So it started off with hearing Neil Gaiman was doing a thing (being interviewed for the 20th anniversary of Sandman) in New York. And then it involved bopping around the internet to see what else was interesting that weekend. And I ended up with a weekend full of chocolate and goodness –
So I didn’t go to any of the scheduled events. I was just in and tasting the chocolate. Booth by booth.
Chocolat Moderne: Seems to specialize in fancy decorated bon bons, but they were offering cookies for samples (which do not appear on their website for ordering at all). I tried one called Snake Charmer. It was a spice cookie that was less sweet than usual and had a touch of chocolate. It was good enough to wish a friend had the recipe, but I was generally unimpressed by their selections. The card they were handing out had a promotional code for their online ordering – FRIENDF426 for 15% off an online purchase of $30 or more.
Amedei: SO I only picked up a program book as I was on my way out so I could write this up better, so I didn’t read that it was the Gold Award Winner at the World Chocolate Awards for the last 3 years running. All I knew was that they weren’t offering any samples.
Christopher Michael: truffles and bon bons all made from from single origin Venezuelan chocolate. They were offering samples of a honey & chipotle truffle. Nice, clear flavors that popped, but it was near the beginning, and there was a lot yet to come. Still – honey and chipotle – that combination would work well with my usual cooking repertoire.
Sendall Chocolates: Has one product, and one product only – Toffee Taboo. Now it’s a good product with almonds and cashews being bright and salty in a bed of dark chocolate all drizzled over with white. It was busy, but it all balanced nicely. But I am just fascinated by them only making one thing and then just marketing it in various shapes and sizes.
serendipiTea: They had 5 teas available for unlimited tasting with the purchase of a $1 cup. And, honestly, I suspect that I didn’t like their teas, but it was delightful to have something not chocolate in between the chocolates that I went back every 5 booths or so and even enjoyed their chai despite not being a chai fan. They and the Susan G. Komen people selling teensy bottles of water were very important parts of this show. I was charmed that they would combine rooibos with black teas, since that’s unusual and implies that they are willing to sacrifice tradition for flavor… but all I can tell you is that it made an excellent palate cleanser. –
- Buccaneer – Coconut, Chocolate Bits, Vanilla, Rooibos, Nilgiri
- Holiday Cheer – Peppermint, Mint, Cloves, Cardamom, Ginger, Spearmint, Orange Peel, Chinese Black
- Once Upon a Tea – Peppermint, Chocolate Bits, Vanilla, Mint, Rooibos
- Strawberry Kisses – Chocolate Bits, Vanilla, Strawberry, Rooibos
- Xocatlatl Chai – Chocolate Bits, Vanilla, Mint, Cloves, Cardamom, Ginger, Pepper, Cinnamon, Rooibos, Assam, Indian Black
Lily O’Briens was staffed by very sweet people who were willing to let me steal their pen to take notes (though I returned it once the Fairytale Brownies people were giving free pens away). Their sample was a filled chocolate with some of the richest, butteriest “sticky” toffee filling. But not any stickier than your average gooey caramel. Still – nice people, tasty sample. And the card they were giving out has an offer for a Buy One hot beverage Get One free. Their cafe is at 36 W. 40th Street (Bryant Park), and I’ll mail the card to the first person who promises to go there and use it (and try a bon bon).
Fairytale Brownies: Had the best giveaway all day – a pen with which I look all of these notes to share with you. Just for that I would say nice things about them, but they were also sampling a new addition to their brownie line: Cream Cheese Brownies. And you know how I feel about cream cheese. MMmmmm! They were all rich and creamy and yet not a bit of chocolate was sacrificed for the addition of cream cheese. They also offered blondie brownies, but whatever, they had cream cheese ones. Also, starting in 1992 was good for something – they managed to snag the brownies.com URL, lucky bastards.
Christopher Norman: Sat there looking all fancipants as if they didn’t need to offer samples to let people know just how artistic their message of chocolate might be. But I have no idea.
Quady Winery: specializes in dessert wines. I tasted 2 of the 4 they were offering (because, oddly, there was a crowd for this booth *g*). The wines were too sweet, the names too clever, and on the whole just a little too self-impressed.
- Essensia, Orange Muscat – Yes, yes it was. Very sweet and very candied orange rind. It wasn’t something I’d drink, but I could see someone using this in a chocolate.
