Category Archives: chocolate

Chocolate Monday: Condor Chocolate brownie

Condor brownie fullOne of my favorite parts of traveling is trying beloved local eateries. Of course, when my forays into new food gems include chocolate shops, I get even happier.

Recently my travels took me to Athens, Georgia, which is not only the home of my best friend in the universe, but also a ton of amazingly tasty places to eat. In fact, in 2013, Zagat named Athens one of the 7 up and coming food cities. In 2014, it was named the Best Foodie City for Groups by ConventionSouth Magazine. In 2016, Fortune Magazine named it one of America’s 10 New Best Craft Beer Cities. These accolades come in addition to all kinds of ones for just being a totally cool place to vacation, live and go to college. Oh, and it’s also host to some pretty cool musicians like The Indigo Girls, The B52’s and REM. My best friend told me that pretty much everyone she knows has seen Michael Stipe shopping at Earth Fare. Somehow she keeps missing him.

Not only did we spend the week eating at some totally amazing restaurants like Cali N Tito’s, The Grit, Kelly’s and Jittery Joe’s, but we also got a chance to stop by Condor Chocolates.

We originally tried to visit them on Monday, but like half the places in Athens, it seems Mondays are verboten. Seriously, pretty much every place in Athens is closed on Mondays and it is more than a bit annoying. Although our initial attempt was thwarted by a closed sign, since we never give up on chocolate, we went back on Thursday.

Condor chocolate sells chocolate bars, chocolate truffles, cloud boulders (chocolate covered marshmallows), toffee, bon bons, macarons, brownies, gelato and chocolate drinks. Since they have a variety of deserts, shakes, and sipping chocolates, they actually have a dine in cafe. Check out their menu here.

We’d already been out for quite some time and the kids were longing to return to my best friend’s house to play with her dog, so we got our treats to go. Of course I bought one of each of their truffles (which I will review at a later date). My best friend and son got cloud boulders, which they both loved. My son described his as a bit of fluffy chocolate heaven. My daughter got a passion fruit macaron and she was delighted. In the last year she has become obsessed with macarons. I think this is largely due to some macaron shaped erasers she got from the summer reading program.

In addition to my box of truffles, I also snagged one of their brownies. Since Condor chocolate is a bean-to-bar chocolate shop (and cafe) and the owners are brothers whose mother was from Ecuador, all of their chocolate is from Ecuador and most of it is fairly dark chocolate.

Any regular readers of this blog know that I am not exactly on the dark chocolate fan bus. It’s only been in the last 10 years I’ve even been able to tolerate it and even then I get really picky about it. But, because chocolate is a passion, I am trying my hardest to learn to truly appreciate it in all of its forms.

Plus, who doesn’t love a brownie?

My best friend, as it turns out.

That’s ok, more brownie for me. My first bite was not the best. While completely moist (ugh, I hate that word) and chewy, it wasn’t the velvety milk chocolate brownie I was hoping for. Granted, since it is advertised as a dark chocolate brownie, it was totally unreasonable for me to have that expectation, but a lifetime of eating brownies has prepared me for velvety, milky happiness.

My second bite was better. And so was the third. I got used the the slightly bitter bite of the chocolate. The more bites I took also meant more bits of sea salt to balance out the very heavy, very dark chocolate of the brownie. Despite it’s darkness, thanks to the small chunks of dark chocolate in the brownie, it actually had a fairly creamy, if slightly bitter taste.

It was insanely rich and there was no way I could eat it all in one sitting. While not gigantic, it is a large brownie and both its denseness and richness make it a treat I think most people would find hard to eat on their own–at least in one sitting. I actually divided it into four servings, which was about all I could handle at a time.

Sure, I’ll admit that I ate one of those servings for breakfast, but that’s one of the glorious bits about being an adult. As long as my kids don’t see me, I can totally eat a brownie for breakfast!

Although this brownie is definitely a treat I had to portion up and could not eat large quantities of, I’m glad I tried it. It was tasty and really started to grow on me. On my next visit to Athens, I might even try it again. Of course I might also have to get some of their toffee because I LOVE me some toffee!

Overall:

Appearance: 8/10
Taste: 7/10
Value: 8/10 (at $5 a pop, it seems pricey, but since I got four servings from it, I think it’s a pretty good value).

