Theobromine

From Theo="God" and Broma="Food."
Theobromine is the ingredient in chocolate that gives you that nice emotional lift -- the "food of the gods!"

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Maya Pure Organic Chocolate Food Bar

Larabar
$1.99 retail
1.70 ounces (48 grams)

Please note the word "food" in the title. This isn't a chocolate bar, it's a chocolate food bar -- in other words, a snack bar that's chocolate flavored. However, in this case, we're talking about something quite distinct from most of the lord-knows-what's-in-them food bars on supermarket shelves.

Larabar's "Maya" line of food bars may sound as if it's another of those chocolate bars that's touched up with spices in an attempt to make it taste like marketers assume the original Central American chocolates might have tasted (once they were smoothed out for a broader market, of course). Instead, this is a plain chocolate food bar. No peppers. No odd spices.

What makes it special is the organic nature of the food and simplicity of the ingredient list. What's in here is dates, almonds, walnuts, cacao, and cashews -- all organic. Nothing else. No preservatives, no binding agents. The whole thing is kosher, gluten-free, and vegan. Better than that, it's good.

If you're having one of these out on the trail (and I visualize all those organic vegan types as fit folks wearing shorts as they hike through pine-choked canyons), be sure to crack the canteen first, because the date content isn't enough to keep the bar from being a little dry in the mouth. Otherwise, indulge in this chocolate bar and stay true to your lifestyle.

The only thing I don't like about this bar is the price. At $2 retail, it's a bit of a stretch for a day to day snack. Still, the bar was good enough that I expect I'll extend my snack budget on a semi-regular basis.

The Larabar Maya Pure Organic Chocolate Food Bar scores 5 beanies out of 5 (*****).

Friday, June 16, 2006

Chocolove Rich Dark Chocolate

Chocolate Bar Review

Size: 3.2 ounces (70g)
Cost: $2.49 retail
Company site: www.chocolove.com

Chocolove is that rare thing, a US-based chocolate company that actually turns out some interesting and high quality chocolates. You can find their main offices, and even get a taste of their wares, at their Boulder, Colorado offices (and US cities just don't come much cooler than Boulder). Chocolove offers a line of bars from milk to the 77% Extra Strong Dark bar.

Most interestingly, they offer a series of bars called "Chocolatour Vintage" bars that represent chocolate from one year, and usually from a very limited geographic reason. There have been some outstanding bars in this series.

For all these reasons, I'm a bit reluctant to talk about their Rich Dark bar because... it neither tastes very rich, or very dark. For a 65% bar this is one sweet chunk of chocolate. That may sit well with American tastes, but for those who are out for a hit of the hard stuff, it just comes off a little weak. There's no kick to this bar. No buzz.

If you have someone who's frightened of dark chocolates, or who is keen to get in on the much touted health benefits of the darker stuff, but who is none too taken with the bite of the average 70% bar, this could be just the bar to ease them up the cacao ladder. But if you're already fond of dark chocolates, the Chocolove Rich Dark Bar is going to come as something of a disappointment. It tastes too generic. Too lightweight. There's no character to this bar. That's surprising when you consider some of the excellent bars turned out from the same folks.

This bar ranks a 75% score on the Theo scale.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

You've Never Had Hot Chocolate

Oh, you may think you've had a cup 'o cocoa. Maybe you made something with a mix. Maybe you (horrors) microwaved a mug of chocolate milk. Maybe you went all out and simmered some cocoa powder and sugar on the stove.

To all your efforts I say, piffle. Not even close.

Fortunately, the real deal is within your grasp. You could make some actual hot chocolate by taking a paring knife to a good bar of 55-70% cacao, but there's an easier way. Head to your nearest source of fine teas and good coffee, and scan the shelves for a little tin labelled "Mariebelle Aztec Hot Chocolate."

That's it. Follow the label to pure bliss.

When you crack open that tin, you'l find that it doesn't contain a powder of any sort. Instead, it holds small chips of 60 - 70% cacao Venezuela chocolate. There's also a trace of chiles, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Don't think this is going to come off as one of those "just the way the Aztecs drank it" bitter mixes. Nope, there's just enough spice to add character.

Follow the "American Style" recipe, which calls for a 1/4 cup of the chocolate stirred into 1/2 a cup of milk just below the boiling point. Or go for European style, and mix equal amounts of chocolate and boiling water.

