Charles Chocolates Caramel Almond Sticks

These Caramel Almond Sticks are the last of my free samples from Charles Chocolates. Sad, as I really enjoyed munching my way through their wares!

The sticks are their “Fleur de Sel Caramel, enrobed… in 65% bittersweet chocolate and coated… in toasted almonds.” I loved Charles Chocolates’s Fleur de Sel caramel chocolates, so I had high hopes for these – and they really delivered!

The pack of 9 sticks came packaged in a little cellophane bag with a pretty gold bow. Each stick was about pinky finger-sized, covered in dark chocolate, and rolled in chopped almonds.

The caramels were buttery soft but also chewy. They stuck around my molars a bit, but I can forgive them because they were so decadently buttery flavored as well.

As you can see, the almonds had a tendency to fall off. They brought a bit of grit to the texture of the sticks, and I wish they were even more roasty flavored. If the website hadn’t said so, I wouldn’t have guessed that they were toasted.

The chocolate flavor was pretty dominated by the buttery caramel and the nutty almonds. I was able to notice its nice cocoa notes.

The caramel is really the star here. It’s so decadent and delicious and addictive. I just wish the nuts were a tad toastier. Still, I chomped and chewed my way through these at a frightening pace. They get a hearty OMG.

Charles Chocolates Teance – The Tea Collection

Charles Chocolates’s Teance Tea Collection, another free sample that I received, was absolutely gorgeous – little square tiles of slate grey adorned with traditional Chinese calligraphy. I have no idea how they did it, but I love the look. I also wish I knew more of the characters; second from the right is “cha” or tea, but that’s the only one I recognized.

I was a bit nervous about the tea aspect. I’ve had Asian tea-flavored chocolates in the past and was not a fan. Fortunately, these were nothing like matcha chocolate – they were far better.

Each tile had a super thin outer layer of chocolate that crunched when I bit into it. It made me think of crunching footsteps in the snow – an instant and satisfying give. The ganache within was cool and creamy with a flawless texture and well-infused flavors.

Formosa Baochong was described as “a premium Taiwanese tea with strong flavors that contrast well with chocolate.” It tasted dark and deep with notes of clove and nutmeg. The spice flavors came across nicely but weren’t overwhelming, making for a well-balanced truffle.

Special Jasmine was billed as “a delicately fragrant floral tea.” It was the only one of the set that actually tasted like my conception of how tea tastes.

It tasted just like jasmine tea, with a lightly bitter and almost astringent bite, and made me think of going out to dim sum with my parents. The finish was a little sweet for my taste – my throat burned a bit – but it was still enjoyable.

Osmanthus is apparently “a floral tea often used in Asian pastries with a very distinctive flavor.” In truffle form, it starts out tasting of chocolate and then gives way to a unique fruity flavor.

I get citrus and banana notes, but it doesn’t taste exactly like either. I can’t quite put my finger on what it tastes of. It’s definitely distinctive and quite intriguing.

Lichee was described as “a traditional Asian fruit with flavors greatly enhanced by chocolate.” The lichee (or lychee, as I’m used to spelling it) flavor was spot on, with all of the fruit’s soft floral flavors. I don’t think the lichee flavor is exactly enhanced by the chocolate or that the two are destined flavor match, but the flavor combo is nice enough.

Charcoal Fired Oolong was “custom roasted Taiwan oolong over traditional bamboo baskets over a charcoal fire to medium dark.” It tasted brightly sweet and fruity at first before it took a darker turn, with a hint of smoky undertone. The brightness was present throughout, including in the finish, which was just wonderful.

Generally, I find drinking fancy teas unsatisfying because the tea always smells so much better than it tastes. Charles Chocolates managed to make tea truffles that taste like tea smells. The oolong, osmanthus, and baochong were my favorites, but I enjoyed all of them. An OM.

Charles Chocolates Orange Twigs

Cybele from Candy Blog called Charles Chocolates’s Orange Twigs a signature item, which is perhaps why they included them in the box of free samples that they sent me. Charles Chocolates calls them “delicate milk chocolate ganache with a hint of fresh orange… coated in a thin layer of 65% bittersweet chocolate and then finished with a sprinkling of confectioner’s sugar.”

