I’m in the joy business

Presenting a talk on the science of taste at a retirement community in Chester County.

I’m not a chocolate guru.

I don’t have a “dark chocolate” agenda.

When a client hires me, there’s a tacit expectation that I’ll approve or disapprove of their choices.

But I won’t judge you for what you like, because I’m in the business of making you happy. Sure, I’ll tell you what criteria I use to select a chocolate. But I never, ever want to make you feel bad for liking what you like.

When I started my chocolate journey, I looked up to expert figures to approve of a chocolate choice.

Some would say “taste is a personal matter” but, in the same breath, acted like they held dark chocolate or 2-ingredient bars (cacao beans and sugar) in higher regards.

This used to make me feel inadequate, until I decided to focus my attention inward. That’s when I connected with myself and what gave me pleasure.

The truth is, we all come to specialty foods with a baggage full of insecurity. So when we embark on a flavor journey, we need someone who’ll guide us with encouraging words.

Have fun.
Try everything.
Get to know yourself.

This is the advice I give to new chocolate enthusiasts.

The fact is, some people will never ever tolerate, let alone like, dark chocolate because of their genetic make-up.

Google “TAS2R38” to learn why.

When we say something like “dark chocolate is the best” or “white chocolate is not real chocolate,” we subtly imply there is a hierarchy of taste.

And that, to me, isn’t OK.

I’m in the joy business.

I’ll take you on a flavor journey.

You’ll be the one doing the judging.

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Guest Post: Create Your Chocolate Tour in 3 Steps

Canonica storefront in Geneva, Switzerland
Photo credit: Sarah Carroll

Today’s post is from my friend Sarah Carroll aka the first friend I’ve made in the US back in 2002. She treated herself to a one-day chocolate tour of Geneva in Switzerland last year and is now sharing her process so you can do the same in any city of the world. May this inspire you to travel the world through the lens of chocolate, too.

At the end of the summer, when I began researching a trip to Switzerland, I called up my friend Estelle to ask for inside knowledge related to Swiss chocolate tourism.  I’d have preferred that she stowed away in my suitcase, but sadly, I was traveling for ten days without checking any luggage.  As close as we are, I was pretty sure she would not qualify as a personal item.

So I turned to my other friend, Monsieur Google, to help me plan.  I found a Choco Pass offered by Geneva Tourism, but I was going to be spending most of my time in Lausanne and in the Lavaux Vinyards, the north coast of Lac Léman (a.k.a. to outsiders as Lake Geneva).  Having participated in a chocolate tour in Manhattan some years back, I knew that I wanted to craft my own experience. I didn’t want to be stuck with someone else’s choices of chocolate shops, limited to the designated tasting items, or listening to a guide who knew less about chocolate than I do – which, considering the number of years I have known Estelle, is pretty good, but not nearly as extensive as I would expect someone leading a local tour to be.  Researching chocolate in Switzerland felt like trying to pick out Craft Beer in Pennsylvania – there is no shortage of producers and variety!  It was a little overwhelming at first.

My stay in Lausanne was exceptional; it was heart-warming to visit with a university student who I had taught as a sophomore in high school.  And the chocolate was divine, but I think my Geneva chocolate experience will be much more likely to inspire you!  Here’s the 1-2-3 of creating your own chocolate tour.

Chocolate bar display at Canonica in Geneva, Switzerland
Photo credit: Sarah Carroll

1 – Use other people’s lists, to some extent.

A quick search for Chocolate Shops in Geneva led me to a list of articles written by others on what they thought were the best or the top 5.  How did they determine their list?    Did they actually visit every chocolate shop in the city?!  Certainly not.  If they did, they’d have commented on how exhaustive their research was to establish credibility.  Did they try every kind of product that the chocolatier offers? Not likely, but possible – and if yes, I am very jealous! Do I trust their taste buds?  Through regular chocolate club events with Estelle, I have slowly developed my tasting skills, but know nothing of the experience of the writers of these “top places” articles.  Is chocolate just one of many travel topics they cover? Very often, the information in these “top chocolate shops to visit” was very superficial, limited to how long the shop had been open, who is in charge and something for which the chocolate shop is known.  I read some of them asking myself, “Were they just checking off a to-do box by constructing this article, or do they really know Geneva chocolate?”

