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May 6, 2009

Review: Amano Jembrana

I’m an Amano fan and the reason is simple: Art Pollard makes good chocolate. And when I say he “makes” good chocolate I do mean exactly that. For the unfamiliar, Amano is a bean-to-bar artisan chocolate maker. This particular bar, the Jembrana 70% cacao dark chocolate bar, is the first single-origin bar to use Balinese cacao beans which had me interested from the outset. I was quick to order some to try and they arrived, I believe, on the same day as some sample bars did (oh what a painful wealth of chocolate).

The bar comes in one of Amano’s great little boxes and, being a sucker for good packaging, I fell in love before I even opened it. But open it I did! And I’m glad I did - it’s an interesting bar. The bar itself comes wrapped in gold foil and is well formed (as expected) with a hint of red to the color. I didn’t find anything terribly exotic about the aroma - just some fresh cut wood/sawdust, leather, and a hint of some fruit I can't place - but my sinuses have been having problems and I think that I just can’t smell chocolate as well after wine. The taste has a good full dark chocolate flavor but it's also full of light nuts and blooms into a nice honey-nutty-buttery climax which fades – dryly – to a non-lingering mellow cocoa and honey. It’s really a gentle and accessible dark chocoloate bar with the slight dryness being the only possible issue I can see in winning others over to it. It’s very good and nicely different and I’m going to call it an 8.75 out of 10.

In other Amano news, they’ve started making milk chocolate versions of their Jembrana and Ocumare bars, they sell an array of nibs (and I’m working on finding the right recipe to try them in), and they have a new limited edition bar called Montanya featuring beans from the mountains of Venezuela. Which means, of course, that it’s time for me to order more chocolate.

On a final note, Kitchen Girl Jo made hot chocolate with the Jembrana and it sounds tasty to me (it uses heavy cream which I find makes a killer hot chocolate). Check it out!

March 31, 2009

Recession Busting Brownie Deal

We all want chocolate (well, I assume that, but if you're reading Chocolate Obsession I'm betting the odds are in favor). The problem lately is that we don't want to pay for it. The recession is rough on us all, but tonight I bring you a chance to have some brownies, save some money, and help people out all at the same time!

'How' you ask? The folks at Greyston Bakery want to give you a chance to save 20% off of their Do-Goodie Brownies through FRIDAY (act fast y'all). ALL of the proceeds from the Do-Goodie sales are put back into the community helping those in need of jobs, shelter, healthcare, child care, and education so you can feel even better about your purchase. All you need to do to get your 20% off is enter "FOOLU" at checkout and voilá! Money is saved and lives improved.

I haven't tried them yet so I can't speak too much to the quality of the product, though I've had their mix-in brownies in Ben & Jerry's ice cream. It's been a while since I've had it, but I can definitely say that I've never had anything from B&J that I didn't enjoy. It's also earned a little write-up in O (as in the mighty Oprah) Magazine for their social mission which is pretty cool.

So, if you're of the mind to buy some chocolate snackies why not save some cash and help some folks while you're at it? I'm getting some.

Cheers!

January 26, 2009

Quick Hits: The WILD THING

From the depths of the Bolivian jungle comes an untamed bean, daring the world to even try to work with it. And it turns out that the folks at Lillie Belle Farms were totally up to that challenge. They took wild criollo beans harvested the jungle and made this lovely 68% cacao content bar of chocolate out of them. They call it The Wild Thing. I saw it at the New York Chocolate Show in 2007 and ended up getting just about everything except for this. When I went back in 2008 I fully intended on making up for the omission and so I took one home with me (among other things).

I'm not going to over think this one. The bar is thick, well-formed with the logo on the face, and has a heckuva snap to it. The aroma is mellow and has a hint of spice hiding behind a nice front of cocoa. The taste is clean and bright. I don't know if I was expecting something raw and brutal - the chocolate equivalent of a slap in the face. What I found was bright and mellow and smooth as the day is long. It's good a good chocolate flavor with hints of some darker things I just can't figure out. They're hints. My taste might be off because I was having this with the last of my wine from dinner (a fruity pinot noir - lotsa berries), but I'm just finding smooth mellow chocolate with a few darker hints around the edges. I feel bad that I can't find more to talk about. Sometimes I just fail. But it's a really good chocolate.

So "really good" is my impression, but that's not a score. If I had to assign a number at this point in the game I'd run with a 8.75 out of 10. It's really good stuff and worth trying out.

Oh, and sorry about the picture quality. Sophie is an action rabbit. Well, when she isn't being an inaction rabbit. But in this case it was hard to get a shot of her with the label not being thrown about. The label was empty because I was eating the chocolate and I didn't want to post a boring picture of an empty label. So you get a sorta-blurry rabbit amidst the giant mess of hay she's made in her cage.

September 29, 2008

Charles Chocolates 4th Anniversary

This Wednesday, October the first, marks the fourth anniversary of the opening of Charles Chocolates! It's hard to believe that as big and polished as they are they're only four years old.

But birthdays and annivarsaries pass all the time and I don't post word one on them. For me to actually bring it up on the site it's got to offer some benefit for my readers even for one of the companies I like to cheerlead for. Having said that it should be no surprise that they are having a nice set of specials this week - Monday to Friday only - to celebrate! And the deals are good online or in-store.

  • Spend over $40 and receive a free jar of their handmade marmalade

  • Spend over $80 and receive a free jar of their handmade marmalade and two homemade s'mores

  • Place ANY ORDER on their birthday, Wednesday, October 1, and receive a "special present" (mysterious!)

So, now that October has rolled around and the weather has cooled enough that shipping chocolate isn't such a dicey proposition it's a really good opportunity to try some of the wonderful goods they offer. I'm a big fan of their Tea Collection, but everything I've been lucky enough to try has been great. So help celebrate and treat yourself or someone special to some fantastic chocolate!

