Friday, August 7, 2020

Nordi: Hazelnut & Campsite Coffee Dark Chocolate

Finnish chocolate I do believe is a first for me. And so this chocolate bar from Nordi is exactly the type of thing I like to find at World Market, rather than the World Market brand chocolate or Ghirardelli or Lindt that you can buy anywhere. Those chocolates must sell better, though, because I've noticed in recent years that they will typically only sell "new try" chocolates like this one (whether from a U.S. company or from abroad) for a limited time. It used to be they would carry something for a year and then trade out again the next year. Now things seem to be a little different depending on the brand. Point being, get the chocolate you want when you see it: you might see it again but you also might not.

The packaging here definitely has more of a European look with those shades of blue and even the font. And I suppose the campsite up in the snow and pine is Finland. I have never been camping in Finland, so I won't be able to say whether this Hazelnut & Campsite Coffee Dark Chocolate reminds me of a Finnish camping trip. I also did not yet drink coffee the last time I went camping, so I don't have any ideas beforehand of campsite-specific coffee. Nor do hazelnuts really remind me of camping. Maybe the hazelnuts don't have to do with camping, though, just with coffee since they are commonly added to coffee?

While the foil inside the card box doesn't necessarily remind me of the look of the outer packaging, it is great foil. It's regular silver on the inside with a pattern of black and grey arches on the outside. That look continues onto the chocolate bar. Different sizes of rectangles have either those same arches or a mild, dotted texture only visible from up close. The look uniquely combines the sharper approach of geometry with the softness of the arches. 

On the back of the bar, some of the pale hazelnuts are visible peeking through the chocolate. And the coffee aroma is wonderful. I've come across other chocolate bars with a strong coffee aroma, but this feels different somehow. It feels more like literally walking into Firecreek Coffee in Flagstaff and getting that wave of strong, freshly ground coffee (side note: if you are ever in Flagstaff or you see their coffee for sale in a nearby store, Firecreek really does have amazing coffee). 

The texture of the coffee is slightly hard--the expiration date of 10/27/20 is getting close. If World Market was anticipating only selling a small amount of these in a small amount of time, the time that they were closed and that people were shopping less even after they'd opened probably threw things off as far as expiration dates. (World Market already has an issue with trying to guess what people will buy before the expiration dates come up, which is why they always have so much clearance food that's so close to expiration or already expired--and why am I getting off on so many tangents today?)

The hazelnuts don't seem to add a lot of flavor, just a light crunch to the texture. I do like hazelnuts; normally, though, I associate them more with milk chocolate. I think also that I zeroed in on them first as far as flavor search because a curious thing happens with the chocolate and coffee in this bar. They meld into one flavor, each indistinguishable from the other. So it seemed easier to consider the hazelnuts first.

I would use the comparison of a cafe mocha as chocolate and coffee blending well together--except that those are very sweet and milky. So perhaps an affogato (espresso poured over gelato) made with chocolate gelato would be a better way of putting it. It's that strong taste of the coffee that puts espresso in mind. Yet it isn't exactly that eat bite is strongly full of coffee; it's that the coffee taste that is in each bite is strong coffee. If you get my drift. I can't say how the chocolate tastes on its own because it so linked with the coffee.

I don't mean to imply that this chocolate has no sweetness. It contains 70% cocoa (which comes with the Non-GMO Project and Responsible Cocoa labels) and comes in at the sweeter angle for that percentage. There is also a sense of creaminess to it that also adds to my affogato comparison. The hazelnuts, then, I suppose keep it all light and casual. I'm still not entirely sure what campfire coffee means. But it's good.

This is an enjoyable chocolate bar. I would be open to trying more from Nordi if I were to come across them again, though based on this bar I also wouldn't categorize them as a don't-miss company. 

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

The Land Before Time & The Search for What Is Missing

It isn't that I haven't watched The Land Before Time since I was a child. But the last time being at some point when I was in college, it had still been probably ten years since I had sat down to this movie--up until last night, that is. 

