Saturday, August 19, 2017

Review - Recchiuti Dark Hot Chocolate

San Francisco confectioner Michael Recchiuti makes a packaged hot chocolate that I keep seeing turn up on lists of the best hot chocolates in the country. Like this list. And this one, too. I'd enjoyed Recchiuti chocolate bars in the past, but didn't know anything about the company or how their product was made. Well, with their drinking chocolate getting this much attention, I certainly couldn't stand idly by and let this one pass me by! I placed my order and anxiously awaited it's arrival.

Speaking of my order arriving, have you ever seen those unboxing videos on Youtube? People order the latest bit of technology and then do a video review that starts with them opening the box and continuing on through powering it up, getting it started, working with it, etc. I figured I'd give it a shot with a hot chocolate!

Everything came packaged very nice and snug, wrapped in bubble wrap and lots of paper padding. And check out that very classy packaging! I love the silver on black.

Michael Recchiuti started his chocolate company in 1997 and in the time since has established himself (and his team) as some of the best chocolate confectioners in the world. When I first came across the bars in a high end chocolate shop, I assumed they were bean-to-bar, but have since learned otherwise. Recchiuti sources their chocolate from Valrhona and E. Guittard.

The instructions are nice and clear on the back of the box. Actually, in browsing their website recently, I've noticed their packaging has changed a little bit, so your box will look slightly different.

The bag is filled with delicious smelling chocolate pistoles. Of course, as always, I tasted a few, eating some normally and savoring a few, letting them melt in my mouth to enjoy the intricacies of this chocolate. Dark and a little smokey, not tangy or fruity at all, which is nice, as I lean more towards the less tangy chocolates. (I call them tangy, but I think high-end chocolate folk call it citrus or red fruit flavors.) On their website, Recchiuti mentions that Varlhona creates a special blended chocolate based on Michael Recchiuti's palette. I wonder if this is that chocolate?

I pulled out the scale and got my measurements just right. That's a lot of chocolate for only a small amount of water!

2 ounces of water isn't very much. It's equivalent to 4 tablespoons. So already I can tell this ratio of ingredients is going to create a very thick, rich drinking chocolate.

And wow, is it ever! Made as instructed, it's a very intense drink. Tangy notes have appeared in the flavor now, and a slight hint of smokiness. And it's very thick. I needed a spoon to enjoy mine. But enjoy it I did! I scraped the cup clean with my spoon. Definitely a very high quality chocolate - dark, but still sweet. They don't give a percentage anywhere on the package, but if I had to guess, I'd say it's around a 60-65%

While I did order the marshmallows to accompany the drink, I found after a first sip that I didn't want them with it. They are delightful marshmallows, to be sure, but this drink screams to be noticed on it's own. As intense as this drink is, cranking it up even further by adding in the strong sweetness of a marshmallow was a bit much. In fact, I actually went and brushed my teeth after this drink.

I also made one with milk, using 3oz whole milk and 3.5 oz of the chocolate. I've learned over the years that my favorite types of drinking chocolate are made with milk. I'd like it to not be a pudding or ganache, but still be thicker and richer than your average hot cocoa.

While heating the milk one, I realized it was still going to be too thick for what I was looking for, so I added more milk, probably another 3oz or so. The finished drink was astounding! Drinkable without a spoon while still being very thick, and extremely rich. The milk made it creamier, which is what I prefer. Wow, what a great hot chocolate! This is not, however, an after dinner hot chocolate, or a morning pick-me-up cocoa. This is a dessert chocolate. Something meant in small portions, to savor every sip, looking for the complexities of the flavor. This is why these amazing chocolate makers are doing what they do, taking chocolate out of the corner candy store and elevating it as something that should be experienced as you would a 5 star dinner or an expensive wine.

I also made this hot chocolate one other way, what's become my favorite way to enjoy almost all drinking chocolates. And unfortunately, I did not get pictures of this version. Just a big helping of 2% milk, maybe 2 or 2.5 cups, and then I just dumped in the last 2 or 3 ounces of chocolate I had left. Mmmm, wow. Really, really good. It actually brought out a bit more of that tanginess, and it was very pleasant. It was rich, but not overpowering, and very drinkable. It tasted very much like an bean-to-bar chocolate drink, something handcrafted where the flavor of the bean and the roast of that bean can shine through in the flavor.

I perfectly understand why this hot chocolate has made so many lists of the best hot chocolates, and I certainly rate it up there myself. If you also order the marshmallows, I recommend saving them for days when you make this drink at a very different ratio of milk to chocolate than what is described on the package. And don't forget to tell them you heard about them here at Melting Mug!