Charles Chocolates Online Store

Happy Birthday Chuck and Company!

August 9, 2008

Xeni and Pesco Visit With TCHO On BBTV

It is entirely possible that the title of this post will mean absolutely nothing to you. The short version explanation is as follows: Xeni Jardin is a journalist and blogger who I first became familiar with through her co-editor role at the superblog Boing Boing, Pesco (David Pescovitz) is another of the co-editors at Boing Boing, TCHO is one of the new bean to bar chocolate makers, and BBTV is the video end of Boing Boing. Putting it all together we have some BBTV videos featuring Xeni and David visiting with TCHO and getting to see some of the art and science (TCHO really seem to be into the science) behind chocolate and getting a taste of TCHO's philosophy and chocolate. It's fun and painlessly educational stuff.

I'm not going to go in depth about any of these parties. I could gush about Boing Boing (and Xeni and David) at some length (the blog is a mind-bender and mind-expander), but that just isn't fun. You can check it out for yourself and make your own mind up. I could talk about TCHO for a bit, but I hate to talk much about them without having actually tried their chocolate yet (when the weather cools down from this lovely summer heat I plan on ordering from them) so aside from pointing out the heavy use of words based on "obsess" at their website I'm going to let them speak for themselves.

Anyway, give them a watch and enjoy! Oh, and I hope this embedding works. I'm never sure whether these things will actually fly when I get my hands on them.

Part One - chocolate origins

Part Two - magical machines, mysterious molecules

Part Three - the taste test trip

In case the embedding action failed here are some direct links:
chocolate origins
magical machines, mysterious molecules
the taste test trip

Sometime this fall I'll follow this up with some taste testing of my own. There are a number of new players in the bean to bar world and I'm excited to see what they're all up to.

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.

March 6, 2008

Starbucks Chocolate

Well, now. I just don’t quite know what to think about this. Starbucks is stepping into the world of chocolate delivering tea and coffee flavored chocolates with the aid of (drum roll please)…. Hershey! Yeah, I’m being intentionally misleading. I can’t see Starbucks using anything as pedestrian as normal everyday Hershey chocolate (or Special Dark). Instead they are using an unspecified chocolate from the Hershey Artisan Confections collection of companies. And it appears to be one that is associated with bean-to-bar chocolate making. By my interpretation that would make it Sharffen Berger. Dagoba would also be possible, but if they were going organic I’m sure they would trumpet it. I’d guess they want quality without the additional cost that organic chocolate generally carries.

The flavors sound like they’ll be interesting. From the press release:

The collection includes: signature dark, mocha and milk chocolate bars and tasting squares; Tazo® Chai, Passion and Citron tea-infused chocolate tasting squares; Caffè Mocha, Chai, Espresso, Caramel Macchiato and Madagascar Vanilla Bean Truffles; and Milk Chocolate Covered Caffè Verona® Coffee Beans.

The most interesting thing about their whole foray into the world of chocolate is the fact that it will be available in grocery stores, drug stores, and the like, but it will not be available in Starbucks stores. I would be forced to wonder if this is because they’re using Hershey’s distribution channel and Starbucks stores aren’t a part of it. Whatever the reason, they’re supposed to be in stores now.

I’m curious to try some of what they are offering. I’m enjoying the whole tea and chocolate combination lately and I’ve always liked a little coffee with my chocolate so it should all be worth a taste. There is a link to the press release below and there is some neat stuff on it with product pictures and videos of chocolate tastings so check it out.

Press Release

May 3, 2007

Fake Chocolate?

Well, I'm back. I'm moved out and somewhat moved in. Somewhere in all the mess of moving I managed to end up with a medical issue that I think I now have under control. The medical issue seemed to be made worse by consumption of chocolate so I've been avoiding it for a couple of weeks, but now I'm back in the saddle again and the chocolate life may resume.

First order of business: FDA Proposed Changes to Chocolate
I've been kind of distant from chocolate and haven't spoken up on the subject and feel like I've really been shirking my duties because of it. It's been all over the internet and on the network news and in the papers and you can't avoid it. I'm talking about the scary attempt to re-define just what chocolate actually is from a legal standpoint. The main thrust is the ability to swap out the good and wonderful cocoa butter for vegetable fat (think Crisco) and still be able to legally call the product chocolate. All because vegetable oil is super-cheap compared to cocoa butter.

The long and short of it is this: they want the right to legally pass off an inferior product as chocolate.

You can guess my feelings on this whole mess. My one consolation is that as long as they don't get bought out by one of the monsters of the chocolate and candy world we should still be able to get our quality real chocolate from those companies that are dedicated to the art of chocolate.

If you aren't up to speed on the subject or want to know how to make your voice on the subject heard by the powers that be, you should head over to Candy Blog and check out Cybele's coverage of the subject. She's all over it and it would be silly of me to try and repost all of the content and repeat what she's already said so well so I'm just going to point you toward everything she has on the subject. She's leading the charge and bless her for doing so.

And Boo! on the FDA for even considering this stupidity.

FDA on Candy Blog

November 27, 2006

Chocolove's New Limited Edition Holiday Bar

Chocolove, a company I will always love for being one of my portal drugs to the wider world of chocolate, have a new product for the holiday season! The new Limited Edition Chocolove Holiday Bar combines 55% cocoa content chocolate with a wealth of fruits and nuts to make what I can only think of as the chocolate bar equivalent of a fruitcake. From their release:

The perfect holiday treat, the Limited Edition Chocolove Holiday Bar is a blend of sweet currants, tart cherries, zesty orange, spicy ginger, and a mix of crunchy pecans, walnuts and hazelnuts enrobed in smooth dark chocolate.
And all of this fruity, nutty goodness is wrapped up in a holiday variant of their trademark packaging complete with a poem inside the wrapper. Traditionally there is a love poem printed on the inside of their wrappers, but the art they are showing says "Poem inside" as opposed to their standard "love poem inside" so it might be a holiday poem this time around.