 

 

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Chocolate Monday: Hershey’s Cookie Layer Crunch

Hershey's Cookie Layer CrunchI was rushing through Kroger with my kids the other day, trying to pick up my daughter’s prescription when we happened to pass one of those stand up displays that divides the central walkway in half. You know the displays, the ones that guarantee that if you come around a corner and get stuck behind someone pushing their cart at a snail’s pace, you’ll be stuck in the store forever. They are the concrete dividing walls of the grocery world.

Thankfully this trip we were sans cart and we could zip around the horde of shoppers all trying to grab those final ingredients for dinner.

As I started to pass on the left, a glint of orange caught my eye. I’d seen the Hershey’s cookie bars before, but only the mint chocolate and vanilla creme ones. Not that I’m too good for either mint chocolate or vanilla creme, but at first glance they hadn’t stood out and screamed, “TRY ME!”

I’d picked up the mint bar before as mint chocolate chip is one of my favorite taste combinations, but it’s dark chocolate. I’m not a fan of really good, high end dark chocolate and I am REALLY not a fan of cheap dark chocolate. To be honest, aside from Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, I’ve never been a huge Hershey girl, and I have never liked those little Hershey’s dark miniatures. While vanilla creme is admittedly more up my alley, I just got the impression it would be like a cookies and cream bar and I’ve never been a huge fan of that flavor combination either.

So I’ve passed by many a Cookie Crunch display.

This time though, I saw the orange sparkle that almost always announces caramel. I paused in front of the display, staring at the package. Should I? Caramel and chocolate is a must have on any sweet list I make. Surprisingly it was not the caramel that sold me. It was the bits of shortbread cookie. One of my favorite candy bars of all time, Twix, mixes delicious caramel, chocolate and shortbread, so this one had to be a winner too, right?

Hershey's cookie midshotThe chocolate is exactly what I’ve come to expect from Hershey’s: inoffensive, nondescript chocolate. I know many people love Hershey’s chocolate. One of my grandmother’s absolute joys in life was a simple Hershey bar. She didn’t even want almonds mucking up her bliss. For me, the only truly good use for a Hershey bar is in a s’more. Other than that, I have little use for them. The chocolate is fine, but it’s just that: fine.

And that’s what this chocolate was, fine. I was a bit disappointed that the shortbread was just in small bits throughout the bar. I wanted a little more cookie in my cookie crunch bar. I wanted it to have that distinct Twix-like crunch and this bar is kind of lacking on the crunch element. The shortbread is fine, but it seems to provide more texture than flavor. And it’s placement is spotty so some bites didn’t even have that much shortbread in them, which was a disappointment.

Hershey's cookie close upI wasn’t quite sure from the picture on the front what to expect as far as caramel consistency goes. One thing I love about caramel is the way that different companies change up both the flavor and the texture. I love ooey-gooey caramel. I love rich buttery caramel. I love thick, chewy caramel. Pretty much any form caramel comes in, I love. The caramel in this bar was a bit uneven. In the first bite it was almost completely absent. I got a slight hint of it, but not enough to even figure out what type of caramel I was dealing with. The second bite was better. It had more caramel flavor and I was able to tell that the texture was thicker than a Caramello, but more liquidy than a Turtle. The consistency of it was good, but apparently in the piece I was eating most of it had somehow managed to pool at one end. When I got to that end, there was a ton of caramel and it was by far the most enjoyable bite.

The flavors meshed ok, but I felt over all the entire bar, which I had high hopes for was just ok. There’s nothing really negative about it, but also nothing really positive. It just sort of is. It’s better than a Hershey bar, but if I really want this flavor combination, I’ll save the $2 extra dollars (and change) and just get a Twix.

Overall:

Taste: 5/10
Appearance: 4/10
Value: 4/10

 

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Chocolate Monday: Tcho orange + toffee

Tcho orange toffee packageI am a sucker for toffee, pretty much in any form it takes. I’m also a big fan of chocolate and orange fusions. In fact one of the few ways I truly enjoy dark chocolate is if it is paired with orange or raspberry. So, when I was shopping at World Market and saw Tcho’s orange + toffee bar, I knew I had to try it.

