Friday, September 30, 2022
Friday, September 23, 2022
Besides the Mesquite White Chocolate, this bar, the Blue Corn Atole White Chocolate, was the one I was most excited to try from Monsoon Chocolate. Now that I have, though, I'm left somewhat stumped. But let's start from the beginning.
Though strong blues can be a bit too much sometimes, the blue clouds in this design actively portray clouds coming to water the crops to yield a harvest of blue corn for our chocolate. The back of the packaging gives us info about blue corn and the Pueblo tribes of Santa Ana, as well as some details about what atole is. Normally I think of atole as thickened hot chocolate--but its spices and consistency can vary, just so long as it does have that corn or masa thickener. I guess an atole chocolate bar should be a fairly natural idea, but this is certainly the first I've come across--and using blue corn is a further unique element. Unique but intriguing.
The Mesquite White Chocolate's color was fun to look at. By the time I got to this blue chocolate that is blue like the exact shade of blue cornmeal or blue cornbread batter, I was both amused and wondering if this was too much. Blue cornmeal white chocolate? Who ever heard of such a thing? I love the idea of it--but it's also a little out there. Here I will make note that the ingredients list purple pea flower, which can be used as a natural food dye. I'm guessing that the amount of cornmeal that would be necessary to color the chocolate was a greater proportion than what was needed to flavor it, hence the use of the purple pea flower. If my assumption is correct that this is the dye, I do regret that this isn't simply the natural color of the chocolate. Blue color adds to the novelty, but perhaps in the case of such a chocolate bar showcasing heritage Tamaya corn, sticking to the natural state would have fit in better than going for novelty. Even though it is the perfect shade of dusty blue.
Once more, the aroma is of cocoa butter. Strong cocoa butter. The chocolate tastes sweet, like the sweetness of the corn. This is where I was somewhat reminded of the Corn Cookie from Monsoon's shop; that cookie also used corn to add to the sweetness, enabling a lower sugar content. There is a slight dustiness to the texture, more than with the Mesquite. The idea, so explains Monsoon, is to keep "just enough texture to enhance the perception of the delicate and floral qualities of the heirloom corn." Usually chocolate bars are showcasing the delicate qualities of the cocoa beans; again, I rather like the idea of also showcasing specific ingredients within the chocolate.
Blue corn is richer in flavor than other corn. I noticed that the time when I made corn mush/porridge out of blue cornmeal. So while I don't know how I would do on a blind taste test between blue corn white chocolate and yellow or white corn white chocolate, the corn flavor here is quite rich. Its flavor plus the cocoa butter also make it feel like a fairly sweet chocolate, despite this 45% white chocolate being lighter on the sugar than is normal for a white chocolate, as we discussed last time. It's definitely a sweeter experience than the Corn Cookie.
Really, eating this chocolate isn't entirely unlike eating blue cornbread; you just have the added chocolate texture and cocoa butter flavor added in. Which is a little weird. It's pleasant, but also quite weird. Even though corn is, for most people, more common to eat than mesquite is, this is a stranger bar of chocolate than the Mesquite. Yet it's also quite natural when you think about atole. Even if the average person in the U.S. may not have ever had atole, we're familiar with hot chocolate; and atole is a variation of hot chocolate, with this bar of chocolate being a spin on atole. So it's kind of an example of modern inspired by traditional.
I said that this chocolate bar has left me stumped because I find myself asking, why? I just gave the answer: it's chocolate inspired by atole. And it's white chocolate so that the corn can have space to not be overpowered by the flavor of chocolate. So then maybe the question should be, do I want this chocolate to exist? Obviously I do since I was so excited to try it. And I like all the conversations around it. It is pleasant to eat. But I don't know that I would buy it again, unless to have people try it. That seems to be what this chocolate bar is: a conversation piece. I used the word novelty earlier, and that's what this chocolate is. It's a novelty, though in a different sense than chocolate shaped like hammers or alligators. It's something you try for the pleasure of exploring. There is a possibility that the flavor grows on you over time (like that avocado ice cream with chiles and beet sauce from Sazon in Santa Fe that I found myself craving months after). But only time will tell that.
