Joseph Schmidt and Scharffen-Berger are shutting down their San Francisco stores this summer, so I wanted to run out and buy some chocolate from them before they were closed.
Review of Scharffen-Berger
I bought 6 one-ounce bars. I was afraid the bars would be too small, but they're just right. It's really rich chocolate. I started with the lightest versions and worked to the darkest.
The milk chocolate was good, but I have to confess I'm a Hershey's fan. Yeah, yeah, I know it's waxy, but it has good memories of my childhood. Kind of like the way I love McDonald's "hamburgers". At least the Scharffen-Berger mocha didn't taste like the smooth european style that everyone loves. For some reason those belgian truffles are too creamy for me.
The "nibby" version was the best, full of little crunchy bits of what I assume were cocoa beans. But I came for the black - 62% semisweet, 70% bittersweet, and 82% extra dark. The escalating percentages almost seem like a dare, seeing how extreme they can make it. Like "Jackass" for foodies. To me, the bittersweet tasted like coffee, and the extra dark was almost medicinal the chocolate was so bitter. Meanwhile the milk chocolates were boring. I'll stick with the medium semisweet setting, kind of like the baby bear in Goldilocks whose porridge was "just right".
My biggest complaint is that I love things in my chocolate; fillings or nuts. The pure Scharffen-Berger chocolate bars are almost too "one-note" for my palate, but they really bring out the pure sensation of cocoa. Master Thor says that See's Candy uses the same chocolate as Scharffen-Berger for their covering, so I might as well have bought the cheaper brand. But it was fun to taste these solid bricks of chocolate goodness.
I wasn't as impressed with Scharffen-Berger's more expensive single origin line. "Asante" is a 65% cocoa, while the 68% "Tome Acu" is part of their Maker's line of chocolate. Or let me correct that: Tome Acu is the ONLY entry in a "line" of chocolates. There it is... a line of one. I can understand that Scharffen-Berger wants to dip their toe into the profitable single origin pool, but why only introduce two different bars?
The packaging is wonderful, with printed-press labels taped to simple brown paper packaging. Asante is the better of the two, a rich dark chocolate that is almost too much to eat in one sitting (though I still did it). This is a chocolate that needs some kind of alchoholic beverage to go with it: either a glass of red wine, or several fingers of single-malt scotch. Because you'll need something to wash this down with, or at the very least to cleanse your palate.
The Tome Acu is less successful to me. It's a really mild chocolate, with very little flavor, much less the apple and pear accents advertised on the pretty label. What galls me is the little "J. Peterman" story that goes with the chocolate. Scharffen-Berger "Chocolate Maker" Ray Major writes effusively:
"The other thing that has me excited about it is where it comes from — Pará. To our knowledge, no one has a bar from there. Think of it — the Brazilian Amazon! The Jesuits in the 1600’s were the first to realize the high quality of this cacao and they hired the Tupi Indians to go out and collect it wild from the forest. Imagine a small fleet of canoes paddling along the banks of these tropical rivers and plucking cacao pods from the overhanging branches. Now it seems to be an almost forgotten origin, but after people taste this bar I think there will be chocolate makers standing in line to buy it."
Oh, get over yourself! "Think of it! Imagine a fleet of small canoes..." I think modern foodies are schitzophrenic in their divided goals. On one hard, they are trying to eat locally, in order to drive down the transportation costs needed to produce and deliver food. But with the same breath, they are importing chocolate from remote regions of the world, and bragging about the effort and expense needed in order to make a chocolate bar magically appear in the Castro, six thousand miles away. The Tome Acu candy I tried was incredibly boring, and I feel bad that people had to die in order for me to eat it.
Review of E. Guittard
I bought 12 two ounce bars, 4 each of a different single-origin chocolate. Sure, they all taste different, but not *that* much different. Plus, sometimes I worry that I'm a taste hypochondriac. For example, the first bar I tasted, a "Sur Del Lago" 65% bittersweet from Venezuala, was reported to have flavors of berries. When I put a square in my mouth, I agreed: Yes! I taste the berries!
The could have told me that the chocolate was redolent of jasmine, and I would have probably agreed, too. My taste buds have more of an after-thought than anything. Only after someone tells me, you just ate muffins with bacon bits in them do I think, "Oh yeah... now I taste it." So, does that take away from the experience? Is eating food a guessing game, where only after I find out what's in my food do I decide if I like it or not?
The 65% "Quivedo" from Ecuador was my favorite. I don't taste the "flowery... rich, green forest, teat and slight nut flavors with a lingering banana and poound cake finish." Maybe I'm a luddite, but the stuff tastes like *chocolate* to me. I think they're making shit up about the rest of it. An "ambanja" 65% bittersweet from Madagascar was less effective. It really did taste tarter like it was advertised on the packaging, but that wasn't necessarily a good thing. I like my chocolate to be rich and smooth, not like candy corn.
Finally, I decided to do an experiment with my last bar, a "Chucuri" from Columbia. Are they just inventing those names? I don't know Spanish, but Chucuri sounds make-believe to me. In any case, I decided to write down my theories on the flavors before I read the outside. I tasted fruit... maybe a banana or an entire stick of butter. There was no bitterness or coffee flavors, and I'd have to say it was almost mediocre and waxy in it's mild taste.
Here is the correct answer: "Long, deep, slow chocolate flavors are accented by pleasant hints of spice. It has an astonishing, feminine delicacy only a few bars will match and a floral note that cannot be forgotten. Guittard shows off their skill in the mid-60s percentages in this chocolate which is an ideal balance of beauty and grace." Maybe I'm not Paul Atreides from Dune, but I taste no spice. And I'm not sure I want my chocolate to be slow, much less with a feminine delicacy of beauty and grace. I just ate the whole thing before lunch, and now I feel like I've just violated a virgin.
I give up. I'm just not tasting the shit I'm supposed to. Maybe I should stick to Hershey's, because my unsophisticated palete just doesn't get it.
I've heard of that the following chocolate companies rock, so I'm hoping to save up some money and do another mail order soon and try these. Does anybody know about these companies? Any other chocolate companies on the internet that I should try?
Original Hawaiian Chocolate Factory
And I'm wondering why I've gained weight lately? Well, Patrick, it might be the huge amounts of chocolate I'm eating every day. On the other hand, sometimes the only things that gets me motivated to go work out is knowing that there is some candy waiting for me when I get home. One piece, one day. I am a Good Boy.