A few years ago while thumbing through a magazine at my dentist’s office, I saw an article about Tcho chocolate. The flavors sounded amazing and I was heavy into my chocolate Monday blogs, so I pulled out my phone, used my notepad function (why I didn’t just take a picture of the magazine page still perplexes me) and wrote down the company name with the intention of finding their chocolate bars and reviewing them. For some reason, I did not follow through.

Recently I’ve noticed Tcho chocolate bars at my local Kroger. I thought about picking some up, but I already had several chocolate bars waiting to be reviewed at home, so each time I’d go down the candy aisle, I’d look wistfully at them and keep on pushing my cart. When I was at World Market though, the bright, shiny orange wrapper really grabbed my attention and caused me to pause and rethink the purchase. It wasn’t just the packaging I fell for though, the lure of toffee was just too strong.

tcho full barActually, I’m not sure if it was the pull of toffee so much as it was the giant question mark that appeared in my head when I tried to imagine why anyone would pair toffee and orange together. Toffee and chocolate I totally get. Orange and chocolate I also completely understand. But toffee, orange and chocolate? This seemed like some sort of sorcery to me. I had to try it.

My very first bite had me pleasantly surprised. Despite being a dark chocolate bar, it was not overly bitter, which is my universal complaint against most forms of dark chocolate. As I let the first bite melt onto my tongue (which it did), my mouth was flooded with the bright burst of citrus. This is definitely an orange chocolate bar. The toffee flavor is much more subtle. Actually, it’s almost non-existent. To me the only real contribution the toffee gives this bar is a tiny crunch. Still, it’s a nice crunch. It’s not overly crunchy or Pop-rocky as toffee can be when it is thrown in rather gratuitously. When I manage to separate out the toffee, I notice it has a slight buttery taste to it, which I think just balances the bitterness of the chocolate and tames the citrus just a tad.

This is definitely a bar I prefer to savor by letting it slowly dissolve on my tongue. The flavors are just brighter and more pleasurable when they melt than when they are chewed. This bar is a great introduction to Tcho and has me wanting to try more from them. I know that on Sunday when I head to Kroger to get my groceries, I’ll be adding another Tcho bar to my cart. Probably the mint chocolate one.

Overall:

Appearance: 8/10
Taste: 8/10
Value: 8/10

 

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Chocolate Monday: Chuao Caramel Apple Crush

apple caramel barFor me, vacation is not only about taking time to relax and get away from the hectic day to day, but also a chance for me to explore new and often exotic chocolates.

I just got back (way later than planned) from a trip to Isle of Palms, SC. While I vacation at IoP every year with my in-laws, this trip was not about cousins chasing each other through hallways playing tag, or breaking bread with a few dozen members of my husband’s extended family. This trip was all about me bonding with my best friends.

Two years ago, my favorite people in the entire world (who aren’t related to me by blood), jumped on planes and flew halfway across the country to celebrate one of the most beautiful weddings I’ve ever been to. For four glorious days we shared an amazing house in the heart of Denver. When we weren’t sitting around talking, laughing and chopping a damn lot of vegetables in preparation for the wedding feast (it was a simply delicious cookout at the house), we were visiting escape rooms, drinking in video game bars, going to burlesque shows and eating some truly fantastic food. Oh, and somewhere in there we managed a scenic drive to the mountains in order to attend the actual wedding.

Since our quests for gainful employment have sent us sprawling all over the country, being back together for that weekend was a wake up call for us: we don’t spend enough time together. We vowed then and there to make the gathering a yearly occurrence. Last year we all met up in Destin, Florida for fun in the sand, surf and sun.

This year, thanks to the help of my sister-in-law who let us use her beach house, we were able to gather at Isle of Palms. Luck was definitely with us as we arrived on Wednesday, two days after Hurricane Irma blew through, flooding streets and knocking in parts of buildings. By the time we all got there though, aside from some puddles, really high tides and some strongish wind, it was glorious.

One of our first stops on Thursday was Target. We had to get provisions for the rest of the long weekend. My plan was just to get a pair of sunglasses (which I’d left at home), some lunchy foods and detergent. However, since we were already in the food section, I figured it couldn’t hurt to check out the candy aisle.

