March 16th, 2009 by Rosa
A couple of weeks ago, on February 25th, I skipped my bootcamp class at the gym and went to a Master’s Tea with Judy Logback, the founder of Kallari chocolates, instead. After complaining about the Times Styles’ snarky chocolate review that fawned over Kallari a bit too much, how could I pass up the opportunity to meet and taste chocolate with the woman who founded the cooperative?
Judy, a student at Yale’s School of Management, gave a great talk and tea. She covered the details of how the Kallari cooperative works, what the cooperative’s farmers and chocolate makers do, and how each step that they do themselves earns them more money and helps them work their way out of poverty. I was quite impressed.
Along the way, Judy threw in neat chocolate facts. I learned that processing cacao with alkali (aka Dutch processing) darkens the color of the cacao without affecting the flavor, which explains why some chocolates manage look so much darker than they taste. I also learned that high quality chocolate doesn’t need lecithin as an emulsifier because they’re comprised of just cocoa butter and cocoa solids. And, most shockingly of all to me, I learned that in the U.K., single-origin bars only need to contain 10% of beans from that single-origin. In the U.S., the claims are totally unregulated.
We tasted 8 bars along the way, four of them from Kallair. Three were the above bars that Kallari is now selling via Whole Foods, and the fourth was one of their artisanal bars. While the Whole Food bars are machine tempered and molded, the artisinal bars are entirely handmade, from tempering to molding. Judy had us taste the chocolates as she went through her Kallari slideshow, stopping every few slides ask us about what we thought about what we were eating. It was a little intimidating to verbalize my tasting notes to a chocolate expert, but it was also neat to hear her responses and feedback.
The bars were tasted blindly, though Judy gave us their percentages as we went. The bars and my notes are below the photo.
- 86% Ghirardelli – cool, thin, glossy melt thanks to good use of cocoa butter. Pretty bitter, dry finish, but not exactly unpleasant.
- 85% Kallari artisinal bar – more burnt smell; sweeter, winey notes to the flavor. A thicker melt than the above bar, but still not thick, exactly, and with a slight grit
- 85% Kallari bar available at Whole Foods – thicker melt, fruity finish. Astringent.
- 85% Lindt – strong smell, thick melt. A light, fruity sweetness that gave way to a super dry finish.
- 75% Kallari bar available at Whole Foods – milky, caramel notes with a wonderfully dusky finish (Judy said the caramel notes were from their use of organic raw cane sugar). ZOMG
- 75% Chocolove – sweet, strong cherry notes. Suprisingly thick melt for dark chocolate.
- 70% Green & Black’s – flat fruity citrus sweetness. Unexceptional and, well, flat.
- 70% Kallari bar available at Whole Foods – reminds me of European bars with the dusky caramel flavors.
My favorite bar of the lot was number 5, Kallari’s 75% bar. I went back for seconds, and it definitely merits a ZOMG! I’ll be looking for it next time I’m in a Whole Foods.
Finally, just a logistical note to point out, these bars aren’t technically certified Fair Trade, but I’ve chosen to tag them as such. Kallari has gone so far above and beyond the ideals of Fair Trade that they’re really beyond certification.
Category: chocolate, fair trade, organic, review, ZOMG! |
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January 30th, 2009 by Rosa
Today brings the anxiously awaited conclusion to my review of Surf Sweets‘ product line that I began on Wednesday. First up (or is it fourth up?), their Gummy Swirls.
The Gummy Swirls were little gumdrop shaped gummis about the size of the first joint of my pinky finger. They came in two versions, pink/white swirled and orange/white swirled. Pink/white was strawberry, I believe, and its flavor was of lightly muted “red” candy. I’m not sure if the muting came from the white swirl or from the all-natural ingredients. A bit of each, perhaps? My guess is that orange/white was orange-flavored, except I didn’t find it to taste very orangey. Instead, I got more of a pear profile. The gummy itself was fairly firm and sproingy, while the sugar coating added a bit of textural grain.
