Category Archives: Theo Chocolate

Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups vs. Theo Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups

Theo Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups vs. Reese's

Can Theo’s new dark chocolate peanut butter cups (top) rival the sentimental favorite of millions?

Each year when my kids come home with their Halloween bags full of goodies, I coerce them into letting me sample two things:  Almond Joy bars and Reese’s peanut butter cups.   Yes, even as a chocolate connoisseur, I occasionally eat common everyday candy.  It’s becoming less and less every year, but there’s something compelling me, perhaps some nostalgia, to reach into the bag with a bit of reluctance and pull out a big hunk of sugar like a smoker who’s quit but occasionally indulges in just one cigarette.

But not all candy has to be junk, does it?  When I learned that the fair trade organic chocolate maker from Seattle, Theo Chocolate, just put out a new peanut butter cup, I had to give it a fair review vs. the old standby:  Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups by Hershey’s.  Theo actually makes two types – a milk chocolate and a dark chocolate.  I went for the healthier and I hope tastier dark chocolate option.

Reese's and Theo peanut butter cups

The familiar round Reese’s cups (left) use milk chocolate while the heart-shaped Theo cups use dark chocolate.

Where to buy:  Reese’s – just about anywhere. I bought a two-pack at a local old-school convenience store for $1.30 only to find them completely melted.  To give Hershey’s a fair shake, I had to start with something in good condition, so I found another pack at the big-box hardware store for $1.20 bringing my total effective cost to $2.50. Ingredients: milk chocolate (sugar, cocoa butter, chocolate, milk solids, non-fat milk, milk fat, lactose, soy lecithin, PGPR (emulsifier), peanuts, sugar, dextrose, salt, TBHQ (preservative).

Where to buy: Theo – available online at NewLeaf Chocolates for $2.49.  Ingredients:  Cocoa Beans, Cane Sugar, Peanut Butter (Roasted Peanuts), Cocoa Butter, Powdered Sugar (Cane Sugar, Cornstarch), Peanut Flour, Salt, Rosemary Extract (Vegetable Oil, Rosemary Extract), Ground Vanilla Bean.

Aroma:  Reese’s – all peanut butter. I tried several times to find some scent of chocolate and the closest I could come to is milk.  If you don’t believe me, try it yourself.  First smell a real dark chocolate bar and then the peanut butter cups.

Aroma:  Theo – first chocolate and then something nutty.

Taste:  Reese’s – It’s a big sugar rush.  The taste is dominated by sugar and peanuts up front.  Real chocolate flavor was hard to find.  All my life could I have been enjoying only the perception of chocolate?

Taste:  Theo – once you bite into it, it’s all peanuts just like Reese’s, but much less sweet.  A moment later, the real chocolate flavor appears with a very short-lived hint of fruit.  It was an unexpectedly less intense experience than Reese’s mainly because with Reese’s the sugar is overwhelming.  With Theo, you enjoy the chocolate flavor more and can feel and taste it separately in your mouth.  The finish eventually goes back to all nuts.

Texture:  Reese’s – A grittiness perhaps from the nuts turns smooth after a while.

Texture:  Theo – There’s a good snap at the start.  You will want to let it melt on your tongue a bit before chewing to let the chocolate catch up to the peanut butter flavors.

Reese's and Theo's peanut butter cups cut open

The inside of the cups look similar, but the Reese’s (left) seems infinitely sweeter than Theo.


I know some of you are wondering about those suspiciously long abbreviations in the Reese’s ingredients list. Here’s what they mean.

TBHQ is tertiary butylhydroquinone, an antioxidant that is derived from petroleum[2].  It’s often used as a preservative on packaging and in some foods with the full blessing of the FDA as long as it’s below a certain concentration.  This is not the type of antioxidant you get from blueberries and green tea.  This is an industrial chemical used to slow the oxidation of fats and other stuff so they don’t taste rancid.

PGPR is polyglycerol polyricinoleate, an emulsifier used to reduce the viscosity of chocolate so that they can pump it around a big factory in pipes and quickly fill all corners the little paper cups that hold the chocolate[3]. It also makes it easier for the chocolate to melt into a formless heap if it sits on a sunny store shelf.

Look, I don’t think we should be afraid of every chemical that has a long name – there’s plenty of complex chemicals naturally produced by your own body after all.  But, I don’t see any need for PGPR or TBHQ in my chocolate.  To produce a peanut butter cup that sells for not much more than a dollar, I suppose you have to throw in a couple of chemicals.  That’s what you get for $1.30.