This movie has that muddy and dark animation that was so common in the 70's and 80's--and it's used here to great effect. Like with say, The Rescuers or The Black Cauldron, the literal dark coloration also goes along with the dark content. The movie isn't really about dinosaurs because it doesn't really teach anything about them, especially with the perspective of 32 years later (the T-Rex didn't stand like Godzilla, for one). Instead, it's about a young boy who loses his mother and has to go on a journey to find the rest of his family. Along the way, he meets unlikely friends who are very different from him. But their differences make them a stronger team as they strive together for what seems like an unattainable, though also absolutely necessary, goal.

The difference between the dinosaurs you can of course apply to any differences. To gender: it's Littlefoot and Cera who first meet. To race: Cera's father tells her that three-horns don't play with long-necks. To personality: Ducky and Petrie both having some timidity benefit from Littlefoot's leadership skills. Whatever differences you look at, the children use it to make them stronger as a group. They overcome obstacles by working together, each doing what they uniquely can do. Sometimes Cera's physical strength is just what they need or other times it's Ducky's swimming. A complete whole formed by unique, unified pieces.

What are they working towards? Their journey to the Great Valley to find their families and food is a practical one with a definite end. But it's basically an analogy for the journey of life. And that journey keeps on for a lifetime: we are constantly working towards that something. In a sense, we never really reach the Great Valley during our lives: our lives here are the journey. We're meeting people, forming relationships, overcoming obstacles, and keeping up hope. We remember the signs and keep moving forward to what is missing, to what we know is ahead. 

Maybe that's why The Land Before Time became so popular. Not just because everybody loves dinosaur but because the story, in a wonderfully archetypal way, is in fact quite deep. 

Saturday, August 1, 2020

Black Butterfly: KaBoom

Let's finish Black Butterfly week with a boom, shall we? Or a pop, I should say. Or many little pops. 

That's right, this red, white, and blue chocolate comes equipped with pop rocks, fitting it right into July/Independence month. I've had chocolate-covered pop rocks before (that was back when I was at Chocablog), but that was nine years ago and I'm not certain if I ever did have any within a chocolate bar. I couldn't be scared away, though, because this bar looks so fun that it makes the idea of pop rocks sound like a party.

Red, white, and blue splashes decorate the pale surface on one side to create a colorful confetti. That's all I saw when it was in the package, so that was all I was expecting. Flipping it over, though, I found an equally energetic look with generously-sized, freeze-dried strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries. Wondering about the KaBoom? If you look closely, you can see little green crystals--those are the ones that go kaboom. 

While I realize why white chocolate generally gets relegated to low-end, sugary candy and confections, I do greatly enjoy a good white chocolate. So the idea of white chocolate here was quite welcome, though the packaging doesn't specifically label it as white chocolate--or as anything. The ingredients show something interesting: 34% cacao is the first ingredient (which is subdivided into more ingredients, the first of which is cacao liquor) and additional cacao butter comes in as the last ingredient. To clarify if you're unfamiliar with all the terms, white chocolate does not contain cocoa solids, only cocoa butter. And chocolate liquor contains both cocoa solids and cocoa butter. So technically speaking then, this does not seem to be white chocolate. But the amount of cocoa solids is so low that it looks and tastes like white chocolate. So that's what I'll consider it.

Now, for my first bite, I thought I had gotten out free without any popping, but they came in for the party once the chocolate was mostly melted away. Being white chocolate, it of course melts quickly. And the berries also encourage you to chew rather than let the chocolate sit in your mouth, and that also speeds things up. So generally by the time the chocolate and berries are fading, that's when the popping begins. 