Surf Sweets’ Gummy Worms were absolutely gorgeous, proving that one doesn’t need artificial colorings to make something look tasty. They came in red and yellow and red and lighter yellow/clear. Cherry and pineapple, maybe? The flavors weren’t terribly distinct, but they were nice and fruity. Appearances aside, however, there wasn’t much to separate these gummy worms from their artificially-flavored (and much cheaper) counterparts.
While the Gummy Worms were fairly run of the mill, I found the Super Sour Worms to be truly exceptional. Like Wednesday’s Fruity Bears, these were more like a fruit pate or a fruit gem, which may be why their moniker leaves out the word “gummy”. The sour sugar coating on these is mostly sweet and only lightly tart, but it’s just right.
The red and yellow one tastes of cherry – as I’ve written many times, I have difficulty differentiating red-flavored candies, but this one had a bit of a bite to it, so I’m going with cherry – with a sour finish of lemon. The orange and white one tasted like a lovely sweet yet tart orange. Either the white part was also orange flavored, or it was too lightly flavored to compete against the brightness of the orange.
The Super Sour Worms were my favorite of the Surf Sweets bunch. I couldn’t stop eating them, so they get a ZOMG! The Gummy Swirls and Gummy Worms, while good, weren’t exceptional, and, as I said on Wednesday, I’m too poor to shell out extra for all natural and organic when artificial and full-of-pesticides tastes pretty much exactly the same, so they get Os. If you’re not poor like me and care about what you put into your body, or your kids’ bodies, then the whole Surf Sweet lineup is probably perfect for ya – they taste all-natural, but in a good way, and you or your kids won’t miss unnatural flavorings/colorings one whit.
Category: gummi/gummy, jelly candy, O, organic, review, sour, ZOMG! |
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January 28th, 2009 by Rosa
One of the biggest perks of my candy blogging hobby is getting free samples from candy retailers. When Surf Sweets offered to send me samples of their all-natural and organic candies, I eagerly agreed. They sent me a generous box of their complete line-up. We’ll cover half today, and the other half on Friday.
First up, a classic: Gummy Bears. Surf Sweets’ gummy bears are extra sproingy and firm. They come in pineapple, lemon, orange, and cherry, I think. Why only I think? Because Surf Sweets are made with all-natural ingredients, their flavors aren’t as artificially strong as other gummis. They’re more mild, so they’re harder to differentiate. The gummy bears were good and seemed quite genuinely fruity, but tastewise, there’s really nothing to distinguish them from normal gummy bears.
Their Fruity Bears were more distinctive and more fun. On the surface, they look like the gummy bears, just covered in sugar, but they’re quite different. They’re not even a gummy, which surprised me when I bit into my first one. Instead, the bears are more of a fruit pate, with a soft give to them. These come in five flavors: pineapple, lemon, orange, strawberry, and cherry. I’m more sure of these flavors because they were stronger. The strawberry and cherry barely differed in color, but their flavors were distinctive, with more of a bite to the cherry.
And last but not least for today, their Jelly Beans. These also come in the same color and flavor palate of the Fruity Bears: pineapple, lemon, orange, strawberry, and cherry. Texturally, these are different from most jelly beans. They have a softer (but still crunchy) shell with softly sproingy insides. Pineapple was my favorite flavor of the bunch – it really captures the essence of pineapple flavor with it’s core-y taste. The other four flavors are pretty standard and unexceptional.
Paradoxically, I found Surf Sweets to be at once muted and bright. They’re muted because they don’t use artificial flavors or colors, yet they’re bright because they taste so genuinely fruity. Think about the difference between a can of orange soda, a carton of orange juice, and a glass of fresh-squeezed orange juice. Orange soda will be super bright but artificial, orange juice would be the most muted, and fresh-squeezed orange juice falls in between. Surf Sweets are the candy equivalent of fresh-squeezed juice.