For now I'll simply say that I enjoyed trying this chocolate. It's unique in a good way, which is why it also placed at the International Chocolate Awards. But it's probably a one-time experience sort of thing.
Tuesday, September 20, 2022
The question is whether or not one can repeat something twice. When I went to the Immersive Van Gogh exhibit last year, I was intrigued. Granted, I was also in a particular physical/emotional state that may have contributed to my receptivity to explorations of light and color. But I thought it was well put together, "artistic in its own right," I said. I thought it was just a one time thing we were going to get to have for a season. But this year, Immersive Monet and the Impressionists followed. Then there will be a King Tut exhibit. Then The Nutcracker.
My first thought from all this was that, well, it was good once, but if they keep doing this, are people going to still be willing to pay for those pricey tickets again and again? As someone pointed out to me, though, the newer exhibits are probably to attract a different crowd. Someone who wouldn't have gone to see an exhibit on paintings might go to see a King Tut exhibit. A family who didn't go to the others might go out for The Nutcracker. So maybe people went to see Van Gogh also won't keep going.
I did go to see Monet, though. I had to. I had to check out one more; curiosity gets me that way. I want to see what's been done and what's on offer. There is probably some element with this of the novelty wearing off a second time. But it wasn't just that. This exhibit was composed differently than the Van Gogh one was. Very differently.
I spoke so highly before of the movement of particular brushstrokes. Well, you can do that with Van Gogh because of the shape of his brushstrokes. They were able to make living paintings with his works. Most of the time with this exhibit, they didn't even try to recreate the effect because you can't. In a couple of instances, they did something similar, which while not the same was still nice enough. I also appreciated things before like the flickering candlelight. Here there seemed to be less "animation" like that. The train let out puffs of steam, so there was that. I would have to sit down with each exhibit and make lists. It's possible that this is just my memory imagining that the Van Gogh exhibit had more animation; maybe they were the same. I can't say for sure; it just felt like less.
There were sections that were very beautiful. The rolling ocean. The plants and trees coming to life before our eyes. What it felt like, though, was as if certain sections had received more attention than others. Van Gogh felt like we were following a storyline of emotion. Here, we were just seeing paintings cut and pasted in creative ways, with some sections that had more detail. I did enjoy watching it all unfold, and I do like the music that accompanies the exhibit. I get delight out of analyzing things like this. But is it something where if you've seen one you have to keep going and see them all? No, not really. (Granted, this is also taking price into account. If tickets were more affordable to the average person, then perhaps I would be more likely to say that it's a nice little outing to check out whatever is new at the Lighthouse Artspace.)
So we go back to our original question. Can one repeat something twice? Some experiences viewers can return to again and again. Some creators can keep going and make one movie, one show, one book, one exhibit right after the other--and keep making something as celebrated as the first. But other things are less easily repeated. Is Lighthouse immersive one of them? I'll be curious to see how they do in the future with the new exhibits and whether or not attendance keeps up.
Saturday, September 17, 2022
While I had already established that Monsoon Chocolate could make a good, artisan dark chocolate, what I was most excited to try were their two flavored white chocolate bars. I am one of that small percentage of people who will say that I do enjoy a good white chocolate--and the flavors of these white chocolate bars are entirely unique. First up is the Mesquite White Chocolate, which is part of the Desert Series. You'll note that this is 45% cocoa content: that is high, not just for white chocolate, but even for if this were milk chocolate. Monsoon has a different way of doing things, and so far I like it. Given that this particular bar won silver at the International Chocolate Awards, I see that I'm not the only one.