The orange twigs come in a clear cylinder, and the twigs themselves are also cylindrical. It’s outer dark chocolate layer was quite thin delicate. The inner filling has a soft ganache-like melt but had a bit of a grit to it.

It tasted very sweet and very bright and very, very orange-y. The orange completely dominated whatever chocolate went into the twigs. The finish was also overly sweet, and the powdered sugar coating certainly didn’t help temper things.

I love citrus-flavored sweets, and I love chocolate, but the combination of chocolate and orange has never really done it for me. While the orange twigs were well flavored and well made, I found them too sweet for my liking. An O from me, with the caveat that my roommates did finish the tube.

Interview with Chuck Siegel

I got the chance to interview Chuck Siegel, president and founder of Charles Chocolates, via his PR firm. “Transcript” below.

1) What is your favorite mass-produced, decidedly non-gourmet, checkout aisle/vending machine-style candy bar?

Chuck Siegel: I love a frozen Snickers bars on a really hot summer day.

2) What is the most unusual chocolate you’ve ever tasted?

CS: I was at a chocolate conference a few years ago where one of the passed hors d’oeuvres was small chocolate covered squids.

3) What flavor combinations have you played with that just didn’t work?

CS: How much time do you have?  In the name of experimentation, I have tried hundreds of combinations that will (rightly so) never see the light of day.

4) How does you feel about the closing of the Emeryville factory? Do you hope to recreate it, or elements of it, in the new flagship?

CS: Very sad on one level – Our 4 1/2 years in Emeryville have been fantastic, and we have developed a wonderful local following here.  We are indeed planning on recreating the unique open kitchen experience that we have in Emeryville in San Francisco.  I can’t say more right now, but our newsletter will have more information as soon as it can be made public.

5) Any advice for aspiring chocolate entrepreneurs?

CS: Practice, practice, practice.  Seriously, you need to make sure you have mastered the craft to the point where you chocolates can stand side-by-side with the best that are out there.  Beyond that, make sure to feed as many people that you don’t already know, and who will give you very honest feedback, to make sure that you are making something that people will go crazy for – there is nothing easier than getting people to buy exceptional confections.

Chocolate-covered squid? I don’t we’ll be seeing those in the candy aisle anytime soon.

Thanks, Mr. Siegel, for taking the time to answer my questions! And thanks for making delicious confections!

Charles Chocolates Triple Chocolate Almonds

Charles Chocolates contacted me when they launched a revamped website and a new flagship store in San Francisco. I got sent a bunch of free samples which I’ll be reviewing this week and into next, and I got an email interview with Charles Chocolates’s founder, Chuck Siegel, which y’all can read tomorrow!

Today, however, y’all get to read about their Triple Chocolate Almonds. They come in a beautiful cylindrical tin. Check out the top! Here’s the back-of-the-tin blurb: “Our premium California almonds are roasted darker, then coated in our exceptional blend of bittersweet and milk chocolates.”

The almonds themselves are beautiful as well. First of all, they’re ginormous, thanks to a generously thick chocolate coating. They’re also coated in cocoa powder and look like matte, brown zen stones (I was too busy eating them to try to balance them, and they weren’t really flat enough anyway).

The milk chocolate coating is thick with a flawlessly smooth and creamy melt. It’s got dusky caramel notes, and while it’s on the sweet side, that sweetness pairs perfectly with the nutty roasted almonds.

The flavors are wonderful, the textures are great, and the flavor and texture contrasts between the chocolate and the almonds make these triple chocolate almonds seriously addictive. They are dangerous to keep around; I emptied my tin all on my own and wish I had more. A ZOMG!

Cybele enjoyed them too; you can read her take on Candy Blog here.

Charles Chocolates – Part II

Here’s the review of the rest of the box of Charles Chocolates that was introduced on Wednesday. We did the top row then, so today we’re going over the bottom row.