The Gummy Bears get an O (because I’m too poor to really care about eating only organic and natural), the Fruity Bears get an OMG (I adore fruit pate), and the Jelly Beans get an OM. Tune in on Friday for the rest of their line-up!
Category: gummi/gummy, jelly candy, O, OM, OMG, organic, review |
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November 7th, 2008 by Rosa
Dagoba was my introduction to upscale chocolate. It was a big part of my first chocolate tasting party, when I first really tasted chocolate, which is why I have reviewed as many Dagoba bars as I have. That and they’re sold at the campus convenience store, where I used to have $150 to spend there as part of my meal plan, back when I was on a meal plan. And they come in a ton of flavor varieties, so there are several types to review. Here are two more.
The Mon Cheri was a 72% dark chocolate with berries and vanilla. It was a smooth bar with a creamy melt, which is surprising for a 72%. I was also a little curious about the 72% part – if I remember correctly, most of Dagoba’s super dark bars are 74%. 72% would mean they have a second dark base?
The berries are tiny bits that stud the bar. Based on the color of the bits and the name of the bar, I’m going to guess that cherry was the predominant berry present. Chocolate and berry is a nice flavor combination, though the addition of fruit tends to overwhelm the natural notes of the chocolate. An OM.
The Super Fruit bar I disliked on principle. Just take a look at the wrapper, and see if you can guess why.
Any ideas? It’s a 74% dark bar with acai, goji berries, and currants. In other words, it jumps on every hype train! All it’s missing is pomegranate seeds and giant boasts about antioxidants splashed across its wrapper. For the record, I don’t buy into the “dark chocolate is better for you because it has more antioxidants” hype. You’d need to eat a ton of it to get any real effect, and eating a ton of any kind of chocolate is bad for you.
All the hype aside, this bar isn’t bad. It tastes a lot like the Mon Cheri – like dried fruit plus good quality chocolate. I thought I noticed a slight saltiness around the dried fruit bits, but it was so faint that I couldn’t be sure. Another OM.
Basically, Dagoba makes good, solid bars. I don’t give them Os because they’re so much better than your standard Hershey’s bars (even though Hershey’s owns Dagoba), but they also don’t stand out enough to warrant higher ratings. The way I see it, they’re great to taste your way through, but I’ve yet to find one that I’ve become attached to enough to buy a second time.
Category: chocolate, Dagoba, OM, organic, review |
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July 28th, 2008 by Rosa
I discovered Zotter bars in The Candy Store in San Francisco. They carried several varieties, including one with blood orange, one with cheese, and one with mango and Brazil nuts. I thought long and hard about buying the one with cheese, just because a cheese-filled chocolate bar isn’t something you come across every day, but it was $8 a bar, so I decided to play it safe and opted for the mango-Brazil nuts bar instead of possibly wasting all that money on something too exotic to be enjoyed.
What are Zotter bars, and why are they so expensive? For starters, they’re fair trade and organic and made in Austria. And their creative fillings (of which there are a bazillion creative varieties) are hand-scooped. Hence the hefty price tag. Was it worth it?
According to the Zotter website, the mango-Brazil nuts variety is “Excitingly tropical. Mango and mango puree with Brazil nuts in dark alp milk chocolate.” Dark alp milk chocolate strikes me as oxymoronic. Zotter takes it to mean a 50% cacao content.
The bar carried a strong winey smell. The dark milk chocolate enrobing layer was thin, and I couldn’t get much sense of its flavor profile because the filling’s flavor was so strong. The mango paste filling was quite sweet but tasted to me more of apricot than mango. Little bits of dried mango and Brazil nuts can be found in the paste, which adds a nice chew when you come across them. The Brazil nuts weren’t very noticeable and were too bland to add much in terms of flavor.
My final verdict? $8 is a lot to spend on a single bar, and this particular variety wasn’t worth it to me. An OM. But that won’t stop me from pining after the other flavors. To name a few unusal ones: Lemon Polenta, Rowanberry or Mountain Ash, Spicy Chicken Ensemble – Chilli, Tofu and Sake, Sweet Potato Mocha Rosemary, Tomato Liquid Olive, Wine with Curd Drops, Yellow Chocolate with Brittle, and Beetroot with Galangal.