The coloring here is a deep blue with some tan shapes at the bottom reminiscent of plantlife. While they don't remind me of mesquite trees specifically, they do have that general flora feeling. Inside, the chocolate is the color of sand, similar to the color on the design. It's lighter and more yellow than what shows in the pictures--a bit more like straw and definitely not at all like either the usual white chocolate or milk chocolate. The color is, of course, simply from the mesquite. The only other ingredients here are cocoa butter, cane sugar, milk powder, butter, and salt. Normally the cocoa butter for this bar is from Camino Verde, which the back of the back informs me is just outside of Duran, Ecuador. Inside, however, is a small note that, due to supply shortages, this cocoa butter is sourced from Peru. As the border to Peru is not far from Duran, this is relatively not too far away--and in a context like this, I would imagine a difference of origin doesn't change things too much.
In comparison with the unusual color, the chocolate's aroma is simple: cocoa butter. It smells like a regular (good quality) white chocolate. But when I put it in my mouth, I didn't know what it tasted like. My mind couldn't supply words fast enough to keep up. I tried out sweet and buttery--but that didn't seem quite right. Slightly earthy? A bit. Past the halfway point, it gets a springy flavor, almost like a hint of fruit. Then the aftertaste is slightly dusty with the flavor of mesquite.
If I had done a blind taste test, I would be rather confused. Actually, I would have been confused even if it hadn't been blind--just if I hadn't been told what it is. There is such an interplay between expectation and perception. If it's white chocolate, it should be sweet. But if it's mesquite, it should be earthy. But it is sweet--but not extremely. It does taste a bit like caramel--but you ask yourself if that's just because of the color (it isn't). This chocolate tastes both warm, from the earthy mesquite, and cool, from the cocoa butter. It's intriguing.
I have had mesquite before, though never in chocolate--but still not enough that my mind instantly thinks of and recognizes the flavor. If I keep eating and get to a third piece, then I do start to taste mesquite more. It seems to take up to that point for me to settle into all of the flavor impulses and recognize what it is I'm eating. Mesquite-flavored white chocolate isn't something my brain is accustomed to pointing out. This would be a fun tourist find, as well as something pleasing for the percentage of locals who do normally eat mesquite. You don't have to recognize the flavor in order to enjoy it, though it's an added plus if you do because this is a unique way to find that flavor. The mesquite is from the San Xavier Cooperative Farm, which is run by the Tohono O'Odham, in Tucson.
There is an ever so slight dustiness hidden within the texture of the chocolate from the mesquite flour. It doesn't detract from the effect at all. This chocolate is still quite pleasantly buttery from both the butter and cocoa butter. Yet it isn't at all greasy, like most white chocolates. And as I alluded to, there is sweetness and yet it isn't strong. Again, the sweetness level isn't at nearly what it is for other white chocolates. Monsoon Chocolate has harnessed just the right level of sugar and butteriness to make a sweet chocolate that remains mild in its sweetness levels. And they've flavored it just right with the mesquite. I'm coming to know Monsoon for this handling of mild sweetness, for unique flavors, and for a gentle approach to what would otherwise be expected to be complex flavor. The Mesquite White Chocolate therefore comes with a high recommendation.
Friday, September 9, 2022
As we continue with the Monsoon Chocolate bars, the next is the second milk chocolate: the Kokoa Kamili Tanzania 55% Dark Milk Chocolate. This is a curious thing. Their standard milk chocolates seem to range from 38% to 42%, which is already usually considered to be dark milk. Yet I did find the Sonoran Sea Salt Milk Chocolate to feel lighter than its cocoa content. So perhaps then Monsoon's 55% would be like another's 42%? Note, of course, that 55% is considered dark chocolate--but the addition of milk powder makes this dark chocolate into a milk chocolate. It is properly a fusion between the two, a dance between two categories.
The same brown monsoon cloud as last time once more denotes milk chocolate. Its contrast with the grass green marks the combination of two of my favorite colors. The black triangles and the blue swirl make it into a map of mountains and water. Must always be able to find water in the desert. The back of the packaging gives info on the cocoa origin. The Kilombero Valley, it seems, has over 1500 smallholder farms. Small batch cocoa companies are perfect for partnerships with small farms--and for highlighting less common origins, as well.