Pick it up at their online shop here!

Monday, June 5, 2017

Review - ZenBunni Chocolate


Well, this chocolate was certainly an learning adventure. I hope you're ready for something you've never heard of before, because this is about as original as it gets. Here in Los Angeles there's a trendy little street called Abbot Kinney. Lots of artsy places, stores carrying handcrafted products, and a coffee shop or two. And, happily, a little cubby hole of a chocolate shop called ZenBunni.

ZenBunni is a biodynamic chocolate company in Venice, CA, established in 2007. This was the first time I've ever come across the word biodynamic in relation to chocolate. Reading their website about how they source all their ingredients, I learned that biodynamic farming involves spraying the soil with crystal-infused water and takes into account the "influences and the rhythms of the sun, moon, and planets". The name ZenBunni comes directly from the two founders, Bunni and Zen. Everything they use is organic, raw, vegan, gluten free, and free of any refined sugars. Yep, I said raw. Meaning they do not roast their cocoa beans. And when they grind them, they do it slower, so the temperature doesn't get as high as it does with typical cacao processing. Heck, they even use omnidegradable packaging with vegetable ink!

The packages also have little descriptions on them of symptoms or issues that each chocolate should help with. For example, Mocha Mucha says it helps with fat burning, brain activating, cardiovascular protection, and increasing energy. I'm not sure if a tiny chocolate bar can really help with these types of things, but hey, who am I to judge.

I picked up a few bars during my first visit. Mucha Mocha, which includes biodynamic and organic hand-ground espresso, maple crystals, 70% cacao, and cane jaggery (and seems to now be called Mystic Mocha). Kathmandu Chai has biodynamic and organic ashwaganda, tulsi, vanilla, zenbunni chai spices, 70% cacao, and cane jaggery. Lavender Lamuria, which contains biodynamic and organic lavender flowers, salt, lavender labyrinth oil, 70% cacao, and cane jaggery.

So you can see there's a lot of unconventional ingredients in there. Not that this is a bad thing, of course. It's kind of neat and fun. The flavors are definitely original and the chocolate itself has a nice, not too sweet flavor. While all the ones I picked up were 70% chocolate, they taste like they could be 75%. Hopefully you also noticed in those ingredient lists above, instead of sugar, they are sweetened with cane jaggery. Basically, it's the boiled and reduced juice from sugar cane. Same raw materials as regular sugar, just not refined as much.

The bars are tiny, which makes them a bit expensive for their size, since they are $3 a bar.

I'm using two bars of their Original Topanga to make a drinking chocolate. While making the drink, it created an excellent froth, even though I used 2% milk. I tend to think a good froth is a result of using real chocolate, because the cocoa butter is still in there, which is the fat of the cacao bean. I have no idea if that's correct, it just seems to be what I've discovered. If I use cocoa powder as the main chocolate ingredient in a drink, it never froths. If I use whole chocolate, it usually will.

The drink is delicious! It's not very sweet and has a slight nuttiness, with just the slightest notes of almond. It also has a very creamy flavor, typical of drinks where I add some heavy cream to the milk. It's very pleasant to drink, and would make a wonderful midday or after dinner drinking chocolate.

And at this point, I was actually going to publish this post. Then, before I could, at my wife's workplace Christmas dinner, her coworker Angela surprised us with gifts of ZenBunni's actual packaged drinking chocolate! When I had visited, they hadn't yet been making this product. We left with the Kathmandu Chai Coco. I've enjoyed chai-infused drinking chocolates here on the blog before, and once I opened this package, like the other ones, I was blown away! The aroma of that chocolate mixed with the complexity of the chai spices is just magical. 

The packaging is extraordinary! Amazing artwork on the front, while the back has a bit of a Harry Potter feel, complete with a magical tale of creating the drink in a stupa high in the mountains overlooking Kathmandu.

In the instructions, they mention adding in a touch of grass fed butter or ghee. I made it as recommended, and even added that spoonful of butter made from the milk of grass fed cows.

Wow, creamy and amazing! Putting the butter in, I was a bit skeptical that I would be able to notice it, but in the time since my first mug of the drink, I've made it without the butter, and I really think it made it much creamier. It's really a wonderful drink, very relaxing and aromatic, and definitely out of the range of ordinary hot chocolates. They also have a Shiva Rose Coco, and I can't wait to have a sip of that! 

This drinking chocolate is definitely recommended, and if you order, be sure and mention you heard about them here on Melting Mug. And if you try it, please come back and let me know what you thought of it.