As I glanced around the aisle, I was thrilled when my eyes settled on a brand new candy bar from Chuao, a candy company I actually found for the first time while visiting Isle of Palms about seven years ago. Like every other company on the planet, as soon as Halloween starts to creep up, so do the pumpkin and apple flavors. My eye was drawn to the shiny green edges of this caramel apple bar.

As I’ve already established in this blog, there is not much stronger than my love for caramel apples. And while I am usually a purist when it comes to my sticky, apple treats, there was no way I could pass up this bar.

When I finally opened the bar, it looked a little worse for wear. I didn’t actually eat it on vacation, so it had to survived a rather long trip to Atlanta in my purse. Then, it had to endure the flight back to Indiana as well. Still, despite being a bit bumped and bruised, it was still chocolate, so I gave it a try.

caramel apple bar close upThe chocolate itself is very creamy. It has small flecks of dehydrated apple in it, which while not really visible in the chocolate itself, are definitely in there. Biting in, I kept getting that slightly chewy sensation that only dried apples give. As much as I like apples, dried apples are one of my least favorite dried fruits, and it’s mostly due to that texture. Since they apple bits are green apples, as I finished each bite, I got little bursts of tart apple in my mouth which I really enjoyed.

I did find the crunchy caramel pieces in the bar a bit of an odd texture. The bar is far more apple and chocolate than caramel, so every time I crunched a bit of caramel it felt strange to me. I tend to prefer my caramel to be liquidy and creamy, so I’m always just a little put off by crunchy caramel bits.

Although I would have liked a bit more caramel flavor, this was a fun bar. It still doesn’t beat out their s’mores bar, but I liked it and have no plans to share any of it with my kids (which is where I dispose of the chocolate I find only so-so).

Overall:

Taste: 8/10
Appearance: 5/10 (the words on it are cute, but not that much to look at)
Value: 8/10

 

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Chocolate Monday: Caramel apples

caramel appleOk, I know, technically this should NOT qualify as a chocolate Monday post. After all, this amazingly yummy treat has no actual chocolate on it. I’m squeezing this one in on a technicality: at the shop where I purchased this apple, there were, in fact, several varieties of apples that featured not only caramel, but also chocolate. In fact, I was very seriously eyeing a chocolate caramel sea salt apple. But, at almost double the price (and no doubt double the calories), I decided against it. Plus, it was dark chocolate and I didn’t want to risk messing with, what in my opinion, is one of the perfect sweet treats.

I LIVE for caramel apple season. It probably doesn’t hurt that it is in my absolute favorite season: fall. With the first hint of autumn in the air, I head on over to one of the local orchards to get my first true taste of the changing season. And it is delicious!

This year, my first stop on the caramel apple trail was Connor Prairie. I wasn’t positive the Apple Store was going to be open yet. I had a fear that it didn’t technically open until after Labor Day, and I had a vague recollection of them being closed on Mondays, but thankfully they not only opened September 1st, but also had special Labor Day hours, so I managed to get one of the first crops of these ooey-gooey bits of amazingness.

I was so excited about this first caramel apple of the season that I did not even take the pictures I’d normally take for a blog post. There was no partially eaten bite–I devoured that baby immediately. Luckily, I bought a second one to enjoy tomorrow–so I was at least able to take a picture for the blog. I couldn’t open the package though, for fear I might start nibbling this one. That’s how much I LOVE these apples.

While this was a darn good apple, it was not the best caramel apple I’ve ever had. The caramel was out of this world. It was creamy and buttery, just like good caramel should be. Although it was a tad sticky, slicing it with a knife did not make a mess at all. It melted on my tongue with each bite. The caramel was everything I’d hoped it would be. The apple, however, left a little to be desired. It was just slightly tart. I’m sure it would have been a fine apple for most people, but I like my apples (with or without caramel) VERY tart. There is not much better in my mind that a tart Pink Lady apple. I ADORE them. This apple just wasn’t up to my preferred level of tartness. It was still good and I did not regret a single bite, nor the money I spent to buy it or the time it took to walk to the Apple Store (after already walking around Connor Prairie for four hours on a pretty dang hot day).

