These bars have been all the rage this week on blogs and Twitter feeds about TJ's. It's the latest, hottest (in more ways than one) novelty item in the store.
And with good reason. It's unlike any chocolate you've probably eaten before, and the experience is such a novelty that your first impulse is to grab the next person you see and say, "You've got to try this!" Why? Because you'll want to watch their facial expressions.
Two things set this apart from ordinary dark chocolate bars. First, it has dissolved carbon dioxide that pops in your mouth when you chew or let it melt. Yes, exactly like Pop Rocks when you were a kid, though not so intense.
Second, there's an afterkick of cayenne pepper. I thought it was odd how everybody describing these bars noted that the pepper only hits you late, long after the initial chocolate taste and the bubbling sensation. But they were right. I don't know what confectionary chemical magic was used to create this effect, but it's interesting, surprising, and delightful. And it's a serious, no-foolin'-around dose of pepper, not just a wimpy little puff of it. Whoever championed these things through the TJ's review and approval process must have slipped Mickeys to the members of the Blandification Committee; they would not approve. Brace yourself.
Frankly, I had thought that I would not like the combination of chocolate and cayenne. But I did. Not enough to elevate this bar into my chocolate hall of fame or anything, but it worked much better than I had anticipated as a flavor blend, the novelty aspect aside.
Will I buy it again?
Not routinely. In fact, I assume, but do not know, that this is a seasonal item, and will be available only in the lead-up to Valentine's Day each year. But one bar a year to remind myself of the fun and novelty of it seems about right.
I like this a lot, and probably would have liked it even more if my pepper tastebuds hadn't already been over-exercised by a very peppery dinner.
The "pop rocks" factor is gimmicky but fun. At first I thought it was just crispy rice bits, but as the chocolate dissolved against the roof of my mouth, I felt the distinctive tickle 'n' pop. The afterburner from the cayenne is smooth and not too hot, more about a warm glow than any flavor per se.
The thing that makes this a real success, however, is the excellent quality of the dark chocolate and the soupçon of salt in the mix.