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Taza Coffee Chocolate Mexicano

For those of you following Sweet’s Reporter, you may have realized that I haven’t posted in quite some time. Truly, it’s been over 4 months since my last post, since I’ve been busy with another blog project and other things.

I’ve also been having mostly the same old sweets, so I didn’t have much to report – excepting the products I tried that weren’t really report-worthy.

Until now.

I recently got my hands on Taza’ Organic Coffee Chocolate Mexicano, and to be honest it’s almost like a new class of chocolate to me.

The ingredients are suspiciously simple, containing the trio of cacao beans, cane sugar, and coffee beans (all organic). There is 55% cocoa content.

The disc shape of the chocolate caught my eye, but whats really great about this product is the texture. The package declares it is “stone ground”, and normally I’d write off such marketing speak as a desperate attempt to sell a product in a hyper-competive market.  The discs texture seems pretty typical from the outside, but after breaking off a piece you can see it’s not quite as solid as other chocolates.  Once you sink your teeth into it, you experience something which I can only call decidedly gritty and unlike anything I’ve had before. Letting the it melt on your tongue (my typical way of enjoying chocolate products) enhances the sensation such that I’d like to call up the grounding stones and thank them. What was initially a “strange but unique” texture quickly became an addiction to me.

The price of this chocolate is usually around $8.00, a bit on the expensive side for this weight of organic chocolate, but I managed to pick it up for around $5.00 on a sale at Whole Foods a week or two ago.

Even if the product is not on sale, I highly recommend chocolate lovers to try this out once.

Overall Rating: 8.5

 

References

http://www.tazachocolate.com/store/Products/CoffMexDisc

Ice Cream Hacks: How to get the most out of your ice cream experience.

spoons

For this article, I’ll take a break from my usual review-style posts and try something different.

This sounds a little strange, but having eaten so many gallons of ice cream in my life, I feel like I’ve gotten “good” at eating ice cream. Sure, great ice cream tastes great no matter how you indulge yourself. But there are a few little tips I wanted to put in writing to give everyone just that extra edge in squeezing the most enjoyment and flavor out of every creamy bite.

Many of these are highly subjective, but I’m hoping that at least a few will work for you.

Let it melt – Nobody likes ice cream melted into a puddle of messy sugar, but I’ve discovered that eating half-melted ice cream really allows me to savor the flavor that much more. Scientific studies on this may be lacking, but these are my guesses for why this is so.

1) Cold is refreshing to a point, but as you cross the line to freezing the taste buds numb up and can’t do their job effectively. I remember reporting on something similar in my review of Lakewood Blueberry juice. I think its commonly accepted that some things with a mediocre taste (i.e. Beer) are more palatable when drank cold.

2) Whereas a solid will touch the tongue at a few points for a brief moment, the cool liquid of partially melted ice cream coats a large area of the tongue. With more surface area and more taste buds active, it’s  no surprise there is more flavor perceived.

There are few tricks you can use to help melt your ice cream to the right consistency:

1) Use a metal spoon. Metal is a conductor so it will help to melt the cream on the way to your mouth. Using plastic will just help it maintain its current temperature.

2) Eat ice cream from the outermost layer, that which is against the wall of the container and will melt the fastest. Occasionally wipe off the outside of the container with a towel when it gets frosty, to promote melting.

3) Chop up the top layer of ice cream with your spoon, or just poke a bunch of holes in it. That will allow more exposure to the outside air and promote faster melting.

4) Do NOT try to leave your ice cream anywhere but the freezer for any period of time to try and melt it. The risk for returning to ice cream soup is too high.

Small spoon – Several years back I switched from eating with a tablespoon to a smaller sized spoon (slightly larger than a teaspoon). This taught me to really enjoy every ounce and prolonged the length of time it took to finish off a container. It will also tend to reduce the total amount of ice cream eaten.

Small container – The advantage of a small container is that its easier to set limits on how much you eat, which prevents over-eating and helps you enjoy what you eat. With one of those giant containers, its easy to break your “ok, just one more bite” promises, until you feel ready to explode. And while it makes economical sense to buy in bulk, the quality the ice cream is typically much worse compared to the smaller containers.

Less sugar – If you eat ice cream with high sugar content day after day, you are likely to get tired of it quickly. Lower sugar ice creams need something to fill that gap, leading to more nutrition, and your body will thank you.

Ice Cream > Mlik – Don’t stay confined to only milk-based creams. Try coconut milk, goat milk, or even rice-based. This is another way to get a wider variety of nutrition and not burn yourself out.

Use Toppings – If you end up buying an ice cream that is not what you expected, don’t be afraid to use toppings to make the taste a bit more to your liking. My favorite healthy topping are walnuts (broken into small pieces), cocoa powder and cocoa nibs. Adding your own whip cream adds a new dimension of texture to any ice cream. Pouring chilled Kahlua over ice cream is also nice once in awhile.

Know your ingredients – Reading through the ingredients list to know what you’re eating (either before or after you take your first bite) is a nice way to enrich your experience. It will help train your taste buds to look for certain subtle flavors.

