Theo 3400 Phinney Chai Tea Bar
Chai and chocolate work together marvelously, but you’d never know it from this bar.
I like Theo chocolate, both because they make fantastic chocolate and because Theo is the type of company I love to support. Organic, fair trade, environmentally responsible, charitable, etc. They’re apparently the first North American importer of organic cacao beans as well, so that’s a plus.
That said, the 3400 Phinney Chai Tea Bar is awful. It looks good, its texture is beyond reproach, but somehow the combination of dark milk chocolate, strong black tea, and chai spices just turns into a boring muddle in my mouth. The three heavy flavors end up competing with each other, and the entire bar becomes an unsatisfying experience.
The entire bar also makes for a spectacular stomach ache. I’m not being snide either, this bar literally gave me a horrible stomach ache for an entire evening.
I honestly think the black tea is to blame for this bar’s problem. Tea and chocolate generally get along, but occasionally the two will clash. I also suspect the black tea is the cause of my stomach problems with this particular bar, since I’ve literally never had trouble with Theo chocolate or chai (the latter is one of my favorite flavors on earth).
Skip this one and go for one of Theo’s more successful flavor combos, like Hazelnut Crunch or Dark Orange. You won’t be disappointed by those.
Rating: ★☆☆☆☆ 1/5
In Brief: A riot of flavors. The bad kind of riot. Also gave me intestinal distress. Skip it and go for a different Theo flavor.
Where to Buy: Theo sells its bars directly online, TheoChocolate.com. You can also find them in most Whole Foods markets, and at a neat little online store I’m fond of: AtTheMeadow.com.
Kinder Bueno Bar
The perfect treat for when it’s impractical to stick your tongue directly into a jar of Nutella.
Everybody knows Nutella, the most delicious toast-spread ever conceived. Did you know Nutella itself is based on an Italian confection called gianduja? Gianduja is a style of chocolate bar made by literally grinding together chocolate & hazelnuts until you have a melty, pasty, heavenly bar. It is Italy’s greatest contribution to the world, beating out architecture and batteries by several orders of magnitude.
The Kinder Bueno bar is another take on the classic Italian confection, and like everything Kinder makes, it is creamy and wonderful. Not an exact adaptation by any means, but still, a treat you should not miss.
Before appreciating this bar remember: Kinder makes no bones about what they do. They create chocolate for children. There’s no nuance or undertone to Kinder’s chocolate by design, they’re boldly flavored with a lovely melt-away quality. You buy Kinder for creamy sweetness, not a floral bouquet.
Now onto the actual bar: Light, airy hazelnut cream inside a delicate, thin cookie shell, enrobed in Kinder’s trademark tongue-coating chocolate. The cocoa-y chocolate and creamy hazelnut spread meld together instantly, the cookie is so fragile it nearly dissolves in your mouth after one satisfying crunch… It’s almost like dipping a cookie into a warm nutella pudding, and there’s nothing about that to dislike.
Taken for what it is, the Kinder Bueno is a near-perfect treat. My only complaint, if you can even call it that, is that the chocolate coating tends to be thin enough to begin to melt in your hand.
The price-point is also much better than you’d find for similarly-flavored chocolates, specifically the fancypants Ferrero Rocher (even though both chocolates are actually made by the Ferrero company). You can usually snap up a pair of Bueno bars for a little over $2 USD!
Rating: ★★★★☆ 4/5
In Brief: A perfect treat for gianduja/nutella lovers, and at an incredibly reasonable price to boot!
Where to Buy: The hands-down best source for all Kinder confections in the USA has to be Cost Plus World Market (Worldmarket.com). Their online store is a bit piecemeal, so if possible actually visit a World Market store.
Puccho Stick Mixed Gummy
Ready for something completely different?
I love Japanese supermarket candy. It’s perfectly sweet, hyper-processed in the best way possible, and often sports unique regional flavors that are a revelation if you’ve spent your entire life eating Skittles & Hershey’s. They even do American candies better. If you’ve never had a Japanese kit-kat, get up on that immediately. There are like 20 different flavors (I like framboise).
Some stuff to know before we start:
- In Japan some candies are advertised as “soda” flavor. This flavor is distinct from the usual cola-taste we associate with soda. In Japan “soda” means like or akin to Ramune soda, a popular local brand. Ramune comes in a lot of different flavors, but their original flavor is lemon-lime. So Japanese “soda” flavor = lemon-lime (which, oddly, tastes a little different from American lemon-lime).
- The Japanese treat gummies a lot differently than the USA. Over there gummies are a fancy, nearly-gourmet candy. Individually-wrapped and flavored to match their real fruit counterparts as closely as possible. This is an interesting experience in and of itself, because they make flavors you’d never find in American gummies. Muscat melon and kiwi and mangosteen, for example.