Still, other people’s lists are a great place to start.  I plugged the names of the places into a spreadsheet for each article so I could see what names repeated.  I then searched for the company website to virtually window shop. Interestingly, the French expression for “window shopping” literally translates to “licking the store window.”  I could judge the chocolate shop by its cover (colors and shapes of products shown) and read a little about the history and current owners/makers.  I felt like I could sense, just through the online presence, if the shop leaned more towards the bespoke craft chocolate experience or was more broadly commercial – each having its own benefits and limitations, of course!

Chocolate display at Guillaume Bichet in Geneva, Switzerland.
Photo credit: Sarah Carroll

2 – Read reviews, with several grains of sea salt.

Aside from the brief review listed in a “best of” article, take a look at the ratings and comments on Google or your favorite foodie site of the chocolate shops on your list – and take them with several grains of salt!  I remember being in Paris with my daughter looking for an authentic bakery where I could find a traditional sandwich jambon-fromage.  When you read reviews, particularly of places in such a tourist-laden city, you have to look for the hints that tell you what kind of person is writing the review. 

Do they live in the city or are they tourists?  Have they eaten at and reviewed many local places?  Is their review about the product, or about the price and the quality of service? Sometimes the way a review is written tells you far more about the writer than the location! And I totally discount negative reviews made by tourists who lack the savoir-faire to say, “Bonjour!” when they enter an establishment.  Again, looking for patterns will give you an appreciation for what kind of experience may be in store for you when you enter.  You may choose to put an asterisk or smiley face next to one place on your list or cross off one of the less enticing ones – for whatever reason.  After all, you only have so much time, and so little to do.  Wait a minute. Strike that.  Reverse it. (Couldn’t resist the urge to pay homage to Gene Wilder’s Willy Wonka!)

Pastry case display at Guillaume Bichet in Geneva, Switzerland
Photo credit: Sarah Carroll

3 – Map it out! Keep your options open.

Believe it or not, I was in Geneva to see more than just chocolate shops.  The Old City and St. Pierre Cathedral are gorgeous, not to mention that the view of the city from the cathedral tower is breath-taking.  The 100+ steps will help diminish any guilt you may feel over so much chocolate consumption.  I have a favorite stationery store in town, and my friend and I had to walk by the water to visit the Christmas Market that had recently opened. 

Oh, and I really wanted to check out a certain bookshop café! The limitation of a city-pass valid for 24 hours is that only the participating chocolate shops are part of the program, and the locations may not be convenient to the rest of your plans.

When I had decided on the list of most interesting-to-me chocolate shops to visit, I tagged them in my Google maps.  My friend and I only had two days in Geneva (well, one full day after we had to schlep back to the apartment in Lausanne where she left her passport!).  Before going to bed on that emergency-extra-travel night, I planned out our walking route for the next day.  I liked knowing that depending on what else struck our fancy along the way (i.e. swans and buskers near the lake), or if our plans changed mid-day due to the ever-threatening-November-rain-clouds, I could easily look up where the closest chocolate shop was to our revised path.  We ended up visiting five different shops that Saturday, and though they were not the same shops as on the city pass, they did offer a diverse selection of chocolate experiences (see list below).

Jacot Advent Calendar in Geneva, Switzerland
Photo credit: Sarah Carroll

Bonus Tip: To thy own self be true: know your chocolate preferences

Why are you entering the chocolate shop?  Do you want to taste something deliciously decadent that you can’t get at home?  Are you looking for a gift?  Do you plan on writing a guest article on your friend’s site?  No, I did not have that in mind when I planned my trip!  I wanted to craft the kind of experience to which Estelle introduced me, one where I can apply all my yoga experience in mindfulness to the chocolate consumption experience.  I wanted to be able to bring some product home to share a Swiss chocolate experience with my husband who so courageously cared for the dog and the teenager while I was away.

I realized after my Swiss chocolate adventures that there is no way to publish a “best of” list when chocolate preferences are so very personal.  I can do without floral flavors like rose or lavender in my chocolate, and my mother doesn’t waste her time with milk chocolate while my daughter loves soft interiors of boxed chocolates and my husband is always intrigued by chocolates with peppers or black teas.

You might have no interest in putting this much work into something that is part of a relaxing vacation, and that’s why people like Victoria of Cocoabeantown in Boston are here.  You might savor the interaction with the chocolate educator extraordinaire as much as the chocolate itself, and that’s awesome!  But here’s the upside to my self-crafted experience: I loved the flexibility of not paying for a pass upfront and then feeling like I just had to get my money’s worth within the 24h validity of the pass, I loved being able to pick out exactly what I wanted to taste at each location based on what I saw and smelled when I first entered rather than being relegated to what was included in the chocolate pass experience, and I appreciated that. Unlike at the Manhattan chocolate tour, my friend and I didn’t go straight from chocolate shop to the next chocolate shop – my taste buds had time to rest and recover before our next chocolate savoring experience.

