OPINION: It's accepted wisdom that a box of assorted chocolates is the perfect Christmas gift for one and all. But now Roses are rubbish, what to choose?
Approximately 1 million clickbaits ago I spread this wisdom throughout a grateful New Zealand, with a completely factual article about how buying Cadbury chocolate is about as patriotic as taking a dump on Kiri Te Kanawa's front lawn and then using Richie's 100th test jersey to wipe up. And just as before, with another chocolate-heavy holiday season lurching drunkenly and expensively towards us, I am here to help.
Like a lot of you, every year of my adulty life I have bought a dozen boxes of gift-wrapped Roses chocolates in December, as soon as they went on special for $5.99. Nana, Grandma, aunties, my kids, myself and several extremely strung-out school teachers were all a little happier on Christmas Day, safe in the knowledge we would enjoy cracking into a tried and true blue box of chox for breakfast. I didn't go broke and we all got joyfully fat, win-win. But not any more.
Roses have changed and not for the better. They took away the strawberry one. The new wrapping makes them look like those antiseptic breath mints in a giveaway pack from your dentist. There are shards of nasty crunchy bits like old scabs in nearly every mouthful. "White chocolate" - I'm typing this with one hand while angrily air quoting with the other; that shit's white but it's no chocolate - happened.
Many and varied chain stores are still risking their bottom line by trying to sell those gritty palm oil abomination-nuggets as if 2018 never happened. But you can resist. As my seasonal gift to my beloved nation, I offer this extensively researched and hardly amateur guide of New Zealand's best and worst boxed chocolate assortments from not-Cadbury. They're not ranked in any particular order because everyone is a winner no matter which one you buy for your Joyeux Noël, simply because it's not-Cadbury. That's right. You shit on us, we shit on you, you bloated global purple corporation responsible for the murder of Snifters.
For clarity, I'll address the chocolate elephant in the room; yes, Whittaker's is absent from this list. Painful as the omission of our nation's most beloved chocolatier was, this list is not about plain chocolate squares, and that is what Whittaker's thinks constitutes a festive assortment. Not good enough. You could (nay, should) eat a well-crafted choc-block any other day of the year but Christmas is all about individual pops of joy with a surprise filling, maybe wrapped in foil, definitely in a gay presentation box. In December I want soft centres, an obligatory caramel and the occasional frisky nut. I challenge you to do better next year, Whittaker's. Don't make me hīkoi a petition about this to your head office, you know I totally will. (I totally won't. Walking is sweaty.)
Bennetts of Mangawhai, selection box of 12 chocolates
I basically just included these chocolates to prove that I am rich. Jokes - although Paula from the credit card fraud team at my bank didn't think it was all that funny. I included them because the 42 Below feijoa vodka one is like an exquisite adult chocolate fantasy. It's divine, smooth and jauntily coloured with a respectable vodka kick. I can't really remember what the other flavours were - strawberry and balsamic, caramel somethings - because frankly, who cares when you have the feijoa one. For that reason alone Bennetts is my pick to give to an overseas guest. They're not individually wrapped so points off but then points back on again for the very pretty tissue and cardboard box presentation. Also, if you buy them from a posh shop, you are able to choose the ones you want from the display cabinet and have the hovering assistant place them carefully in a wee box. It could be a nice little holiday treat for the nanny to take Tansy and Isidore to Smith & Caughey's after lacrosse practice to choose six of the best for their French tutor. However, if you are among the 99% of New Zealanders who are not likely to rummage through their jeans pockets and find $1000 that they totally forgot they even had, this is not your next go-to assortment.
Nestlé Quality Street Assortment
I had never tried Quality Street before this year. If forced to think about them at all, I would have said they're the chocolates Rita sold in the Kabin on Coronation Street when I was a kid, and possibly not even real. Fans of a soft or chewy centre in a rich enrobement of glossy couverture, they are so real. Quality Street was the only entrant this year to provide the classic "double twist" unwrapping experience missing in all our other after-dinner delights. This in itself is probably worth buying a dozen of the strangely lurid boxes on special, but wait. There's more. In the best news ever: Quality Street has a smooth, sweet Strawberry Delight that is actually better than the original Roses strawberry one. There's also some standard but toothsome fudges, caramels and orange creams; they're not made in New Zealand, but the world is an imperfect place. They're moderately priced and I would have given these chocolates 10/10 if it wasn't for the fact that the large "tins" are made of depressing ugly plastic, and - brace yourselves - there is a random plain toffee in there! WTF! SMH! I don't need that kind of confrontation on Christmas Day, Nestle, I have a family for that.