I have tried to bite in slower, but that's hard to do with the big berries and also makes for generally less enjoyment of the white chocolate. So just go ahead and eat it like normal and allow the bubbling, kaboom effect to come as the afterparty. Pop rocks are one of the strangest things that we choose to eat. Yet I wouldn't say that these were as distracting to the experience of the berry chocolate as I'd feared they might be. (Has anyone been to the dentist in the last couple months? Part of the precautions at my dentist included swishing hydrogen peroxide in your mouth when you arrive. The pop rocks here reminded me of the bubbling hydrogen peroxide between my teeth. Fun times, fun times.)

Going back to those berries, though, like I said, they are generously-sized and plentiful. Being so full of flavor, they go well with the white chocolate and create that berries and cream effect. If this chocolate weren't so full of pop rocks, I'd be tempted to devour it in one go. 

So no, I wouldn't want pop rocks in chocolate to become a normal thing. Just every once in a while. This was a fun chocolate to try out. The red, white, and blue in July brought up Independence Day and fireworks. And the pop rocks brought a little excitement into my life. KaBoom!

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Black Butterfly: Patagonian Super Berry Tea

Today's chocolate bar from Black Butterfly includes more tea from Nectar Apothecary. Nectar is still open, by the way, you just have to order by phone now instead of going into the store. So you can place your order, stop into Black Butterfly for some chocolate, and then by that point your order should be ready to pick up at Nectar. Snazzy, eh?

This tea is the Patagonian Super Berry Tea, sprinkled once more on the 61% dark chocolate. I have to choose the bars whose flavors appeal to me, not just the ones with the colors I like best. But this one definitely drew my eye, as well. The even, red scatters remind me of a Victorian, poplin fabric in a pretty floral. In fact, the floral allusion means that this bar would go particularly well with a bouquet of flowers if anyone is in the gifting mode. (Let me here note that the chocolate's color appears much lighter in the pictures than in person.)

Opening up the black sleeve reveals that familiar sweet dark chocolate aroma. While the lower cocoa content generally goes well with the style of these bars, I also wouldn't mind sometimes going a little darker. Hmmm. I now find myself uncertain whether or not there often tend to be milk chocolate bars in this style. I did also pick up a white chocolate bar this time, but that isn't common. I guess all this is to say that while this dark chocolate is fine, I do welcome some variation, too. 

I immediately tasted the zing of the berries on biting in--especially because I bit right into the middle instead of going for a corner. I wanted to dig in to the tea right from the start. What's interesting is that while the tea layer did at first seem much more even than in the Patagonian Wild Guava Tea bar, the layer is also much thinner. So while you're more likely to get tea in each bite, you're also getting less than with that thick snake swirl in the other bar. I don't say this as either criticism or even praise; it's just different. And I do like that. 

Each of these bars looks different, whether because it has tea or chunks of ginger or because it's red or blue or because it has an even sprinkling or a patterned one. So then each one is a different experience, a different layering of visual, texture, and flavor elements. 

The exact components of the Patagonian Super Berry Tea are maqui berries, blueberries, raspberries, red wine grape skins, Hawthorne leaves, currants, and natural flavorings. While I can't necessarily distinguish each from the other, I do notice that some bites have more of a zing than others. Being that this is a tea that all of these berries come from, the experience of eating them is a tad different from the usual appearance of raspberries in chocolate bars. They have the feeling of being smaller, whether or not that is in fact true.

I do notice that sometimes I find a very hard and crunchy texture. On examining what was causing this crunch, I found what appeared to be a small, round seed, something like a smooth peppercorn. I'm not familiar with maqui berries, so perhaps this is what their seeds look like? These crunches are a little distracting, but not too much.

And I guess even that is part of the fun. These teas seem to add the advantage of common ingredients (like raspberries) with less common ones. So it gives an exploratory feel, a sense of trying something new while still getting a comforting bar of sweet dark chocolate. 

Monday, July 27, 2020

Black Butterfly: Sour Cherry Vanilla & Cardamom Rose

Since I still seem to be having trouble putting out other blog content, let's just go ahead and talk about Black Butterfly all week long, shall we?

