Amano Morobe bar

Today I received a free Amano Morobe bar in the mail, along with a Guayas bar which I have reviewed in the past.

The Morobe bar is made from beans grown in Papua New Guinea. I think this is the first chocolate I ever had made from beans grown there.  The packaging lists tasting notes: red grapefruit, lime, blackberry, smoke, leather.

Now first let me say that the recent freak heat wave had unfortunately hurt this bar in shipment, so the temper was a wee bit off.  But here is the amazing part, the taste remained out of this world.  Many bars end up tasting like poopy-kaka when they melt and recrystallize, but not this one.

I could smell the sweet tangy scent as soon as I opened the box.  The flavor was very fruity, almost tart.  I checked the box because I was sure they had sent a bar with added berries or something, but no.  Its just the beans.  I am amazed!  Sweet, tangy, fruity all in one.

Initially, I thought I would bring this to work and share a bit of it with people there because I want them to experience it to.  But now?  I’m totally eating it all myself.

The Morobe bar is right there at the top among all the chocolate I’ve had from Amano.  If I could have only one bar from them, this would be the one.

Art Bar

My wife bought me some chocolate recently (which is why I married her).  Normally, the chocolate I find locally is junk in a plastic wrapper.  But this bar had a different kind of wrapper.

The Art Bar is produced by Ithaca Fine Chocolates in (you guessed it) Ithaca, NY.  This is a certified organic Fair Trade chocolate.  Both bars I tried were soy-free.  The beans are apparently selected from the El Ceibo Cocoa Coop in Bolivia.  The coop sells their own brand of chocolate as well (although, just looking at the website, I can’t seem to find how to order any).

So the fun thing about the Art Bar is that each bar comes with a small card in it, with a picture of a piece of art by some artist.  You can contact Ithaca Fine Chocolates to actually purchase the artwork if you like.

Inside the extra dark bar (70%) was a picture of work by Andrea Amador.

Apparently, his artwork is huge.  They are made on the beaches around San Francisco.  He says some of them are 300 feet wide.

The chocolate is ok.  It has a nice dark taste, not much bitter, although not a lot of flavor to it.  Kind of plain.  If you do like dark chocolate, you would like this, but its not terribly exciting.

The other bark was the dark chocolate with cocoa nibs.

This piece of art was by Erica Pollock, and it was a pic of an oil on canvas.  This is a painting based on a photograph she took of San Fransisco.  Are all these artists from there?

I do have a fondness for cocoa nibs, so maybe that’s why I liked this bar so much.  Somehow the nibs make the chocolate just that much darker.  Very nice flavor, and the nibs weren’t too crunchy.  Sometimes, the nibs are like little rocks, but these were just right.  I’d buy this bar again if I saw it.

So there you go.  Art and chocolate.  See how much culture you get reading this?

Belgian in the grocery store

I picked up two chocolate bars at a Hannaford grocery store in town.  I have a hard time finding chocolate these days other than the big stores.  There really aren’t alot of places around here, so when I find something different, I give it a try.

The brand on these was “Taste of Inspirations” which is distributed by DZA Brands, Inc.  DZA is the stock market symbol for Delhaize America, Inc., which owns Hannaford supermarkets and Food Lion. Its a store brand.

These are “Authentic Belgian” chocolate. In this case it means that they are a product of Belgium.

The label says the milk chocolate is made with “30% sun-ripened cocoa and pure cocoa butter”. I thought that was an odd way of phrasing it. Cocoa beans are often fermented and dried in the sun, so maybe that’s what they mean by “ripened”. The cacao trees would probably be shaded as would the pods, I think. 30% seems kinda low even for milk chocolate.

The milk chocolate lists normal ingredients, although they do list “artificial flavor”. I’m not sure if that means vanillin (no vanilla listed) or some other fake chocolate flavor. The taste is a little odd. Its very sweet and has almost a buttery flavor. Not horrendously unpleasant, just different. It reminded me a little of the milk chocolate inside M&M’s.