- Elysium, Black Muscat – Now I like me some Manischewitz, but this was too sweet for me. Seriously, the write up in the guidebook gives tasting notes of rose and litchi. And so I left after just two.
Romanicos: These were the people advertising diet chocolate. Though, honestly, I have no idea how caloric your standard dark chocolate truffle would be to compare. They don’t use butter. And so their truffles are 38 calories each. But despite that, I tasted them anyway. And they were good! I would totally eat a whole box of the original sin ones. Melty, luscious dark chocolate rolled in little nibs to give it a nice, crunchy (gluten free) shell. I’m finding it hard to get away from the health claims, but really, they were tasty.
Green & Black’s: I don’t know if it was the way the booth was tucked into a niche or because it was a well-known name, but I ended up feeling guilty taking up space in front of the booth and fighting to reach the samples, so I grabbed ones near the ends and didn’t try their whole offerings. What I did try:
- Dark 85% – dark, bitter, not much to mellow it out. Prefect for those who consider chocolate a way to express machismo (i.e. not me)
- Maya Gold – no hot peppers, but it does have orange, cinnamon, nutmeg and vanilla. Tasty, but it also managed to not stand out in the midst of the chocolate show. It was just a decent bar chocolate.
- Mint – filled squares. Urgh! It just tasted artificial and too strong… and from the write up on their web page, they know that this is a problem and have tried to tone down the mint… and, yeah, no.
Peanut Butter & Co: had a whole bunch of interesting peanut flavors out to try, but I kept having to elbow little kids out of the way to try them… besides, I am loyal to Skippy and am only thinking of cheating on them for something a little more organic and separated… so I only tried their spicy one with the warning that it really was quite spicy. And it was – with also a good peanut flavor. In fact, their peanut butter reminded me quite a lot of my beloved Skippy, so no complaints from me… but also no need to seek them out unless you want someone to mix up exciting flavors for you so you don’t have to. They also had peanut butter filled pretzel snacks that looked very tempting, but they weren’t free. But they did look very promising and possibly superior to similar products.
Charles Chocolate: Had these mojito chocolates. You bit in and out gushed fresh lime and mint – and it wasn’t too sweet. It was quite refreshing and exciting, and while I was there someone was dragged over my her friend because she just had to try get the friend to try them.
Republica del Cacao: this was the only booth where I bought chocolate. Just saying – I paid money for this chocolate. And I should have bought more of it. it’s all single origin from places in Ecuador.
- 67% from the El Oro province – totally the one I bought. It has layers of flavor. The floral notes are interesting instead of cloying, the fruitiness is rich and luxurious.
- 75% from Manabi – I just jotted down that it was mild for that concentration and creamy
- 75% from Los Rios – had a smoky undertone that was quite nice.
Lindt: Yeah, I know Lindt. I have adored them ever since I discovered them in Switzerland in 1987. But that also meant that I just pocketed the Excellence 70% they were handing instead of trying it right there. I already know this isn’t the chocolate bar for me. My favorites are their milk chocolates (esp with hazelnuts) and their extra dark (black wrapped) truffles. But their real strength is in their creaminess (and I have long suspected that it’s secretly creamier when you buy it abroad). So I’ll be keeping the sample as a bribe instead of eating it.
Mary Chocolate: had a huge booth and used it all as an open kitchen where you could watch them filling bon bons and decorating them ever so daintily. But I’d have had to elbow people with cameras out of the way to get all the way over to the side where they might (or might not) have had samples, so I have no idea how it tastes. Definitely pretty, and (at least for show) hand decorated.
TCHO: TCHO (why all caps?) is all about innovating the way you think about chocolate.
No longer do you need to rely on unhelpful descriptors like “percentage cacao,” “varietal,” or “origin” to select your chocolate.”
So it is not, as I first guessed, a clever ploy to mask their supply chain so they could distract you from fair trade issues – because while their site does not specifically claim they buy fair trade cacao, they still have statements and goals toward social justice. Instead, I think it’s just a marketing ploy so they can use their snazzy color wheel. I mean, didn’t chocolate always have varying flavors? Anyway, so I tasted their four options: Chocolatey, Citrus, Fruity, and Nutty. And they were all very bitter, except for the nutty one. I couldn’t tell what flavor note they were highlighting as more citrusy than the others. And the Chocolatey one was distinct to me as having a bit of a coffee aftertaste… and I am not a coffee fan. Of their upcoming flavors (Earthy and Floral), I was curious about what made Earthy more so than any of the others, but the guy behind the counter just shrugged. Meh.