As confident as I am in my new-found ability to create my own Choco-City Tour, I would still prefer the company of my dear friend Estelle for anything chocolate!

Chocolate display at Auer, Geneva, Switzerland
Photo credit: Sarah Carroll

In chronological order of our Saturday in Geneva:

About the guest author: Sarah Carroll is a Teacher-Trainer-Creator based in West Chester, Pennsylvania.  She is a former teacher of classroom French K-12, culinary enthusiast, and community builder who currently works as a French coach; she helps your kid pass French and can be reached at MainLineFrenchTutor.com or via LinkedIn.  She also supports worthy causes by selling stationary that features her photography at her Etsy Shop, ShopCardsThatCare.

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French Chocolate Mousse

Chocolate mousse is one of the most popular desserts in France. You’ll find it on bistrot menus, in cafeterias, and on the face of many young gourmands. Most French home cooks follow the recipe printed on the back of the 200g bar of Nestle baking chocolate, which calls 7 oz of 52% dark chocolate and 6 eggs.

Now that I live in the US, I make it with 6 oz of 70% chocolate for a deeper, richer chocolate flavor. I usually use 2 bars of BOHO Chocolate’s 70% Ghana ABOCFA bars, which lend the mousse a classic fudgy flavor. You’ll find the 2-bar bundle on the 37 Chocolates e-shop, which ships with the printed recipe.

BOHO Chocolate 70% Ghana dark chocolate bundle

Making mousse is easy if you make sure to bring your eggs to room temperature beforehand. Otherwise, the chocolate will harden and you’ll have to start over. The recipe below can easily be halved, if desired.


Note: the eggs in this recipe aren’t cooked, which can expose you to salmonella. Daniel Haran of Chocolats Monarque recommends sing an immersion circulator to sterilize your eggs.

Ingredients for 6 people

  • 6 ounces of 70% dark chocolate, roughly chopped
  • 6 large eggs, brought to room temperature, separated


  1. Start by melting your chocolate in a double boiler or in the microwave. If using a microwave, put the chocolate in a large bowl and let it melt in 30-second increments. Stir well after each cooking cycle and be careful not to burn the chocolate. Set aside.
  2. While the chocolate is cooling, separate the eggs. Place the whites in a medium bowl and the yolks in a small bowl.
  3. With an electric mixer, beat the egg whites until soft peaks form.
  4. Combine the egg yolks one by one to the melted chocolate.
  5. With a spatula, mix ⅓ of the egg whites into the chocolate mixture, then fold the remaining with a spatula, one cup at a time.
  6. Divide the mousse into 6 cups or ramekins and chill in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours before serving.

He stopped making chocolate. Here’s why.

When I started this blog in 2016, my goal was to introduce you to my favorite chocolate-makers through a series of interviews. Looking back at the blog archives, it’s bittersweet to see that most people I interviewed have closed shop. Acalli Chocolate? Gone. Dulcinea Chocolate? A memory. Batch Craft? An ephemeral beauty.

A few weeks ago, Will Marx officially announced the closure of Wm Chocolate in Madison, Wisconsin. As a chocolate-lover, I’ll miss Will’s bars — his Belize is one of my top 10 dark chocolate of all times — as well as his thoughtful approach to crafting.

I was curious about the motivations behind his decisions, so I invited him to answer a few questions here. I really appreciate Will’s vulnerability in his responses and hope it will help appreciate the work it takes to run a chocolate company.

Will Marx

When we last spoke in 2021, you were a chocolate-maker based in Madison, Wisconsin. Who and where are you today?

I’m still in Madison, working full-time as a web developer.

Your company Wm Chocolate went through several iterations. In the early days, you offered a whole range of single origin dark chocolate. During the pandemic, you narrowed your focus to a few bars, all made with Dominican cacao. What prompted that change?