As will be the case with all this set of chocolate bars, remember that the slight disturbance of its surface is because I didn't bring these straight home from my visit to Tucson. The bar itself seems to have had a perfect original surface, smooth and clear. Its medium brown tone does look more like milk chocolate than dark. Cocoa butter is the aroma.
Instantly, there is a soft, soft mouthfeel. I'm guessing that this is due to the higher cocoa content (the higher the content, the slower a chocolate is to melt) paired with the creamy addition of milk. It's still a quicker melting than is standard with dark chocolate, but there is perhaps a greater steadiness to the texture that increases the softness when paired with the milk element. The milk adds such a creamy richness that I'm also left wondering if Monsoon uses a better milk than what most companies use--while this seems entirely plausible, it may also simply be the taste of the chocolate that gives this effect.
After the initial creamy richness, there is a slight tang, and then a curious depth. The mellow richness of milk chocolate follows, then a bit of brownie flavor. Then it's gone, leaving a whisper of fudge in its wake. If you try chewing a piece quickly instead of letting it melt, you'll get the subtle tang a tad later, almost towards the end; it takes a second for that flavor to build in your mouth. Either way, even with chewing quickly, you get more of the feeling of a rich chocolate dessert than a plain, standard milk chocolate. This chocolate, in a way, can feel richer than many dark chocolates--and yet it remains distinctively milk chocolate.
Usually, I try and categorize the chocolates I review. This one defies categorization. That is, the nature of Monsoon Chocolate puts this bar decidedly into the artisan chocolate category. But after that, do I say it's for milk chocolate people? For people who like sweet chocolate, or rich chocolate? Its rich creaminess has appeal to the desire for chocolate confections. But its depth touches also on the delight we get from a nuanced dark chocolate. You can sit quietly with this chocolate to ponder it--or you can eat it quickly in your desire for sweetness. You can keep it hidden away in your chocolate stash, or serve it with dessert. Or maybe as dessert. If I had to choose one, I'd say that: if a restaurant gave me a square of this chocolate on a petite plate for dessert, I'd be remarkably happy.
Wednesday, September 7, 2022
Saturday, September 3, 2022
After stumbling across Monsoon Chocolate's Esmeraldas Ecuador bar early in the summer, I knew I had to make it over to Tucson to visit their shop in person. Summer hasn't seemed like the greatest time to go on a chocolate hunt, but it cooled down enough recently that it felt like finally time. And oh, now I have a new reason to go to Tucson more regularly.
Their shop is located conveniently close to the freeway and with its own parking if you're just wanting to duck in and out quickly on the way to another destination. The familiar monsoon lady from the Esmeraldas bar decorates one side of the windows, while the design from their Ucayali Peru is featured on the other side. They're open on limited hours and space right now, but that was fine to go by and browse a bit and choose a few things to start with. I can always go back later. (So I kept telling myself.)
The display of chocolate bars is impressive. So many varieties. Dark chocolate of varying origins, as well as some dark milk, some milk chocolate, and the flavored white chocolate bars (which were at the top of my list). Maybe it was seeing them all lined up on the counter that made them so tempting. I wanted to choose them all. There were also cocoa nibs and chocolate-covered fruits, marshmallows, and malt balls. I didn't even ask for any truffles this time because I figured I was going to have enough on my hands already--and truffles will be better to transport in cooler weather, anyway.
I did, however, get the Corn Cookie and the Frocho drink. Maybe someone can explain to me why I didn't also get the Monsoon Cookie while I was there. Next time. Next time.
The Frocho I had seen online; they described it in store as being like liquid chocolate. If you ever wanted to be Augustus Gloop drinking from Willy Wonka's chocolate waterfall, here's your chance. They sprinkled a few cocoa nibs on top, which is a nice touch and ever so much better than whipped cream. I wish more people would agree with me on that. I really didn't know what to expect from this one. Would it be deathly dark and thick, too intense to drink? Would it be sweet? I didn't really get the latter impression.