Barry Callebaut had some lovely humongous bars of chocolate, but the booth was rather spare and staffed by one harried woman on the phone to someone asking where were the other people who were supposed to show off. The display was geared toward the chocolate chef, and the samples were lozenges for cooking. I have no idea how to judge what will temper well or any of that, but it tasted like straight forward chocolate with neither bitterness nor complication.
Jacques Torres: There were these gorgeous square bon bons with ginger. It wasn’t too sweet – so the ginger in the chocolate wasn’t too candied, and it was dusted on top with powdered ginger. And it was just delightful and different. And not sold individually on the website at all, so you’d have to go to the store. I had a brief look at his cookbook, and I’d recommend a longer look to anyone who enjoys making chocolate preparations, but I can’t actually recommend the book because I know too little about the craft side of things.
Berkshire Bark: yeah, I don’t know. It’s just not my thing, but it seemed well made and full of interesting combinations.
Valrhona: I think they had something to taste, but I think I was thinking I’d remember it because I don’t have any notes on this booth. Sorry.
Chocolove: I did my best to taste through the whole line, but I ended up giving up through lack of interest:
- Milk – a nice, creamy kind of milk chocolate
- toffee & almonds eh – my little piece didn’t have much of either. It was a bit crunchy, though (might just be a sample problem, but I was just selecting at random)
- orange peel – it sounds like such a good combination, but I don’t think anyone at the show had a tasty one.
- ginger – the ginger taste was mild, but it was still refreshing
- Chilies & Cherries – I was a bit nervous trying this since I don’t like cherries, but I didn’t notice any. The chilies were also mild. But, hey, that means it’s not a challenging bar to eat… Yeah, I was bored, too.
Cotton Tree Lodge: Yes, it sounds like a hotel instead of chocolate, but they had free flowing chocolate, so I gave it a try – and it was very tasty, nutty stuff. And then they had the sweetest person ever behind the table, the woman in charge of their sales and marketing, and we ended up conversing about how I was taking notes for a blog entry and she tried to give me a full press kit before I told her I was completely amateur. But – let me tell you how awesome this place looks. Well, have a look at the website – you get to go down to the Belize jungle and stay for fairly reasonable rates doing nifty/relaxing ecotourism. They have a Chocolate Week where you harvest and make chocolate from scratch… and get to keep it. I am seriously thinking about doing this someday. The only odd bits are that on their FAQ, there are two separate questions about shampoo, and neither one is coming up with an answer for me.
ETA: The people from Cotton Tree Lodge stopped by to comment, and they are offering a 10% discount off their published rates with the code SHAMPOO – and you can see how sweet they are in the comments below.
Divalicious looked like a fun booth with its chocolate fountains… but since it looked like a quantity over quality kind of thing and I was more than halfway though, I didn’t step up to try it. But it looked like the people organizing the booth were having fun with it.
Guittard: these people had the most complete and most generous tasting selection of the show. And it was a really well set up booth with lots of information density, too.
- Bar Chocolates
- Nocturne – 91% dark, blend of 7 different beans. Sadly, too dark for me to appreciate.
- Quetzalcoatl most other offerings with this name have had spices or peppers, but this was just rich, tasty chocolate. They are calling it bittersweet, but it was dark and smooth to me.
- Tsaratana – 61% wonderfully rich. Seriously, my notes just say, “\o/!”
- Orinoco – 38% milk – good, but not exceptional in the land of milk chocolates
- Chucuri – 65% Columbian – Another \o/ – melty & sexy
- Ambajana – 65% Madagascar, Criollo cacao beans – did not stand out to me
- Sur del Lago – 65% Venezuela, Criollo and Trinitario beans – I really liked the complexity of this one
- Quevedo – 65% from centuries-old, Ecuadorean Nacional cacao beans – tasted mildly flowery to me. not my favorite.
- Baking Wafers
- fancy fancy – chocolate too fancy to be listed on their website (yeah, I have no idea how to categorize it.
- Columbian 65% – \o/!
- Peruvian, single bean, 65% – so smooth it almost tasted like milk chocolate – yum!
