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June 15, 2008

Review: Starbucks Chocolate Multiple Choice

Ok, I'm finally going to address these Starbuck's chocolates that I have yet to do and since there are five different items to cover I'm going to do a short little blurby bits for each one. That way I can (try and fail to ) keep from rambling and being at this all night and ignoring the rabbit (she gets fussy when I pay more attention to the computer than her). First up are the Chocolate and Tea Tasting Squares.

Chai Milk Chocolate: A combination of Tazo Chai tea and milk chocolate (as if the name didn't give it away). Chai sometimes turns me off when in chocolate because it can overwhelm the chocolate and leave you with nothing but the chai. In this case it turns out to work well. The whole thing smells lightly spicy and the taste delivers on the smell's promise. It's a nice comfortable spicy and balances with the chocolate nicely and the tea lends it a little texture (not quite grainy and not quite crunchy). This is by far my favorite piece out of today's items. 8.5 out of 10. Tasty.

Passion Dark Chocolate: While the Chai was my favorite, the Passion is my least favorite. I complain about what I perceive to be out of balance a lot and this - while I do like it - is way out of balance. The Passion tea is based around hibiscus with citrus, rose hips, mango, and passion fruit. I find the whole thing to be like flowers and strange fruit (I don't eat a lot of mango or passion fruit so to me it's all strange). The aroma is about half and half floral and citrus and the flavor is mostly floral with a little of the fruity twang around the edges and little explosions of fruit in the cruncy little bits in it. And talk about grainy. You'll note that I've yet to mention the chocolate. The chocolate is easy to miss in the whole overwhelming assault of flowers and fruit. I want to like it. I like the flavors. I don't mind the grain (I like different textures in my chocolate). I just think that the tea should be toned WAY back. It completely overpowers the chocolate. I can't go much above a 4.5 on this one. It's too one sided.

Citron Dark Chocolate: This is more like it. The Citron tea is based around ceylon leaves with lemon oil and pairs well with chocolate. The aroma is mostly a hint of lemon and not much else. The flavor is nice with the tea, lemon, and chocolate playing well together. The thing that had me scratching me head (and running to other blogs for confirmation) was the weird nature of the lemon flavor. It tastes like lemon, but with no twang. It's like a non-citrus lemon. I know they're doing the whole name brand thing here, but they would be better served to pair ceylong tea leaves and lemon zest in the chocolate (though that would probably limit shelf life in a big way compared to what you want in a mass market product moving primarily in the drug and grocery stores). Honestly, I'd rather see a ceylon and lemon zest truffle, but I'm just the consumer here. As might be expected there is a grain to this one as well, leaving me trying to lick my teeth clean afterward. It's not a terrible grain or anything, but it's a trifle annoying. Still, the piece does more right than wrong and I enjoy it to the tune of a 7.5 out of 10.

It's kind of funny. I was really up on these after first trying them and when I go back to actually evaluate them I find that I loved one, liked one, and was really disappointed with one, but it was the one I liked that made the lasting impression. Strange. Well, it's certainly worth a taste if you are so inclined, though the price might be a little high for 2.64oz of chocolate. I can't give it a wholehearted recommendation, but I think it's interesting. If you really like the idea of tea and chocolate then I have a couple of recommendations I'll make in the near future.

Now, on to the truffles!

Chai Truffles: Well, here we are again with the Tazo Chai, this time in a truffle. Well, given how much I liked the tasting square it seems like a foregone conclusion that I would be all about this. Well, I do like it a lot, but I really prefer the tasting square to the truffle. I think it's to do with the filling. It's a non-chocolate filling which, in theory, isn't necessarily a bad thing (I have a bugaboo about calling anything a truffle if it doesn't have a ganache filling), but in this case I just don't like it as much as I do with just the tea and chocolate. It's still pretty good, though. I'll call it a 7.5 out of 10. Good, and something I'm likely to try again (especially if I find it on overstock clearance again).

Caffè Mocha Truffles: These are pretty straightforward. The truffle itself is designed with a couple of raised bean shaped bits on it which is cute and even in the wrap I can tell from the aroma there is some coffee action going on it it. Flavor-wise, well, it's tastes like your standard café mocha confection. It's tasty. It could stand a little more punch to the flavor, but it's pretty good. I generally avoid coffee (caffeine issues and a general avoidance of hot beverages in anything but the coldest months), but when I indulge I want some serious flavor. This comes close. I like it enough to call it a 7 out of 10.