The Japanese are also really fond of interesting textures and mouth-feels in their candy. When it comes to interesting mouth-feels, it’s hard to imagine something stranger than the Puccho Mixed Gummy stick.
Here’s the equation: soda-flavored, starburst-like container + chewy pieces of mixed-fruit gummy + inexplicable carbonation.
Carbonation! These delicious little candies will literally fizz on your tongue, almost like pop rocks but not nearly as severe. The carbonation is like a tiny aerosol in your mouth, spreading the fruity flavors of soda and mixed fruit throughout your mouth and nose. It will catch you by surprise at first, but it’s a fun little experience!
Unfortunately these are an imported candy, and whenever you buy imported foodstuffs there’s a slight chance that you’re getting an old/dud batch. I’d say there’s about a 10-20% chance, depending on where you buy it.
Rating: ★★★★☆ 4/5
In Brief: Tasty and novel! This candy is like a showcase of Japan’s unique spin on fruity candy, and it is good. Definitely worth your time and money!
Where to Buy: Asianfoodgrocer.com or bust.
Chocolove Pretzel in Milk Chocolate Bar
Fun fact: Belgians would think this bar is sacrilege.
If Scharffen Berger is my all-time favorite American chocolatier, Colorado’s Chocolove is a close second. Specializing in traditional Belgian chocolate, Chocolove has a really ambitious menu of over 24 different flavors. Ordinarily I’d be wary of any chocolatier who makes so many different varieties (it’s the chocolate-equivalent of a restaurant with a giant menu, trying to do too much and doing nothing well), but Chocolove’s approach to flavors sets me at ease.
Chocolove doesn’t try to infuse its chocolates with flavors, doesn’t try to make perfectly good dark chocolate taste like cherries. They make perfectly balanced, smooth, rich Belgian chocolate, and then they enhance it by adding a few more whole ingredients to the final bar. And they do not skimp. It’s impossible to bite into a raspberry bar without getting a mouth full of tart little raspberries.
Today I’ve tried, what I think, is one of Chocolove’s newer flavors: Pretzels in milk chocolate. Because I really want an excuse to put chocolate on all my starches, apparently.
This was another weird one. I went in expecting it to be fantastic, because you’d think what is essentially a giant chocolate-covered pretzel would be bulletproof. The chocolate was good, the pretzels were pretzels, but I think the ratio was tipped a little too heavily towards creamy-sweet. There was some crunch, there was some salt, but not enough to share the spotlight with the chocolate.
I might be asking this chocolate bar to be something it’s not, but I don’t think starches in chocolate work unless the starch adds a significant amount of flavor. Missing that sweet-spot means you’ve just created a more expensive puffed-rice bar.
The saving grace of this bar is the chocolate. Chocolove has its formulas down, and the 33% milk chocolate is smooth, creamy bliss. I’d recommend skipping this bar and sampling the plain 33% milk chocolate bar instead. The Toffee Almond bar is also amazing.
Rating: ★★★☆☆ 3/5
In Brief: The chocolate is fantastic and unassailable, but the pretzels really only add crunch to what ought to be a savory/sweet delight.
Where to Buy: Chocolove is most easily purchased online, either directly from Chocolove.com or via Amazon. Any candy shop worth a damn (that’s not a Sweet Factory) will carry Chocolove as well.
Café-Tasse Lait & Speculoos Bar
These Belgian geniuses put cookie dough in my chocolate bar.
Café-Tasse is a fantastic boutique chocolatier based in Brussels, all of their chocolate is delicious, but their greatest contribution to the medium has to be the speculoos bar. It’s so good that Trader Joe’s has created their own copycat speculoos bar.
What is speculoos? It’s an amazing european cookie that’s consumed around the holidays. Basically gingerbread, but without the molasses that makes gingerbread cookies so heavy and hard. And speculoos cookie dough is so wonderfully light, so spicy & homey, so creamy on the tongue, that you will tear this poor chocolate bar apart in 3 obnoxious bites.
Everybody needs to try this bar at least once. Even the copycat will do, in a pinch. That said, try to get the Café-Tasse original. Café-Tasse is one of those superlative chocolatiers that painstakingly sources all its own ingredients, which seems to lead to a much finer quality of chocolate, with perfect mouth-feel and flavor.
Rating: ★★★★★ 5/5!
In Brief: Someone took all the bad (molasses) parts out of gingerbread cookie dough and then added chocolate. Eat this. Eat it now. Stop not eating it.
Where to Buy: There are only two official distributors of Café-Tasse in the United States. Luckily one of them is the biggest and best-stocked chocolate shop on the internet. Chocosphere.com for everything Café-Tasse.