The dark had “natural flavors” listed. Maybe its vanilla? No idea. The taste was very plain. It reminded me of Hershey’s Dark chocolate. Bitter but no flavor. I don’t think I would buy this one again.

These two were a disappointment.  Next week I have two very cool chocolate bars (although, as of yet untasted) that my wife found for me.  Organic and oh so very dark.   :)

Local truffles

Recently, I discovered another “local” chocolatier who specializes in truffles, and had the opportunity to buy some of them and try them out.  They normally do mail order, but on occasion they are in area stores selling directly.

These were sold in a liquor store and so all the truffles they were selling that day were made with alcoholic beverages.  They referred to them as having alcohol in them, but I think in reality the alcohol is long gone, and the flavor of the particular beverage remains.

I was interested in seeing these and hearing more about her business because this is something that I had always wanted to do.  It started as a hobby and then she grew it into a business by using a kitchen at a local bakery.  In NY you need to have a health department inspected kitchen and, for a one-person business, renting space is easier and more economically feasible than having your own kitchen in your house.

I was curious about how these were made, what they looked like, how they were packaged, etc.  Lots of questions.

So the packaging.  They come in a clear plastic box with a little straw bow.  Simple and nice.

This was the 8-piece box ($18, I think), but I saw 4, and 16 pieces there as well.  I liked the clear boxes because it showed off the truffles.  Although, its not so eco-friendly.  I wonder if there is a paper box with just a plastic lid.  Still, if you are buying so many boxes of truffles that its impacting your local landfill, maybe you have other issues.  :)

So, eight pieces, two of each kind.  I don’t know which is which but these are Riesling, Irish Coffee (the one with the coffee bean?), Cabernet, and Mud Slide truffles.  Looks like one of the coffee beans (upper right) has gone astray.

These are all hand rolled, I think.  There was an article about the company and it mentions her dipping a gloved hand into the melted chocolate and rolling the center between her palms.  So I guess there is no dipping of the center in the coating, which is why the surface of the truffle seems very rough.

I noticed that the bottoms are all flat.  This tells me that the centers are very soft when she makes those.  Although, the center is very firm and dry to the touch, i.e. not runny or gooey. I suspect she lets the ganache cool and does not whip it like I do.  Probably lets it get firm and then scoops it out with a melon baller or some such device.

The article goes on to say that she coats them twice with “chocolate from California that is about 63% cacao”.  There’s a few chocolate suppliers that come immediately to mind.  Sharffen Berger, Guittard, and Ghirardelli.  I think Hershey used to have a facility in Oakdale.  None of these seem to have a 63% cacao product, although Scharffen Berger has a 62% cacao couverture.  Maybe she meant that?  Dove’s chocolate (i.e. Mars) has a 63%.  She wouldn’t use that would she?

The double coating makes me think that the coating is applied very thing.  Maybe she gets gaps, like on the bottom of the truffle (hardest for me to fix).  The bottoms of these clearly show they were wiped with chocolate and not just set down.  The feet are very small.

This is actually a picture of the bottom of one of the truffles.  Aside from a few crumbs from other truffles, it looks almost the same as the top.  Like it was cooled upside down so that it didn’t get feet.  I may do some experimenting with rolling the truffle in my hand while coating, instead of dipping, to see how the texture changes.

I want to think that the very thin outer coating means that the coating had a very low viscosity.  I do like how the coating is so thin.  I think that makes for a nicer truffle.  Less crunchy.  Mine tend to get too thick on the bottom because I dip them and drop them on wax paper, and then the feet grow too big.

I did actually eat these instead of just dissecting them.  They are actually quite good.  I like the dense centers, and the thin coating compliments them well.   I don’t much care for the liquor beverage flavors, but that is a personal preference.  There is a slight gritty texture as the chocolate melts.  I’m not sure what causes that.  I think I prefer it to be much smoother.

