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January 31, 2005

Review: Max Brenner's Chocolat blended with Orange Peel Oil

Max Brenner's Chocolat with Orange Peel Oil

Overall: ***

The drink is smooth and blends the orange flavor very well with the cacao. Maybe too well. The orange flavor from the orange peel oil almost overpowers the taste of the cacao, and makes it hard to discern the characteristics of the cacao itself. It's a good drink, especially if you like the orange and chocolate combination in the first place. However, as a hot chocolate, it falls short.

Recipe used: 2 1/2 tablespoons of the mix with a glass of milk. I followed some of the directions that came with the mix: I dissolved the mix in a little bit of hot water and then added the milk and heated it up. I also added about 3/4 teaspoon sugar (though this isn't necessary).

January 25, 2005

Review: Vosges Exotic Chocolate Bars

Vosges Exotic Chocolate Bars
Black Pearl Bar: ****
A 55% cacao dark chocolate bar with ginger, wasabi and black sesame seeds. The bar tastes wonderful with the cacao and the ginger working off each other very well with just a hint of wasabi evident. I wasn't too fond of the black sesame seeds present in the bar, even though they do add to the taste, because the seeds tend to spoil the experience by getting in the way.
Naga Bar: ****
A 40% cacao milk chocolate bar with Indian curry powder and coconut flakes. This one grows on you. The initial taste just bemuses with a very oxymoronic taste. However, it just gets better and better. The dominant taste of the "curry powder" seems to be coriander, which goes strangely well with the chocolate. The coconut flakes blend in almost seamlessly with the taste of the curry powder, giving us a great chocolate bar.
Red Fire Bar: ***1/2
A 55% cacao dark chocolate bar with ancho and chipotle peppers and cinnamon, is a wonderfully subtle bar which leaves you with a lingering taste of sweet heat in your mouth. The taste of the chillies is smoky, almost earthy and is muted givng the bar a well-rounded flavor that lets your taste the cacao as well as the chillies. The cinnamon blends in so well that you can barely discern it.
Gianduja Bar: **1/2
A 30% cacao milk chocolate bar with a praline made of hazelnut and almonds. Very smooth and creamy. The least amount of cacao of any of their exotic chocolate bars.

Overall, I loved the Naga and the Black Pearl bars due to their great blending of unique flavors. The Red Fire bar was also good, but the flavor wasn't that exotic. Finally, the Gianduja bar was decent, but suffered in comparison to its brethren -- slightly too creamy and with an almost bourgeois taste.

Due to the added ingredients, it was hard to get a good idea of the cacao itself, but the few times that its taste came through, the cacao tasted good.

January 20, 2005

Review: Starbucks' Chantico not very heavenly

Overall: **

So I had occasion to go to Starbucks' today and found the walls plastered with ads for their new chocolate drink "Chantico". Named after the Aztec goddess of home and hearth, this seems like someone took chocolate syrup (the generic kind), added whole milk to it and steamed it up. While it is better than Starbucks' hot chocolate, I can't find anything else nice to say about it.

"Imagine drinking a melted truffle and you're close to the Chantico chocolate experience," according to Michelle Gass who is Starbucks' senior vice president of category management (attribution: money.cnn.com). Let me just tell you that this thing tastes nothing like what a good truffle should taste like. The drink I got was only slightly thicker than their regular hot chocolate and was palate-scalding hot. As far as I can tell, the chief ingredient is cocoa butter (all the fat, with none of the taste of cacao) with grudgingly added cacoa powder to get some chocolate-y taste. If you need a quick pick-me-up and are averse to coffee, by all means go ahead and order this. It has enough sugar in it to keep you awake through several episodes of the Lawrence Welk show.

For those of you who care: A six-ounce cup of Chantico contains 390 calories, 20g of fat and 50g of carbs. Yikes! Save your calorie quota for something better and more sinful. However, if you are going for a regular Starbucks' hot chocolate and don't mind the rather excessive fat, try this instead.

If you want to know what other people think, someone's already done a survey of online opinion: www.blogaholics.ca

January 15, 2005

Review: Dagoba Xocolatl Hot Chocolate

Dagoba Xocolatl:
Overall: ****1/2

My current favorite hot chocolate, this one is simply superb. Granted that the taste of chocolate is subdued by the spiciness of the chilies. However, the overall effect is wonderful, with the first and last impressions being that of the chilies, while during the main part of the experience, you can feel the cacao base under the punch of the chilies. The cinnamon is there mainly as the ghost of a presence, and adds only moderately to the taste. The drink tastes only slightly creamy, and is certainly meant only for people who can stand spiciness.

Recipe used: According to instructions: 3 tablespoons of the mix with one cup of milk.

January 14, 2005

Fairfax Chocolate Lover's Festival

So Fairfax is having a chocolate lover's festival on Feb 5-6 in Old Town Fairfax. The website is http://www.chocolatefestival.net/. While I suspect this will leave chocolate snobs disappointed, it should have some good desserts there.

Even if it doesn't satisfy your chocolate/cacao cravings completely, it should certainly do wonders for your sugar addiction.

AOL Cityguide also has a nice short schedule of events and description up at: http://www.digitalcity.com/washington/entertainment/event.adp?evid=1899348

January 09, 2005

Hot Chocolate Recipe Tips

Just a note: this isn't a recipe as much as tips on making hot chocolate:

  1. Use milk (or soy milk for vegans). Please don't use water unless the hot chocolate milk has milk powder/fat mixed in already (in which case, desist from using it altogether). I tend to use 1% milk since that's what I have lying around the house. I prefer 2% milk for hot chocolate in general. Whole milk makes the drink a little too rich for my taste.
  2. Heat up the milk in a saucepan. Places like Williams-Sonoma will happily sell you a cast iron "hot chocolate pot" for $99. *rolls eyes* I'm fine with using a stainless steel pot. I prefer milk that is heated to just below boiling. There will be another blog forthcoming on the different ways of heating milk
  3. Make sure you froth up the drink with a hand mixer or a proper mexican molinillo if you happen to have one lying around
  4. If you are using good hot chocolate, please do not dump in whipped cream or marshmallows. They just detract from the taste. If you are using Swiss Miss or Nestle, go for it -- after all, I need my sugar rush sometimes, too

However, to quote Theodore Roosevelt: "Do what you can, where you are, with what you have."

January 06, 2005

Cold Weather, Hot Chocolate

Jacques Torres Wicked Hot Chocolate:
Overall: ***1/2

The only reason that this didn't get a 4 star rating is that it was way too rich. The taste is very creamy and rich with chocolate. However, the addition of milk powder turns the resulting drink into sludge -- a rich, creamy delicious sludge, but one that is certainly not an everyday drink. The ingredients for this mix contain corn starch, which seems to be a major cause of the sludginess. I still like it, but it's too rich for everyday use.

Recipe used: 1 cup 2% milk with 1/2 cup mix.

Note: This might be one hot chocolate mix that I might try with water instead of milk.

January 01, 2005

Review: Vosges Aztec Elixir

Vosges Aztec Elixir:
Overall: ****

Even though this is thickened with cornmeal, the texture is quite pleasing. The drink has a very rich chocolatey taste to it, which goes well with the strong chili component present. The chilis play an important part in the aftertaste, providing a spicy, hot memory of the drink. The big negative to it is the presence of very coarse-grained nut pieces in the mix that impinge upon the experience.
Recipe used: 2/3 cup 1% milk with 1/2 cup mix. I did not follow the
given directions for the mix.