Posts filed under ‘ZOMG!’

3400 Phinney Chai Tea Milk Chocolate

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.

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January 25, 2008 at 8:00 am Leave a comment

Endangered Species Dark Chocolate with Cranberries & Almonds

It’s been a while since I posted a chocolate party review. I’m going to finish up the chocolate party posts next week so I can move on to covering my winter break candy tour. Consider these part of cleaning out my candy backlog.

Endangered Species Chocolate (BUY!) donates 10% of their profits”to help support species, habitat and humanity,” and they use their chocolate bar wrappers to raise awareness about endangered species. Some bars are organic, and I think all are fair trade. My bar was all about the wolf, and it was delicious.

Even though this dark bar boasts a high cacao content of 70 percent, it wasn’t bitter at all. If anything, I’d deem it bittersweet, and I found it surprisingly sweet for dark chocolate. The bar had an exceptional, heavy snap and a great dark finish. The almonds (in tiny pieces) added another smoky component to the bar, which worked nicely. Finally, the bar was visually gorgeous, with a deep, dark, rich color and a lovely gloss.

The bits of cranberry inside the bar were quite noticeable. You can see a piece of one poking out in the photo. They were dried pieces of cranberry, like raisins (or craisins, I guess). Usually the cranberry pieces melded nicely with the dark finish, but every once in a while a chunk of cranberry would be too big, too sweet, and too distracting.

At first I didn’t find this bar to be too exceptional. Sure, it was great dark chocolate, but so what? Yet I found myself reaching for more… and more… and more… It turned out to be quite addictive, enough so to earn a ZOMG! rating from me. Many thanks to my friend Katie for buying it for me. My friends’ ratings placed it 7th with a score of 3.5/5. I should note that the people who liked it really liked it.

My bar was just one of 15 varieties. I can’t wait to taste my way through more.

January 16, 2008 at 8:00 am Leave a comment

Candy Find – Viva Chocolato in Austin, TX

I have a new candy find for when I’m home in Austin! Viva Chocolato, founded by Mark Adams and Nino DeFalcis, is a locally owned high-end chocolate shop that recently opened in The Domain shopping center. In addition to truffles, chocolate bars, and boxed chocolates from all over the world, they also serve gelato, chocolate-covered waffles and crepes, fine wines for truffle pairings, single-origin fondue, and more. I popped in to check out their truffle selection and chatted with Melissa Adams, one of the owners, about Viva Chocolato and its chocolate philosophy. I ended up buying a cup of their gelato, which arrived generously overflowing with creamy chipotle chocolate deliciousness, and the following truffles:

From left to right, they are a Michel Cluizel Renne Champignon (caramel and nougatine), a TexCru Jack Daniels, a Grand Sumatra (dark hazelnut), a Michel Cluizel 99% Marseille Cacaoforte, and what I believe is some sort of Italian tri-layered mocha truffle. I don’t know exactly what the last one is because my fifth truffle was originally a Grand Champagne until my dear friend Cassie accidentally dropped my bag of truffles, broke the champagne one, and slipped one of her own into my bag as a replacement when I wasn’t looking. Wasn’t that sweet of her? As Melissa told me, the only thing better than a good friend is a good friend with chocolate. Truffle reviews will come later.

Believe me, it was hard limiting myself to just five truffles from Viva Chocolato’s huge selection (at $2-3 apiece, they’re a bit of a decadent splurge). On the domestic end, they carry handmade truffles made by a local Austin chocolatier, a Texan chocolatier, and a truffle maker in New York. On the international end, there are handmade truffles from Italy, France, Belgium, Switzerland, and probably more countries that I missed. All of the truffles were carefully selected by the Adams and DeFalcis couples over the course of over a year through weekly taste tests that often lasted until the wee hours of the morning. I could think of worse ways to spend a Saturday night. If you’re not lucky enough to live in or visit Austin, Melissa tells me that they plan to add a mail-order component to the business, so just be patient.