The ingredients seem normal enough, although she must need to add potassium sorbate for a preservative to get longer life out of them.  From what I have read, this is a pretty harmless preservative and occurs naturally in some fruits.  I’m happy to see no vanillin.  :)

If I can get on a small rant here about selling chocolate, I think the type of person you are has a huge impact.  Some people like to run a business because they like business.  Other people have a passion for something and they turn it into a business.

If you are the kind of the person that likes to sit in a closed room and do your hobby because its an escape from the rest of the world, then turning that hobby into a business may be a mistake.  This is because your escape from the world will turn into an intrusion of the world into your life.   Chances are, if you want to escape from people that much, you may not be a people person.

Selling products like this to people, might not be such an enjoyable thing, if you are not a people person.  Its not drain augers or car parts, its chocolate.  Its an indulgence that people enjoy for the deep pleasure that it gives them.  Its emotional, and buyers wants to feel happy and comfortable throughout the entire process.  If they are buying it from you in person, and if you are clearly unhappy to be near people, they really aren’t going to like buying from you.

Its easy to spot people who will do well in their chocolate business.  They smile.  They are friendly.  They are giving, not in merchandise, but of themselves because they have both a passion for their craft but also for cultivating relationships with people as part of their business.  Simply, they love their art and they love to share it.

Two examples.  There was a franchise store in Ann Arbor that sold hand made chocolate.  The guy that owned it was like the Soup Nazi from Seinfeld.  The Chocolate Nazi.  You felt as though you were imposing on him to be there.  He was cold and angry and clearly did not like people.  Its very likely that he loved his craft, but did not like people being involved.  Maybe he was a snob, maybe he felt his product was too good for the people who bought it.  Whatever the reason, his shop folded in a year.

Example two.  There is another local store here called Kraus’s.  They’ve been in business for many many years.  When you walk in that store, its pure happiness.  The people are kind and friendly.  Their uniforms are bright and colorful.  And everyone happy to see you.  I feel welcome in that store and I like going there.  I suspect they will be in business long after I am gone.

So that’s all I have for this Friday.  I hope you all had a good 2009, and will have a great 2010.  :)

Bis?

Two new chocolate-like things for today.  One is real chocolate, the other is chocolate containing candy.

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The Bis chocolate candy was given to me by someone who had come from Brazil, and I guess they bought them there.  The language on the package looks like Portuguese.  They are kind of like a Kit Kat bar only much lighter.

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Less chocolate and the layers are not as hard as a Kit Kat.  Very, very addicting.  There seems to be alot of packaging to them, because they all come individually wrapped and they aren’t very big.  I tried reading the label.  There’s some things I recognize, like sugar and (gasp) hydrogenated vegetable oil.  These are obviously the milk chocolate version.

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This is a Kraft Foods product, sold exclusively in Brazil as far as I can tell. I can’t seem to find the link on Kraft’s website, but there are several articles about the new product on the web. There’s even YouTube videos.  If you happen to be in Brazil?  Pick up a package.

The next item is chocolate from Gertrude Hawk.  This a small company that was founded in 1936.  They sell retails chocolate in stores, but also “ingredient inclusions”.  While this may sound like something that forms in your gall bladder, its actually those little things like chocolate chips and bits you find in ice cream and other foods.  Hey, somebody has to make them.

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I found these bars in a Gertrude Hawk store in Crossgates Mall.  They sell bars and hand dipped candies.  The store is not so very large.  I bought all three types so I could compare them.  The “dark” and the milk chocolate tasted OK, but not so amazing.  These are definitely not a high end chocolate, and they both contain vanillin.  The 70% dark had no vanillin, which was nice to see, but the flavor was terrible. Its very rare to find chocolate that actually tastes bad, but this was definitely one of them.  Extremely bitter and gritty.  It has this burning chemical taste to it.  Blech.  I spit it out and will throw the bar away.