The new bar is available exclusively at Whole Foods Market (and I am hoping mine gets some in - I want to try it) through the holiday season or while supplies last. It may well be more of a "while supplies last" situation since they are indicating that each store will only be getting a few hundred bars. If it sounds at all interesting to you (and you have a Whole Foods in your neighborhood) then keep your eyes peeled for it!

Chocolove Home Page
Press Release

October 25, 2006

The Chocolate Life

Lately I've been a mite stressed out due to a number of problems and as a result I've been rather rudely ignoring my blogging obligations. That's not to say that I haven't been thinking about chocolate. After last weeks painful Dagobombshell (which might not be as bad as I feared - David Lebovitz got the scoop from Frederick Schilling of Dagoba) I really couldn't help but be thinking about chocolate. This is a bit of a roundup of what's been going on in my life and my head regarding my favorite food.

Dagoba, as I hinted in my post about them being bought by Hershey (*sigh*), has two new bars that they're bringing to market and they sound pretty interesting. The first one is their Prima Materia which is a 100%(!) cacao content bar. They put special effort into getting the perfect blend to keep the astringency down to a reasonable level. Normally I would shy away from a 100% bar, but I think that if anybody can make a good one it's got to be Dagoba. The second new bar is the Sambirano 65% sigle origin bar made with nothing but trinitario beans from the Sambirano region of Madagascar. This one I'm dying to try. An organic, single origin bar made with Madagascar sourced trinitario beans is one I don't want to miss. I'm quite curious about the one and eager to try the other so I think they are both going on my shopping list.

Speaking of my shopping list, I keep buying (and of course eating) chocolate, whether I blog about it or not. This past week I've been gnawing away at a Ghirardelli Intense Dark Citrus Sunset which has little orange and caramel bits running through it. Not a world-class tasting chocolate, but a nice thing to absent mindedly gnaw at while getting things done. The other thing I've opened and started to enjoy is a Valrhona Organic Dark Bar. Very nice stuff (not that I'd expect anything less from Valrhona). I'm probably going to work up a review of it (if I don't eat it too quickly - oh, that would be a sin) when I have a chance. Other than that I've not really eaten anything too special lately.

I have had something special to drink, though. Hot chocolate season is upon us again! Autumn seems to have given up early and winter is setting in (at least around here) and nothing chases the chill away like hot chocolate. Last winter disappointed and I didn't feel the need for hot chocolate nearly as much as I hoped. As a result I have a pantry full of leftovers (I need to check and see if any of it is still good - my Green & Black's and Dagoba are actual chocolate as opposed to cocoa and might have a limited shelf life). Hopefully I won't have the same problem this year (or at least I'll not buy quite so much as last year).

Hey, that's right! It's nearly November. I have a flight to New York scheduled for two weeks from today. Sadly, I think I'm going to have to cancel. My rabbit's health isn't what I would like it to be and I'm afraid that the stress of me taking off could make it significantly worse. While I want to go on this vacation I don't want to risk my bunny. I can cancel my vacation and only be out the cost of the plane ticket and use a portion of the money I'll save on hotel and food and shows and whatnot to put in a big fat order in at Chocosphere. It won't be the same thing as five days in Manhattan, but I'll be able to spend those days eating chocolate and spoiling my rabbit so it's a pretty fair trade.

I say that 'I think' I'm going to have to cancel but I've really been resigned to this for weeks and just haven't gotten around to posting about it. I put a lot of time and effort and thought into planning this trip and I hate to just put it aside, but the way I see it both I and New York will probably still be around next year and the city will probably still be crawling with fantastic chocolate. I figure that the baseball mantra of "There's always next year" will do me just fine for now.

Ok, lets put the unhappiness aside and close things up with a couple of recipes that have popped up in the last couple of days! First up the Kansas City Star have a recipe for Chocolate Chip Strawberry Muffins. I love muffins, chocolate, and strawberries so I might be giving this one a try. The Seattle Times have a muffin recipe up this week as well. They are offering up Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins which sound interesting. I haven't had many things combining chocolate and pumpkin, but those I've had have been pretty good so I might break down and give these a try.

All I got for you today!

October 19, 2006

Hersheygoba? Hershey Buys Dagoba!

dagoba.jpgOh, damn.

I was getting ready to do a post on the new single origin bars from Dagoba (I'll get to those later I guess) and then this lands in my inbox. It seems that buying Scharffen Berger wasn't enough for them and now Hershey has bought Dagoba. They don't seem to have ruined Scharffen Berger, but I'm not sure if a giant corporate beast can help but change a small-batch artisanal chocolate maker like Dagoba.

Let the FUD begin.

Press Release

August 5, 2006

Dagoba on the Today Show!

dagoba.jpgThis Monday morning NBC's Today Show will be airing a feature on a group of companies who are dedicated to sustainable production - a feature that will include Dagoba. It should offer a nice behind the scenes look at one of the finest producers of organic chocolate and how they do business. The segment is scheduled to air between 7:30 and 8:00 this Monday, the 7th. It is possible the segment may be pushed to later in the week, but if you miss it they will be posting a clip on their site sometime after it airs.

UPDATE
Their site now says FRIDAY between 7:30 and 8:00 so it seems to have slid a few more days.

