Aequare 55% Chocolate Bar

In addition to some delicious dark chocolate cocoa beans, Aequare also sent me an assortment of their handmade single-origin bars for free sampling. Today’s review is of their 55% semi-sweet.

According to their website, the beans that went into this bar came from Aequare’s grower in Quevedo, Ecuador and their summer 2008 harvest. How’s that for precise! I can’t remember if that was stamped on the box or not, but I think it should be. It would be a neat marketing gimmick.

The chocolate bar itself is nicely presegmented into tasting-sized squares. There’s a nice snappiness when the bar is broken apart. The color is a lovely medium brown with a nice, smooth sheen, and while the melt isn’t thick, it is silky soft with just a bit of tongue-coating-ness in the finish.

Flavorwise, it’s brightly sweet with great complexity. There’s a bold fruitiness that lingers in the finish, which also has just a hint of bitter/astringent cocoa notes.

It’s absolutely lovely, thanks to its pleasant texture and intriguing complexity. It blows every other bittersweet/semisweet chocolate that I’ve had in this cacao percentage-range out of the water. A ZOMG!

Aequare Dark Chocolate Cocoa Beans

I recently received a generous box of free samples from Aequare Chocolates, a newcomer to the fine artisan chocolates field – they debuted just this past summer. Included in the box were their Dark Chocolate Cocoa Beans.

According to the bag, these are “lightly roasted and peeled cocoa beans enveloped in Aequare dark chocolate.” There’s a much longer description on their product page, where you learn that the beans are single-origin, hand roasted and hand peeled, and panned in several coats of Aequare’s 70% dark chocolate.

I love how, in the above close-up, they could just as easily be a bunch of potatoes. The one on the far right even has eyes!

The beans are heftily-sized and much larger than I expected them to be, probably because I was using chocolate-covered espresso beans as my mental reference point. I’d guess that the chocolate-covered cocoa beans are between 2 to 4 times the size of chocolate-covered espresso beans.

Each bean has a generously thick layer of chocolate coating that crumbles and melts in the mouth with no thickness. The chocolate carries dry cocoa notes with a slightly sweet finish.

The beans inside add a dry crunch and grittiness. They taste even more deeply of genuine, pure cocoa flavor and release a winey fruitiness when crunched.

Aequare has managed to produce a complex, intriguing, and deliciously poppable snack. They’re so addictive that I could eat several in one session, yet so intense that it was satisfying to stop after a handful. I was able to spread the bag out over several sessions. I give them an OM.

And bonus kudos for Aequare’s excellent blog post documenting the Dark Chocolate Cocoa Bean making process.

Vere Raspberry + Lemon

Here’s the second of my two Vere bars (remember, they were buy one get one free), Vere Raspberry + Lemon.

Like its Mint + Nibs counterpart, the Raspberry + Lemon is an organic, single origin bar. It takes the cacao content up a notch, to 75%, and I found that difference hugely apparent. The snap of this bar is super hard – it almost hurt my teeth. It was so snappy as to be unpleasant to bite into.

The scent was dark and chalky with just a hint of citrus sourness. Upon tasting, if you survived biting into it, you’d find a dry melt and a bar that tasted of powdered dark cocoa with a lightly sweet and tart fruity finish. I could taste the raspberry and lemon, though I’m not sure that I would’ve been able to identify the specific fruits in a blind tasting.

While the Mint + Nibs bar was studded with bits of cacao nibs, the Raspberry + Lemon bar was full of raspberry seeds. That I greatly appreciated, which is surprising, considering my profound distaste for seedy raspberry candies. It may have been my imagination, but I felt as though I got a bonus burst of sweet raspberry flavor from grinding up those seeds.

All in all, the fruit flavor was decent, but the chocolate was lacking. And the bar was way too hard to eat. This bar would greatly benefit from a reformulation to make it softer. An O.

Vere Mint + Nibs

I bought this Vere Mint + Nibs bar at my local food co-op. They were buy one, get one free, and I’m never one to turn down a chocolate deal! If you’re curious, the other Vere that I chose was a Raspberry + Lemon one. It’s currently languishing, unopened, in my chocolate stash, though I presume that it will be consumed and reviewed in due course.

I’m going to purposefully ignore mentioning how the mark over the “e” in Vere affects how one would pronounce the name. Because honestly, is that really necessary, Vere?