That’s all I have today.  Have a wonderful weekend.

New stuff from Amano

I had the chance to try out two of Amano’s newest chocolate bars.  In the interest of full disclosure and in compliance with the FTC’s newest rules, I received these bars for free from a marketing company.  Ofcourse, as anyone who still reads my blog knows, if something is awful I will freely say so.  :)

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The first bar is the Guayas dark chocolate bar.  This is a 70% cacao bar, made from Nacional beans from Ecuador, which you will recall are a type of Forastero.   I liked this bar alot.  It has a tart, almost fruity taste mixed in with the deep dark chocolate flavor.  The piece had a slick, cool texture in my mouth as it melted.  No crumbly texture like the horrendous Guittard bar I tried.  Just delightful.   You may all buy me one for Christmas.

The second bar is the Dos Rios dark chocolate bar. This is another 70% bar. Now this is a very different bar. I read the back of the box before trying it. They describe the beans as having the taste of the Bergamot orange from Italy. Apparently this type of orange has a very distinctive fragrance and taste.  Usually, when I read something like this on a chocolate bar, I don’t pay much attention because I can never tell what a “note of champagne” or “hint of burgundy” would be like.  But this was very different for this bar.

I’ve never tasted the orange itself, but the chocolate has a very distinctive flavor.  Its some type of citrus and you can smell it faintly when you first open the wrapper, and the moment you put the chocolate into your mouth.  Its not overpowering, like a flavored chocolate candy is, its just the faint taste behind the cocoa flavor.  I find it amazing that the flavor comes from a bean and not from other ingredients.  The texture is not as smooth at the Guayas bar, but the taste is remarkably alluring.  As I’m sitting here eating it, I’m trying to think of what it reminds me of.  I would definitely recommend this bar to someone who is looking for dark chocolate with an enticing flavor.  And again, you may buy me one of these for Christmas too.  :)

So there you go, two fabulous bars from Amano Chocolate.  I have about half of each of these bars left and I’m going to bring them to work to share with a coworker that enjoys the chocolate education.  Here’s another fabulous example of two with 70% cacao content, but taste completely different.

E. Guittard Chocolate

Hey look!  A post about chocolate.   :)

This is the first time I have ever had E. Guittard chocolate before.  I had read about it on another blog, but have never seen it in stores until now.  While I was at the Cape this summer, I came across it in Stop ‘N Shop, of all places, at their deli counter.  Guittard is an old chocolate company, having been around since the 1860’s in California.  Nice to have another domestic supplier, although the founder was actually French and they advertise the chocolate as being made “in the French tradition”.

The first bar is the Ambanja bittersweet bar.

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The website describes this bar thusly:

“Rarified Criollo cacao beans from Madagascar are carefully handcrafted into this delicious chocolate. It mingles tart and fruity essences with one-of-a-kind, deep, rich chocolate flavor.”

I’m wasn’t sure what “rarified” beans were, so I looked it up.  I guess it means they are uncommon and for the elite.  These are all single bean origin chocolates, that means that they are made from the same kind of beans from one site, and not blended with other beans.  It provides a more unique flavor to different bars.  These beans come from Madagascar.

Sadly, this bar had some “bloom” on the surface, which means it got warm and some of the cocoa butter recrystallized and gave it that white haze on the surface.  It doesn’t hurt it really, but I’ve found that it sometimes makes the bar kind of crumbly, which this one was.  The flavor was just OK.  Not very exciting.  It tasted like an ordinary bittersweet bar, but with an odd smokey aftertaste.

The second bar is the Quevedo bittersweet bar.

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This bar is made from Ecuadorian Nacional beans, which are a type of Forastero bean.  This bar had also seen too much heat and had a crumbly texture.  The flavor was much more subdued than the Ambanja bar, almost bland.  If you don’t like bitter chocolate, this bar might actually be for you because it has no bitter to it.