To celebrate their opportunity to spread their vision of Full Circle Sustainability they are offering a special in their online store. From 8/7 to 8/14 they will be giving a free Single Origin 10-Piece Tasting Square Sampler with every order! Quite a nice deal. You can order some of their new Chocolate Covered Nibs or Xocolatl Nibs and get some bonus chocolate.

Tune in Monday morning if you can and if you can't then make sure you stop by their site later this week to see the clip there.
Dagoba Enews



Totally Unrelated!
Phase one of the chocolate obsession re-design is complete! I'm pretty pleased with how things have turned out! There is still a lot of clean-up to do, but things are looking pretty good (if I do say so myself).

July 19, 2006

Mass Review: Equal Exchange Chocolate

A few months back I reviewed a trio of bars from Equal Exchange, a company that is dedicated to Fair Trade sugar, coffee, and (joy of joys) chocolate. They deliver a product of the highest quality and they adhere to high principles. And they have new chocolate in the pipeline for everybody! Coming this fall there are three new bars of organic, fair trade chocolate coming our way and I (through their unending kindness) am lucky enough to have the opportunity to try them early! The new varieties are Organic Dark Chocolate with Pure Cocoa Nibs, Organic Chocolate Espresso Bean, and Organic Mint Chocolate. Their first three bars were very nice so I’ve got high hopes for these new ones.

Organic Dark Chocolate with Pure Cocoa Nibs

This is a no-brainer for me. I love dark chocolate and I love nibby dark chocolate even more. The bar smells sweet. It is a sweet lightly fruity cocoa aroma and is very nice. The taste is sweet and not very bitter and the 68% cocoa chocolate itself is very smooth (which is equally true of all of the Equal Exchange chocolate I’ve tried). It is sweet and bright with a slight sour note and a smoky finish and a wonderful crunch from the nibs. Very nice, though not as bitter as I like my dark chocolate.

Organic Chocolate Espresso Bean
Another bar with a crunch! For a company that does both coffee and chocolate this is a natural choice. It’s studded with espresso beans and boy oh boy does it pack a punch. It even smells strong. The chocolate – with a 55% cocoa content - almost takes a back seat to the espresso but it’s there and it mellows the coffee edge. I can’t comment much on the chocolate because this bar really is all about the espresso and from the first whiff of the aroma to the finish and lingering on even after that it’s all espresso with some chocolate along for the ride.

Organic Mint Chocolate
Leaving the bars with the crunchy stuff in them behind we move on to our final treat. You open the package and you know you are dealing with mint. The smell reminds me of one of those Andes mints you get after dinner or on your pillow at a hotel. The first bite brought with it lots of minty flavor and a big surprise – more crunch! A quick look at the ingredients makes it clear that the name of the bar doesn’t tell the whole story. The mint comes in the form of “peppermint crisps” – basically sugar and peppermint oil. It adds a sugar grain and crunch to the bar that is fantastic (I love the crunch of sugary candies). And the mint is strong without being overpowering. The chocolate – a 67% cocoa dark –is very nice and is a perfect complement to the sweet mint crisps. This bar is another winner in my book with a great texture and a great flavor.

Thoughts
The second round of bars from Equal Exchange have turned out to be just as nice as the first round and are a great expansion to their product line. I’ll go on record as giving the Dark Chocolate with Cocoa Nibs an 8.5, the Chocolate Espresso Bean an 8.25, and the Mint Chocolate an 8.75. And that is ignoring the Fair Trade aspect and the fact that they’re all organic. If you are interested in trying their products and don't have a local source they have a page set up with info on convincing a local business to carry their products. Finally, I want to thank Equal Exchange for the samples - I'm enjoying them greatly.

July 7, 2006

Giant Chocolate Cuckoo Clock

cuckoo3.jpgToday we have yet another example of something spectacularly cool made out of that most precious of foodstuffs (chocolate of course). Most of the items I've seen made from chocolate are pretty cool and all, but this has the added bonus cool factor of being a cuckoo clock made of chocolate with marzipan trim on a wood frame. The Halloren Chocolate Factory (the oldest in Germany) and the Harz Clock Factory collaborated on this new Guinness World Record clock which is over nine feet tall and weighs in at over 250lbs! And the artistry involved in the creation of this beast is impressive as well. Just check out the detail work being done in these pictures. Absolutely lovely work. All the beautiful detail work was sold off in pieces for charity. Attached are a few articles on the endeavor including some excellent pictures. Most of the articles are in German so I've included the (painful to attempt to read) Google translations.

Yahoo News Article (In English)

These next two feature nice galleries (especially the first one) - link is at the top of the article
Halloren 2nd Press Release - Translated
Halloren 1st Press Release - Translated

The rest are various media outlets and each has a single picture
Super Sonntag - Translation
Mitteldeutsche Zeitung - Translation

May 18, 2006

Review: Scharffen Berger Jamaica á l'ancienne

After reading the description of the new Scharffen Berger limited edition Jamaica á l'ancienne bar I didn’t waste a lot of time ordering a couple to give them a try. It sounded like something I needed to try. The chocolate is ground with coarse sugar and is never conched (you can read the full description in their newsletter). I’ve been slowly eating one for the past week and a half and I’m finally ready to give up my thoughts on it.

First off, I like the packaging (click the pic for a better look). The outer wrap is just a pattern of repeating logos on a field of yellow (kind of a French’s mustard yellow) wrapped with a paper band with the bar’s vitals. Turning it over things get wonderfully interesting. The description from the back reads

Jamaica á l'ancienne melds the rustic textures of stone-ground Jamaican cacao nibs and coarse sugar cane to the deep flavor of Scharffen Berger Unsweetened Chocolate. It evokes chocolate’s Caribbean roots.