Cybele tried the Lemon Polenta (zitrone polenta) and Banana Curry.
Category: chocolate, European, fair trade, nuts, OM, organic, review |
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July 14th, 2008 by Rosa
Lily O’Briens was extremely generous in the array of chocolate samples they sent me. I got a ton of their delicious truffles, and I got two sets of their luxury bar assortments. Ten bars of chocolates was more than I could ever eat, so I shared one set plus my second honeycomb crisp and sticky toffee bar (because I had a box each of the honeycomb crisp and sticky toffee truffles). I kept the remaining milk, organic milk, and organic dark bars to taste.
The organic milk bar (photo below) had a surprisingly great snap for milk chocolate. It had a thick and creamy melt as good milk chocolate should. I got strong vanilla notes in a bar that was sweet, but not too sweet.
Compared to the organic bar, the non-organic milk bar was lighter in color and less sweet. Its flavor was duskier; I got strong caramel notes. It was also much thicker than the organic version, throat-coatingingly creamy that lingers in the back of the throat.
Finally, the organic dark (photo below): the smell was sharp and a bit acidic, which was reflected in a sour tinge to the flavor. It was quite dry, giving the bar a crisp snap.
I enjoyed the milk bars and would give them an OM. As for the dark bar, it was nice, but I’ve had better, so an O. for that. Either way, I haven’t heard any complaints from the 7 beneficiaries of the bars I gave away.
Category: chocolate, European, O, OM, organic, review |
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May 19th, 2008 by Rosa
After my Earth Day round-up of environmentally friendly chocolates left them off, I got an offer to taste some Terra Nostra Organic chocolate, which I eagerly accepted. They sent me a Ricemilk Choco, an Intense Dark, a Double Dark Truffle, a Robust Dark & Roasted Almond, and a Satin Milk Truffle.
The Ricemilk Choco (below) is made with ricemilk rather than dairy milk, making it gluten and dairy-free for those on special diets. It was the only one of the five to come sealed inside a thin foil wrapper. The melt was quite smooth but neither creamy nor thick on the tongue, and the taste was sweet, but innocuously so. I felt that the ricemilk chocolate had no flavor complexity to it, which made it kind of ho hum. Still, I wouldn’t have known it was made with rice milk, making it a great substitute for milk chocolate. And it was the only bar marked as Equitrade, meaning that they not only pay a living wage but also give back by donating money for literacy or food programs.
The Satin Milk Truffle (below) was made from 41% cacao, and according to the label, 100% renewable energy. Neat. It was sweet milk chocolate with a slightly darker cocoa center, though I noted no textural difference between the two layers. The melt was thick and wonderfully tongue-coating, but the flavor had a slight, almost sour middle.
The Double Dark Truffle (60% cacao) was similarly two layered with a less noticeable truffle middle. Visually, it was sort of dull for a 60% cacao bar, but it had the expected sharp snap. Tastewise, I found it to be sweet and floral.
The Intense Dark (73%) had an extremely sharp snap and a fairly dry melt. It was not very sweet and had a slight fruitiness to it. I got a slight duskiness overall, with just a hint of banana to the finish.
The Robust Dark with Roasted Almonds (60% cacao, below) had fresh, nutty almonds evenly distributed throughout the bar, which tempered the sweetness of the chocolate quite well.
With the exception of the Ricemilk, which I would give an O because I don’t have to eat dairy free chocolate, the rest earn an OMG overall. They make a good snacking/savoring chocolate, but the lack the extreme complexity of the Amano single origin bars that now set the standard for me for tasting chocolate. Still, they get bonus points for being organic and for participating in fair trade and sustainable energy practices, so their borderline OM/OMG gets bumped up to the higher rating.
Category: chocolate, fair trade, nuts, OMG, organic, review |
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February 20th, 2008 by Rosa
Disclosure alert: These mints were samples sent by Newman’s Own.
