November 01, 2007

Bellagio: Mmm...cakey!

So, I picked up a tin of Bellagio sipping chocolate the other day from Wegman's. I didn't have much hope in it being good -- just wanted to try something different. However, upon opening it up today and indulging myself in a mug of hot chocolate, I was pleasantly surprised.

First, the mix itself is a nice dark chocolatey brown. Secondly, it had an aroma that reminded me of a fresh baked chocolate cake and finally, the the nutritional info said that it was low in fats and high in fiber. Now, while the first two items definitely affect my senses, the third one goes straight for my left brain what with the low fat telling me that there's no sneaky mixing in of milkfats and the high fiber implying a cocoa powder that hasn't had itself processed to perdition and back.

I didn't go with the recipe on the tin -- which instructed you to use 2 rounded tablespoons with 1/3rd cup of whole milk. I used about 2.5 heaping tablespoons with a cup of milk and it turned out rather well. There was a distinct cocoa taste with the flavor shading towards a hot chocolate rather than a hot cocoa, and while it was sweet, it wasn't cloyingly so. In keeping with the "sipping chocolate" aspect of its name, it had a smooth taste to it rather than the textured flavor you get from the hot cocoas. All in all, I enjoyed my cuppa Bellagio.

While Bellagio won't replace my Dagoba hot cocoa as my favorite everyday drink, it does make for a tasty (and healthy) cup of hot chocolate. And somedya I may even try it out as a sipping chocolate according the to recipe on the tin.

October 10, 2007

Choc-o-lait: it really is hot-chocolate on-a-stick

So, the trip to Amsterdam was interesting and fun, and especially so from a hot chocolate perspective. The bad news was that almost everywhere we went, "hot chocolate" turned out to be Chocomel. This is a chocolate-flavored milk sold mainly in th Netherlands, Germany and Belgium. However, it is much better than the chocolate milk you get in the US. It tastes pretty decent when you think of it as chocolate milk. However, when you ask for Hot Chocolate and you get Chocomel, it's somewhat of a disappointment. :-) However, we did manage to stop by this Tea and Coffee store on Herengracht where I asked for hot chocolate and they said it was chocomel, but offered us hot-chocolate-on-a-stick (which they sell but not as a prepared drink). So I bought some hot milk and used the Cho-o-lait in it to produce some tasty hot chocolate. Believe me, after all the Chocomels I had been drinking, this was manna from heaven!

March 11, 2007

Kakawa: Differently Good

So, Rekha brought me some Kakawa chocolate mixes from her trip to Santa Fe. Kakawa has some wonderful mixes. Especially interesting are the mesoamerican ones. Be aware that they aren't going to taste like your standard concept of hot cocoas/chocolates. However, I would definitely recommend buying some and checking them out for yourself. Kakawa mixes come in little balls that have to be grated when making the drinks. The process takes longer than standard mixes but is fun and certainly adds to the mytique :-)

February 08, 2007

Vosges Chocolate Bars: Finally one I don't like

I was beginning to feel like there wasn't going to be a Vosges chocolate bar I didn't like. But in my latest batch of purchases, I got the Creole Exotic Candy Bar. It consists of espresso, cocoa nibs, "New Orleans style chicory" and Sao Thome bittersweet chocolate. I'm all for chicory in my coffee (on those occasions that I do drink coffee) and I love bittersweet chocolate. So that leaves the first 2 ingredients -- the espresso and the cocoa nibs -- as the culprits. I'm still not sure why I don't like the bar but it does partially have to do with the cocoa nibs. Somehow the nibs ruin the texture of the bar for me and that pushes the taste (in which the espresso and chicory and bittersweet chocolate combo doesn't exactly thrill me) into the "don't buy" category for me.

December 09, 2005

Review: Rapunzel Tiger Hot Cocoa Drink

Rapunzel Tiger Hot Cocoa Drink Overall: **1/2

Rapunzel's Tiger cocoa mix has a lot going for it: it uses organic ingredients, follows fair trade practices through their own Hand in Hand program and looks like a nice rich cocoa. I had high hopes for it when I saw the container at the store. However, it turns out to be a little disappointing -- partly because of my own high expectations.

Tiger is a cocoa mix, not a hot chocolate mix. In spite of that, it was a very rich color, although like most cocoa mixes, it has a muted bouquet. The texture is very fine and it melts more easily in milk than some of the other cocoa mixes like Dagoba and Green & Blacks. The instructions on the container call for a heaping spoonful (or two) to be added to a glass of hot (or cold!) milk. I added about 2 tablespoons and that turned out to be about right. One of the aspects of Tiger that I liked (and would probably appeal to the more sugar-sensitive cocoa drinkers) is that Tiger is not as sweet as most cocoa mixes. That makes for a nice change of pace. My biggest quibble with Tiger is that it's taste is not as sharp as I would like it to be, and it didn't make much of an impression on my palate, blending into an almost forgettable experience. Now, the self-critical side of me says that this could just be due to my sweet tooth being nonplussed by Tiger being a little light on the sweetness (the same way people need salt to bring out the various flavors in foods). But, I like bittersweet chocolates in general, so I don't think that's the case. I should add, just for clarification, that Tiger's taste is head and shoulders above that of the run-of-the-mill cocoa mixes, but it does suffer in comparison to most of the gourmet mixes.