The decision was based on years of observing chocolate consumers combined with my evolving views of what progress in the chocolate industry should look like. On the consumer side, there aren’t enough people who are willing to regularly pay a premium for the origin factor. At this point, origin-driven differences remain a curiosity, best delivered through occasional experiences, rather than something consumers spend money on regularly. Despite my personal interests, from a business standpoint, it did not make sense to continue spending significant extra resources producing a diverse lineup of origin bars that few people valued. I simply distilled the bars that people liked best into fewer products that cost me less to make, and then sold the results at a lower price, hoping to increase scale.

Having been liberated of any commercial reasons to source raw cacao globally, I was free to focus on doing what seemed best for origin economies and the environment. Sourcing cacao mass from as close to home as possible (hence, the DR) grew out of this newfound freedom.

Unrefined sugar from the Wm Chocolate kitchen

Wm stood out by its decision in 2021 to import cacao mass vs. cacao beans imported from origin. Can you elaborate on that? 

There are about a dozen reasons why it’s a better approach. It is more equitable because more of the product’s value is added at origin. Costs are lower because there is no waste to ship–mass is extremely dense and fully usable, unlike raw cacao. Emissions are lower for the same reason. Quality is better because mass is much easier to protect during transit compared to raw cacao. My needs for labor and equipment were greatly reduced, allowing me to focus on time and money on growing the business through sales and marketing efforts. The list goes on.

Even though I did not continue the business, the switch was absolutely the right move and made it better by every measure.

Early Wm Chocolate wrappers

From the outside, it seems your company was thriving and doing well. What drove your decision to close Wm?

On the inside, it was always a difficult business. It only continued for so long because I was extremely stubborn and passionate. I wanted to make relatively unadorned dark chocolate bars from extremely thoughtfully sourced ingredients. It turned out that despite my different approaches, and despite what the casual observer may think, the market for dark chocolate bars is quite limited. Without going into too much market detail, there was just nowhere to grow with the bars. Growth would have required adding many products I was not interested in making: perishable chocolates, coffee shop offerings, and the like. Rather than take new risks on products I didn’t want to offer, I stepped away.

How do you personally feel about the end of the Wm. journey?

I’m proud of having made it as far as I did without compromising, enriched by the many lessons I learned, and appreciative of the producers and customers I worked with over the years. At the same time, it was such a struggle that it’s an easy goodbye.

Looking back at your entrepreneurship journey, what do you wish you’d knew when you started? What advice would you have for a new maker? 

As many have said before me, if I knew then what I know now, I would never have started. In my case the specific reason for that is simply that you can’t have a successful business making bars alone, which is all I ever wanted to do. Hence, my advice for other makers is to figure out if they are willing and able to diversify their offerings beyond bars. I would even go so far as to say “forget about bars” when it comes to revenue, because the potential there is just so small relative to what you need to have a stable business.

I’m curious, will you still make chocolate as a hobby or will you buy chocolate for your own consumption?

I have a couple years worth of extra chocolate to eat first, and won’t be making any acquisitions until it’s all gone!

You always stood out as a maker who asked the right questions vs. seeking answers. What’s a question you have for the craft chocolate industry? 

How are we going to transfer a bigger piece of the pie to cacao-growing countries? Buying raw materials is never going to make much of a difference, no matter how much extra we pay for quality. We need to help origin economies capture more of the value added to raw cacao so that they grow stronger at large and can help their farmers weather changes in climate, farming technology, and beyond.

Sign up to the 37 Chocolates newsletter to be notified of blog updates and upcoming online chocolate tastings. For corporate and private tastings, please fill out this form and I’ll get back to you within 48 hours.

Why Bean-to-Bar Matters + Black History Month Virtual Chocolate Tasting

When people ask me what bean-to-bar chocolate is, I explain that the term refers to both a manufacturing process and a movement.

Understanding the process is easy – you take cacao beans and turn them into chocolate.

Illustration by Chocolate Noise x Ecole Chocolat

Explaining the movement requires some background. The majority of cacao beans is traded on the commodity market. This means than a cacao bean from a farm in Ivory Coast is no different than, say, a bean from Ghana. It doesn’t matter where that cacao comes from or who grew it. This is what commoditization does — it makes goods and people interchangeable.

The bean-to-bar movement puts traceability and thus humans back in the cacao chain. It means using cacao from that farm or that origin matters. The people who grew, harvested, fermented, and dried it, matter too.

Illustration by Chocolate Noise x Ecole Chocolat

Connecting you to the people and stories behind chocolate has been at the core of my work since 2016. Now I hope you’ll join me on Sunday, February 12, for a virtual tasting in honor of Black History Month.