I will point out that the bar is certified organic, and it’s single origin. Also, the blurb on the back of the box suggests that it’s at least fair trade in spirit, if not in certification, so that’s plenty enough hip points there to not need silly naming gimmicks.

The Mint + Nibs (I will concede it the use of “+” instead of “and” but refuse to use all lowercase letters) smells strongly of mint oil (as opposed to fresh mint) and dry cocoa. I love the presentation – little bite sized pillows of shiny dark chocolate etched with uniform squiggles.

The melt is pretty dry, which is unsurprising, as it’s a fairly high 70% cacao. The nibs give it a gritty crunch. The bar’s pleasantly intriguing texture makes this fun to chew. I find it best appreciated through chomping rather than melt-on-the-tonguing.

The chocolate is lightly sweet and fruity, with a light undertone of mint oil. There’s just the barest hint of effervescent refreshing mint finish. As previously mentioned, the plentiful nibs do wonders for the texture, but they don’t add much to the flavor.

All in all, it’s a great bar for snacking but not complex or inspiring enough for slow savoring. An OM.

Leftover Chocolate Tasting Notes, Part I

I threw a chocolate tasting party ages ago and have been sitting on these tasting notes since then. Today, some quick hits for the last Friday (alas!) of my spring break. Part II will come Monday, when I’m back (boo!) in class.

Ghirardelli Duet, from their new line of Luxe Milk chocolates, pairs “creamy milk chocolate” with “rich dark chocolate”. It’s divided along it’s heighth axis so that it looks like a milk chocolate bar with a thin dark chocolate backing.

It had a woodsy smell with some tobacco notes to it. I found it surprisingly smoky. Its thick and creamy melt combined with its complex flavor earned it high praise at my party and from me. An OMG.

Lindt Madagascar is a single-origin 65% dark chocolate bar from their Excellence line. It has a cool melt with a fatty feel to it. The finish was quite enjoyably fruity. Another party favorite; another OMG.

The Cafe Tasse 77% was a holiday gift from my friend Steve. It’s a higher cacao percentage than the 60% noir bar I previously reviewed. It had a sharp snap and was unusually thick – in this case, a reference to its physical dimensions, not its melt – with an arid finish. An O.

More quick hits to come on Monday. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to eke out one last weekend of fun in Albany as our men’s hockey team takes on the ECAC championship playoffs.

Amano Jembrana

Waaay back in 2008, I reviewed Amano’s then complete line-up of single-origin bars and gave them an enthusiastic ZOMG! They’ve since released a new Jembrana bar and updated their packaging with a shinier, artsier look. I was pleasantly surprised with a free pair of their newest bars for tasting. Apparently they’d kept my name and address on file from the last time I reviewed their bars, and boy was I glad that they did.

The press release claims as follows: “Amano Artisan Chocolate introduces a new, limited edition chocolate bar from Jembrana on the southwest coast of Bali. Like Amano’s other single origin chocolate bars, the Jembrana is made by hand, from bean to bar, in small batches with 70% cocoa… The Jembrana Single Origin Bar ($7.00/2oz) has a beautiful, rich chocolate flavor with nice fruit notes that are also a little nutty. The bar is rich and gentle at the same time, without any harshness or astringency.”

At it’s suggested retail price, Amano bars are pricey, but very few chocolate makers in the U.S. actually make their own chocolate, starting from cocoa bean scratch, and their bars are a tasting revelation. I took my tasting notes before I read the back of the box or the press release so as not to be influenced by their descriptions.

The chocolate was super smooth and creamy on the tongue but not in the thick way that milk chocolate melts. There were no dairy notes whatsoever. Instead, I got a rich chocolate with a hint of fruitiness in the finish, which was quite lovely and lingered just long enough. When I revisted the bar, I got more of an almond nuttiness in addition to that fruitiness. For those of you are wary of dark chocolate, I didn’t find the bar at all bitter, though I am a self-professed dark chocolate lover.

Altogether an excellent bar with a great flavor profile. I give it an OMG, as I think I lost some of the enjoyment in tasting it on its own without contrasting chocolates to truly highlight its flavor profile. And, if I remember correctly, I enjoyed the Cuyagua more. Still, a great bar. I have one left at school that I intend to share with friends, to spread the fancy chocolate tasting gospel. Save your pennies, and instead of buying seven Hershey’s bars, get this instead.

