So lately, I’ve caught myself singing to my cat several times per day. That’s not so unusual, except that the song is always the same: “Kitty kitty kitty starts with C.”
My melodic genius, which excels at altering the Sesame Street standby from Cookie to Kitty, seems unable to realize that Kitty does not start with C.
But I know what does – chocolate! Considering that my new home has ample room for a chocolate-only drawer, and much of my chocolate is as old as the hills AKA covered in spidery bloom, it’s time to give the old choccie a heave-ho – into my stomach – to make room for some new delights.
Try and keep up – we have a fair bit of ground to cover.
Fine & Raw is a Brooklyn-based company that uses low-heat techniques to ‘save the world through silliness and chocolate.’ Kind of strange, but I was willing to give raw chef-turned-chocolatier Daniel Sklaar a chance. I’d had his mesquite bar before (featuring a cowgirl on the wrapper – how silly!), and enjoyed it. Their ingredients are organic, their cacao is fair-trade, and I like that they don’t capitalize their product names.
The bar featured here is the sea salt bar, featuring 70% cacao of Ecuador origin, and a well-mixed dose of sea salt, along with crystal palm sugars. If you aren’t a fan of grainy chocolate (like well-textured Taza bars), you probably won’t like Fine & Raw. The bars are very grainy, due to their ‘raw’ state.
The flavor is also a bit quizzical. At first taste, I would be inclined to say that the chocolate tastes… like nothing. How can this be? The flavors melt into being quickly, though, ushered in by a mild but steady stream of saltiness. Pretty interesting stuff. The chocolate flavor itself is light and fruity, but is well-masked by the salt. It’s definitely a bar to ponder over, but at only 2 ounces (54 g), it goes quickly.
With a website that looks straight out of 1997, The Tea Room is a bit of an odd duck, selling conceptual chocolate bars, loose leaf tea, and novelty pairings such as truffles and plush velour terry robes. Okay.
I bought this on a whim when I saw it (and three others of its ilk) in the cafeteria at the University of Maine. How it got there is a mystery that will likely remain unsolved. The Tea Room currently sells twelve organic chocolate bar ‘fusions,’ unifying their equal love of tea and chocolate. This particular offering is the Black Masala Chai, a 38% milk chocolate base that has been infused with black tea, cardamom, cinnamon, pepper, and clove.
It is reminiscent of the wonderful milk chocolate Masala bar from Les Chocolats de Chloé in Montréal, but not as well-made. The chocolate is good enough, but I’m still stuck trying to read all of the writing on the box – it’s crawling with different fonts and information. It’s a good thing you didn’t have to stand next to me when I spied these four Tea Room bars – - it was a long time before I made it to my lunch.
The milky base makes this a good snacking chocolate, but is heavily aromatic of masala chai, or ‘mixed-spice tea.’ There’s not much to say about the flavor profile of the chocolate, but that’s not the niche this chocolate is intended to fill. It is a tasty bar to store in a desk at work for an afternoon sugar craving… or for tea time.
TCHO is one of those interesting chocolate companies that I like to keep an eye on. Lurking concerns over the accuracy of classifying their company as ‘bean to bar’ is just one of the reasons TCHO keeps making waves from its home base in San Francisco. Oprah is another reason. Their substantial amount of hype despite lackluster product innovation is yet another.
They have good marketing skills though, and I can’t help purchasing their products when I see them. I picked this bar up in Minnesota back in August (they have since changed their packaging a bit), and unlike some of my other bars, this shows no sign of bloom. This organic and fair-trade bar, Nutty 2.0, is another bar of Ecuadorian origin.
Silvia liked this one. So did Hannah, once Nutty got all growed up and made it to the 2.0 stage. So what did I think? I think the taste is why I continue to fall for TCHO products. Despite the hype that would normally make me cringe and avoid it, TCHO has some tasty offerings.
The aroma is enticingly deep and earthy. The chocolate melts softly on the palate, and the nuttiness that the bar takes its name from is off somewhere to the upper left of my jaw (or rather, a background note). The taste is fudge forward, with a well-rounded cocoa flavor. It exhibits none of the bitterness that its earthy aroma suggested. A welcome darkness for its 65% cacao content, and one of the only bars that I have successfully been able to re-wrap for future enjoyment.
One bar remains, and I hope you’re still with me. I’m powering through the review with the help of Slayer’s live disc Decade of Aggression. But hopefully the depth and length of this review have not felt like a decade of aggression to you.
We turn lastly to Christopher Elbow Artisanal Chocolates out of Kansas City, Missouri. I’m all for Midwesterners making it big in the chocolate word. This once-pastry chef now produces an innovative line of truffles, chocolate bars, pâte de fruit and luxury candies, of which I sampled the No. 2 Dark Spice chocolate bar. A 63% cacao content (labeled 61% on my bar) is infused with Ancho chilis, Chipotle chilis, cinnamon, and additional spices, to give a deeply-flavored tasting experience.
My bar had bloomed severely since its purchase last summer, but the aroma sent nice flavor chills down my spine. This sounds painful, but was in fact quite exciting. The aroma was evocative of lazy evenings spent grilling spicy meats out of doors, and of a hot summer sun heating up the pavement in the street.
Unfortunately, the initial taste was a bit of a let-down, proving nearly identical to the aroma, but much more muted. Within a few seconds, the spice of the chilis kicked in, and I was able to appreciate the well-integrated chili heat mingling with bright, fruity flavored chocolate. I enjoyed the chocolate and its aftertaste, but found the initial taste disappointing, and enough to make the chocolate seem a bit second-rate. In addition, its texture was a bit chalky, despite having a clean snap. Not terrific, but a good effort by Christopher Elbow.
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