During this 2-hour event, we’ll learn how Ghana became the 2nd largest producer of cacao, then will shed the light on the farming communities of Tumaco, Colombia, and Mababu, Tanzania.

You can attend the discussion part from anywhere the world for $15 + Eventbrite fees.

The general admission ticket includes chocolate the 3 (vegan) dark chocolate bars pictured above, You’ll try a 73% dark chocolate from Ghanian, sister-owned company 57 Chocolate – if you’re a chocolate nerd, you know this bar is almost impossible to get in the US! It has delicious pudding & coconut notes that you’ll love.

Our guest for this event will be Benjamin Setor Gbadago, a writer, research assistant, and founder of the website. He’ll be sharing his personal experience on Ghanian cacao farms and is eager to learn about YOUR perception of African cacao. I’m very excited about this event.

Sign up to the 37 Chocolates newsletter to be notified of blog updates and upcoming online chocolate tastings. For corporate and private tastings, please fill out this form and I’ll get back to you within 48 hours.

5 Tips to Make the Most of the Northwest Chocolate Festival

The Northwest Chocolate Festival in Seattle is the largest festival devoted to chocolate in the US. Every year in November, the festival welcomes over 100 exhibitors and thousands of chocolate-lovers from all over the world over one cacao-filled weekend.

Living in Pennsylvania, I’d never thought I’d ever attend the festival, simply because crossing the country for a chocolate show seemed like an indulgence. This all changed in 2016 when I saw a gazillion photos of the festival on Instagram: everyone who is someone in chocolate seemed to have gathered at the event. As a chocolate sommelier, I so wanted to be with them. So, the following fall, I made the decision to go to Seattle for the “Superbowl of Chocolate,” as Mackenzie Rivers of Map Chocolate calls it.

The event was so much fun. I met my favorite makers, ran into my friends from Ucayali Farms in Peru, and ate a lot of chocolate. However, nothing could have prepared me for how large and crowded the event would be. Sure, I had a great time, but I left Seattle knowing I had only scratched the surface of the festival. The good news is that I have learned some valuable lessons that I’m pleased to share with you today. I hope they’ll help you make the most of your own trip to the Pacific Northwest.

With Megan Giller (right), author of Bean-to-Bar Chocolate

Tip #1: Plan Ahead

If you’re a chocoholic like me, you’ll want to start planning your trip several months before the festival. My expenses for this trip were minimal, mostly because I started planning for it 9 months earlier in February. That’s when I signed up for a credit card which rewarded me 30,000 miles as a welcome bonus (the round-trip flight to Seattle for 40,000 miles.) As for lodging, I stayed at a friend’s house. Admittedly, not everyone has friends in Seattle, but you can save on accommodations by sharing a hotel room with another festival attendee or by renting an Airbnb.

There is a fee to enter the festival – the daily adult pass starts at $30 – but you can get early bird rates in the summer. Sign up to the festival’s newsletter to be notified of special offers.

With over 100 exhibitors attending the festival each year, you’ll have a fantastic opportunity to replenish your chocolate closet stash. I recommend budgeting for the event several months ahead, even setting a bit of money aside each month so you can indulge during the festival.

Tip #2: Come Early. Really Early.

Boy, did I learn this lesson the hard way. The festival officially started at 11 AM on both days and my friend Séverine and I thought we’d be at the venue by then. I had already planned on attending Chloé Doutre-Roussel’s session on “Chocolate Tasting for Professionals.” When we started hitting traffic a couple of miles of the entrance, I figured I’d be 10 minutes late. At noon, I gave up any hope of hearing the results of the “Survey of North American Fine Craft Chocolate-Makers Research Needs and Research Teams.” At 12:30, I left my friend in her car and ran toward Pier 91, where the festival was held.

At that point, I knew I’d have to attend the show with one single focus: in my case, people. Industry conferences and festivals offer incredible opportunities to connect with fellow chocophiles and makers and I was excited to finally meet Mackenzie Rivers of Map Chocolate, and Hans from Hans Westerink of Violet Sky Chocolate.

While I made the best of my time at the show, I’m disappointed that the line to the parking lot was so long I had to miss speakers. First world problem, I know, but when I read the attendees’ feedback on Shawn Askinosie’s talk on finding work with purpose – the audience was apparently in tears – I was bummed that none of the talks were live-streamed or recorded. Next time, I’ll do what hardcore chocoholics did and get a morning entry pass to hit the vendor stands at 9:00 AM. Members of the chocolate industry should consider getting a professional ticket which allows access to both Friday’s Unconference and the festival.

