Thursday, July 30, 2009

Vivani: Dark Chocolate with Espresso

Michael found this bar somewhere in Brooklyn. I had seen this brand once or twice in fancy bodegas, and had been recommended it by a friend months ago, but I'd never tried one until now. Now that I've known it, we have a lot to discuss. First, the stats:

Vivani: Dark Chocolate with Espresso
Cocoa content: 68%
Notable ingredients: espresso
Origin: n/a

I lied: we don't have that much to discuss. I was sceptical of this bar from the very beginning because I'm not one for coffee flavored things. It proved to be pretty tasty, but not so tasty that I'd go seeking other coffee-infused chocolates in the future. Maybe, though, I would give other Vivani bars a try -- they make orange-, lemon-, green tea-, and ginger-infused bars in addition to this espresso bar and a couple of plain darks.

Don't you hate it when people say "expresso?" Have you ever seen the letter X in an Italian word? This bar had sensible, roughly square inch-size pieces and a pleasing snap especially considering that it's not especially dark (and thus, as we've learned, brimming with cocoa butter.) And I can say, to this bar's credit, that the espresso flavor was at least very consistent, and not overwhelming. But this bar loses points with the wrapper because, what is that -- a person holding a big bar of chocolate with a head? I don't know. I don't know.

One thing definitely worth checking out is Vivani's website, which demonstrates in detail the process of chocolate making and organic chocolate farming. What it lacks in attractive web-design it makes up for in informational videos. This bar gets a B.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Fine & Raw: 83%

This bar was given to me by my cousin Margaret, of Margaret Are You Grieving? Fine & Raw is a small company in Brooklyn. We will discuss what "raw" means. First, the stats:

Fine & Raw: 83%
Cocoa content: 83%
Notable ingredients: agave
Origin: Ecuador

The raw food movement is an eating/lifestyle trend that emphasizes uncooked -- or very lightly cooked -- foods for health reasons. But there's also a sort of snobbery to raw foodism, because uncooked and unprocessed foods are "close to the earth," and usually pretty expensive. Raw chocolate is no different, really: Fine & Raw uses ambiguous "artisan low heat techniques" and they avoid additives like dairy and sugar. They skip the conching process, which improves the creamy texture of chocolate. 

Again, Fine & Raw doesn't add sugar -- by which I mean cane, or corn syrup, or anything like that. They do use a natural sweetener called agave nectar, which is kind of like honey and is popular among vegans because it comes from a plant rather than an insect. Agave tastes pretty much like any other sweetener, especially here because it is in such a small amount.

This chocolate really wasn't that fabulous because the point of raw food isn't taste or indulgence. This would be of more interest to people who are really excited by organic candy and cooking processes that interfere with the ingredients as little as possible. In my case, I'm not so concerned with those things because at the end of the day, all I want is to have known delicious chocolates. This bar's rating gets bumped up slightly for the pretty packaging, to a B.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Selvaticas: Jaina (White Chocolate)

I decided, just this once, to extend the critical invitation to white chocolate, that buttery solid entirely bereft of cocoa solids. White chocolate is, you know -- I don't need to say it, but Not Real Chocolate. It contains cocoa butter as opposed to cocoa solids, which basically means it's composed of a byproduct rather than a pure bean product. Selvaticas makes it really confusing because they say this bar is 31%. All will be explained below. In the meantime, stats:

Selvaticas: Jaina
Cocoa content: 0%*
Notable ingredients: n/a
Origin: n/a

* So, as you can see from the picture, this bar boasts "31% cocoa." This is really misleading: when cocoa beans are harvested, they are roasted and removed from the shell, and eventually liquified, a process by which two end products are made: one is cocoa solid, which is the pure chocolate ingredient and the source of the taste that you identify with chocolate, and the other is cocoa butter, a fatty byproduct that is used to smooth out flavor and provide a milky texture. So, as I gleaned from Selvaticas's website, this bar is 31% cocoa butter -- not cocoa.

I have had limited contact with white chocolate in the past. I've definitely had my share of golden-wrapper Lindt truffles, I used to be addicted to Hershey's Cookies 'n' Cream bar, and I still love peppermint bark, which has at least a layer of white chocolate. But I've never really been into upscale white chocolate bars, so I'm not sure what good white chocolate is supposed to taste like.

