September 18, 2011

Wild Haas, Two Bears in a Hot Tub, and the Crowbar: Round Two of the NAF Cocoa Cup

Life Overtaking Law

Dear Bounty candy bar eaters (and you know you are), beware of this blog series because you will never be able to go back after tasting these gourmet bars!

Last week, we reviewed a variety of flavoured chocolates, with Hagensborg’s Truffle Pig securing a place in our highly-anticipated finals. This week, our team of tasters (including celebrity guest panelist Aleem Bharmal, Executive Director of Community Legal Assistance Society) tackled an impressive trio of gourmet dark chocolate bars.

Our third place contender this week is Thomas Haas’ “Wild” bar, featuring 67% “grand cru” cocoa made from Bolivian wild harvest cocoa beans. While this is not Haas’ darkest chocolate, ranking only third of six by cocoa content in their Cocoa Percentage Series, our reviewers’ primary criticism was that they found the chocolate a little too dry and bitter for their tastes. The bar is described as being “floral” in its palate, but one taster (a self-described dark chocolate fan) described the accents as having an almost fishy character (but this is a taster who eats herring roe while drinking Kombucha, so perhaps his taste buds are a bit fishy). This  bar does present clear signs of being a high-quality product. This taster appreciated the slightly granular texture of the bar, which is a pleasant contrast to the sometimes soft and sticky consistency of more pedestrian offerings. In the final consensus, the conclusion was that this bar was not for everyone. In addition, as with last week, the packaging was once more the subject of some criticism. Although the embossed surface and reflective numbering shows that much thought and care went into the design, it turns out that the unromantic Helvetica-themed layout does not inspire the feelings of comfort and decadence that our tasters were looking for.

Placing a respectable second, and making a credible bid for first place, Whistler Chocolate’s “Pocket Chocolate” was well-received by our panel. A certified organic bar with 100% compostable and recyclable packaging, this bar has feel-good appeal for the socially conscious. If Haas’ packaging was found to be too clinical, Whistler’s approach received a few jabs for being too corny – apparently two bears in a hot tub are a bit too cute for some of our hard core lawyers. Still, there were no complaints about the chocolate itself being too cloying. While slightly sweeter than the Haas (despite weighing in at 72% cocoa content), our reviewers found the bar to be well-balanced and satisfying, with an intriguing and pleasant contrast between the bitter and sweet elements. As there was very little separating our top two contenders, this bar came very close to moving on in our tournament – but, as the saying goes, there can be only one.

The winner of this round had our judges at hello – with a catchy name and clever design, Salt Spring Island’s “Crow Bar” appeals to the eyes even before being unwrapped. The crow image featured on the wrapper, designed by Haida artist Jim Hart, is also embossed on the bar itself. One of our tasters was quite taken by the pretty orange tin foil wrapping, noting it would fly well if folded into a plane. Notwithstanding the aboriginal design and Mayan-themed company logo, the bar describes itself as being made of “extra dark Belgian chocolate”, although it is not clear what makes the chocolate Belgian in particular. Whatever its cultural influences, however, the end result was found to have universal appeal. Similar in both taste and texture to the Whistler bar, with 70% cocoa content, the Crow Bar gained a slight edge through its elegant simplicity. While less assertive in its initial impact, the bar achieved a lingering and harmonious semi-sweetness that had the best follow-through of all our contenders, which left our reviewers wanting more. As a warning to the makers, we do  note that the packaging does not appear to be in strict compliance with Canadian regulatory requirements, as there is no nutritional information to be found. However, in this one instance, we are prepared to let the technical irregularities slide, and allow the Crow Bar to ascend to the next level of our contest.

Before we sign off, one interesting nutritional note is that these bars are high in iron and in dietary fibre.  Eating one of these bars gives you the equivalent iron and dietary fibre of a slice of high fibre bread.  Breakfast chocolate – yum.  Next week, our panel reviews a selection of gourmet milk chocolate bars mixed with crunchy goodness. Stay tuned for round three!