Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Starbucks Milk Chocolate: maybe stick to lattes

I love Starbucks. I know I should be supporting those mom and pop neighborhood coffee shops, but there is something about the green siren logo that just draws me in. When I spent a sleepless semester studying theater in London, Starbucks was my savior. Something familiar, a cozy place to juice up before hitting another 4 hour long Shakespearean production. After having my first child, walking to Starbucks for a nonfat latte was the best part of my day (provided he didn't wake up screaming the moment it was served!). And when I taught high school English, the Mill Valley Starbucks shop gave me the courage and energy to get through another day of cajoling freshmen into reading Great Expectations.

And so I was not opposed to Starbucks entering the world of fine chocolate. Would I eat chocolate with my coffee? Most definitely not. But if I'm wandering the Tenderloin before an ACT production, desperate for a sweet treat, Starbucks chocolate could be just the answer.

I was not surprised to find that most of the Starbucks chocolate sold at my local Safeway (and not my Starbucks!) contains coffee. There is a mocha bar and packages of truffles with flavors like milk chocolate mocha, dark chocolate espresso, and milk chocolate chai. I decided to taste the milk chocolate bar first, while comparing it to some other milk chocolate bars I had in my chocolate stash. The objects of comparison? Green and Black milk chocolate and Scharffen Berger milk chocolate. Since Artisan Confections (Hershey's high end line, which includes Scharffen Berger) actually makes Starbucks chocolate, I had somewhat high expectations. I had also heard rumors that the Starbucks milk tastes exactly like the Scharffen Berger milk.

That rumor couldn't be further from the truth. We found the Starbucks chocolate surprisingly flat, with a sickly sweet aftertaste reminiscent of a candy bar. It was nothing like the mellow tones of caramel and honey I enjoy in the Scharffen Berger milk. I even preferred the sweet Green and Blacks milk to Starbucks. And of course, there are other milk bars out there (like the Michel Cluizel Mangaro ) with a much richer flavor, with fruity notes and high cacao percentages that even appeal to dark chocolate lovers. Starbucks does not publish information on cacao percentage or bean origin on the labels of their chocolate bars. Clearly, they're not focusing on a high end market.

When I'm in the mood for some sweet filled chocolate and need an energy boost, maybe I'll pick up some of the Starbucks truffles. (Too bad they don't sell them by the piece in their coffee shops.) But when it comes to bars, I'll stick to my old favorites and stick to lattes at Starbucks.