The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one’s own country as a foreign land.” – G.K. Chesterton

Saturday, 8 September 2007

Chocolates in New York

We've been having so much fun trying out all sorts of different brands of dark chocolate available in NYC. I've lost track of the brands we've tried, but there are a few that I quite like. It's easier to write about the different taste of chocolates when you have several to compare with at the same time, so this review features three brands. For fairness and consistency, I've reviewed only plain chocolates that have the same cacao content and cost at least $4 for a 100g bar.

75-77% cacao

First up is Select Origin Chocolates ($3.75 for 85g) by Lake Champlain Chocolates (LCC). Rob loves these! I am pretty impressed with this, for an American brand. The Tanzania Dark Chocolate contains 75% cacao, yet it is really smooth and sweet - surprising for such a high cacao content. The ingredients list is also quite plain: cocoa mass, sugar, cocoa butter and soybean lecithin. No added flavours, yet it has a light fruity fragrance.

The Vintage Plantations Arriba Chocolates ($3.99 for 100g) are the first Rainforest Alliance-certified bars, which gives us the assurance that third-world farmers are not being exploited to make these chocolates whilst preserving the Ecuadorian rainforest. These Arriba cocoa are grown solely in Ecuador, and the packaging says that these chocolates are processed at the plantation in Ecuador itself. I like the idea behind this chocolate brand, and since our previous encounter with Ecuadorian chocolate was good (compared with Venezuelen and Trinidad), I didn't hesitate in grabbing the 75% Dark to try. The first thing that struck me was the strong fragrance even before opening the packaging. A bit of research reveals that the "Arriba” is the only cocoa bean with a perfumed floral scent, and the ingredients list reflects the aim to preserve this floral note with no added flavours or vegetable fat. The texture is not very smooth, and the taste is a bit tart and astringent, reminiscent of the taste of tannins in unripe fruits. It has quite a woody flavour too, if that makes sense. Rob actually didn't like this chocolate as much as others he's tried. He thought it had a strong liquour taste, which I think is attributed to the strong fragrance. Myself, I actually enjoyed this - it's a chocolate with a good cause.

The last chocolate from this list was the most expensive (more than $5 for 50g bar), but the most disappointing too. Teuscher is a Swiss brand name, and we picked up this Chocolate 77 bar at their Fifth Avenue shop in the Rockefeller Centre. Swiss chocolates are one of our favourite types, but my disappointment with this particular brand did not stem from un-met high expectations. Yes, it was smooth, as is characteristic of chocolates from Switzerland, but it was bland. It was neither sweet nor bitter, and considering its significant 77% cacao content, where was that chocolatey taste? The lack of character failed to impress. Perhaps they make good truffles?

70% cacao

For the 70% cacao content chocolates, there's LCC's Sao Thome Dark Chocolate and Scharffen Berger (SB) which is another an American brand. The LCC Sao Thome chocolate is smooth and sweet with a subtle undertone of vanilla flavour. It has a more woody chocolate flavour than the SB chocolate bar. The SB chocolate ($4.99 for 100g) has a smooth mouthfeel and a light fruity tang, but it contains added vanilla which kinda overwhelms the tastebuds compared to the LCC Sao Thome. We both prefered LCC chocolate because it tasted more chocolatey than SB, which is great because it's also cheaper.

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