Chocolate and coffee are two of my favorite food groups, and while I prefer indie coffeeshops, that’s more a local-shopping than a flavor-based decision for me. Starbucks offers perfectly good coffee, and I’ve always liked their chocolates in the past. This shipment of Starbucks chocolate looked especially promising: one milk, one dark, and one dark with VIA, the special Starbucks roast. All three are marked as retailing at $1.75 for a 1.2 ounce bar, which seems more than a little steep; but hey, this is Starbucks.
I started with the milk chocolate. First ingredient on the list: cane sugar. Marked off into six segments, it broke easily and had a nice, milk chocolatey smell, not too sweet or plastic. It offered a nice soft “bite”–by which I mean that I bit into it without feeling much resistance. The taste was smooth and chocolate, and lingered pleasantly. After a couple bites I did notice a slight acidic buildup, but it was well within the normal range for good milk chocolate. I liked this one; I’d buy it if I was out at a Starbucks and needed something sweet (beyond my usual latte), although I have to say that I think the grocery store offers a selection of better quality, larger bars for half the price. This is a case of paying for the label, not the taste.
The dark bar (first ingredient listed: cacao beans), also scored into six pieces, was much harder to break and bite into. The smell and taste were very dark and acid; I found myself comparing this to eating a handful of semisweet chocolate chips. There was no real sweetness at all, and the aftertaste was harsh and lingering, acidic and powdery. I had trouble rinsing it out of my mouth. I think this would be best paired with something very sweet; perhaps dipped in peanut butter or baked into cookies. I wouldn’t eat it by itself, and again, I can get better dark chocolate at the grocery store.
I picked up the “Dark with VIA”, increasingly apprehensive as to what I’d find. The label boasts “100% natural roasted instant and microground coffee, blended into rich, dark chocolate.” The ingredients start out with “chocolate mass”, which is explained on the manufacturer’s (TCHO) Web site as follows:
After winnowing, the freshly roasted cacao nibs are transformed into a liquid state through a series of grinding steps utilizing gentle heat and pressure. The resulting unsweetened liquid is commonly called “cocoa mass” or “cocoa liquor” (although it does not contain alcohol). The cocoa liquor is then poured and cooled into block forms for shipping, soon to become the core ingredient of our chocolate.
I always worry about coffee beans ground up in chocolate; there’s a high potential for it to come out gritty and unpleasant. I was half wrong this time; there wasn’t a hint of grit. Whatever process they used to grind the coffee, it’s texturally undetectable. This is a very smooth chocolate, which is actually very impressive given that there’s coffee grounds involved. Taste, however, is a whole different situation. I found the straight dark harsh and acidic; the VIA blend practically burned my tongue. After twenty minutes and a full cup of water, I can’t get the taste out of my mouth, and god do I want to. It’s comparable to chewing on a bar of baking chocolate; I can’t even taste coffee past the bitterness. Perhaps if I had something very sweet to drink with this, I’d feel differently; but most of the time these days I’m drinking water.
Interestingly, the wrappers for the first two bars bear the note “Manufactured by TCHO, exclusively for Starbucks”, while the third only states, “Manufactured for Starbucks”. TCHO is an up and coming chocolate company out of San Francisco. Their web site claims (in part) that: “TCHO is where technology meets chocolate; where Silicon Valley start-up meets San Francisco food culture.” They make their chocolate from scratch, from bean to bar, which is impressive enough to make me want to try some of their non-Starbucks products. Adding to that interest, TCHO has won quite a bit of attention and high ratings, including a thumbs-up from Martha Stewart Living and a profile in Travel & Leisure magazine, among other outlets. I have to wonder if the VIA chocolate was actually crafted by TCHO, given the minor difference in labels, but it doesn’t really matter in the end: I found it inedible.
I am glad I found out about TCHO, as noted above; their web site is very interesting and educational, with an entire section devoted to explaining how chocolate is made (with lots of nice pictures). I will definitely check out some of their other offerings in the future.
Final verdict: the milk chocolate is good. The dark is all right. But the dark with VIA was disappointing, to say the least. For the price, I expected much better across the board. Sorry, Starbucks fans; I’m not getting behind this set.
The TCHO Web site may be found here.
(Update: Starbucks no longer sells chocolate as of 2019.)