After explaining why it's often difficult to review the chocolate truffles/bonbons from Black Butterfly, today I do have two of them to share. I kept it simple with just the two and you know, it worked out quite wonderfully because both of these turned out to be, not only new flavors to me, but also chocolates after my own heart.

The look of these two is perhaps simpler than some of her work, yet they're still beautiful. The Cardamom Rose is the one on the left. It comes in a rose petal shade of pink with a bolt of pearly lighting going across. Elegant and feminine. The Sour Cherry Vanilla has deep hot pink color with more of the pearly white. In normal times, you can take chocolate making classes at Black Butterfly. Somehow I think, though, that even with lessons it would take me a while to be able to paint chocolate as beautifully, even with simple looks like this.

We'll start with the Sour Cherry Vanilla. There is a vanilla ganache topped with the cherry element. So it is much like a gourmet take on a cherry cordial without the whole cherry. The dark chocolate gives a sweet element--in a positive way since cherry and vanilla are on the sweeter side of things. Yet you wouldn't want to do this with milk chocolate. The cherry isn't at all sour to me, whether because I'm tasting it alongside the vanilla and the chocolate or because I recently bought a bottle of sour cherry juice from Lakewood Organic (they do the 100%, not from concentrate juices) and that was sour. Cherry and vanilla have a comforting, somewhat nostalgic feel. So this chocolate was greatly enjoyable.

Now for the Cardamom Rose. I had just been observing that most chocolate makers don't seem to be doing much with rose lately. Lavender, yes, but not rose. And I do love rose. Rose oil, rose tea, rose lemonade, rose Turkish Delight, rose soap, rose shampoo, and rose chocolate. So I guess Tracy Taylor heard me because she pointed this one out as a new flavor.

The sides and top of this chocolate are white chocolate, while the bottom layer is milk chocolate. When paired with the white chocolate, the cardamom is sweet. The rose is light rather than strong. I mean, I wouldn't mind more of a rose cream, something like that, in the future, something that can highlight just the rose. But that isn't a complaint against this current chocolate: it's lovely.

Because of the cardamom, the effect is like a sweet chai tea, soft and feminine. The white chocolate stands in for the milk and the milk chocolate is I suppose the black tea element. Spices and flowers plus milk and sugar. More gentle than strong, even though cardamom can be a strong spice.

Which of these two you prefer will depend on your own flavor preferences. Both, though, will make an excellent choice if you find yourself by Black Butterfly. Must keep our small businesses in business. Coming up later I'll have two more flavored chocolate bars, as well.

Saturday, July 25, 2020

Alter Eco: Grass Fed Milk Chocolate

At first it just sounded like an interesting concept. Grass Fed Milk chocolate. I mean, when I buy beef, I buy grass fed--so why not include that as a marketing tag in chocolate, too? I wondered if it would be different in flavor from their regular milk chocolate. Making positive changes in ingredients is a good thing even if it doesn't noticeably affect flavor, but if flavor isn't noticeably changed then it might not be worth me doing a separate review, see?

Then, though, I realized that I don't seem to have ever reviewed milk chocolate from Alter Eco. Which then caused me to realize that I don't remember ever seeing milk chocolate from them before. (If this seems unknowledgeable of me, remember that I've been reviewing chocolate for eleven years. That's a lot of chocolate to try and memorize.) Correct me if I'm wrong, but I do believe the Grass Fed Milk line is their first foray into milk chocolate (though one of their dark chocolates is 47% cocoa and this milk chocolate comes in at 46%, which is pretty close). That's exciting, then, the concept that they started off with just dark and now feel like they've found a comfortable way to approach milk.

And they who provide the milk are Swiss cows from open pastures in the Alpine Valleys. In case you were wondering.

