Category Archives: The Amateur Chocoholic

Quickie Chocolate Review: Peppano Stone-Ground Chocolate

“Stone ground, single source cacao beans handcrafted into world class chocolate. Made with care in Tecumseh, Michigan. We hope you enjoy!”

Peppalo - Wrapper

Where I got it: Ann Arbor Farmer’s Market
Price: $6.00 for 2 oz. (56g)
Cocoa percentage: approx. 75-80%
Website: http://peppalo.com
Reviewed by: Jeff (chocolate snob) and my Dungeons & Dragons gaming group (barbarians, but what can you do?)

My run this morning took me past the local Farmer’s Market, which is just starting to put out the spring flowers and, as usual, was loaded with the fare of local bakers – breads, cookies, pastries, and, as it turned out, stone-ground chocolate. A nice young lady named Rebecca at the Peppalo booth told me about their bars.

Story (from Rebecca):

Peppalo chocolate is made at the Boulevard Market in Tecumseh. They offer dark chocolate, sea salt, and smoked chocolate varieties. It’s just cacao beans, which they grind at the market, and sugar. Many chocolate makers, even higher-end ones, add small amounts of vanilla or extra cocoa butter to smooth out the texture and flavor. Not here.

MORE: The use of cheap vegetables oils by ‘Big Chocolate’

I bought one each of the dark chocolate and smoked chocolate bars, and coerced my weekly D&D gaming group into a taste test. It was hard to get them to put down the carrot sticks and whole-grain crackers, but I managed.

Appearance:

Peppalo - TextureThe wrappers are simple but distinctive, with vibrant colors (the sea salt bar is apple green) and a bold, clean font. The bulls-eye in the “O” is eye-catching. The bars are smaller than average – 2 oz. vs. a usual size of around 3 oz., which, I think, helped me decide to buy two types instead of one. And as the price per ounce is on par with the high-end bars at the nearby Zingerman’s, a smaller size probably has a better chance of getting bought at the outdoor market.

The chocolate does not have the polished sheen of other bars, and when snapped, the interior looks grainy. This is characteristic of grinding chocolate with stone, and expected. According to the Peppalo website, a bit of grittiness is left in “to enhance the natural flavor profiles of the cacao beans.”

MORE: How stone-ground chocolate is created.

Texture:

Mouthfeel is grainy. Don’t look for the velvety texture of a Pralus bar here. A couple of the D&D gang didn’t care for this texture. The smoked chocolate was a bit more smooth than the regular dark chocolate, although this could have just been due to differences between batches. It does not dissolve quickly on the tongue, but a little light chewing brings out the full flavor.

The gang takes a break from slaughter and pillage to taste-test the chocolate.

The gang takes a break from slaughter and pillage to taste-test stone-ground chocolate.

Flavor:

The regular dark chocolate has the intensity of a strong dark chocolate, but the sugar adds sweet tones that I tasted at the same time, but separately. I got more of a “burst” in flavor than with other bars, which I enjoyed very much.

The other bar had a pronounced wood-smoke aroma that we could smell without even opening the wrapper. The smoky flavor was milder than I expected but definitely subdued the sweetness, tasting at first more like smoked meat than chocolate. One of the D&D gang said it was very good with Coke. I tried both types with a cup of my favorite French roast coffee, which paired nicely with the dark chocolate bar but didn’t do much for the smoked variety.

The Bottom Line

Dark chocolate:
Jeff’s Rating:……..★★★★☆ (4 out of 5 stars)
D&D group Rating:…★★★☆☆ (3 out of 5 stars)

Smoked chocolate:
Jeff’s Rating:……..★★★☆☆ (3 out of 5 stars)
D&D group Rating:…★★☆☆☆ (2 out of 5 stars)

I enjoyed the regular dark chocolate, but I prefer a smoother texture for eating out of hand. I’d like to try it again as a drink, perhaps with some cinnamon and a pinch of cayenne pepper. The smoked variety was interesting but didn’t do it for me.

As for the D&D gang, reviews were mixed. Stone-ground chocolate appears to be an acquired taste. Both bars were completely consumed, however.

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Quickie Chocolate Review: Chocolove Almonds & Sea Salt in Dark Chocolate

Chcolove Almonds - WrapperWhere I got it: Plum Market, Ann Arbor MI

Price: $2.00 for 3.2 oz. (90g)

Cocoa percentage: 55%

Website: www.chocolove.com

Reviewed by: Jeff (chocolate snob) and Rachel (educated chocolate snob)

From last time’s high-end, single-plantation bar (Sao Tome 75%) we return to Earth with a more approachable and affordable choice.

“Tucked away in Boulder, Colorado sits an unassuming building,” says the Chocolove website, “where a little magic takes place… Every day, decadent chocolate bars are carefully crafted using the timeless combination of chocolate and love.”

This bar has a more general appeal to those who don’t care for a strong dark chocolate flavor. With a cocoa content of 55%, it’s more in the range of semisweet than dark.

Jeff’s Rating:……..★★★★☆ (4 out of 5 stars)
Rachel’s Rating:★★★★☆ (4 out of 5 stars)
.

Story: (from the wrapper)

“At first bite, crunchy almonds release their flavor in a swirl with chocolate. The sea salt crystals continually reset your sweet taste buds and make a tantalizing taste combination that keeps you wanting more.”

Chcolove Almonds - Contents

Appearance:

The wrapper has a pleasing color, but it seems a bit too busy, especially in contrast with the elegantly understated Pralus Sao Tome bar from our previous review. To me, it’s trying a little too hard to get my attention, with the gold seal, stamps, and various illustrations. However, when all the Chocolove offerings are grouped in the display (middle two rows below), they really stand out. So what do I know?