T-shirts at a chocolate booth

Tip #3: Bring Cash

Hogarth Chocolate in New Zealand is of my favorite chocolate-makers — I could eat their Bread & Butter bar in one sitting and buy their Gianduia by the case. I was thrilled to find a new-to-me Rose & Tea bar and starting stocking up for future tastings at the local library — how special would the audience feel! I had gathered $70 worth of bars when I found out the maker only accepted cash. Wait, what? I withheld a tear and put the bars on the table, settling on two bars instead.

What I discovered that day is that only makers with US bank accounts were able to accept credit cards. That meant I only bought one camel milk chocolate from Dubai and zero from Austrian company Zotter. Lesson learned: next time, I will slip more than a couple of $20 bills in my wallet so I can stock up on foreign bars — chestnut praline, anyone?

Hogarth Chocolate bars in 2017, before their makeover

Tip #4: Pack a Lunch

The Northwest Chocolate Festival was held on a pier, which means there aren’t dining options in walking distance from the show. Sure, there were food trucks by the entrance, but 4 food trucks aren’t nearly enough to feed thousands of hungry festival-goers. Personally, I’d rather spend my time talking to makers upstairs than standing in line for fish and chips, so I recommend packing a light lunch like a salad or sandwich to eat between tastings.

Tip #5: Stay Late

Although the festival closes at 5 PM, many exhibitors stay well after then to dismantle their booths and simply catch their breath. With the pressure off, I was able to have some nice chats with several chocolate friends, like chocolate educator Barbie Van Horn and Lauren Heineck from the Conversations in Cocoa newsletter. Sure, everybody was tired, but it was neat to have some quiet, quality time with good friends.

With Mackenzie Rivers (left), founder of Map Chocolate and The Next Batch school

Looking back, I did have a good time at the festival. Sure, I would have loved attending some talks, meeting all of my chocolate friends – sorry I missed you, Victoria – but I headed back home with a suitcase full of chocolate, a phone loaded with memories, and the conviction that I belong in this world.

Did you like this article? Sign up to the 37 Chocolates newsletter to be notified of blog updates and upcoming online chocolate tastings. For corporate and private tastings, please fill out this form and I’ll get back to you within 48 hours.

5 Tips to Prepare for a Chocolate Festival

If you’ve gotten into craft chocolate during the pandemic, now’s the time to meet your people at a chocolate festival. Whether you get a ticket for the Salon du Chocolat in Paris or the Northwest Chocolate in Seattle, you’ll be surrounded by chocoholics like you who’ll geek out on cacao origins and percentages. You’ll get to share bars with nerdy Instagram friends, and fill up the chocolate stash for the rest of the year.

Cocoa Store line-up at the 2022 DC Chocolate Festival

Attending a chocolate festival for the first time however can be an intimidating experience. I remember how overwhelmed I was at the first DC Chocolate Festival back in 2016 (all these samples! all these people!), so much that I regretted half of the purchases I made that day.

The following year, I was determined to make the experience better, so I relied on Barbie Van Horn’s advice on her blog, Finding Fine Chocolate to plan for the event.

Barbie is an experienced, yet approachable, chocolate educator, who provides a wealth of advice on palate training on her blog. I’d saved her top 5 tips for Chocolate Events and Salons, which I am pleased to say helped me make the most of every chocolate festival since 2017. You be the judge.

Potomac Chocolate line-up

Before the Event: Prepare, Prepare, Prepare

Barbie’s tip #1: Plan to meet up with people you don’t want to miss well ahead the chocolate event.

The month leading up to the second DC Chocolate Festival, I made plans to meet with my friend Adrienne Henson, a chocolate personal shopper based in New York City. This year, I’ve convinced Shirley Lum, a certified chocolate judged, to book a plane ticket from Toronto so she could be at the French Embassy in DC for the festival (what can I say? I have good persuasive skills.) We ended up swapping bars with colleagues way until after the sun set. It was awesome.

Shirley Lum and Ben Rasmussen of Potomac Chocolate

Barbie’s tip #2: Schedule classes and presentations with vibrating reminders in your calendar.