There it is.  For all I have heard about Guittard, I’m not so impressed with these two bars.  Maybe it was because they had some bloom, maybe not.  But at the price I paid for these bars, it wasn’t worth it.

Seeds of Change Chocolate

I bought some Seeds of Change Chocolate at the store this week, so that I could compare them here.  I’ve bought some of their stuff before, with the full intention of blogging about it, but always ending up eating it and forgetting what it tasted like.  I guess they make/sell alot of organic plants and gardening supplies at their website.  Chocolate doesn’t seem to be a big theme for them so I think its just an offshoot.

So I bought the milk and dark chocolate bars to compare the flavor.  I found them in the “healthy/natural” foods section in Hanaford (grocery store chain).  The first thing you notice about them is the packaging.  Its kind of a heavy envelope and not a box or wrapper.

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Inside each envelope are three smaller bars, each individually wrapped in some kind of plastic.  I ‘m not sure what it is.  I like the idea of individual abrs so you don’t leave the whole thing out if you don’t eat it all at once.  And I think the plastic keeps the chocolate fresher than just foil, depending on where you are storing your chocolate.

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Strangely, the small wrappers for the dark and milk look identical except for a small printed code on the back side.  I guess that is the identifying code (and not the lot #), otherwise they’d be getting mixed up all the time.  These are all certified organic chocolates (note the little green label).  The  little symbol (or the mandala) is an old symbol representing abundance and vitality.

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So how do they taste?  Well, they don’t taste like dirt (which is common for organic chocolate).  The milk chocolate is a lttle sticky and maybe too sweet for my taste.  It has a very smooth texture and kind of a smokey overtone to it, which you taste more in the back of your mouth and throat.  Its definitely not a common milk chocolate flavor.

The dark was better (maybe I’m partial to dark).  It had a nice smell and had that fruity overtone that I’ve come to appreciate in very fine dark chocolate.  Even so, the dark was not as bitter as I like (62% cacao?), but again a very smooth texture.  People who like dark chocolate would like this one.

One more odd thing about these bars is the ingredients list.

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(I made sure to take a picture this time because last time I talked about the ingredients, someone bitched that it wasn’t true).  I like that they have vanilla and not vanillin.  But how can they list “chocolate” as an ingredient?  I mean, one of the ingredients for “milk chocolate” is listed as chocolate.  I would think they’d have to say what’s in the chocolate. Unless, they buy organic unsweetened chocolate from someone else and then mix stuff into it?  I’m not sure but it was just odd.

So, Seeds of Change makes to very nice organic bars.  You should try one or both.  I think you’ll be happy.

Odwalla Mocha-walla bar

I know this isn’t really chocolate, but I was sent a free bar to give it a review, and it does have chocolate chips, so here it is.

This is the Odwalla Mocha-walla bar.  I’ve had alot of Odwalla products in the past, especially the Odwalla drinks.  I tend to shy away from many of the “energy” and “nutritional” bars on the market because they either make me sick from all the fake sweeteners or they have huge amounts of saturated fats and end up being nothing more than a vitamin fortified candy bar.

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The Odwalla Mocha-walla is a pretty healthy bar as far as the “healthy bars” go.  It has 36% organic ingredients, no refined sugar, no GMO’s, no high fructose corn syrup, no vanillin, and3 grams of fiber.  They did a good job with vitamins although from the ingredients it looks like they were added separately and not part of other ingredients.  Only 1.5 grams of saturated fat per bar, which I was pleased to see.  I like Clif bars, but they have too much saturated fat.

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The taste is ok.  A bit dry for me, and a little pasty.  I would have some milk or something on hand to drink if you are eating one of these.  I don’t usually like coffee so I can’t judge if that part was good or bad.  I could at least taste the chocolate.  I’m writing this at night and I’m curious if I am going to be up all night from the caffeine, or if there’s just enough powdered coffee to give it flavor.  Maybe this would be a nice bar to have with a cup of milk for breakfast instead of an $8 cup of coffee at Starbucks.

