The gourmets say there isn’t a native Canadian food worth remembering after you’ve left the country. The gourmets have never bitten into a Coffee Crisp.
A Coffee Crisp tastes like Canada to anybody who grew up gnawing on that confection, a memorably crisp blend of coffee cream, cookie wafers and milk chocolate as wholesome and satisfying as the Canadian national anthem. It was a square-edged rectangle, like a brick, wrapped in a yellow-going-to-gold paper that seemed to elevate its value above all rival confections. It was unlike other chocolate bars.
I say “was” because no sooner had I left Canada than its originator, Rowntree’s, was absorbed into the giant international food conglomerate Nestlé. Soon enough, factors beyond the ken of the layman led its new owners to “improve on” the faultless original. Coffee Crisps were reshaped to be longer and slimmer and, as the infallible taste buds quickly revealed, reformulated to be less crisp and less coffee-flavored. Nestlé next undertook to expand the brand: Coffee Crisp Orange, Coffee Crisp Raspberry, Coffee Crisp Café Caramel, even Coffee Crisp White and, God save us, Coffee Crisp Yogurt.
But even in its diminished form, the classic Coffee Crisp still ranked superior to all the sticky-sweet American “candy bar” alternatives. I’d snaffle up half a dozen on a Canadian visit and wolf down a couple right away, just to make sure it wasn’t all just nostalgie du chocolat. It wasn’t. Taste memory never fades.
The demands of homesick Canadian expatriates were finally answered, circa 2006, when Coffee Crisp made its debut south of the border. But Nestlé’s efforts at carving a niche in the United States, alas, seemed half-hearted. I never saw an ad, and found only one seedy neighborhood hole-in-the-wall that even sold Coffee Crisps; the single box was all but hidden down on the bottom row of the candy display rack near the dust kittens and lottery-ticket stubs.
A month later the box was still there, its contents by now grayish and moldy and stale with age when the wrapper was torn away. In another month the box was gone. Coffee Crisps slunk back out of the American market in 2008, as quietly as they’d entered.
I suppose the Coffee Crisp debacle proves yet again that Canadian products — with the notable exceptions of Bombardier jets and half the comedians in Hollywood — just can’t compete in the American big time. But all visiting Canadian relatives and friends arrive at my door with pockets mysteriously bulging, or they won’t be let in.— BRUCE McCALL, a writer and illustrator