[Photographs: Carrie Vasios]

It feels like every time I stop by Trader Joe's, I'm sucked into buying chocolate. I've identified five reasons for this. 1. Pretty packaging 2. Pretty packaging placed strategically near the checkout line that screams, "Why the heck not?" 3. Good prices 4. [Often] good quality 5. New products to try. They're pretty genius marketers, these TJ's people, I'll give them that.

The last time I was in a Trader Joe's, I fell into the trap. There were three new chocolate bars with maybe the cutest packaging yet—all vintage-y with ships and A FLAMINGO.

Some of you might recognize the design. There was a Dark Chocolate Tasting Odyssey box set with similar packaging that was available for a limited time in December. Of the flavors included (Caramel & Black Sea Salt, Salt & Pepper Potato Chip, Chili & Cinnamon and Orange Hibiscus) it seems only Caramel & Black Sea Salt, which was already a TJ's "favorite", was re-upped.

Though it may no longer be an "odyssey", the bars are obviously still meant to take you on a voyage or quickie vacation. The Caramel & Black Sea Salt package states:

Exotic Hawaiian Black Sea Salt hails from the Pacific seawater that surrounds the Hawaiian islands. This stunning black salt is evaporated in above ground pools that form naturally from lava flows. Together, its smoky aroma and intense caramel complement this sophisticated dark chocolate experience. Trader Joe's 70% Cacao Dark Chocolate Bar with Caramel with Black Sea Salt pairs well with a lei, Hawaiian shirt and grass skirt.

Hmm. Will eating this chocolate feel like going to Hawaii? And more importantly, will my purchase have been a happy trap, like seeing the latest Muppet Movie, or a sad one, like To Rome With Love? The results below.

The Good


Dark Chocolate Bar: Toffee with Walnuts and Pecans. Of the three bars I tried, this was the only one that didn't include caramel. While you don't get hit over the head with the taste of pecans or walnuts, as one might expect from the name, the teeny pieces did add a subtle nuttiness and pleasing textural crunch. The toffee is much more apparent, and, fair warning, tastes a little burnt. There's definitely salt in there to highlight those toasty notes, and the result is more like a dark roast coffee than a caramely or butterscotchy toffee. But there are times when I want to nibble on dark chocolate that has a little edge, and this would fit the bill.

The Kinda-Good


Dark Chocolate Bar: Caramel with Black Sea Salt: First the good: the chocolate that forms the outer shell of this bar is good—smooth, nutty, and not chalky. I wasn't surprised as I've come to expect pretty good things from TJ's dark chocolate. But whereas the carmel in their Chocolat de Belgique bars is good, this caramel almost ruined the bar. The texture was a big problem: it was so goopy that the bar wouldn't easily break apart into squares and instead it shattered and leaked all over my hands. Then there was the taste, which was way too fruity, like "wait is this flavored with something—maybe pineapple—no?" and sweet.

The Ugly


Dark Chocolate Bar: Coconut Caramel. Hey chocolate, candy, and cookie makers: beware ye coconut. I've found this is one of the hardest flavors to pull off as so often it starts to taste like a can of tropical sunscreen. That's exactly what happened here. It didn't have to be perfectly authentic coconut—I would have even taken more of a Mounds flavor—this was just bad.

In short: The actual dark chocolate on these bars is pretty good, and it reminds me that I'd happily pick up a plain piece of Trader Joe's dark chocolate. If you want a little something extra and like a little bitterness in your chocolate, try the Dark Chocolate Bar with Walnuts, Toffee, and Pecans. Otherwise, stay clear.

About the author: Carrie Vasios is the editor of Serious Eats: Sweets. She likes to peruse her large collection of cookbooks while eating jam from the jar. You can follow her on Twitter @carrievasios


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