that the cute-ification of the raw, organic message is a great way to go, taking what might otherwise be perceived as a solidly hippie company and making it more approachable. As of last September Fearless only produced five bars, and now there are seven, so look for more from Fearless in the future.

Today's Bar: More 70% raw cacao and unrefined sugar, plus shredded coconut. As I noted last week, the package has changed since I bought this bar, though this one already has the new winged elephant logo. Hm.

Appearance: Funny, the elephant imprinted on the bar itself has no wings...I wonder if the bars are different now. Anyhow, same red-orange color and slight gloss.

Smell: This one first reminded me of raisins, but when I remembered the sweetness of coconut, my mind rebranded the aroma as coconut's round, buttery-sweet smell, with the underlying warmth of cacao. Well-melded thus far.

Taste: This bar first hits my tongue as buttery and sweet, and then the sour-bitter rawness and the coconut's chewy texture kick in. The coconut pairs well with the chocolate in both flavor (rounded and subtly sweet to sour-bitter) and texture (chewy-crispy to thick), but I don't get a ton of coconut flavor. It adds good, buttery (third time I've used that word) complexity, and I'd like more of that.

Conclusion: Fearless 70% Exploding Coconuts pairs two contrasting elements well, but I'd like to taste more coconut in there.