First up, bottom right, the bittersweet chocolate fleur de sel caramel. It was goooood. You can buy a box of 10 or 20 of just these, and I can see why. It’s a “a fleur de sel caramel with bittersweet chocolate and enrobed in 65% bittersweet chocolate.” The caramel was chewy and just slightly sticky with wonderous burnt notes, making it dark and salty and delectable, with the whole thing mellowed a bit by the chocolate coating. I could eat a whole box of these.

Next are the two square ones, the blood orange Yankee (why Yankee? I have no idea), which contains a blood orange marmalade ganache in a dark shell, and the meyer lemon Yankee, with a Meyer lemon marmalade in a dark and milk shell. If it’s made with lemons, does it still count as marmalade?

Orange and chocolate are a pretty common combination, but lemon, and chocolate, not so much. The Meyer lemon Yankee was good – it had a slight citrus finish with just a hint of zest, so its lemon-y-ness was not at all overpowering. The blood orange was similarly lightly citrusy, but with a sweeter, rounder flavor profile. In both, the ganache was smooth, silky, and lightly greasy, but not unpleasantly so.

The scalloped oval one in the middle is the espresso caramel, “rich caramel with real espresso and Kahlua in a  65% bittersweet oval.” The filling inside was soft and creamy, which surprised me, as I expected a stickiness due to the caramel moniker. I got a slight hint of the Kahlua flavor but didn’t pick up any espresso notes in the filling.

And last, and in this case least, the bottom left lemon marzipan: “Marzipan made with fresh, organic Meyer lemons and organic California almonds are coated in our rich 65% bittersweet chocolate.” I think one should always become a bit suspicious when one is being sold to with so many enthusiastic adjectives. Why is the same chocolate enrobing “rich” here, and the Meyer lemons “fresh, organic”? I didn’t taste any lemon in my marzipan, and I was just not a fan of the taste or the texture. I didn’t even finish my first one, and the second one is still sitting alone in the box, the only one left (I didn’t eat the entire box myself, by the way; I did share some with friends).

The marzipan alone gets an O, the espresso caramel and the Yankees get an OM, and the bittersweet fleur de sel gets a ZOMG! At around $2 a truffle, these are not exactly cheap indulgences. I wouldn’t buy the assorted box for myself (though I would happily accept one), but I would buy them by weight if I got to pick and choose which ones I wanted. I think that’s an option at their store/cafe. And I would buy these for gift-giving for special occasions.

Charles Chocolates – Part I

I’d wanted to try Charles Chocolates for ages, and I was sad to have missed the chance to go on a tour of their factory when I was in the area. When they had a free shipping sale for the holidays, I jumped at the chance to pick up a box of their classic collection (at the time, $30 for 20 pieces) without having to shell out an additional ten bucks for shipping.

I had sprung for the 20 piece box over the 10 piece one, thinking that I would get extra variety that way. Sadly, it was just two sets of the same 10 truffles, though that did mean I got two each of the ones I really liked. Today I shall review five (the top row of hearts and butterflies), and I’ll present the other five on Friday.

The butterflies are both chocolate with peanut praline fillings – “a rich homemade peanut praline mixed with 41% milk chocolate” in a milk or bittersweet shell. The praline filling was slightly crunchy, with a nice saltiness to balance out the chocolate. I could have used even more nuttiness, which I think was tempered by the milk chocolate mixed into the praline. The butterflies were quite rich and had a bit of fattiness feel to the finish. While I usually prefer dark to milk chocolate, the milk chocolate butterfly was better, as its increased sweetness paired better with the salty praline insides.

The hearts were filled with various fruit ganaches, all pleasantly silky smooth on the tongue: raspberry for the gold, passion fruit for the silver, and mojito for the chocolate. The raspberry ganache was quite fruity and bright but lacked the overarching tart and seedy notes that I expected. Passion fruit was quite spendid. Its fruitiness was super, super bright and had a wonderfully tart tang that I adored. And mojito was amazing – tart lime with a bite of fresh, not toothpastey, mint, all with a light rum finish.

I ate the passion fruit and mojito doubles of my box, so those guys get OMGs. The other three were good, made with high quality ingredients and clearly with care, but they didn’t stand out as much so they get OMs. Tune in on Friday to find out how the rest of the box fared!