So, while I give props to Rapunzel for its commitment to organic, fair trade products, I am pretty ambivalent about Tiger's taste. Nonetheless, I will be bringing Tiger out when certain friends & family members (who don't like their cocoa inundated with sugar) are visiting.

May 15, 2005

Review: Domori Hot Choolate

Domori Hot Chocolate
Overall: ***

Domori hot chocolate is very much a drinking chocolate. A rich, dessert-like drink, it is meant to be slowly sipped at the end of a meal. The taste of good, dark chocolate is very evident throughout the experience, though it seemed to me that there was just a taste of of bitterness present.

The "mix" itself consists of thin, flat chocolate sticks that need to be mixed into milk or water. The recommended recipe is 9 sticks (each package comes with 72 sticks) dissolved into 60ml of heated water or milk. This gives you a small cup of overwhelmingly chocolatey experience. I actually tried it with a cup of milk and even then the chocolate was very evident. The best part was being able to lick the chocolate dregs from the bottom of the mug (melted chocolate readings, anyone?).

I think that the chocolate used in this mix is good, and the taste very obviously comes through (it has a minimum of 65% cacao). However, I prefer my dark chocolate in a solid form (you can eat the hot chocolate sticks. They taste good), and my hot chocolate to be more towards the hot cocoa variety. Hence, this doesn't rank quite as high in my rankings as some of the other more cocoa-oriented mixes. I also tend to stay away from mixes (usually drinking chocolate mixes) which include cocoa butter or milk fats, since that detracts from the cocoa experience.

Recipe used: A cup of 1% milk heated to just below boiling and then 9 sticks slowly dissolved in to the milk.

April 24, 2005

Review: Green & Black's Organic Hot Chocolate

Green & Black's Organic Hot Chocolate:
Overall: ****

Green & Black's organic hot chocolate is really a hybrid between a hot cocoa and a drinking chocolate. Although I prefer hot cocoas to drinking chocolates, this particular hot chocolate is good! There is a lot that sets this mix apart from the rest: the taste of the cocoa, the hybrid nature, the amount of sugar and also, the texture of the mix.

The taste of the cocoa does come through, though I would have preferred a more vibrant cocoa taste. Interestingly enough, it has much less sugar than most hot chocolate mixes. For most people, this will cause them to add a dash of sugar when preparing the hot chocolate, but it does taste fine as is. As for the texture, it looks like granules as opposed to a powder and it melts amazingly well into hot milk. And while I like this quality, it does deny me the pleasure of being able to eat the cocoa-y goodness that usually remains at the bottom of my hot chocolate.

Recipe used: According to instructions: 4 teaspoons of the mix with one cup of milk.

March 31, 2005

Review: ChocoSoy

ChocoSoy Soy-Milk Chocolates

So, this isn't in my normal line of reviews for this blog, but serendipity rules. My co-worker, who writes the VegBlog, got some of the ChocoSoy Soy-Milk chocolates to review and we decided to both do reviews. Besides, I was intrigued by the concept of milk chocolate for vegans, using soy milk, especially considering how closely people tend to associate milk and chocolate.

The chocolates are packaged in a nice little container that is made from buriti palm, which their site says is environmentally-friendly and sustainable. The knot in the packaging is a little hard to open, but that's what scissors are for. Each package contains 5 pieces, weighs 1.76 oz. and costs about $1.79 per pack. Each piece has about 50 calories in it with only 3 grams of fat.

So, I unwrapped the first piece from its foil and popped it into my mouth. The pieces were just about the right size, small enough to fit in your mouth and big enough to satisfy. The very first taste I got from the chocolate was that of soy. The soy flavor was very evident throughout the whole experience. That, however, was to be expected. What was not expected was that the chocolate flavor was almost non-existent. This, coming from a chocolate-centered universe as I do, was disturbing. While I did realize that the soy-milk would change the flavor of the milk chocolate, I also expected the chocolate to contain a decent amount of cacao. If it does, I couldn't taste it. I would be interested to know what percent of the chocolate was cacao powder. The ingredients only mention "chocolate flavorings", which is vague and implies that there wasn't much cacao being used.

I do think that ChocoSoy has potential but for me to enjoy it as a chocolate product, it does need to increase the amount of chocolate/cocoa (not cocoa butter!!) it uses. And while they were doing that, it would be nice if they used FTC and organic cocoa. :-)

Full Disclosure: I'm not a vegan. However, I do enjoy soy in various things and drink quite a lot of soy milk. To get a vegan's view of ChocoSoy, go read the review at VegBlog.

March 17, 2005

Review: Moonstruck Mexican Hot Chocolate

Moonstruck Mexican Hot Chocolate
Overall: **1/2

This is a very mellow drink, unlike what you would expect from its name. The main flavors that come through are that of vanilla and cinnamon. The cacao, when apparent, is more of a background taste. Unfortunately, the aftertaste is simply one of sugar. This really disappointed me since I liked the various hot cocoa drinks that they prepare at the Moonstruck Chocolate Cafes.

Recipe used: 4 tablespoons of the mix with 8oz of milk, as recommended.

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: 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:

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 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.