I can forgive Connor Prairie a slightly mediocre apple because the caramel is so good. And, the best caramel apple I’ve ever had in my life came from Connor Prairie, so I have hopes that my next visit will yield a slightly tarter apple.

Overall:

Taste: 8/10
Appearance: 7/10
Value: 8/10 (regular apples caramel apples are $4 each, nuts are available for .50 more and the caramel sea salt ones are $8).

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Chocolate Monday: B.Happy Peanut Butter

B.Happy PB jarI am not sure words actually exist to fully explain how much I love the combination of peanut butter and chocolate. Alone, I find both amazing, but together…well, I think they surpass any other taste combination that exits on the planet. I have never found any food item with this simple combination that has not made me happy.

A few years ago, while shopping downtown with my best friend, we wandered into Homespun. My lovely BFF and I found out about the store thanks to a trip to the Handicraft Exchange, which is this amazing mix of artists gathered together to display and sell their art. Pretty much any type of art you can imagine is featured there, including the culinary arts. It is thanks to this amazing event that I discovered Lick Ice Cream, Just Pop In popcorn, and Nicey frozen treats, all of which are PHENOMENAL!

It is also because of our trip to this event we learned Homespun carried products by several of our favorite local artists. It was during my first trip to Homespun in search of some amazing headbands I’d fallen in love with that I found another true love of my life: B.Happy Peanut Butter.

I want to describe the pure joy I experience when eating B.Happy Peanut Butter, but words utterly fail me. Now, I have to be clear…despite buying multiple jars of their peanut butter, I have never actually eaten it as part of a sandwich. That would be simply ridiculous! When the jar tells you to eat the peanut butter with a spoon, listen to the jar. It knows what it is talking about. Granted, I have never had their KeeP Smunchy, which is their plain peanut butter, but I have a feeling that even that variety would not end up on a sandwich in my household.

I’ve tried 5 of their 9 different flavors of peanut butter and I have not been disappointed with any of them. I actually love them all so much it is hard to pick a favorite. If I absolutely had to, it would probably be Count Your Blessings, which is a chocolate cherry version. The crunchy peanut butter is mixed with plump tart cherries and the perfect amount of milk chocolate chunks. It is seriously heaven on a spoon. If I had only one pre-made dessert to eat for the rest of my life, this might be it. It’s that kind of good.

B.Happy close upSadly, when my family visited the state fair a week or so ago, the building that sells Indiana made products, did not allow me to count my blessings as they did not have that flavor on sale. Thankfully, my second favorite flavor: Go Lucky, was.

Now, I know the picture of the open jar may not look that appealing…I blame the Rice Crispies in it, but the flavor is incredible. This divine mix is crunchy peanut butter, Rice Crispies, milk chocolate and toffee. It is the absolute perfect blend of sweet and crunchy and, well, bliss. I am always a huge fan of toffee, especially when it is paired with milk chocolate (an almost equally amazing pairing to PB&C). It turns out that to make milk chocolate toffee even better, all I was missing was some peanut butter. I eat this straight out of the jar just like I would ice cream. Heck, this would probably be amazing on ice cream.

I love it so much that I have, on more than one occasion, made myself sick from eating too much of it. It is addictive and therefore, not exactly conducive to my current plan of healthy eating. I have only had two tablespoons of this jar so far and it’s kind of killing me!

The other noteworthy (and super tasty) flavors I’ve tried are Joy to the World, which comes in third simply because of the fact that while the cranberries, peanut butter and white chocolate are fantastic, I am not a huge fan of dark chocolate and sometimes I get tired of it. Still, this one is great–even my third favorite here is amazing. Fourth on my list is Don’t Worry, which is chocolate and coconut, another flavor favorite of mine. Again, this one has dark chocolate without anything tart or sweet to balance it, which is why it is lower on my list. The last one I’ve tried (and still like, despite it being last on my list–last on a list of things I think are amazing is still amazing after all), is Happy Trials, which is basically a peanut butter version of trail mix. This one is actually my husband’s favorite as I am pretty sure he could eat his body weight in trail mix every day. He was actually just accusing me of cracking into his jar of peanut butter (I did NOT!) because he’d eaten way more of it than he thought and was sad it was almost gone.