My favorite part of Viva Chocolato was their wholehearted promotion of connecting and bonding over chocolate. The seating in the shop is cute and cozy, and there’s even a semi-private Chocolate Party Pod for, you guessed it, chocolate parties that include a guided chocolate tasting, chocolate pairings with wine or champagne, the aforementioned single-origin fondue, and dessert in the form of a handmade European chocolate truffle torte with coffee and tea. I think my girlfriends and I need to treat ourselves to a chocolate party next year to celebrate our college graduations.

Melissa was incredibly gracious in taking the time to chat with me and show me around Viva Chocolato. Her love of chocolate and the shop that she helped develop was easily apparent in the little details she pointed out (like the cacao pods on the gorgeous glass light fixtures and the custom made clock below) and in the way she spoke of Viva Chocolato’s development from idea to reality. As far as I’m concerned, Viva Chocolato will handily replace the coffeehouses, the cafes, and the gelato place where my friends and I used to gather for our Thanksgiving, winter, and summer break reunions. Clearly, this place deserves a ZOMG!, and I’ll definitely be back every time I’m back in Austin.

(I’m so mad that this picture turned out so fuzzy. I want a clock like that. Except mine would say ZOMG, Candy!, of course.)

January 15, 2008 at 8:00 am Leave a comment

Emily’s Chocolates Wrap Up

Dear Emily’s Chocolates,

I am terribly sorry it took me so long to write this review. You were generous enough to mail me soooo many delicious chocolate covered things, and though I immediately got up a review of the cookies (OMG and ZOMG!), that was nearly two weeks ago, and I still haven’t written about your limited edition gift boxes. In my defense, the last two weeks of class are always hectic, and now I’m smack in the middle of reading period trying to write final papers and study for final exams. But now I’m procrastinating starting my 20-pager music cognition paper, so here’s the long overdue review. Photos of the packaging are from Emily’s Chocolates’ website.

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Dark Chocolate Mixed Berry Box

Dried strawberries, blueberries, and cranberries covered in dark chocolate. The biggest ones are the strawberries, while the blueberries and cranberries are visually identical, as far as I can tell.

Because the strawberries are the biggest, they have the brightest fruit flavor. The blueberries were also surprisingly sweet. Only the cranberries, I felt , weren’t assertive enough to stand out against the sweetness of the dark chocolate coating. They were listed in the ingredients as “sweetened” while the strawberries and blueberries were not. I wish they had been a little more tart, which may have kept them from being overwhelmed by the chocolate.

Overall a nice fruit assortment. Nothing groundbreakingly delicious but good, and incredibly addictive. An OM.

2pc_giftbox_cranalmond.jpgLimited Edition Chocolate Covered Cranberry Almond Holiday Mix

Dark chocolate covered cranberries and almonds. In case you couldn’t guess that from the name.

The cranberries were the same as those of the previously reviewed mix. What made this stand out was the almonds. They had a wonderful roasted almond flavor, and almonds are strong nuts that balance well with chocolate. You can see from the picture how generous that chocolate coating is.

Like all the stuff Emily’s sent me, these guys were addictive. An OM.

Dark Chocolate Covered Cashews

These came inside an adorable snowman. He’s no longer on the website, but a penguin version of him is. I think cashews are to bland to balance dark chocolate, so I just gave these an O. My least favorite of the group. But the adorable snowman gets props.

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Limited Edition Chocolate Covered Cherry Hazelnut Holiday Mix

I saved the best for last. Dark chocolate covered dried cherries and roasted hazelnuts. Soooooo good! The cherries were perfectly tart and super bright against the chocolate. They’re listed as “dried red sour cherries”. Good choice on letting them be sour! And the hazelnuts! Whole roasted hazelnuts covered in shiny dark chocolate – it really doesn’t get any better than that. I shared the rest of these mixes with my friends (mostly to keep myself from eating them all), but the hazelnuts and cherries I hoarded for myself. An enthusiastic ZOMG!