Sounds like my kind of bar. I love nibs and the crunch of sugar crystals and it sounds like that is exactly what I can expect here. Below the description are the ingredients and nutritional information. The ingredients are amusing in their simplicity. They are cacao beans, sugar, and whole vanilla beans. A normal bar would probably include lecithin (an emulsifier *chuckle*) but this is about as simple as it gets.

After carefully removing the band (it’s too pretty to just rip apart – at least on your first bar) the package opens up to reveal a very rough bottom. The bar is absolutely crawling with nibs. And while wondering at the texture of the bar the aroma hits me, strong and darkly sweet. It’s kind of woody and fruity at the same time and the sweetness is kind of a mellow sweetness like actual sugar cane or molasses. It makes me think of apricot preserves.

The taste is wonderful. The citrus notes are there but the flavor is more berry than citrus. I was also really surprised to find that it’s really not very bitter at all. The only problem with the flavor is you can’t savor it because you have to start chawing at the nibs. But that is not a bad thing at all. This bar is a miracle of texture. The coarse sugar adds so much to the texture. I love the texture nibs give a bar but the sugar adds that special something extra that I absolutely love. And the flavor is still nice when you start to work on the nibs, but they tend to dominate the taste somewhat. And the finish is all nib. The mouth-feel is rough, but that’s really to be expected and, honestly, most of the nibby bars I’ve had leave my mouth feeling cut to shreds and this doesn’t.

In normal circumstances I would hesitate to buy a $8.00 chocolate bar. If it’s any indicator of how much I like this bar I’m thinking about ordering a pile of them in spite of the price. It is fantastic chocolate with a unique texture and wonderful flavor. With it’s all-nibs and sugar texture it isn’t a tasting chocolate, though if it were refined it could easily be one. I hesitate to pick favorites among chocolates, but I’m willing to make an exception for this bar. Top notch stuff. Even with it’s horrifying price I’m giving it a 9.5 out of 10. I can’t guarantee everybody will feel the same way about this bar, but I highly recommend it. It’s a very different experience from most bars and, as a limited edition, won’t be around for long.

April 24, 2006

Mass Review: Equal Exchange Chocolate

I'm a big fan of both organic foods and the Fair Trade movement so when a company comes along that sells organic Fair Trade chocolate I tend to get a bit excited. Equal Exchange are a company dedicated to delivering gourmet quality organic Fair Trade foods (links at the bottom of the review) including coffee, tea, sugar, and (most importantly) chocolate and they were nice enough to send along some samples. So today we have their Milk Chocolate with Ground Hazelnuts bar, Dark Chocolate with Almonds bar, Very Dark Chocolate bar, and their Dark Chocolate Minis up for review.

Milk Chocolate with Ground Hazelnuts

First thing I noticed upon opening this bar was the organic chocolate smell. I've said it before and I'll say it again. I don't know what it is, but I can smell something different about organic chocolate and I've yet to find an organic chocolate without it. So the organic smell is there. The chocolate itself is very smooth and some of that organic smell is present in the taste. The hazelnuts are really not a major component of the taste, but you can tell that they're there. I'm not a big fan of milk chocolate but I really like this bar. The only other organic milk chocolate I've tried so far is Green and Black's and while I enjoyed it I definitely prefer this. I usually only get milk chocolate with stuff in and this is one I would go for even though it only has a hint of hazelnut to it.

Dark Chocolate with Almonds
Ok, this is more my speed. I do love dark chocolate and I do love almonds. The aroma is somewhat sweet and the organic smell is there along with a hint of berries. The taste is very nice. With the sweetness in the aroma I was worried it would be too sweet but the sweetness isn't too much. There is a nice tangy fruity note to it as well and just like the milk chocolate it is wonderfully smooth. And it is chock full of almonds. I really like this bar a lot and would definitely repeat.

Very Dark Chocolate
I anticipated this to be the main event. I love dark chocolate with a high cocoa mass. This bar clocks in with 71% and that is right in my favored range. The gloss on this one is beautiful and the snap is good with a clean break. The aroma is very nice. It has a spice to the aroma that I can't place. A dark and spicy sweetness. I can't figure out what beyond that (darn my undeveloped senses). Just like the other bars the chocolate in this is very smooth. It melts beautifully. The flavor starts off bright and acidic eventually giving way to a fruity tang. It’s not the most complex chocolate I’ve had but it is pleasant and not overly bitter and, as I said, it is very smooth.

Dark Chocolate Minis
It’s a pretty little thing. Well formed with a nice gloss. It doesn’t snap quite so nice as the Very Dark Chocolate, but it’s really tasty stuff. It’s sweet and smooth with a light fruity tang and a makes a nice two-bite treat. It isn’t overly complex connoisseur chocolate but it is really good and very enjoyable. Interestingly, I don’t taste the organic taste so much in these.

Thoughts

All three of the bars were good and the Minis are great little treats as well. I’d rate the Very Dark a 7.5, the Milk Chocolate an 8 and the Dark Chocolate with Almonds and the Minis an 8.5. They are all very good and you get the added bonus of buying Fair Trade Organic products. The only bad part is that I haven’t found them locally anywhere. Hopefully this will change. I’d really like to be able to get these at my local Whole Foods or Wild Oats but so far no dice (though I may have seen them at Jungle Jim's). Chocosphere doesn’t have them and the Equal Exchange web site only does wholesale quantities so this is one of those situations where if you want to try it you will probably need to pester your local retailers and see if they’ll start carrying their products.