Try it yourself – Try making your own homemade ice cream. That will give you a better understanding of some of the more mysterious ingredients (like ‘guar gum’) and also an appreciation of how difficult it is to make a great-tasting cream. I like to make variations of the same ice cream, putting less or more of a certain ingredient, and seeing how the end result is. When you fail at this trial-and-error process (as I have), just head to the nearest supermarket for some pro-made cream.

Eat when your stomach is happy – I’ve found that its hard to enjoy ice cream fully on a completely empty stomach because my body is craving nutrition. Conversely, trying to stuff my mouth when I’m already full isn’t smart. Eating a sweet dessert an hour or two after I’ve had a moderate meal seems to be the trick to maximum appreciation.

Starbucks Java Chip Frappuccino Blended Beverage – a true love/hate relationship

javachip

Intro

There is almost no sweets from my college days that I still enjoy now in my 30s. Our subject this time, a sugary chilled drink, is one of the few that has passed the test of time and taste. It’s also very high on my list of guilty, unhealthy pleasures to quit. In that way I have a true love/hate relationship with this drink.

For those easily-addicted types with a sweet tooth, I highly recommend stopping here and moving on to my next report. It will save you innumerable calories and pounds.

Flavor

Chocolate chips, coffee, and milk, blended smoothly with ice, topped off with a very generous spray of whip cream, further layered with a criss cross of chocolate syrup. This is a good objective summary of the basic ingredients and flavor of this decadent dessert-lovers dessert.

Being a long time Java Chip junkie, I perceive things more as  succession of sensations and stimuli. First, the welcome chill as near-freezing liquid passes through a wide straw, into my mouth, through my esophagus into into my stomach. In passing, the sugar gives my taste buds a jolt and I start to feel the high coming on. Not long after the caffeine kicks in, sending me to a state of near-enlightenment – a true altered state of consciousness (*). Occasionally I use my straw as a spoon, scooping up swaths of fluffy whipped cream for a mild dairy intermission, or snipe up gobs of rich dark syrup for a burst of extra sweetness.

Alas, things aren’t always this blissful. A combination of badly trained employees and differing recipes makes this drink more like a roulette wheel of chance. The amount of caffeine, chocolate, ice, and mostly importantly how well blended the beverage is, varies considerably even within a single store. Around 20% of time it’s a perfect ten, and in rare cases the drink will get totally botched.

This reminds me of the time I glanced at the cafe counter and caught sight of a snowy white drink which had just been placed there. A moment later the barista said my Java Chip was ready. My eyes blinked in disbelief. When I asked the barista if he put coffee the drink, his returned answer put me in a state of shock.

“There is no coffee in Java Chip Frappuccino”.

Nutrition

A “grande” (medium) size is 16 ounces and, with whipped cream added, has the following key nutrition facts: 460 calories, 66 grams of sugar, and 110 mg of caffeine. The calorie count is comparable to two servings of ice cream, if not less, but the sugar concentration is a bit extreme. The caffeine is roughly equivalent to two shots of espresso.

Sometimes the problem nutritionally with foods is not with what they do contain, but rather than what they lack. It’s true that chocolate, coffee, and milk all have benefits according to nutritionists, but there isn’t much here to supply the body with needed vitamins and minerals. My gut confirms this when I down these 16 sugary ounces on an empty stomach. Hunger is suppressed for a short time but then renews with even greater vigor, leaving me starving with a stomach full of junk my body doesn’t need.

Sugar and caffeine are both strong stimulants in the right dose, and while this drink is good for a quick pick-me-up, I can’t help but feel that frequent usage has the chance for adverse long-term effects. Another problem with this drink is that the full ingredient list isn’t published, which means there is bound to be all sorts of scary things like artificial flavor in the syrup used.

Which is why I do plan to kick the Java Chip habit. Eventually.

Price and Availability

The “grande” size goes for $4.25, which isn’t too bad for a dessert of this type. Those of you watching calories can go for the “tall” 12 ounce size, but with a price of only 50 cents less its a hard sell. There is also a “light” version for the same price with roughly half the number of calories, but I haven’t tried it.

These are available at Starbucks Cafe, or at Barnes & Noble Bookstores Cafe. I tend to use the latter, which may be why I have had such an inconsistent experience.

Ratings

Flavor: 8.0 (varies between 4.0 – 10.0 depending on the person making it)

Nutrition/Ingredients: 4.0

Price: 7.0

Overall: 6.3

Summary

A serious drink loaded with enough sugar and caffeine to keep you up for hours. Not recommended for anyone too concerned about nutrition.

References

http://www.starbucks.com/menu/drinks/frappuccino-blended-beverages/java-chip-frappuccino-blended-coffee#size=11002666&milk=67&whip=125

(*) This sort of sensation is a good (though slightly exaggerated) account of what I felt when drinking this product until recently. Since I started drinking coffee on a daily basis several weeks ago, my caffeine tolerance has increased so my body responds less readily to the stimulation.