Monday, February 28, 2011

Chocolate Review: Theo's 70% Cherry & Almond

By Benjamin Skipper

Mildness does not necessarily need to be a bad attribute; given the right context, it could really add depth to a chocolate. When the attribute is in balance with other flavor players and can be distinguished from them, for instance, it merely adds to the complexity of the treat. If it's so mild that it can't be detected, however, then why include it? Today in consideration is Theo's 70% Cherry & Almond.

Strangely enough, this was a difficult variety to unravel. I enjoy the intellectual challenge, but this was a challenge of digging up vices and not virtues. Just about every aspect of this bar is so weak that it hardly impinges on the conscious in any significant way and is hardly strong enough to stimulate pleasure. Plus it promises one thing on the wrapper and delivers another, and how disappointing it is to have promises broken by confectionery!

To start, the chocolate itself is quite bland. If it were any weaker then I'd imagine it'd be all texture and no taste. At 70% cacao I expect a somewhat strong experience, but it tastes merely of conventional bittersweet chocolate like you find in the baking aisles of your grocery store, and is equal portions bitter and sweet, which cancels each other out in a way. The cherries are there to be sure, but they're even milder than the chocolate itself, so they enter the field of awareness only on the very edge of one's peripheral perception. I can clearly tell that its cherry I'm tasting, but its so weak that I cannot identify its exact nature: no tang, tartness, sour sweetness, or the like. The almonds I could not taste at all, which is odd since I can clearly see them integrated in the chocolate: Here we have the odd paradox of something being present and absent at the same time. Furthermore, the whole experience is just one long boring note with no starts or finishes.

The mouthfeel is just acceptable. The sections snap loudly and there's a crunch at every bite, but it shortly enough become soft and yielding to your internal body heat. I fully expected the cherries to add some stickiness here and there, but here's where they themselves vanish without a trace and the almonds become assertive. The bite starts out hard and crunchy, slowly softens into a viscous paste, and finishes off dry. It's strange that something could be moist and be perceived as dry, but the almonds have pulled it off.

The aroma brings back to mind again the excessive mildness. The chocolate is the dominate player, but that's hardly saying much since the aroma is so weak as to be nearly imperceptible. The cacao is of a fruity nature, certainly cherry, but again its so mild that it hardly impacts the consciousness. As for the almonds: Where did they go again?

Let us not neglect the aesthetics: the ugliness is continued in this brand. I am more fond of the packaging of this variety than I am of the others since it's brighter and has nice photography of the cherries, but the chocolate bar is horrendous. Again: ugly rectangles without decoration, no shine, chocolate "dust" and shards everywhere, and even smears. Given that other companies can produce much cheaper chocolates and make them look worlds better there is simply no excuse for such ghastliness. 

The primary vice here is that everything is mild to excess. It hardly comes off as being anything of any sort, so any more mildness would just make this bar a block of "stuff." Since it includes both almond pieces and oil I would expect a far more nutty experience, but I can only detect the almonds in the finish of the mouthfeel. Everything is so boring that I find this variety to be totally worth passing up.

Theo is rather a mixed bag to my interpretation. I love the balance of their orange bar, but, in addition to the present variety in consideration, I dislike their mint since the cacao is weak in that one too and there was also an out-of-place note of rye. Given certain processes, base recipes, and premises a company should perform rather consistently, so I'm suspicious that it may be their very source of cacao that I dislike. Nonetheless, I have found value in this company and will continue watching them for more of their works; their single-origin chocolates are on my wish list.

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