What is Fairtrade?
Fair Trade at Equal Exchange
Equal Exchange

April 19, 2006

Scherffen Berger Jamaica ā l'ancienne Bar

scharffenberger.jpgWell, it seems that the people at Scharffen Berger are at it again, making wonderful new products that I terribly want to try. Actually it isn't a new product, but the return of a limited edition bar they produced three years ago, the Jamaica ā l'ancienne bar. By the sound of it this is really a unique work of art. It is made from - you guessed it - Jamaican beans which are ground with coarse sugar and, strangely enough, never conched. Because of it's unusual texture they have to hand-temper it. It's a very unusual bar and one I'm eager to try. Rather than search around trying to find the bars locally (unlikely) I'm placing an order to get this and the Kumasi Sambirano bar they released last month. The write-up for the bar is quite nice and worth the read so take a look.
Jamaica ā l'ancienne

April 3, 2006

Dagoba Recall

dagoba.jpgI don't like to post negative stories. This one I figure I should, just because I'm a Dagoba cheerleader and talk about them a good bit around here. During routine testing they discovered high levels of lead in some of their bars and as a result are doing a recall. According to their site it seems that the problem lies on the supply end and is not attributable to their production process. They are working to determine why it happened and to ensure that it does not happen again. The bars effected are the Eclipse, Los Rios, and Prima Materia. There is an extensive FAQ on the Dagoba site and lot numbers are available at both of the links below.
Dagoba's Recall Page
FDA Recall Information

March 23, 2006

Happenings at Scharffen Berger

scharffenberger.jpgThe Scharffen Berger email newsletter has come around again and this time it is packed with wonderful things.

First up, and most important in my eyes, is the introduction of a new limited edition chocolate bar: the Kumasi Sambirano. The bar is made with specially matched beans from the Ashanti region of Ghana and the Sambirano Valley in Madagascar. The combination of the two brings both earthy notes from the Ghana beans and citrus notes from the Madagascar beans. The bar has a 68% cocoa content and is limited to 1500 cases. I'm not sure how many bars that translates into, but I'm going to try and lay my hands on one before they disappear.

The rest of the newsletter is full of little wonders. First, they've brought back their Semisweet Dipped Matzo for Passover. I love matzo for some reason and I like the idea of it dipped in chocolate. Sounds darn tasty to me. Almost as tasty as chocolate dipped macaroons, which they share a recipe for. Rounding things out is a recipe for a flourless chocolate cake.

March 8, 2006

Endangered Species Chocolate New Logo

endangeredspecieslogo.jpgEndangered Species Chocolate - makers of fine ethically traded (and sometimes Fair Trade Certified) chocolates supporting endangered species - has a new logo and a redesigned website! The animal imagery on the product packaging doesn't appear to have changed much but the overall look of the packaging has changed to match the new logo. Aside from the logo and website, though, the company remains the same delivering excellent chocolate while spreading awareness for and financially supporting conservation efforts.
The new site looks nice and is worth checking out.
Endangered Species Chocolate
Press Release

February 28, 2006

Review: Vosges Woolloomooloo Bar

Reaching deep into the pantry I came up with a Vosges Haut Chocolate Woolloomooloo bar. They describe it as having "Roasted & salted macadamia nuts, Indonesian coconut, hemp seed and dark milk chocolate." I got the bar because I loved the idea of salted macadamia nuts in a chocolate bar and I love the combination of macadamia and coconut. The hemp seed I wasn't entirely sold on. I have zero clue what hemp seed is supposed to taste like but the rest of the bar sounded right up my alley so it came home with me.

The packaging needs to be touched on before I move on to the bar itself. The bar comes in a nice box with a little section on "how to enjoy an exotic candy bar" on the back. Inside the box the bar is sealed away in a foil wrapper. Absolutely lovely packaging and I would not expect anything less from a $6.00 chocolate bar.

Now, the chocolate. The bar has a decent gloss and has the Vosges logo and little pictures of some rather lifeless looking women with Vosges bags on it's eight squares. The bar smells very nice. It is clearly milk chocolate and you can smell the macadamia nuts very easily. It has a nice milk chocolate taste and there are absolutely tons of nuts in it. The coconut doesn't seem to offer much to the flavor. It's there but it takes a back seat to the chocolate and the nuts. There is a little edge to it but I'm not sure if it's the salt on the nuts or the hemp seed (which I still don't know what tastes like).

The bar is very nice and I found it hard not to eat more of it in one sitting (a very rare thing for me - I usually take five or six sittings to finish off a bar and I was tempted to eat the entire thing). I really enjoyed it, but is it really worth six dollars? I'm pretty sure I can find a better chocolate fix for the money. Still, it does leave me looking forward to the Creole bar that still lurks in my pantry. Ignoring the price I'll give the bar an 8.5 out of 10. I'll probably try their other varieties and their truffles, but I'm not sure I'll repeat.

February 24, 2006

Chocolove Organic Bars!

Ack! Chocolove need a mailing list! They have added a pair of organic bars to their lineup of excellent bars and I didn't know about it. They have 61% and 73% cocoa content offerings made with chocolate from "a Caribbean Island" (oooh, mysterious) and I cannot wait to try them. Chocolove was one of my gateway drugs and I love them quite dearly so to me this is big big news. I'm going to cross my fingers and head over to Wild Oats this weekend and see if I can't score my a pair of these along with the cookie I like there.

Big big thanks to Adam for letting me know about them. If you cruise along to the comments on my first safari you can read his impressions of the bar.

61% Bar Link
73% Bar Link

February 13, 2006

ethel's chocolate Lounges

ethels.jpgI love the ethel's chocolates concept - taking goumet chocolate and making it accessible to everybody. And even better than that is the concept of the chocolate lounge. This article from chron.com likens the chocolate lounge to coffee shops and I like the comparison. It is a place to go and experience chocolate in a relaxed setting (and is very close in concept to what I hope to someday open). It is approachable and fun and seems a great place to go with one's friends. With chocolate having so many percieved health benefits this would seem to be a great opportunity for concepts like ethel's lounges. Hot chocolate instead of coffee and some decadent truffles instead of a scone. What's not to love? Just one more great things Chicago has going for it. There are 10 ethel's lounges in the Greater Chicago Area and I hope to find my way to one this year. Worst case is I'll order a box from their website.