- kokoleka – actually was milk. It goes up there with some of the best milk chocolate I’ve tried. I don’t know why this was so good and the bar wasn’t, but hey
Bloomsberry & Co.: Looked like a chocolate company, but there were really only two chocolates – dark and milk. I only tasted the dark, and it was pretty standard for chocolate. The specialty here was charming and cute boxes for the chocolate. Stop by the website and peruse. Did I mention cute?
Eclat – Huh – if I’d noticed that it’s one single location was in my hometown, I would have gushed to the people at the booth. But, hey, I’ll have to stop by and try some. I didn’t try any at the show because it was $2/truffle to sample them. But local! Woooo!
Chuao – Nice, generous people. But these were the chocolates that almost made me hurl. I don’t know if it’s because they were at the end, but I tried their chocolate pods – Banana: and my mouth was awash with syrupy sweet banana and caramel flavor. I mean, it was a very clear flavor and well done, but very sweet. So I swallowed it down and decided to give them a decent second chance – Modena, strawberry and balsamic vinegar – shouldn’t be too sweet, right? Urgh – wrong. And, really, I don’t know if I would have liked it, if I’d started here. But, anyway, I gave it one more try because I didn’t want to have nothing good to say. So I figured the pods were bad news right then, what with their reservoirs of sweet – so I went for a truffle – Firecracker. And I’m listening to the description as I put it in my mouth – chipotle, yay!; salt – woo!; and pop rocks… erm. So, yeah, that one wasn’t a success, either.
So I sat down for a break with some bracing SeredipiTea (thank you!) and then set out to conquer the rest.
- Venezuela & Ghana – 80% – possibly the darkest chocolate I liked. It had a good flavor and coated the tongue nicely.
- Trinidad – clean flavor
- Melissa – 45% – smooth (yeah, sorry my notes aren’t more detailed here)
- Tanzanie – 75% – very nice
- Equateur – complex and tasty, not bitter
- Brut de Sao Tome – 75% – meh
sweetriot – An activist candy company! Very active! And young! And full of exclamation points! And they made their chocolate into Tic Tac/Nerds kind of mini shape so you can eat it on the go! And after a closer look, I just walked on without trying it.
Crossings Importers of French Epicurean Specialities – representing three groups, but I think I only have notes for two of them:
- Java 65% – bitter
- Asfarth 65% – meh
- Hacienda el Rosario – manages to be both bitter and floral all in one bar, not my thing
- Mademoiselle de Margaux chocolate twigs
- orange twigs – still not appreciating the orange selections at this show. Decidedly meh
- toffee – YAY! Delicious (and I think the note that it was salty went with this one even though it’s next to cappuccino because I would have passed on something coffee flavored)
- mint – tastes like real, fresh mint on a twig! Delightful.
Campagnia del Cioccolato – another group table, but this is an Italian association going around finding the finest Italian chocolatiers. And they found some delicious and charmingly amateur people. I just wanted to be sweet to them all.
- First, there was the Dolceria Donna Elvira – and when I asked for a card on which to make notes, as I’d been doing at all the booths, the guy offered me this beautiful spiral bound book with laid paper and I felt horribly guilty making notes in it with my crappy ballpoint pen. And I felt even worse when I didn’t like the chocolate. Well, at least I didn’t like the chocolate bars they had on offer, the dolceria makes other things, too. I know! I was sad. But maybe it will be your thing. So these chocolate bars, they weren’t creamy at all. They were granular. Like crystals of chocolate. It was hard to tell if the bars themselves were sweet or if it just seemed as though they should be because the texture was so much like gnawing at a sugar cube.
- limone – this one went best with the crunch, and the lemon flavor was very intense. Like nothing else
- Chili peppers – not that spicy, but it was really hard to get a handle on this one
- vaniglia – felt very sweet even though I don’t think it actually was. Probably the second best
- Cannella – possibly the most disappointing because at this point I had figured out the granular part and was expecting it would go well with a strong cinnamon taste, but it ended up being a subtle cinnamon taste that disappeared in the rest of the experience
- L’Artigiana di Gardini was offering Chocolate with the sweet sea salt of Cervia with liquorice… and I don’t like liquorice in general, but it blended nicely with the dark chocolate and the salt and made for an amazingly layered and different taste. And the salt was just wonderful. YAY!
- Guido Gobino offered for tasting Cremini al Sale: refined gianduja paste with integral sea salt grains and Extra-Virgin Olive Oil. It very rich and very smooth and melty and an absolutely delightful way to finish the show.