In either case, plant a dollop of whipped cream on top, and you'll have a dish that would be recognized from Seville to Krakow. That, people, is hot chocolate. Once you've tried it, all that powdery stuff in your house in on the fast track to the trash can.

Meriebelle's Aztec Hot Chocolate gets four beanies (****). It would get five, but I'm hoping out hope that there's something even better out there.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

World Market Chocolate Turtle Coffee

Before world foods markets sprang up on every street corner, Americans seeking peculiar foods they'd first met overseas had few alternatives for feeding their cravings. Fortunately for those don't make monthly pilgrimages to the south of Italy, the World Market has long been a source of various and sundries from many nations. I'm particularly thankful for a source of Aero bars.

One of the other reasons to be grateful to World Market is that they often offer some amazing coffees at prices not much higher than what your pay for the ground bark and twigs available at your local supermarket. World Market offers both whole bean and ground coffee. It's among the latter that you'll find Chocolate Turtle.

Unlike some of World Market's other brands, this isn't a single-bean coffee. There's no pretense that it was grown on one plantation in Hawaii with pickers wearing only white gloves under the supervision of benevolent managers. It's just coffee.

But it's good coffee and that alone sets it well ahead of almost any other flavored coffee that you're likely to encounter. All too often, flavoring is added to bad coffee, often very bad coffee, to mask bitter swill. World Market started with decent coffee, then added just enough chocolate flavoring to take the edge off. Smooth out the sharp spots. Make some of the creamiest, smoothest stuff you ever put in your mouth.

Do your self a favor, brew a pot and don't get tempted to dose it with cream or sugar. Take it straight.

Many people have tried to add coffee to chocolate. So far, this is the best shot at going the other way.

World Market Chocolate Turtle Coffee scores Five Beanies (*****)

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Hershey's Extra Dark

Candy Bar Review



Size: 3.52 oz (100g)
Price: $1.99

For anyone who loves chocolate, Hershey's is name to curse and to conjure. For many Americans, a Hershey bar is chocolate. Many other Americans lament that such a waxy, weak, weirdly dry bar could so dominate our home market. On the other hand, Hershey's is one of America's great candy empires, and they make a lot of bars that are enojoyed by those looking for something other than a pure cacao kick. Come on, can you really put down a company that makes Heath Bars? How long can you live without an Almond Joy? Personally, I don't want to find out.

It says something about the growth of the high quality chocolate market in the US that Hershey's has now entered the fray with their Extra Dark bars. If you honed your darker than milk chocolate buzz on the bitter, grainy Special Dark bar, here's something you might find surprising -- these bars are good.

The basic Extra Dark is a 60% bar. It's quite dark in color -- darker by several shades than most 70% bars -- but one taste is enough to see that it's a little less powerful than the seventy-percenters. Still, it's got a good chocolate taste. Not a complex taste with lots of notes, just a warm, fairly deep blast of chocolate. If you're looking for a mixture that has notes of citrus, or grass, or wine, or coffee, or... just about anything, look elsewhere. There's also no hint where the chocolate itsef originated. Clearly, this is a blend. There's a touch of that Hershey's waxiness, but just a touch. There's a decent feel in the mouth, though the melt doesn't really release as nice a bloom as many bars.

Overall, this is a very approachable bar for something just climbing the cacao ladder. It's not going to dethrone Domori, or take the budget bar title away from Santander. But for a bar you can pick up at your local drugstore, it's good chocolate.

Hershey's Extra Dark scores 78 on the Theo scale.

Junk Cereal Face Off

Never let it be said that all we rate are chocolate bars with cacao content so high they'd send the average Hershey's munchin' Joe into a theobromine-induced coma. Truth is, we're lovers of all things chocolate -- and even things that pretend to be chocolate.

While breakfast at Casa Theo tends toward massive amounts of coffee, hold everything else, there is the occassional craving. The madness. The unstoppable desire for... junk cereal.

You know junk cereal when you see it. The cereal that's good for you looks as if it's been made from assorted bits of bark and twigs. Junk cereal is good. Also, anything with a cartoon character on the front, is unlikely to hold bran flakes and thistle seed.

When it comes to chocolate junk cereal, there are generally three camps: your chocolate "puff," chocolate rice, and chocolate marshmallow mix. Classic representatives of these genera would be Cocoa-puffs, Cocoa Pebbles, and Count Chocula.

In a scientific face off of these three breakfast stalwarts, we ate a couple of bowls and also munched on them dry. Cereals were rated on taste, texture, and simulated chocolatey goodness.