February 1, 2006

Impulse Buy: Choxie Aztec Thin

This is not a review. Not to say I'm not going to award a score to the bar in question, but this is something I've been absent mindedly nibbling for a few days and haven't really given a whole lot of thought to. The bar that I'm not reviewing today is the Aztec Thin from Choxie.

Choxie is a line of premium chocolate products from the Target department stores here in the United States. They are on the cheap end of premium chocolates and are packaged in colorful patterns that catch the eye. Since their introduction last fall I'd been meaning to go and give them a try but up until this weekend I had never seen any. And it's not like I hadn't tried. Apparently they had the Choxie hidden away someplace other than where the normal candy and mints were in the foods section. I finally found some adjacent to the Valentine's Day chocolates as I was wandering the store in an aimless fashion this weekend looking for ideas for a project that I'm working on (the reason I haven't been diligently blogging this past week). I had an itch for a little chocolate and this would fit the bill just perfect.

With Choxie the idea seems to be to make more premium quality chocolates accessible to the general public. So my question is this: why hide it way off in the depths of the store where unless you are looking for chocolate you aren't going to find it? Shouldn't they be sticking Choxie at every last register in the front of the store? Or at least big island displays near the checkout. When I go to the grocery store all of the limited edition candy products are right there at the register on a huge display that is, frankly, in the way and hard to ignore. Don't they want people to buy Choxie instead of, say, Hershey or Kit Kat? And while I'm talking about Hershey and Kit Kat limited editions why is it that when I went to find some this week at the UDF I had to comb the store before I found them back by the hot dog rollers? I went through the candy aisle, through the checkout candy display and found not a one limited edition. No, they were hidden in the far recesses of the (admittedly small) store. Isn't the idea behind the limited edition bars for them to be an impulse buy? I believe I'm supposed to see a Raspberry Hershey's White Chocolate bar and say to myself "Wow, self, that looks good and since it's a limited edition I better buy it now if I want to try it."

Ok, aside from my trouble finding the chocolate I want to buy in a place that makes sense to me how was the Choxie? Well, the packaging says that it has ancho chiles and cinnamon. I was really surprised at how low key both of the flavors were. There was a background spiciness to the bar as opposed to it coming out and hitting you in the face with it. It was nice. I liked the chocolate - it wasn't too sweet for me though there was something a little strange in the texture. Might have been my imagination. The nibs on the top of the bar were nice too. Two out of four of the nibby bars I've had up until now have torn up the roof of my mouth pretty badly but this one I had no problems with and I love nibs. They add a little something darker to a milk chocolate bar like this and I like that. And on top of it all the bar only costs $1.80 - pretty nice price, no? So, if I had actually been paying attention instead of dealing with other issues I would probably be forced to give it, say, an 8.5 or so.

January 27, 2006

Review: Dagoba New Moon

I've been struggling with this review for about a week now (about the length of time it has taken me to eat the whole thing) and I'm just going to have to bite the bullet and post what I've got. The bar in question is the New Moon bar from Dagoba. It's a straight-up 74% cacao organic dark chocolate bar with no other fruits, nuts, or flowers along for the ride and I'd been looking forward to trying it for a while. I've enjoyed the Dagoba bars I've had so far and figured that this falls right in my preferred range of cacao mass and should be a nice easy review.

Continue reading "Review: Dagoba New Moon" »

January 26, 2006

Recipe: Chocolate Sauerkraut Cake

scharffenberger.jpgUpon seeing the words "Chocolate Sauerkraut Cake" on the screen in front of me I just didn't know what to think. The very concept of combining something as sublime as chocolate with something as strange as sauerkraut left me stunned and more than a little nauseous. But this recipe didn't come from just any old source, it was in the Scharffen Berger e-mail newsletter. If it comes from one of the best chocolate makers in the world I'm really forced to give it a little consideration before I close the page in knee-jerk revulsion. According to the recipe you can't taste the kraut and it just adds an interesting texture to the cake. And it's low in fat, too, which people seem to think is important these days. Being one of those people who will try most things at least once (just in case I'm missing something good) I figure I might be forced to give it a shot. I'm just not sure who is going to be willing to eat the rest of the cake.
Link

January 12, 2006

Review: São Tomé Showdown!

Today we have something fun on deck. Dating back to the chocolate safari I have a Chocolatour São Tomé 70% cocoa single origin bar from Chocolove that has been awaiting my attention. It seems I also have a Lake Champlain Sao Thome 70% cocoa single origin bar that found it's way into my basket at Whole Foods today. And so I thought it might be fun to pit the two bars against each other in a grand São Tomé showdown!

I've said before that I am no connoisseur. I don't know if I have good enough senses of taste and smell to be a proper connoisseur. Today's showdown is an experiment of sorts. Comparing two bars of similar origin and cocoa content should hopefully help me spot nuances that I might not otherwise notice. That's my theory at least. We'll see how it plays out. On with the review!