Full Chocolove Display - Plum Market

Click the image if you want to read the labels on the other bars.

Texture:

The bar snaps cleanly into its squares. There’s a feeling of fullness in the mouth, in a good way. It isn’t delicate, dissolve-on-the-tongue chocolate; this is full-bodied stuff, although I’d prefer a slightly higher cocoa content. The almonds are large enough to provide a satisfying crunch and add chewiness, again in a good way.

Flavor:

This bar is proof that dark chocolate and almonds were pretty much made for each other. The flavors are balanced and complement each other well. The other key here is just the right amount of salt to enliven both the almonds and chocolate without making me reach for the water bottle.

The Bottom Line

Jeff: If you’ve read or heard about Michael Moss’s new book Salt Sugar Fat, here’s the textbook example. This bar uses all three to create something that’s really hard to stop eating. That with the bargain price makes it an incredible value. Good thing I’m cranking up my weekly running mileage.

Rachel: What he said.

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Quickie Chocolate Review: Francois Pralus São Tomé & Principe Forastero Bar

Sao Tome ThumbnailWhere I got it: Zingerman’s Next Door, Ann Arbor MI

Price: $9.99 for 3.5 oz. (100g)

Cocoa percentage: 75%

Website: www.chocolats-pralus.com

The Sao Tome bar is one of a family of single-plantation chocolates from Pralus.

I got this bar as a Christmas present from my daughter Rachel (have I mentioned that she works at Zingerman’s?). It’s about the only way I would get one, since I’m genetically predisposed not to spend $10.00 on a chocolate bar. But after sampling it, I think my DNA has been rewritten.

Jeff’s Rating:……..★★★★★ (5 out of 5 stars)
Rachel’s Rating:★★★★★ (5 out of 5 stars)
.

Story: (from the wrapper)

The island cultures of Sao Tome and Principe conspire to produce a chocolate that is both intense and distinct in flavour, quite unlike what is usually found in Africa. This is a result of the trees’ genetic purity.”

Sao Tome Wrapper

Appearance:

The wrapper is a pleasing combination of subtle browns, which to me lends elegance to the package. It does not scream for attention, but lies there waiting to be seen and studied. The other Pralus bars look similar on the outside, so there’s nothing that says “Pick me” about the Sao Tome. But Rachel, who has sampled them all, deems it the pick of the litter.

The chocolate has a nice sheen to it, and the “Pralus” in the right corner provides distinction and breaks up what would be an otherwise ordinary small block pattern.

Texture:

The bar snaps cleanly and dissolves rapidly and smoothly in the mouth. Very creamy mouthfeel.

Flavor:

With a 75% cocoa content, you’d expect deep chocolate flavor at first, and that is what you get. It is definitely intense, but not at all bitter. After that, a sweetness emerges that becomes fruity in nature and lasts to the finish.

The best part of high quality chocolate is that you don’t need much to be satisfied, and the Sao Tome fits that bill. Just a few squares is enough for me at any one time. I can actually put the bar down without longing glances at the rest of it, knowing it will be there for me later.

The Bottom Line

Jeff: Not only would I pay $10.00 for this bar, I went to Zingerman’s and did just that today. I didn’t even try to play the “my-daughter-works-here-can-I-have-her-discount” card.  (I ran there and back to give myself some justification – I earned it.)

Rachel: This is the best chocolate bar I’ve ever had. ‘Nuff said.

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Quickie Chocolate Review: Theo Congo Vanilla Nib Bar

Theo Congo Bar WrapperWhere I got it: Whole Foods
Price: $3.99 for 3 oz. (84g)
Cocoa percentage: 65%
Website: www.theochocolate.com

I was assisted in this review by my daughter Rachel, who works at Zingerman’s and is thus surrounded by high-quality chocolate from all over the globe, is trained to sell it, and gets to sample it frequently. I, on the other hand, am just a snob. You decide whom to believe.

Jeff’s Rating:……..★★★☆☆ (3 out of 5 stars)
Rachel’s Rating:★★★★☆ (4 out of 5 stars)

Story: (from the wrapper)
In Eastern Congo, Theo Chocolate and Eastern Congo Initiative (ECI) have teamed up with Congolese cocoa farmers to make this delicious and crunchy vanilla nib chocolate bar. The cocoa and vanilla used to make this chocolate bar are all grown in Eastern Congo by dedicated organic farmers focused on quality and sustainability…Proceeds from this chocolate bar will be donated to ECI…”

Theo Congo Bar

Appearance:
The wrapper is visually striking, which is the main reason it caught my eye at the checkout counter. Its exotic origin (Congo chocolate is not common) and the organic/fair trade/non-GMO labels also helped lead me to the impulse buy. Definitely a marketing win.

With such a striking presentation, I was somewhat disappointed with the appearance of the chocolate itself. It lacks the gloss of higher-end chocolate bars, and its large slab-like divisions are unappealing to me, resembling a mass-produced factory product.

Texture:
The bar snaps cleanly without shattering. It does not melt in the mouth quickly, and with chewing, breaks into small pieces before dissolving. The cocoa nibs provide a nice slight crunch to the bar, which I like.

Flavor:
The dark chocolate flavor is what I tasted first – quite nice, distinctive but not overpowering. The cocoa nibs provide a dark roasted coffee-like flavor when crunched. Despite “vanilla” being part of the bar’s name, I did not directly taste it. Given the suggestive colors of the wrapper, I was expecting fruity notes, but it turned sour at the end, leaving, to me, an unpleasant finish.

The Bottom Line

Jeff: This is not a bar I would purchase again. For me to spend $4 or more on chocolate, I have to really enjoy it, and while it has some qualities I like, they aren’t strong enough to overcome its sour notes.

Rachel: I like the flavor of this bar, and I would let my dad purchase it again.

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