Cocoa Puffs did not make us cuckoo. Not only is the chocolate taste weak, but the texture of the cereal seems to lie somewhere between little balls of fiberglass and fragements of drywall. Munching this stuff dry can do more damage to the roof of your mouth than a slice of pizza straight from the oven. We give it two chocolate beanies.

 

Cocoa Pebbles fairs much better. For one thing, it actually taste kinda sorta like chocolate -- a tests the Puffs failed. Cocoa Pebbles also wins the "most drinkable milk after the cereal is gone" award. But it's out of the box appeal is limited. Too small and too soft to make a good hand to mouth snack. Give it three chocolate beanies.


 

Whoever cooks up the food coloring for the Count has gone a little too heavy on the blue end of the spectrum, which means your left over milk comes out a shade of grey, rather than brown. Grey milk. How... not good. However, the Count rises above this dreary color issue with the best out of the box eatability and the biggest sugar rush this side of mainlining dextrose.

Count Chocula. Just say the name again. Count Chocula. Is there any doubt this is junk cereal? Sure, the latest version may be "whole grain," but does any cereal with a pretense at being good for you come with ghost-shaped marshmallows? The Count isn't perfect. His supposed tiger-striped ghosties are actually more of a pale mud color. In fact, color is the biggest reminder that you're eating a substance not found anywhere near nature. Just close your eyes and crunch those ghosts.

Count Chocula gets four chocolate beanies and can add the Junk Cereal Crown to his collection of royal titles.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Santander Milk Chocolate

Chocolate Bar Review

Size: 2.47 ounces (70g)
Cost: $1.75 retail
Company site: www.chocolates.com.co

We are dark chocolate fans. Bigots, really. Wave anything less than 65% cacao under our noses, and you're likely to see us turn away in disdain. So it says something that the 36% cacao Milk Chocolate Santander has become a staple of our chocolate diet.

At this percentage of cacao, you don't get the grassy, citrusy notes that can be found in a 70% bar. You also don't get the harsh, tooth-numbing glare of a bad dark chocolate bar (I'm looking at you, Lindt). While milk chocolate isn't a promise of theobromine-induced buzz, good milk chocolate coats the mouth with cacao-love. The Milk Chocolate Santander is good milk chocolate.

The melt here is low, but not too low. There's enough bite left in the bar to give a good texture to the teeth. Enough give to make it drape across your tongue. There are the expected caramel and honey colors, and a complete lack of chalky or waxy overtones. The overall taste is quite close to Dove's milk chocolate, but with a richer chocolate note.

Don't get us wrong -- we're cleansing our delicate palettes with a good stiff dose of the dark stuff -- but if milk chocolate is your thing, you're unlikely to find a better bar than the Santander, especially in this price range.

The Milk Chocolate Santander scores a 90 on the Theo scale.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Santander Dark Chocolate Espresso

Chocolate Bar Review

Size: 2.47 ounces (70g)
Cost: $1.75 retail
Company site: www.chocolates.com.co

Santander is a Columbian company offering single origin chocolate from, you guessed it, Columbia. They offer a line of chocolates from milk (which, at 36% would be considered dark by most Americans) up to the standard 70% cacao dark. In between they offer a number of grades, and though I'm an ultra-dark bigot, I have to admit that their 65% bar is exceptional.

Though Santander doesn't go above 70% on the pure cacao content, they do offer one bar for those who don't think that bar offers enough in the way of buzz -- the 70% dark chocolate Santander Columbian Single Origin 100% Columbian Espresso Coffee bar, which may have the longest name of any piece of candy in the world.

Adding coffee beans, and particularly espresso beans, to coffee is certainly not a new idea. There's barely a bar maker around who doesn't offer some combination of everyone favorite caffeine sources. However, the Santander Coffee Bar (excuse me if I shorten up the name) is one of the best. Rather than trying to cover up bad chocolate with strong coffee, Santander takes good chocolate then adds to it good coffee. Unique, huh?

The chocolate here appears to be a shade darker than that used in Santander's standard 70% bar and has a slightly harsher note -- but compared to most dark chocolate, it's still quite smooth. Almost "milky." The coffee note is very strong, but doesn't overwhelm the chocolate. Santander manages to pull off the difficult trick of making the bar very smoky, without making it too woodsy (as in "who put twigs and bark in my chocolate") an affliction of many "coffee nibs" bars.

This bar ranks a 92% score on the Theo scale, which is particularly good for a bar that's not pure chocolate.