Mystery 'Gift Wrapped' Box of Chocolates from The Warehouse
I thought these would make a decent cheap-and-cheerful quick-grab present of the type you buy when you're already on your way to the thing, and haven't got a present for the person, or any wrapping paper, or a card, etc etc. But this isn't chocolate for people who love gifts, or people, or even chocolate. Even worse - although the pleasant yellow box is plastered in Kiwi, they're not made here. They're Belgian. Cunningly different shapes get you all excited about possible fillings until you read the little label and discover they are all the same flavour, hazelnootvulling, which I assume is Flemish Dutch for 'the taste of ballsack'. No matter how much the stuff in the middle of these chocolates looks like dog turd put through a blender, it is actually a type of hazelnut praline, and it is ubiquitous in Belgian chocolates. But why? It's terrible. I went to Belgium once and I nearly drowned in a sea of pale beer and mayonnaise but I never saw a single hazelnut tree. Where does all this praline smegma come from and why don't we just stop it? One day I will find the truth. In the meantime do not buy these chocolates or you will only encourage this… whatever it is.
Tresor Dore Assortment Grand Luxe
Another dismal box of lies as the different shapes of the chocolates are all hiding an identical heart of crap, like our Mystery Box above. There was one dismal smooshy pink Playdough type thing that tasted like nothing so I won't even count it. "Tresor Dore Belgian style" chocolates are even more dishonest than the Mystery Box because they're actually made in China. They're so cheaply made and so bad tasting I'm not sure this is a food product. They were so bad, in fact, that I didn't even bother playing the traditional family game of "hide the chocolates so the kids cannot sneakily eat them then look hurt and innocent when you are waving the empty packaging around raging 'I ONLY HAD TWO!!'" and left this box unattended on the kitchen bench. The results speak for themselves.
Queen Anne Milk Chocolate Selection
Long live The Queen. I will freely admit I have been bribed, bought and enslaved by large (free) quantities of Queen Anne chocolates in the past, but I regret nothing. They are just so very good. Slightly heavy-handed on the chocolate coatings but redeemed by the inclusions of rare peppermint and cherry creams, these chocolates have a long history in New Zealand and are now made in Christchurch by a small family company. Stocked in heaps of smaller gift shops, it's still easiest to buy them online. Your nan will cry ugly but happy tears because they remind her of when your Poppa Stanley was courting her in 1948. Steal the coconut and butterscotch caramel ones quickly while she is sobbing. The bigger assortments are not cheap but they're not wankerishly priced either. Unwrapped but otherwise a solid performer in the packaging department, and as long as you avoid the terrifying ginger ones that are always on sale in January, a luxurious scoff.
Nestlé Black Magic Assortment
I know grown-ups are supposed to like dark chocolate because we have sophisticated palates or some such fantasy bullshit but this level of bitterness? In a best friend or in a Lizzo break-up banger, maybe. Not in my chocolates. One grudging point because they are not Cadbury in any way.
Anthon Berg Chocolate Coffee Liqueurs
OK, bold choice I know but hear me out. One word: teachers.
Just think. Just think about a world in which you had to spend every day with your children. And not just your own children, who are lovely, of course, absolutely, but 30 other children who are not your children and are therefore entitled, snot-dripping, pants-wetting, ear-drum-splittingly loud and virus-ridden skin-bags of mischief with YouTube withdrawal symptoms who can literally trip over their own feet and still need Mum to flush. Every day is a hellish nightmare-scape of responsibility as you do your best to mould this uncoordinated horde of scabby ignoramuses into polite, well-read citizens who can add up and swim a length without a flutter-board. Nobody is allowed to die. Next year you will do it all over again.
Coffee. Alcohol. Chocolate. Teachers deserve it all, all at once. A must buy.