Turns out, it's neither one. I mean, this is all relative. Perhaps if you're accustomed to drinking frappuccinos, this will be too dark. But I'll say this: when I took the first sip, it wasn't as dark as I'd been expecting. It's just dark chocolate. So that's up to your own palette to decide whether or not that's too dark. It has sweetness, but also isn't overly sweet. That's also relative: I love the fact that this isn't super sweet, but maybe not everyone will. But it has no hint of bitterness, either. In fact, I find if fairly mild.
I suppose the closest comparison would be to chocolate milk--at least, compared with something like a shake. This isn't dairy, though. I didn't ask what the base is, but it seems like a water base to me. Yet it isn't like watered down chocolate either. It really is like a frozen hot chocolate. It's like hot chocolate--but cold. But a good hot chocolate. Not Nestle. And yet also not a thick drinking chocolate, either.
I will mention this. I only drank maybe a third of it, or maybe even a fourth, before then deciding to leave the rest in the car for later. I don't necessarily advise doing this and I doubt Monsoon would, either. But the fact that I did shows that you can. You see, besides the fact that it wasn't quite the time of day that I wanted to have a whole chocolate drink yet (but I had to stop into the shop when I did because later on they might have been closed for the day), I had also had enough chocolate for the moment and I didn't particularly love large quantities of the original texture. It was something like a slushy, with little chips of ice. Again, this is going to be a per person type of thing. But I really don't drink drinks like that. I don't even usually care for ice in general. So I found the texture of the ice chips distracting. I didn't exactly mind it, so I'm not saying it was a bad thing. But I did find myself enjoying the drink more later on, even the next day, when the ice had melted and it was just a cold beverage. The frozen style probably makes it into more of a "special drink," but my personal preference turns out to be simpler.
Tangent aside, I really enjoyed this drink and it's not quite like any other chocolate drink I've had before.
Now for that Corn Cookie. If I didn't know what to expect from the drink, how about from such a cookie? I mean, I love the idea of it. Corn is very Southwest, perfect for Monsoon Chocolate of Tucson. This one came home with me; it seemed still perfectly fresh the next day. It's a light-colored cookie with, surprise, sprinkles of cocoa nibs instead of chocolate chips. Fancy that.
Texture-wise, this cookie is between hard and soft. It's a little crisper on the edges, of course, and a bit softer in the middle. Initially, its flavor is very light. That makes it a nice option after a flavor-heavy meal. Maybe after some Tucson enchiladas, eh? Or for those times when you're just craving something mild and not too sweet. Like during a Tucson hike?
That is, it is sweet--but just barely, kind of like a garnish. The sweetness has the feeling of coming from the corn, like it's more of a sweet corn flavor than a sugar flavor. And this cookie is probably not nearly as sweet as most cornbread when you get right to it; most cornbread is loaded with sugar and butter that make it more like cake than bread. This feels almost more traditional, if that's the right word.
The cocoa nibs are also quite interesting. At first, they fool your mind into thinking that they're just chocolate. Given that description I just gave of lower sweetness levels, your mind just goes right along with accepting a lower level of sweetness from the chocolate element, too. Not only are the nibs not as sweet as even semisweet chocolate chips would be, they're also not as dominant. The texture is vastly different, too. They're smaller and harder. That distinctive nib texture goes well with the crumbly texture of the cookie; it's quite unique but also pleasant. The texture of the cookie, then, is perfect for nibs: the effect wouldn't be the same with a softer cookie.
As I kept nibbling, I did start to get a little more of that cocoa nib specific flavor. What I call blue flavor notes ended up giving a loose impression of blueberries. So somehow even the cocoa nibs felt like they added a sweet note. If you've eaten straight cocoa nibs, you'll understand the irony of that statement. Nibs are not sweet. For its uniqueness and its delicate handling of flavors, this cookie is amazing. It's entirely unlike anything I've had before. If Chips Ahoy are not made with me in mind, this cookie is. It's wonderfully satisfying.
Whether you're local, in state, or visiting, Monsoon Chocolate is well worth a visit. Even if there were no chocolate bars, if this were just a cafe that happened to make a chocolate drink and a cocoa nib cookie, I would have been excited. And I still have four chocolate bars coming up next.