Something funny about the bar is the fruit.  It says “Made with real fruit” on the front and it looks like an apple in the picture, but its not.  Its plums!  Sure enough, the ingredients list includes plum puree.  I don’t think I recall ever eating a bar with plums in it before.  I wonder why they chose that?  Maybe it was the flavor or maybe they could get organic plums easier than organic apples?  Maybe plums go best with coffee.  Well, anyway, its not like it tastes like plums (in case you have an aversion to plums).  The bar just has a sweet taste, with oats, and coffee.

So there it is, the Odwalla Mocha-walla bar.  Plums and caffeine.  It doesn’t get any better than this.

Three new chocolate bars from Amano Chocolate

Yesterday I received a small package in the mail from Amano chocolates containing samples of three new chocolates from them.   Big things come in small packages!

Speaking of packages.  Have a closer look at the artwork on the boxes themselves.   The artists who did the artwork for each of these boxes is named on the back of the boxes.  I found Carie Henrie, Tom Fedro, and Alexander Selytin online.

The first bar is their Ocumare milk chocolate bar (30% cacao).

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You may recall I have written about Amano’s dark Ocumare bar, and it was absolute heaven, so I was eager to see what the milk chocolate version was like.   The Ocumare bars are made from Criollo beans which are regarded as a more flavorful cocoa bean than Trinitarios or Forestero.  These particular beans come from Venezuela.   The milk chocolate version is very smooth and creamy, not sticky (which happens with alot of milk chocolate bars).   It has a very subtle background flavor to it, almost like a smoky/spicy mix.  I can’t quite place it.  Its not overpowering, but just lingering and then fading.  I like this bar!

Note: While poking around the Amano site I also found that they sell Ocumare cocoa nibs.

The second bar is the Jembrana milk chocolate bar (30% cacao).

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Like the Ocumare, I wrote about the dark bar made from the same beans, which come from Bali.  The Jembrana bar was very different from the Ocumare bar.  The flavor in the Jemrbana was much louder and just jumped right off the bar onto your tongue.  The background taste in this one reminded me of wine a little.  I’m not very good with clever descriptions but it had some element that tasted like wine.  The whole flavor from the bar held in my mouth for a long time, which was different from the Ocumare which faded quietly.   Another good bar!

Second note: Amano sell Jembrana cocoa nibs too.

The third bar was a very new one for me.  The Amano Montanya bar (70%).

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Dark at last!  I like the milk chocolate but people who read this know that dark is my true passion.  There’s just some even about the smell of it.  :)

This bar is made from beans in northern Venzuela in a mountainous region which accesible only on horseback.  I am not making this up, I read it on the box.   Think about that.  Every bean they are getting to make this limited edition bar had to hand carried down the mountain.  Amano is the first to make a bar from these beans.

As I write this I am tasting it for the first time (its in my mouth as I type these words) and I think I died and went to dark chocolate heaven.  OMG.  I never ate a chocolate bar that gave me goosebumps before but this is amazing!  Dark, tangy, tart, fruity, smokey, woody, and really really strong flavor.  No wimpy wimpy dark bar.  OMG.  Smooth texture like silk and it melts cleanly, no crunchy-chalky-waiting-for-it-to-melt like I do get with store bought stuff from many big brand dark bars.  Wow.  The roof of my mouth feels strangly cool.   Marvelous deep dark flavors.   That was amazing!    If you eat this bar, I would have your eyes closed and enjoy it.  Every day I have a 100 calorie piece of 70% cacao chocolate for my heart.  I am totally bringing this for tomorrow.  And no I am not sharing.  :)

Ok, there you have it.  Three extremely fine new bars from Amano Chocolates.  My favorite being the dark, but all three are wonderful.  This is the kind of thing you can expect when buying the higher end chocolates from artisan chocolatiers like the folks at Amano.