B.Happy would never be my go-to for a peanut butter sandwich, but for anyone looking for an amazing dessert option, I highly suggest them. This stuff blows Nutella completely out of the water. And, they ship all over the country.

If you love peanut butter and chocolate, do yourself a favor and try one of these. You won’t regret it.

Overall:

Taste: 10/10
Appearance: 8/10 (the actual peanut butter can look a little gross)
Value: 10/10 (at $7.50 a jar, it may seem like a steep price tag, but a little of it goes a long way and it is worth every bite).

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Chocolate Monday: Vanilla Bean Bakery cake truffles

vanilla bean truffles.jpgWhenever I see a bakery, I am always tempted to stop in just to see what they might have. After passing by Vanilla Bean Bakery many times, I was enticed by their sign advertising cake pops. Being on this diet for the last month has definitely upped my desire for smaller portions of sweets that I can still enjoy, but feel better about eating.

From the first time I had a cake pop–even though they were just called cake bites at the time–I fell in love. My favorite bakery/coffee shop started selling them about 8 years ago. They didn’t have any sticks attached to them. They looked like large truffles and they were sinfully delicious. I was pregnant with my daughter at the time and just about every time I stopped in to have lunch or get tea with my best friend, I either had to have a toffee cookie or a cake bite. When I was in the hospital with my daughter, my best friend actually brought me a box full of cake bites to help me celebrate.

I quickly figured out how to make them and had lots of fun trying them out in my kitchen. One year, instead of making my usual Christmas chocolates and truffles to give out as gifts, I made cake bites. My cake bites were twists on classic Christmas treats. I had a gingerbread cake dipped in milk chocolate with a fun white squiggle, an eggnog cake dipped in white chocolate with cinnamon on top, a white cake with ground up peppermint candies dipped in white chocolate (with chopped up candy pieces on top) and a chocolate fudge cake dipped in milk chocolate. They were a HUGE hit.

As much as I love cake bites and pops, they are pretty labor intensive. It’s just so much easier to make a cake, so that’s what I usually do these days.

However, I was craving something smaller, so on a whim I succumbed to advertising and stopped in Vanilla Bean Bakery. They had over a dozen different flavors of cake truffles, which are basically just bigger cake bites. It was a hard choice because every flavor was pretty darn appealing. For myself I had to go with Heath because my default is always either caramel or toffee. I also grabbed a peanut butter torte truffle. My husband is a die-hard peanut butter man, so I got him one as well and a carrot cake truffle as he likes fruitier flavors with his chocolate. I got my son a chocolate birthday cake truffle and my daughter a vanilla birthday cake truffle. I figured the sprinkles would be all either of them would really care about. I’m pretty sure they’ll eat anything as long as it has sprinkles on top.

Although I’m usually a saved the best for last kind of gal, I wanted the Heath one last night. The cake was good, but really just chocolate cake. It wasn’t quite as moist as I was expecting it to be. It wasn’t dry, not by a long shot, but it wasn’t as moist as my cake bites are and I was a bit disappointed. I did like the little bits of Heath sprinkled on top which gave it the needed toffee crunch. It was pretty tasty and made even better by the fact that I didn’t have to make it myself.

My daughter let me try a bite of her vanilla birthday cake truffle. It looked like Funfetti cake on the inside and the outside. The white chocolate it was dipped in was VERY sweet. I only got a small bite, but the only flavor I could really taste was white chocolate. Granted, it was a small bite, so it’s probably not a fair judgement.

vanilla bean close upTonight I tried my peanut butter torte. I have to say it’s not really torte-y. It’s not so much a cake truffle as it is a giant, slightly grainy buckeye. It has very good peanut butter flavor. It’s not overly sweet, which is nice. Store bought buckeyes can often be cloyingly sweet, but this one is not. I’m not quite sure why it has the grittier texture, but I definitely enjoyed it. It’s definitely not a cake truffle, but if you are just in the market for a peanut butter truffle, it is a solid offering.

Although I only had a small sampling of their cake truffles, I would definitely go back to try some more. I’d also absolutely get the peanut butter one again.

Overall:

Taste: 8/10 (the peanut butter one definitely bumps it up higher)
Appearance: 9/10
Value: 8/10 (they are $1.35 each and HUGE). Cheaper and tastier than Starbuck’s

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