The aroma is certainly rich and milky, as you might expect from milk chocolate that is both Swiss and of a higher cocoa content. The flavor, though, has kind of a dulled out cocoa taste, almost watery. That is to say, it isn't as rich as I tend to expect from a darker milk chocolate. Yet it also isn't quite as sweet as I'd expected from the aroma.

So what is it then if not chocolatey or sugary? Milky, I suppose. The mild dark chocolate flavor combined with this makes this chocolate bar not entirely unlike a scoop of chocolate ice cream. Which is not necessarily a bad thing, just not what I favor.

I do also notice a certain taste that makes me think of Hershey's, not so much a Hershey's bar but a Hershey's Kiss or something like that (the thickness makes a big difference for flavor). Along with the raw cane sugar, cocoa beans, cocoa butter, and whole milk, you will also find butterfat in the ingredients of this chocolate bar. And butterfat is of course something that Hershey's also uses. So perhaps it's that extra fatty milkiness that I'm tasting? Granted, it is better than a Hershey's bar. If you enjoy Hershey's, you'll probably quite like this one. The line at the bottom of the card box does after all, say "creamy nostalgic smooth." And Hershey's is nostalgic.

For myself, however, I'm less than thrilled about that association. Usually when I get a milk chocolate bar, I gobble it up much quicker than the dark chocolates. But this one has been sitting around for a few days without being attacked. Of course, Alter Eco still gets points for their positive values and ingredients and this chocolate is better than other fair trade milk chocolates on the market (am I pointing too closely at Equal Exchange?). It's worth trying out to see your personal opinion on it. But I'd much rather reach for something from Theo, for instance.

Monday, July 20, 2020

Beatrix the Nature-Lover

We all know Beatrix Potter as the creator of Peter Rabbit--both the text and illustrations. Yet I think the impression today of her work is that it is pretty and cutesy. After all, her children's books are about bunnies and mice and hedgehogs and tea and gardens and flowers. Cutesy things, right? And all her pictures of animals are pretty, right?

While I'm not saying that this isn't true, it is also worth recalling that her work is also extremely detailed and accurate. She studied plants and animals in order to copy them down realistically. So the cuteness isn't because she made the bunnies' eyes huge and colored their fur in pink and purple; it's because they are cute animals and she captures the spirit of their movement and ways of being.

The Art of Beatrix Potter by Emily Zach has been sitting on my shelf without a complete, cover-to-cover read for a couple of years now. It came out in 2016 and that may very well be the year in which I acquired it. This book emphasizes Beatrix's interests in the natural world at different points in her life. She observed the landscapes in the country at the various places she visited. At one point, mushrooms were her primary interest. At another, she was able to delve more into fossils.

Animals, though, animals were always big for her. She kept pets from a child to an adult and observed them alongside animals out in the wild. I knew this. (Miss Potter, by the way, if you've yet to see it, is a lovely biopic that might not go into all the details of her life, but does paint a nice picture of a slice of her story.) Yet in reading this book, I was reminded of that sense of realism and accurate details in her illustrations.

Yes, Peter's blue jacket may be fantasy, but that's the point. She adds in the whimsical details to a rabbit who otherwise still looks like a rabbit. Her stories are charming and witty or simply entertaining. But the settings are meant to be familiar. I suppose I may also not have noticed that being that I did not grow up around English gardens. The plants and animals I grew up seeing were different--so Beatrix Potter's bunnies and ducks and cats went right along with the cutesy impression of tea parties and turn-of-the-century dresses. (That's another side note: the style of the clothing today adds to that impression, but when she did the illustrations she was mainly just drawing clothing of her time, with some exceptions like The Tailer of Gloucester, which was set in the 18th century, right? Oh, we really could talk all day about how the original intent of an artistic work changes almost drastically over a hundred years.)

So this book gives quite a different appreciation for her work. It would also be particularly interesting if you are also an artist/illustrator because you can see studies that she did for specific books or animals. You get more of an idea of all the work that took place in order to get to the final product that we have all seen.