I love the packaging on these Newman’s Own mints. They took the Altoid’s-like tin we’re used to and made it more exciting with the old fashioned circus advert. The top of the tin informs you that they’re made with organic sweeteners.
My first thought on opening the tin was, “Well, they certainly look organic. Instead of the bright pink Altoid’s cinnamon mint color, the Newman’s Own mints were a brownish-yellow that made them look quite wholesome and free of refined sugar.
The mints do, in fact, have a darker sweetness to them, as if they were made with molasses or brown sugar instead of refined white sugar. In other words, they taste as natural as they look. Unfortunately, they also taste rather unpleasant. The cinnamon flavor is present, but it’s too light to have any breath freshening properties. And the aftertaste! Ugh! The mints made me feel like I had just swallowed some nasty cough syrup or ginseng medicine. And while the cinnamon flavor was too light to linger as a mint’s flavor should, that medicinal aftertaste was stuck in the back of my throat and would not go away.
I left these in my common room, hoping that one of my nine suitemates would find them appealing, and they’re no longer where I left them, so someone either slipped them into her purse or threw them out. I’m just glad to be rid of them. An O, coupled with a wish that I had a lower ranking that I could assign it.
Category: mint, Newman's Own, O, organic, review |
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January 25th, 2008 by Rosa
The last bar of 3400 Phinney (BUY!) Week is Chai Tea Milk Chocolate with a 40% cacao content. Theo’s website describes this one as “milk chocolate with a warming blend of chai spices and black tea.”
I love, love, loved this bar. I don’t drink chai tea because I usually find it too sweet, but this bar was just right. Because I don’t drink chai tea, I had a hard time naming the spice flavor I got from this bar in my blind tasting. My notes say “great cinnamon-y(?) notes. Not sugary cinnamon; genuine, real cinnamon spice,” which is the best way I could describe that chai spice essence. Another friend mused that the flavor was like cinnamon but not quite and wondered if the bar had cloves. A little research revealed that chai spices can include cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, and star anise. So we were close-ish.
Many of my friends didn’t really like this bar, and several of them felt the “weird” spice flavor overwhelmed the chocolate. I found the flavor intriguing, and it kept me reaching for more pieces. Like all the 3400 Phinney bars, this too was smooth and creamy. A ZOMG! from me because I couldn’t stop eating it. It was my favorite of the 3400 Phinney bars and probably the only one that I would regularly buy for snacking (if I could afford it; at $3.25 a bar, these don’t come cheap). Amongst my friends, this came in 11th out of 13 (just one spot above the Dagoba Chai) with a score of 2.67/5, so it’s not for everyone.
I was quite impressed with Theo’s 3400 Phinney line, and it doesn’t hurt that they’re all made with organic and fair trade ingredients, though that does drive up the price. I’d love to taste the other 3 varieties. Cybele from Candy Blog reviewed all 6.
Category: chocolate, fair trade, organic, review, Theo, ZOMG! |
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January 23rd, 2008 by Rosa
Theo 3400 Phinney Week (BUY!) continues with the Vanilla Milk Chocolate with a 40% cacao content. The Theo website calls this one “a harmonious blend of finely ground Madagascar vanilla bean and milk chocolate.”
This milk bar had a European/Cadbury-finish which I found to be quite good. The melt is smooth and the mouthfeel creamy. I thought I tasted hints of bread or toast, but my palate is untrained, and it also may have just been the power of suggestion (I knew one of the bars would be the bread & chocolate).
The bar looks pretty dark in the photo, and it’s not just a trick of the light. 40% is a high cacao content for a milk bar, and many lesser chocolate companies would try to pass that off as a semisweet. I thought this bar was wonderful for a “milk” bar, and I thought the sweetness level was just right. An OMG from me, and a 3.71/5 from my friends, making it good enough for 4th place at my chocolate tasting party.
Category: chocolate, fair trade, OMG, organic, review, Theo |
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