Sainbury’s Brand Chocolates – Part I, Taste the Difference

Now that I’m living off campus, I’m no longer on a meal plan, which means I buy my own groceries and, presumably, cook for myself. Because I’m a po’ college student, shopping for my own food has meant buying extra when things are on sale, clipping coupons, and getting acquainted with store brand products (many of whom are secretly identical or virtually to name brand things; much of the savings comes from not spending heavily on advertising) to save money. When I spent last summer in England, all that was doubly true since everything there costs twice as much. And so, without further ado, I present to you part I of a round-up of Sainsbury’s brand chocolates. Today, we Taste the Difference.

Sao Tome

I was tickled to find that Sainbury’s store brand was hoity-toity enough to jump on the single-origin bandwagon. It’s the only generic single-origin bar I’ve seen so far. I also appreciated the pretty appearance of the bar, which was scored into sections for easy portioning and stamped with a pretty fleur-de-lis design offset by diagonal etches.

In addition to its pretty design, the chocolate itself was lovely to look at, with an admirable sheen and color. At 72% cacao, this bar had the expected sharp snap. It’s flavor profile was on the sweet side for a dark bar, and it had a sour/sweet finish, somewhat reminiscent of cherries.

Belgian Dark

In my mind, Belgium is famous for a few things: sabots (wooden clogs; in introductory French, we sang a song about them, the only line of which I can still remember is “avec mes sabots” and which is now on lopp in my head), getting trampled in WWII, and chocolate. Slap the word Belgian in front of chocolate, and you get all kinds of happy, high-end associations. Sainsbury’s Belgian bar was a 72%, like its Sao Tome, but the two had significant taste differences. So yay! Sainsbury’s wasn’t sneakily making one type of chocolate and packaging it as two!

The Belgian dark was quite creamy for its high cacao percentage. Unlike the fruitier Sao Tome, this bar had more of a dusky cocoa-ness to its flavor. And it wasn’t nearly as pretty as its single-origin counterpart, though it also came in a flimsier wrapper, making me think that I caught the two bars in between a production/packaging switch.

I’d give these two bars an OM. As far as flavor complexity goes, they’re not astoundingly intriguing, but they’re nice enough for snacking or even a low-key chocolate tasting. I’m not lamenting the fact that I can’t easily get them in the States, but if I ever get to go back to England, I’d buy them again.

Hershey’s Cacao Reserve Single Origin Collection

I’ve previously written about Hershey’s Cacao Reserve line, their attempt to make better chocolate than their low quality, increasingly vegetable oil laced everyday fare. Their Single Origin Collection is a blatantly obvious but still smart attempt to jump on the single origin bandwagon. Like the word “Belgium,” the “single origin” moniker can lend cachet but doesn’t always deliver. Hershey’s, however, does a pretty nice job of making single origin chocolate accessible to the non-foodie snob.

The collection contains three chocolates of three origins and three cacao percentages. There’s Java, which is a 37% milk, Arriba, a 50% billed as dark milk, and Sao Tome, a 70% dark. They come individually wrapped with cute little locale pictures and different colors depending on the percentage. And they were perfectly sized for a two-bite tasting.

The Java is a creamy milk chocolate with strong caramel undertones. It wasn’t as thick on the tongue as I would’ve expected a 37% to be, which left me slightly disappointed. Arriba also carries a creamy melt with an undertone that I had some trouble placing. I finally decided that it tasted like butter.

Unsurprisingly (because I prefer dark to milk chocolate), the Sao Tome was my favorite of the bunch. It had a super sharp snap to it, with strong cocoa notes and a slight sour berry fruitiness. While the Sao Tome made a nice impression, the overall collection isn’t that exciting, so it only gets an O.

You can taste some of the cacao nuances, but other, more expensive bars do that better. Still, it’s a great way to ease yourself into chocolate tasting and an affordable way to host a little chocolate tasting party. For that, Hershey’s gets an A for effort.

Two more Choxie bars

As I’ve noted before, Choxie, Target’s house brand of chocolate, works hard to market itself. I adore their bright, retro wrappers, and I hate that they don’t capitalize anything. Check out the descriptions of these two bars that were a holiday gift from my suitemate Alisha:

Choxie milk chocolate roasted almond sea salt bar

solid milk chocolate. the perfect foil for whole roasted Mission almonds and a pinch of grey sea salt crystals. simply spectacular.

Doesn’t that sound delicious? They’re not just almonds; they’re Mission almonds. And it’s not just sea salt; it’s grey sea salt crystals.

