Friday, March 7, 2014

Valentine's 2014: New Chocolate Brands Join the Battle

While everyone was busy shopping for Chinese New Year goodies, I was hopping around shopping for chocolates instead. This is because Valentine's Day is celebrated as a bigger event than Chinese New Year and department stores or patisserie shops began selling their chocolates online as early as start of January.

And as the time draws near to February, chocolate fairs are held at most department stores, giving chocoholics like me a great opportunity to taste the various types of branded chocolates that I could never afford to buy for myself.

But nevertheless, there are times when I thought it was worth investing in certain chocolates. NEWTREE chocolates is an organic brand of chocolates from Belgium. They are low-sugar and high-fibre and contains ZERO trans fat. It's not only about the health benefits from organic chocolates but the practice of using organic, fair-trade cocoa beans help to sustain the environment and allow future generations to enjoy chocolates.
Instead of buying the large sized chocolate bars, I opted for the petite bag of 6 best selling chocolate bars and their Belgium Waffles. The flavours are Lavender, Ginger, Noir, Lait, Cinnamon and Cassis. Each one has its distinct profile and a pleasantly long finish. The Ginger bar is invigorating with its subtle spiciness.
The Belgian Waffle is soft but not chewy. Made with organic spelt-flour, unrefined red cane sugar and natural acacia fiber, the texture is cakey and the taste is not sweet at all. It might be less buttery and fragrant than most waffles but one single piece already makes quite a satisfying treat without causing a sugar spike.


Besides organic chocolates, I went for Wafu (Japanese-style) Chocolates instead of the luxury brands from France or Belgium since the flavours are more exotique and difficult to purchase them outside Japan.
To me, Japanese style chocolates represent a form of orientalism because their packaging are usually adorned with beautiful floral prints, creating a very soft, romantic appeal to consumers.


For instance, Ponto Japon's design theme is based on leading Japanese painter Takehisa Yumeji from the Taisho Era.
Also, the flavours of the pralines revolve around spices and fruits too, though Ponta mixed it with classic Western pralines. Here are the flavours, starting from Kaki in Bitter Chocolate.
Ginger Bitter Chocolate and Milk Praline
Sakura Bitter Chocolate and Almond Ganache    
Unfortunately, the Japanese/Asian flavours did not stand out as much as I expected. My favourite piece from this box is still the Milk Praline because it contained gooey chocolate caramel that
Wrapped like an Ikebana flower, this heart-shaped box (840 yen) called "Yumeji no kokoro" (aka Yumeji's Heart) offers two kinds of truffles.
Nonetheless, Ponto Japon had some very delicious truffles in Matcha and Kinako flavour. These morsels caused a mess on the table as the coating of powder scattered everywhere once each of the paper wrapper is unsealed. But they were rich, bitter and dissolve not instantly, but gradually in the mouth. Nope, Ponto Japon is not from Kyoto but Osaka.
From Tokyo Chocolate Specialty Shop Bel Amer, there are also three new flavours of chocolate palets (252 yen each) that are inspired by savoury food or ingredients.
Shio (Made with Kochi Prefecture Deep Sea Salt and 60% Bitter Cacao)
Corn Potage Soup (Blended with Vanilla)
White Shoyu (Soy Sauce)
But still, I have to admit that the one of the best Japanese-style chocolate confectionaries I've had comes from Patisserie Gion Sakai of Kyoto. They have miraculously engineered Espresso sauce into bitter matcha chocolate and sold them in a box of 6. This product was inspired and developed in their first overseas outlet which opened barely a few months since August 2013 in New York.
These chocolates might not be produced by French artisanal chocolatiers but they are proud to call them the "Art Chocolates of Gion". This box contains 3 assorted flavours that are similar in design as the Matcha Espresso.
Matcha Chocolat with Kuromitsu (Black Sugar) syrup. The matcha comes from established Kyoto tea merchant Morihan and the kuromitsu coms from Okinawa. 
Bitter Chocolat with Yuzu Sauce
Milk Chocolat with Hyuganatsu sauce (Hyuganatsu is a famous mikan from Miyazaki)
Each piece of the chocolate rounds is excellent. They have a slight sheen that reflects light and produced a brilliant "snap"--signs of good quality chocolates. While French chocolates reign supreme in the world, the Japanese brand of chocolates hold its unique charm that is hard to beat.  

Stock List:
New Tree Organic Chocolates: www.newtree.com/
Bel Amer: www.belamer.jp/
Ponto Japon, Osaka: www.ponto-japon.com/
Patisserie Gion Sakai : www.gion-sakai.com/index.html
For full chocolate album, visit facebook page here

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