If you try to research the safety of these chemicals on the web, you’re bound to run into some pseudo science, so be careful.  If you want some better information, I’d start with the Wikipedia links at the bottom of this page. Or you might be the type to enjoy a good cigarette along with your peanut butter cups and not worry about the consequences.  If so, I won’t judge you… really [4].

Last Bite

Well, it looks like I’ve outgrown Reese’s peanut butter cups after all – gone along with a long list of bad habits that I look back upon with a certain degree of fondness including Frosted Mini Wheats, imitation bacon bits, and Coors Lite.  This one’s easy to shed though thanks to Theo. They’ve given me a genuine chocolate treat at an accessible price.  I know some of you are still not convinced.  In your mind, Reese’s are what peanut butter cups are supposed to taste like.  It’s always been that way and always will be.  OK, but just imagine if in your childhood there was only Theo!


[1] I was given these for free when I bought a bunch of other stuff from Theo.  They had no idea what I might do with them.

[2] Read more about TBHQ on Wikipedia.

[3] Read more about PGPR on Wikipedia

[4] Didn’t we learn anything from Radiohead’s “Fitter, Happier?”

Theo Chocolate 3400 Phinney Organic Chocolate Collection

The wrappers are adorned with artwork by a local Seattle artist.

After the success of the last co-tasting with my wife, Genevieve, I decided to try this format again with a few organic chocolates from  Theo’s 3400 Phinney Collection. It’s fun to bounce your impressions off someone else and always interesting to hear the flavors they perceived, but you missed.  Genevieve amazed me again by catching some tastes that seemed almost obvious, but only after she called them out.

We tasted three bars from Theo’s 3400 Phinney collection named for the address where Theo’s chocolate factory sits in Seattle.  The collection is made up of mostly innovative flavor combinations with a few more traditional bars thrown in like Coffee and Dark Chocolate.  Of course, we veered right off the beaten path and went straight for these three:  Bread and Chocolate, Thai Tea Milk Chocolate and Fig, Fennel and Almond in dark chocolate.  All are USDA organic and Fair Trade™ Certified 2 oz bars.

Once again, rather that provide a rating, we have decide to each vote for our favorites within this bunch.

Theo 3400 Phinney – Chocolate Fig, Fennel and Almond.

Me: A warm mix that moves slightly in the direction of pastry.  My fear that the fennel would be arid and astringent like the seeds you chew when you exit an Indian restaurant were unfounded.  The fennel was strong enough to be a major note, but added just enough aromatic nuttiness.  Still, I feel it was hard for the chocolate to come through and be fully appreciated with all the nutty noise going on.

Genevieve: This would be nice with black tea, or coffee or even over vanilla ice cream.  Very interesting, but not my favorite of the bunch.

If you are a fan of nuts in chocolate, then you should try this one since it’s a welcome departure from the everyday, simple nuts-plus-chocolate theme.

Theo 3400 Phinney – Chai Tea Milk Chocolate

Me: Melts readily in your mouth leaving a mildly spiced blend of chai and chocolate that works perfectly.  The chai lingers for a long, long time on the finish.

Genevieve: Pepper and cloves, vanilla, cinnamon.  I drink chai tea every day, so I can’t help but love this combination.  Well done.

Theo 3400 Phinney – Bread and Chocolate – 70% cacao

Me: Surprisingly crispy – crackling in the mouth.  The crumbs of toast are extremely small so they are evenly spread out in the chocolate.  You get some nice strong dark chocolate up front, then a buttery blend of toasted French bread and cocoa that fades into mostly buttery toast with the crunchy little bits lingering for a while.  All in all, a very interesting taste experience.

Genevieve: The salt is stronger than expected.  Taste a little yeast?  It’s fun. Once again, this one calls for something to drink – maybe Café-au-lait would work well.  We tried red wine (2007 Penfolds Koonunga Hill Cabernet-Shiraz blend) which worked pretty well.   Light coffee or Café-au-lait would work best.

LAST BITE: We almost agreed on the ranking, but at least agreed on #3:

Me: #1 Bread and Chocolate #2 Chai Tea Milk Chocolate #3 Fig, Fennel and Almond.

Genevieve: #1 Chai Tea Milk Chocolate #2 Bread and Chocolate #3 Fig, Fennel and Almond.

We both felt the Fig, Fennel and Almond and the Bread and Chocolate have great potential to be paired with coffee, espresso or black tea.  So, push aside the biscotti and pull out some organic chocolate from the 3400 Phinney collection and enjoy a change of pace.