The milk chocolate bar smelled sweet and looked nice and shiny. It had a great snap to it. The whole almonds tasted like they were actually roasted (ooh!) and were nicely distributed throughout. The sea salt was a nice sophisticated touch, but for me, it also brought out the sour finish of the chocolate with its salty hit. Not bad but could be better. An OM.

Choxie 62% Ghana cacao single origin chocolate bar

with an intense and earthy flavor that only could come from Ghana, this solid bar of deep dark chocolate is warmly accented with golden Madagascar vanilla.

There go those great adjectives (and adverbs) again. warmly accented with golden Madagascar vanilla. This bar is a nice example of Choxie jumping on the single origin marketing train without really appreciating the point of single origin (making chocolate with a superior crop of bean that deserves to stand alone). And the packaging for this one was on the bland side.

Visually, the bar is absolutely gorgeous, a great deep brown with a lovely sheen to it. And it’s very snappy, party due to the fact that Choxie bars are thicker than most. The melt to this was smooth but not creamy. Flavor-wise, it tasted quite sweet with a slight berry finish. I’d say it would be okay for mindless chomping or cooking, but by billing itself as single origin, it sets itself up for failure. I expected some great flavor nuance and got nothin’. An O on this one.

Edit: I wrote this review about a week before Cybele posted her take on all four of Choxie’s 3oz bars, these two included.

Calhoun College Chocolate Tasting Notes, Round II

After the success of my first chocolate tasting (notes here), I held a second one with the extra bars. Unfortunately, by the time the second tasting rolled around, most of the bars had bloomed thanks to New Haven humidity and temperature fluctuations and a lack of air conditioning. The Vosges chocolate bars were the only ones that survived because their wrappers are airtight. We tasted them anyway, and all the flavors were there; it’s just that the textures were all wrong. Sadness. Here’s what we tasted, with my notes:

  • Green and Black’s milk, 34% – sweet, yogurty flavor; tastes like a Cadbury mini-egg. Thick texture.
  • Dagoba milk, 37% – slightly fruitier than the Green and Black’s with a dusky finish.
  • Vosges Macha (Japanese macha green tea in 41% deep milk) – woodsy dirt flavor, brittle texture. Tastes like green tea, as it should. I don’t like the taste of green tea, but if you do, this bar is true to its name.
  • Vosges Woolloomooloo (roasted and salted macadamia nuts, Indonesian coconut, hemp seeds in 41% deep chocolate) – I’ve reviewed the truffle version of this bar. Nicely nutty, smells of coconut.
  • Vosges Goji (Tibetan goji berries, pink Himalayan salt in 41% deep milk) – fruitiness to the bar; goji berries just taste like red berries. Saltiness works, I think.
  • Vosges Mo’s Bacon Bar (applewood smoked bacon, alderwood smoked salt in 41% deep milk chocolate) – I bought another one of these bars because it’s such a great conversation piece for tastings.
  • Chocolove dark chocolate, 55% – nuttiness to the flavor, which starts off sweet and has a long finish. Vanilla notes? Thick texture.
  • Nirvana Single Origin Granada, 60% – fairly straightforward cocoa flavor with a strong roasted taste.
  • Scharffen Berger 62% semisweet – fruity notes, sweet finish

  • Vosges Calindia (Indian green cardamom, organic California walnuts, dried plums in 65% Venezualan dark chocolate) – strong spice flavor. Can taste the sweetness of the plums and feel where it adds texture.
  • Nirvana Single Origin Santa Domingo, 67% – strong earthiness, dirt flavor. Not at all well received (the wrapper promised herbal tones, which must have been the dirt flavor people complained about).
  • Green and Black’s Maya Gold (orange and spices) – on first taste, strong notes of pepper with a light orange finish. On second taste, orange flavor stronger. Many people said the bar tasted like marmalade.
  • Scharffen Berger 70% bittersweet – super fruity with a cocoa finish
  • Dagoba Conacado, 73% – nutty
  • Dagoba New Moon, 74% – sweeter than the Conacado with a dark fruitiness
  • Dagoba Xocolatl, 74% with chilies and nibs – slight fruitiness to the chocolate. STRONG chili flavor that wallops your taste buds on first impact. Not the way I like my chili chocolate.
  • Endangered Species 88% Extreme Dark (panther) – vanilla scent with a nice smoky flavor.
  • Ghirardelli 100% baking chocolate – completely dries up the mouth. Worse than the 100% La Maison du Chocolat bar.