Emily’s Chocolates does good work. As I said before, I was surprised at how affordable their products are, and they’re prettily wrapped for convenient gift giving. Order by December 10 and get free ground shipping if you spend at least $40. I’d stock up for gift-giving to teachers, coworkers, bosses, and to bring as hostess gifts.

December 8, 2007 at 4:28 pm Leave a comment

Emily’s Chocolates’ Dark Chocolate Sandwich Cookies

An extremely generous box of samples arrived from Emily’s Chocolates (BUY on Amazon!) while I was out of town for Thanksgiving break, so I didn’t get them until yesterday. I haven’t had a chance to taste everything in there, but I did try the cookies, and they were most definitely worth the wait. In fact, they were so good that I’ve bumped today’s news story to share this review.

emilys-dark-choc-mint-cream-sandwich-cookies.jpg

The sandwich cookies come in mint cream and peanut butter cream. The peanut butter cream cookies come in a similar container, only it’s orange, and it’s snowman had a top hat instead of earmuffs. Isn’t it funny how we now associate orange with peanut butter, all thanks to Reese’s? The packaging is pretty, cute, and festive, making these cookies a great candidate for a hostess gift or a way to suck up to teachers.

Both flavors of cookies are like dark chocolate-covered Oreos with generously thick layers of peanut butter or mint cream. The dark chocolate covering is thick, rich, and delectable. Here’s a shot taken with a flash that shows off how hefty the layers of chocolate and cream are, though it makes the chocolate look lighter than it really is.

The cookies are a great blend of textures – smooth dark chocolate, crunchy chocolate cookie, and creamy filling. The mint cream cookie smelled strongly of mint and chocolate and packed a wallop of mint flavor. I loved it. The mint flavor was strong, but not too strong, leaving the cookie well balanced. The finish was of just chocolate, which I think works well, as a lingering, sugary mint taste isn’t always pleasant. Flavor-wise, the cookie is reminiscent of a Thin Mint, but better – it’s more texturally interesting, the chocolate is of better quality, and there’s more of everything! An enthusiastic ZOMG! for the Dark Chocolate Covered Mint Cream Sandwich Cookies.

The peanut butter cream cookie smelled slightly of peanut butter, and it’s peanut butter taste was present but mild. The finish was pretty much all chocolate, just like that of the mint version. I would have preferred a stronger and saltier peanut butter flavor, though the overall cookie was still delicious. An OMG for the Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cream Sandwich Cookies.

Emily’s also sent me their limited edition boxes of their dark chocolate covered nuts and fruits, a big box of their milk chocolate covered macadamia nuts (apparently still in stock on Amazon as of 11/26), and an adorable dark chocolate-covered cashew-filled snowman. I’m excited to taste those as well, though I think I may save the macadamia nuts to bring home for my folks for Christmas.

What surprised me the most about the Emily’s Chocolates line was how affordable all the products were. They look like they would cost much more than they actually do. I think they’d make great gifts, especially since all the holiday boxes already look like they’re wrapped. If you order by December 10th, you’ll get free shipping on orders over $40. I’ll try to have the rest of my package (minus the macadamia nuts) tasted and the reviews as soon as possible so y’all can take advantage of that offer.

November 27, 2007 at 8:00 am Leave a comment

That Popcorn Place Decadent Gourmet Popcorn

Earlier this week, my friend Cassie took me to That Popcorn Place on the downtown Drag near UT. What a wonderful food find! They’ve got dozens and dozens of flavors of popcorn, from the savory (ranch, cajun, sour cream and onion, bacon and cheese) to the candied (caramel, vanilla, orange) to the decadent gourmet (s’mores, cookies and cream, dark chocolate), and oh man are they good!

In accordance with Austin’s Keep Austin Weird philosophy, That Popcorn Place is a literal mom and pop operation. Mark, the “Pop” of the business, was in the shop when we stopped by, and he’s the most gregarious proprietor I’ve ever had the pleasure to come across. He gladly answered all of my questions about the shop and the popcorn and was incredibly generous with the free samples (the portions of which were also generous). In fact, I had to stop him from bringing out even more flavors for us to try because I couldn’t finish it all. I think if we had asked, he would have let me taste every one of his 50+ flavors. Believe me, I felt bad about turning down free samples and leaving popcorn behind on the counter.