In addition to help you deepen your understanding of chocolate, classes provide a welcome respite from the bustle of a festival. The day before the event, I review the class schedule online and usually look for the “Bean-to-Bar” presentation by Potomac Chocolate’s charismatic founder Ben Rasmussen and any other classes from respected people in the cacao & chocolate industry like Dr. Martin of The Fine Cacao and Chocolate Institute or Emily Stone of Uncommon Cacao.

Your favorite chocolate sommelier with a French accent (that would be me) hosting a class at the 2022 DC Chocolate Festival.

Barbie’s tip #3: Assemble lists for your own inventory and chocolate gifts for others before the event.

I won’t leave the house without a chocolate checklist or else I’ll blow a small fortune on bonbons, truffles, and bars. Because I usually buy most of my bars locally, this year’s list only included bars from makers I cannot find at the local coffee shop, such as Mademoiselle Miel from Saint Paul, Minnesota (I love her tahini dark chocolate) and Sleep Walk Chocolateria from Chicago (Jägermeister chocolate, anyone?).

Mademoiselle Miel bars are a work of art

My tip: If you are new to the world of craft chocolate, research makers on a review site like Choco Files, Finding Fine Chocolate, Opening Chocolate’s YouTube channel, or the C-Spot.

Before heading to the event, make sure to have a good, protein-rich breakfast (this will reduce your cravings for sugar). Next, here’s a small checklist I recommend you run before leaving:

  • A reusable cup to fill with water for palate cleansing purposes.
  • A reusable shopping bag.
  • Cash to help makers keep all the profits of the sales.

Wear your most comfortable shoes and leave early to avoid lines.

During the Event: Eat, Learn, Buy, Repeat

The festival will likely take place in a large venue. Before you start nibbling at the free chocolate, take a brief tour of the hall, take it all in, and only then start sampling.

Sleepwalk Chocolateria’s lineup at the 2022 DC Chocolate Festival

Barbie’s tip #4: Protect your palate with intentional tasting and lots of water. Don’t overwhelm your palate.

If the idea of free chocolate samples is appealing at first, it won’t after your 10th sample of 70% spicy dark chocolate. So don’t rush into your tastings; drink a lot of water to help cleanse your palate between samples. Next, unless a bar blows you away, take your time to buy.

To avoid buyer remorse, here’s my technique: sample chocolate at each booth, go for a short walk, attend a class, and let impressions of each bar sift through your mind. After the class, you’ll have forgotten about some bars but some will be calling your name: go ahead and buy them. Although this shopping technique takes more time (you’ll stay in line twice), it helps you focus on the bars you absolutely love.

Over the years, I admit to having stopped sampling altogether. I now buy chocolate based on intuition and let myself discover the flavors at home. The tactic is unconventional, but it works for me.

Bonbons from Potomac Chocolate

Barbie’s tip #5: Meet the chocolate makers with gratitude, get to know them and follow online for future updates.

Say “thank you” to exhibitors — for coming to the festival, for the free samples, and for the time to talk to you about their bars. Makers take time away from production to meet YOU and we should be grateful for the opportunity to learn more about their work.

Rebecca Snyder, co-founder & head chocolate-maker of Lumineux Chocolate in South Carolina. I’m grateful she travelled to the DC Chocolate Festival this year.

Next, if you are active on social media, make sure to introduce yourself, exchange Instagram handles and email addresses with makers. A business card may come in handy if you’d like to interview a maker or need to order more bars. Which brings me to…

After the Event: Stay Connected

Once you’re back home, upload your best pictures and videos on social media, thank the festival organizers, thank Barbie, and email the people with whom you connected at the event. Find a quiet spot and start working your way through your stash… until the next festival.

ETA: read my tips to prepare for the Northwest Chocolate Festival here.

Did you like this article? If so, sign up 37 Chocolates newsletter to be notified of blog updates and upcoming online chocolate tastings. For corporate and private tastings, please fill out this form and I’ll get back to you within 48 hours.

October 2022 Zoom Tasting: a Brazilian Maker in France and Her Vegan Chocolate

Well, hello there.

It’s been a long and hot summer here in Pennsylvania and I admit to welcoming the first cooler days with a sigh of relief. Bye bye, ice packs! See you next year, insulated materials! Shipping chocolate in fall and winter is so much more fun and easier, that I’ve already scheduled 2 ticketed chocolate tastings this fall.

