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Home / Doug's Chocolate Republic  /   Review: Scharffen Berger Semisweet

     
Scharffen Berger Semisweet 
Posted: 16 November 2011    8.0 
Scharffen Berger Semisweet The Scharffen Berger Semisweet, at 62%, is one of the first Scharffen Berger bars I'd ever tried.  The back wrapper says that the chocolate offers hints of citrus and honey overtones. That's probably going overboard. The important thing is it didn't have overtones of crap. This is a bar that's easy to eat given its cacao percentage. Those new to dark chocolate will find this a nice jumping off point.     
Avg price/gram: USD 0.053   Cocoa %: 62  Size: 85g   
       


In the 2010's, American chocophiles may forget just what Scharffen Berger did for the American premium chocolate industry.  Scharffen Berger wasn't the first company to start making upper tier chocolate, however you choose to define "upper tier."  Green & Black's in the UK beat Scharffen Berger to the punch, and there were likely companies before Green & Black's making premium small batch chocolates all over Europe.  Scharffen Berger appeared at a time when Americans began to take a greater interest in better quality products and pay the extra for them.  By the time the 1990's hit, Starbucks outlets selling $5 coffees were spreading at the rate of one per working day.  Mr. Donut's free coffee refills weren't cutting it anymore for the yuppie crowd, and premium chocolate consumption was right behind.       

Most of us didn't see it coming.  Robert Steinberg did.  Steinberg was a physician, most likely gay but not out of the closet, diagnosed with a lymphoma when he was just 42. A prognosis of an early demise for Steinberg encouraged him to dump his medical practice and pursue things of real interest -- piano playing, drawing, and chocolate making. Steinberg did a brief chocolate apprenticeship in France. Upon his return to California, he ran into former patient and openly out-of-the-closet winemaker John Scharffenberger, and the two teamed up to start a chocolate operation in 1996. Steinberg kicked some serious tail in the intervening years, on culinary and financial fronts, before the cancer kicked back at him in 2008. RIP Steinberg.

Back in the early 2000's, I thought Scharffern Berger chose its name to sound European, a play Häagen-Dazs employed by using European letters in its name.  Later, I found out John Scharffenberger was a co-founder, and I figured he must've put up the bulk of the investment capital to get the chocolate named after himself, with Steinberg's name a corporate prospectus footnote. Then again, would a chocolate brand name of STEINBERG entice any of you to buy it? The reason is much simpler. John Scharffenberger's surname had some name recognition in the Bay Area due to his former winery. It's the same reason a TV network calls its next forensics show CSI: Miami rather than Miami Forensics. It never hurts to coast off previously built up brands.     

The Scharffen Berger Semisweet, at 62%, is one of the first Scharffen Berger bars I'd ever tried.  It may have been the first.  Who knows when?  Nine years ago?  Eight years ago?  The back wrapper says that the chocolate offers hints of citrus and honey overtones.  That's probably going overboard.  The important thing is it didn't have overtones of crap.   This is a bar that's easy to eat given its cacao percentage.   Those new to dark chocolate will find this a nice jumping off point.      

I liked the Semisweet back then, and I like it now.  As one of the company's initial offerings, this bar must have sentimental value for many Scharffen Berger diehards, some of whom probably never heard that Hershey bought out Scharffen Berger in 2005.  I found it very interesting that the Nibby bar made no secret that it was manufactured in Robinson, Illinois, while the signature Semisweet shows Berkeley, California.

Scharffen Berger Nibby
Scharffen Berger Semisweet

Scharffen Berger maintains a retail location in San Francisco and perhaps still has a business presence registered in Berkeley. But as of 2009, Hershey closed the California factories, laying off 150 employees, and channeled all operations for their Artisan Confections Company division in Robinson, Illinois. Explain to me why a 62% semisweet bar with nibs inside would be manufactured in one state, but the same base, without the nibs, would be manufactured in another state thousands of miles away? The easy answer: they're both manufactured in Illinois, far from the company's roots, but the marketing PR machine wants us to believe it's business as usual.

And so far it is. As long as manufacturing isn't moved to Hershey, Pennsylvania, and the cacao consistency turned to wax   Robert Steinberg doesn't have to completely roll over in his grave yet.

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 The Complete Chocolate Republic Index


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  chocolate made by Scharffen Berger in Berkeley, California sparked an American chocolate renaissance, mates. Scharffen Berger specializes in dark chocolate. Hershey bought the company in 2005 and now it's made in Illinois under the Artisan Confections banner. The Semisweet is the signature bar that Robert Steinberg and John Scharffenberger, both gay (likely), created in their dark chocolate empire.