So I've gone through a number of the Starbucks pieces now and the trend is generally positive. I think that the choice to go with something more than just the straight-up Hershey's chocolate was a good one (the read-between-the-lines answer to the chocolate is that it's Scharffen Berger). I think that a number of these pieces would fall flat with the normal Hershey's and Special Dark (which I hate). So Starbuck's first excursion into the world of chocolate seems to be working to varying degrees. Of course it all comes down to personal taste and whether one is willing to support both Starbucks and Hershey's, but if you don't mind the source then you just might find something to you liking.

June 11, 2008

No Chocolate For Me Thanks!

Bleah. Came down with something last week which rendered me with zero appetite and a whole lot of general purpose discomfort. Most of the weekend was spend in bed. So I've been ignoring my chocolate and beer and all the lovely little things that make life lovely. I'm feeling somewhat better now (than goodness) and am thinking chocolate again (also thank goodness).

So while I've been off my game what has been going on? Well, the last event prior to my sickening was a trip to Kroger for a sammich for lunch. On my way to the u-scan I couldn't help but notice the ginormous display of Starbucks Chocolate. And there was this funny sign on it that said "Overstock Sale - 75% Off" or something to that effect. Can anyone guess what I do when presented with chocolate I haven't tried at a steep discount? Yeah, I bought a bunch of truffles. I even managed to eat a couple before totally losing all interest in food. I figure I'll lump a review of them in with their Chocolate And Tea Tasting Squares sometime in the next couple of days. The short version is as follows: tasty! And at 75% off? Cheap!

Father's Day is Sunday (as I'm sure you're all aware from the monster advertising blitz that began, oh, the day after Mother's Day) and I've been getting lots of email from the chocolate makers making sure that everybody knows that chocolate is an absolutely fitting gift for Dad. I agree with them. If I'd been in less of a daze last week I'd have posted some of the free shipping deals and sales that have been around. It's getting a little close to the wire for online chocolate but don't let that discourage you from seeking out that lovely local stuff (support your local chocolatier!).

One of the absolute coolest things I've seen lately was an email from M&M's. They've come up with yet another way to customize M&M's for whatever use and it's a really cool one - a definite step beyond simple color, text, and logo customizations. They now allow you to order custom M&M's with a picture on them - like one you took. Their initial pitch is for faces, but I'm sure there are other good pictures you can get on your M&M's, too. Anyway, it's really cool. Call me easily impressed, but I like it.

I'm still running at half-speed, but chocolate is back in the diet so expect something in the next day or two. Sorry for yet another lapse, but it's a one man show here and when I'm spending all day in bed it's pretty unlikely that I'm going to be writing about chocolate.

June 3, 2008

Vacation Chocolate

Hey, I'm back! Not that I really planned on going anywhere, but I had a nice little week of vacation during which I didn't do a whole lot of anything. Mostly I did some spring cleaning type stuff, got caught up on a TV series I missed out on when it ran, searched high and low for a specific size and style of cooling rack, and vegetated. It was a pretty quiet week and most of my chocolate consumption was in the form of pastries again (hit The Hills a lot).

There was a bit of interesting chocolate in there, though. I went to Philadelphia for a day and stopped into the Reading Terminal Market for lunch. It reminds me a lot of our North Market here in Columbus, only bigger and featuring lots of Pennsylvania Dutch cooking (oh so good). And it just happens to be home to an institution in the world of sweet stuff: Bassetts Ice Cream. They've been at it since 1861 and seem to know what they're doing. They're another one of those places that I first ran into on either Food Network or the Travel Channel (I have a habit of watching any show having to do with bbq, ice cream, and of course chocolate). And they seem to be worthy of the hype. Very good stuff in my opinion. I had a couple of scoops of Raspberry Truffle which was quite lovely.

Another place of interest in the RTM is Chocolate By Mueller. In addition to being known for good chocolate they have a couple of items that they offer that are a bit... interesting. The first is the anatomically correct chocolate heart. They have a lot of molds - some quite unusual - and one of the most interesting is the heart. The other item that really turned my head was the chocolate covered onion. Not a terribly appetizing combination, but it does make for a neat gag gift. I tend to be pretty open minded about combining things with my chocolate, but I think I draw the line at onions. I just ain't right. Nope. But it certainly does capture the imagination and makes people talk.

So, while it wasn't a chocolate vacation like New York was (and will be again) there was some tasty chocolate happening along the way. And now that I'm done with the whole organized laziness I can get back to the normal laziness. I have a couple of items on deck including the promised thoughts on pairing beer and chocolate and I should be getting to them this week.