I guess, if Selvaticas's "Jaina" is any indication, white chocolate is one of those things that doesn't get better the more you pay for it. The white chocolate experience seems to cap off at Lindt truffles: they taste buttery and creamy without being so sweet that the back of your throat dries out. Jaina had too much going on: the cocoa butter was so thick and overwhelming that this tasted almost more like solid cream cheese than chocolate. There was no snap to speak of, but instead a kind of thick, mucky chew. And the amount of sugar was truly overwhelming: 32 grams in the entire bar, compared with, for example,  a comparably sized Dagoba bar containing just 7 grams. Of course white chocolate needs to be made with extra sugar so as to sweeten the cocoa butter, but this was like butter frosting. I'm not feeling it, so this is probably the last time you'll see a white chocolate bar appear here. C-.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Chocolate Bar: Raspberry Jam

I got this at the same chocolate store I was talking about last week -- Chocolate Bar -- but this one is actually from Chocolate Bar, whereas the dreaded rose water bar came from Chocopologie and was merely distributed out of Chocolate Bar. This is a really cute place that I recommend everyone go to. Here is the info:

Chocolate Bar: Raspberry Jam
Cocoa content: 65%*
Notable ingredients: raspberry filling
Origin: n/a

* The bar doesn't indicate cocoa content and the website doesn't, either. The woman behind the counter told me that 65% is standard for their dark chocolate bars. 

I'm loving the packaging. As far as Chocolate Bar's selection goes, this was one of the simpler bars. Many were crowded with mix-ins: rum, banana cream, marshmallows. Some of it looked appealing but I opted for this one out of preference for a simple, dependable combo. 

The truth is, a few things went wrong with this bar. Firstly, I let it sit on my desk over a stretch of sweltering days, so it got a little soft. Being filled with jam, it was already hard to break along the perforations: one mis-snap and the jam would ooze through the cracks. What with the heat-induced softness, breaking this bar proved to be a pretty messy endeavor.

Furthermore, the jam just wasn't that great. I was hoping for sweetness, tartness, maybe even seeds. Instead I got a gummy, bland puree of corn syrupy fruit filling. It tasted not so much of raspberry as of some generic, indistinct Smucker's. As for the chocolate, I didn't feel that it was so great either. Maybe Chocolate Bar is the kind of place where you want to stick to the truffles and the drinkables. I'm not ruling it out yet, but so far everything I've gotten there has been only ok at best, and deplorable at worst. B-.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Knipschildt Chocolatier: Rosewater

In case anyone is confused, this bar is made by Knipschildt Chocolatier, who owns and distributes from his chocolate bar in Norwalk, CT: Chocopologie. You don't have to go there to buy his products though -- you can order them online or buy them in some stores in Manhattan. My cousin got this for me at Chocolate Bar on 8th avenue. Here is the basic information:

Knipschildt Chocolatier: Rosewater
Cocoa content: 80%
Notable ingredients: rose water
Origin: Ghana

This would be the fourth single origin bar on the blog, and second from Ghana. This fact, coupled with the fact that it's rose flavored, made me pretty intrigued. Rose water has always been a favorite.. flower-petal-oil by-product of mine. I routinely spray it on my body and when I was younger I used to make my own (kind of) by boiling roses in a big pot of water. I've seen it used at times in pastries and desserts, usually to pleasant effect. 

Which is why I'm disappointed to report that this bar was unspeakably repugnant. Not only that, but it threw off my whole week: after the initial tasting, on Saturday night, I had about 3 oz. of chocolate remaining and absolutely no desire to go near it. Being that it was too soon to start the next bar in my lineup, I had to resort to other, lesser indulgences -- e.g. cookies -- to bide my time.

Chocolate just wants nothing to do with rose water -- and probably all flower-petal-oil by-products, I would guess. Cookies, ice creams, tea, maybe, but the strong flowery taste was way too much for the delicate, earthy muddiness of this single origin 80%. The sensation of chewing on flower petals was only exacerbated by the natural acidity of very dark chocolate. This tasted like some disgusting cross between soil and solid perfume. Never again. D-.