I walked out with a small sized (about 9 cups) mix of some of their savory flavors (ranch, loaded potato, and cajun) and a snack sized (about 3 cups) bag of three of their decadent gourmet flavors: s’mores, dark chocolate, and cinnamon roll. Each bag was only $4.50 (the decadent gourmet is more expensive because it’s loaded with chocolate), a popcorn steal. For the record, the snack sized bag was packed full to the brim when I bought it; I ate a bunch on the way home because I just couldn’t resist.

As you can probably guess, I absolutely loved the decadent gourmet popcorn. I tried the cookies and cream (vanilla popcorn tumbled with oreo pieces) in the store and didn’t like it enough to buy it, but even that was good enough for me to polish off my handful of free sample. I ended up choosing cinnamon roll because Mark said that was his favorite and the one he was most proud of, s’mores because the three other customers in the store at the time ordered it, so we figured it had to be good, and dark because Cassie wanted to try it. Mark was wonderful about letting us mix flavors in the bag, so don’t be afraid to ask for that if you’re able to visit them in person. And if you order online, it couldn’t hurt to try and ask for that same accommodation. Or you could just buy a bag of each flavor – it’s worth it!

The cinnamon roll is their caramel bliss popcorn with a hint of cinnamon and drizzled in white chocolate. It has just the right touch of cinnamon – strong enough to make its presence known but not so strong that it overpowers the caramel. The white chocolate is a great evocation of cinnamon roll icing, and it’s good quality chocolate too. The caramel layer is perfect – thick enough to get stuck in your teeth a little, but no so thick that it stays stuck there. The thinness of the caramel layer also gives the popcorn a little bit of a chew and a crunch without making it difficult to bite down, like some other caramel popcorn gets.

The s’mores was their caramel popcorn plus mini marshmallows, graham cracker crumbs, and a heavy drizzle of milk chocolate. At first I thought the mini marshmallows were just bits of white chocolate, but nope, actual marshmallow bits. The texture was dry and almost styrofoamy, but the pieces were too tiny for the texture to be noticeable unless you very carefully nibbled apart a marshmallow bit on its own, and the marshmallow taste was spot on. I couldn’t really taste the graham cracker crumbs through the heavy chocolate coating, but every once in a while I’d get a large piece of cracker, and then I could taste it. It couldn’t hurt for them to use larger bits of graham cracker. Finally, the milk chocolate was really good – sweet, smooth, and creamy. I wish I’d thought to ask Mark what brand of chocolate they used.

We asked Mark to throw in just a few pieces of dark, and I didn’t really notice any in our bag. I think that’s because the milk chocolate of the s’mores was so nice that it approaches what some companies try to pass off as dark, because the sweetness of the caramel probably undid the lower sugar content of dark chocolate’s flavor, and because I tore through my bag of popcorn pretty quickly. An enthusiastic ZOMG!!! for the lot. Extra exclamation points for top notch customer service.

I hope That Popcorn Place will be open on Saturday so I can buy more to bring back to New Haven with me. If not, they’ll be one of the first places I visit when I’m home for winter break. They also offer online ordering, though it means missing out on the in store experience! I may resort to that if I need a popcorn fix in the spring semester. The shipping and handling gets a little pricey, but the popcorn is so well-priced that I think I could afford the splurge. They also have cute gift tin options, and I personally would be delighted to receive this popcorn as a gift.

In case you’re wondering, the savory flavors were incredibly, ZOMG!-worthily delicious too. I won’t write about them here because they’re not candy-related, but they’re gooooood, and you should buy some. I especially like the cajun, and the dill pickle is weirdly intriguing.