Continue reading "Review: São Tomé Showdown!" »

December 12, 2005

Rumor: Godiva Ready-to-Drink Coffees

godivalogo.gifRumors circulating as far as CNN/Money would have us believe that Coca-Cola will be helping to bring a line of ready-to-drink coffees to stores under the Godiva brand. If I go to the grocery store I can buy Godiva ice cream. In some stores I can buy their cocoa. As they already have their own coffees available through their retail outlets I don't see it as too much of a stretch of the imagination that they would see to put it in cans and in stores. With Coke as a partner they could end up in every grocery and convenience store in the country in short order. The rumor feels pretty much right. Godiva have been seeking to expand their brand in the last year and this would be a natural extension of what they are already doing. As yet, it remains a rumor only. Nobody has confirmed anything to anybody. If it does turn out to be true I'll be certain to give it a try. I have a decent respect for Godiva and have only rarely been disappointed with their products.
Link

House of Brussels Releases ChocoMed Bars

brussels.jpgHouse of Brussels Chocolates announced recently the release of the first of it's new line of ChocoMed fortified chocolate bars. With more than two years of research going into their creation the ChocoMed Pure Chocolate brand marries nutritional supplements with fine chocolate. The inial six varieties are Anti-Aging, Stress Free, Strong Bones, Pre-Natal, Sweet Dreams And Vitamin Bars.
With two years research and real doctors involved in the poject - as well as a quality company like Brussels - I have higher hopes for this product than I do for most of it's sort. If I find any of them I'll see about giving the Stress Free, Sweet Dreams, and Vitamin bars a try. I'm curious as to how well they have managed to 'marry' chocolate and nutraceuticals.
ChocoMed Site
House of Brussels Site
Press Release

December 10, 2005

Santander Gift Pack

While perusing the holiday goodies at the Anderson's General Store just up the road I ran into a pair of gift packs of Santander single origin chocolate bars - a product of Compañía Nacional de Chocolates. One set was all 70% cacao dark chocolate, one straight bar and one each with coffee bits and espresso. The other gift pack contained a 36% milk chocolate bar, a 53% semi-dark bar, and a 65% dark chocolate bar. Both came in a nice plastic sleeve wrapped up in a gold ribbon and were priced at an absurd $4.99. Paying that little for three single origin chocolate bars is something that doesn't happen all that often and one of these sets would make a great gift for a chocolate lover this holiday season. A small but simple gift idea.

December 6, 2005

Lake Champlain Spring Gifts

lakechamplain.gifLake Champlain Chocolates, one of the many companies I love, has announced their upcoming new gifts for spring. They have an amazing array of new and returning products to cover the Valentine's Day to Mother's Day season and a batch of specialties for Easter as well. Among the new items my eye settled in on the dark chocolate java filled chocolate egg which sounds excellent and is being added to my list of things I have to try. All the details are available in their press release so head over and take a look.
Link

December 5, 2005

Chocolate Overkill

Lindt, maker of those little Lindor Truffles and the much better Lindt Excellence line, are now bringing us a bar of chocolate with 99% cocoa mass. I had always thought that such high content was only to be found in baking chocolate. To date, the highest percentage I have had is the 85% Valrhona (which I made truffles with) and it was probably as high as I'm ready to go on a normal basis. Still, I'm curious about this and will probably give it a try at some point.
Via CalorieLab
Link

December 1, 2005

More Potential Chocolate Health Benefits

barrycallebaut.jpgBarry Callebaut - parent company of Callebaut, Brachs, Cocoa Barry and many more - have announced new findings with regards to chocolate and your health. What's more, this time it isn't all about the flavonoids. This time we get to hear about the wonders of polyphenols and how they can help fight cancer and aging. Somehow these polyphenols managed to slip beneath my radar but apparently they are the next wave of marketing and will probably be as big as flavonoids. Barry Callebaut already have a special premium brand of chocolate rich in polyphenols called Acticoa which this news can only help. The article is a good read and I recommend it.

It does raise a few questions for me, however. First, if consumers preceive chocolate as healthy what effect will it have on prices and production methods? I can't help but think in terms of supply and demand and the price would have to rise accordingly. Additionally there would be pressure to increase production which could hurt the Fair Trade movement. And would this have an effect on the role of the small plantations, the sort from which we get single origin chocolate? I would imagine that there would be an effort by large producers to get as much land for cultivation as possible and that could mean the acquisition of smaller plantations. Just a few thoughts. And these all assume that all of this craziness regarding chocolate and your health actually pans out. I think it has a shot at being legitimate, but there are other health concerns that go along with chocolate (fat anybody?) that need to be considered along with the potential benefits.

Link

November 25, 2005

Newtree Chocolats

newtree.jpgThere has been a lot of news in the past year about how chocolate is actually (maybe) good for you. Well, Newtree is taking the concept one step further by combining the miracle food that is chocolate with other beneficial all-natural ingredients to make what I would tend to think of as holistic health chocolate. For instance their Serenity bar uses bitter orange for it's soothing effect and their Vivacity bar is overflowing with naturally occurring caffeine and other stimulants (creating the chocolate bar equivalent of an energy drink). An interesting concept. Their bars are divided into categories based on their effect: Stimulating, Harmony, Relaxing, Pleasure, Digestion, and Antioxidant. I like the concept but would like to see them take it one step further and go with Fair Trade chocolate. It would be good for you and for the people who work the plantations as well. That little quibble won't stop me from trying their chocolate if I see it, though.
Link

Ovidias Belgian Chocolates in the Freshpack

This is a new one on me. Ovidias, a maker of fine Belgian chocolates, has a special "freshpack" can that you can buy their chocolates in. The can seals in the chocolate and seals out light and prevents condensation and delivers perfect chocolate to the consumer. It's pretty neat, it looks like a soda pop can except the entire lid pulls off with a pull-tab. To make a neat idea even better you can get your company logo printed on the can.

I found out about the product in a press release announcing that Hospitality Confections LLC is bringing the product to (presumably) the hospitality industry in the United States. Seems like a good fit. A can of chocolates in the mini-bar would be a neat thing. I'm mentioning the press release because it has some really nice pictures attached to it that you should check out if you have any interest at all in this product.

Ovidias Home Page
Press Release