November 23, 2007 at 8:00 am 1 comment

Madison Chocolates

I was in Madison, Connecticut a few weeks ago for a band event, and I had the chance to stop at Madison Chocolates, a local chocolate shop run by Chef Paul Staley, a C.I.A. (that’s the Culinary Institute of America, not the Central Intelligence Agency) grad and former high end pastry chef. His shop sells truffles, “magical confections”, chocolate bars, and molded chocolate “lollipops”.

My friends and I picked up two boxes of truffles at Madison Chocolates, one of 6 as a thank-you gift, and one of 4 as thank-you reward for ourselves. Because he was awesome, Chef Staley threw in 2 extras without telling us until he finished wrapped up our order, so we actually walked out with 12 truffles.

The truffles come in these gorgeous gold boxes tied with a ribbon that says Madison Chocolates, a wonderful touch.

Here’s the box we bought for other people:

Clockwise from top left, I believe it’s pistachio, Grand Marnier, passion fruit, Barbados rum, one I can’t remember, and either Hazelnut Frangelico or Amaretto. I wrote them down somewhere, but I was out of town and travelling, so who knows where that somewhere slip of paper ended up. I didn’t get to taste this box, but the people who got to eat them in front of me made pretty extreme, bordering on inappropriate yummy noises.

Here’s the box I got to taste:

Clockwise from top left, they’re coconut, Barbados rum (I think), passion fruit, Grand Marnier, Mayan-Aztec, and the same unidentifiable truffle that was in the last box. I had a hard time identifying the second and sixth one because we had our truffle tasting party a couple of weeks after we bought these (unideal, I know, but it was hard to coordinate busy college students’ schedules to find a mutually agreeable tasting time), so they were refrigerated, which probably dulled some of the fresh truffle taste, especially in the ganache fillings. They were, however, still deliciously decadent.

The coconut truffle was enrobed in a dark chocolate with light coconut flavors. The milk chocolate ganache inside was creamy and was so deep that I thought it was actually dark chocolate (the I got light caramel notes instead of coconut, but again, long term refrigeration issues, maybe.

The Barbados rum (I think; that flavor isn’t listed on the website or in the pamphlet I picked up, but I know there was a rum flavored truffle of some kind) didn’t taste like rum to me. That could be because it wasn’t the rum one after all. Still, the dark chocolate ganache was rich, creamy, and, like all the other Madison chocolate truffles, melted away beautifully in the mouth.

The passion fruit had a great dark chocolate coating and a wonderfully creamy white chocolate filling. I’ve had actual passion fruit in Brazil (maracuj√°), and I didn’t get any noticeable specifically passion fruit flavor, but it was lightly fruity and lovely.

The Grand Marnier was easy to identify visually because it was topped with candied orange rind. It was also identifiable because it smelled quite strongly of orange. I was nervous about the orange flavor veering into Terry’s Chocolate Orange territory, but no worries there. The orange flavoring in the dark chocolate ganache was subtle and just right.

The Mayan-Aztec was a chili truffle that definitely didn’t suffer from refrigeration. Unlike the others, this was rolled in bittersweet cocoa powder instead of being enrobed in more chocolate. It had the perfect slow chocolate chili burn that was noticeable without being painful. I liked this one better than the Mexican chili truffle I tried at Whole Foods. Chef Staley’s version packed a kick that grew, lingered for a few seconds, and faded beautifully.

Finally, the unidentified truffle was a white chocolate ganache coated with dark chocolate and topped with white chocolate shavings. It didn’t match any of the truffle descriptions on the web site or in the pamphlet, so I have no idea what it is. I usually don’t enjoy white chocolate much, but it was good in this truffle. I should also note that this truffle was the only one in which the ganache wasn’t perfectly smooth – it had a slight grain to it, but I probably noticed it only because I was tasting it very, very carefully in my ultimately futile attempt to figure out what flavor it was.

These truffles have earned my rave review of a ZOMG! designation. If I ever find myself in Madison again, I will be sure to pay homage to Chef Staley and his little chocolate shop. There are still several varieties of his truffles that I have yet to taste, and I still haven’t had any of his truffles fresh, the way they were meant to be enjoyed.

October 22, 2007 at 8:00 am Leave a comment

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