But First, a Word About September’s Tasting

Last month’s tasting featured 2 chocolate bars by Cacao de Origen in Venezuela. Back in May, I managed to secure 12 Cacao de Origen bars and 8 single tree (!) chocolate bars, both featuring true Porcelana cacao. If you’re a cacao nerd or have signed up for the 37 Chocolates newsletter, you probably now that Porcelana is the stuff of legend. We had two guests as part of the event: cacao expert Chloé Doutre-Roussel and chocolate educator Shobitha Ramadasan, who respectively joined from France and Ireland.

The reason you’ve not read about the tasting on the blog, is that I had so few available bars, that I saved it for attendees of previous events & newsletter subscribers. If you’re not on the 37 Chocolates mailing list, now’s a good time to change that. You’ll then be the first to hear about tastings that made attendee chocolatier Kristin Joslin rave. Here’s what she said about our time together.

“Estelle, I loved this tasting so much. Chloe is such an incredible guest. Her book was a revelation to me and this first one I bought! I really do love this bar and I will definitely follow the school!… More people need to participate in these events so they can appreciate what it takes to make chocolate. My favorite tasting yet!

October 2022 Tasting

** The event is now past, but you can order the tasting bundle on the 37 Chocolates e-shop.**

The next ticketed event will be held on Sunday, October 23, at 2 PM ET and is open to everyone in the US*.You’ll be trying 4 bars from La Brigaderie de Paris, 2 of which won a Silver medal at the Academy of Chocolate Awards. Founder Marina Stroh-Ibri and Amazon expert Ricardo Lomaski will be our guests for the tasting. Tickets are $100 per screen and are for sale until October 17.

Here’s the story behind the bars.

Earlier this year, I told you about meeting Marina at Salon du Chocolat in Paris. I’d brought two of her signature bars back home: the award-winning Feijoada as well as the Moqueca, both of which are inspired by eponymous Brazilian dishes.

La Brigaderie de Paris Feijoada bar

I shared the bars with my neighbors last December, who immediately oohed at the beautiful, shiny bars. When we bit into the Feijoada, we fell in love with the contrast of smooth dark chocolate with crunchy back beans, and puffed rice. As we sampled the Moqueca, we couldn’t believe how well the savory blend of tomato, peppers, coconut played against the chocolate. I knew then I had to get more for the 37 Chocolates community.

When I returned to France last June, my dad drove me to Montfort l’Amaury, a chic village outside of Paris. There, I got a chance to see Marina again and pick all the bars for the tasting. She actually woke up early that day so I’d have enough bars to bring back to the US. How nice is that?

Marina Stroh-Ibri is on the left and I’m on the right

On October 22, you’ll discover the following bars, all of which happen to be vegan:

  • 70% Fazenda Camboa dark chocolate
  • 70% Tocantins River dark chocolate, which is made with wild cacao harvested by the Tocantins rivers
  • 70% Feijoada dark chocolate with black beans, puffed rice, and orange
  • 70% Moqueca dark chocolate with peppers, tomatoes, coconut, and coriander

Here’s the link to sign up.

So, will I see you then?

Did you like this article? Then sign up 37 Chocolates newsletter to be notified of blog updates and upcoming online chocolate tastings. For corporate and private tastings, please fill out this form and I’ll get back to you within 48 hours.

What I’ll Be Doing This Summer

Summer is a slow season for us in chocolate and, after 2 years of business reinvention and hosting over 300 online chocolate tastings, I’m looking forward to a REAL vacation with my family starting this Thursday.

My vision for this time away is simple — I want everyday to feel like a Saturday. I’m looking forward to drinking coffee in the morning, tea in the afternoon, and tasting lots of new chocolate before dinner. During this time away, I’ll take a break from posting on social media but will be checking email daily.

I’ll resume hosting private tastings in July and ticketed events in September. The 37 Chocolates shop with be closed from this Wednesday, June 8, to Wednesday, July 6. If you’d like to stock up on some bars for the summer, I recommend you do that now! You don’t want to miss the oat and coconut crunch of Hogarth Chocolate’s new Anzac bar.

June is also a good time to read about chocolate, explore new chocolate shops, and catch up on Netflix shows. Here are some links for you to enjoy:

Recently, I fell head over heels for The 7 Lives of Lea, a French Netflix mini-series about a teenager traveling back in time every night to save a teenage boy’s life. You’ll love the story as much as the breathtaking setting.

Please sign up 37 Chocolates newsletter to be notified of blog updates and upcoming ticketed chocolate tastings, which I no longer post about here! For corporate and private tastings, please fill out this form and I’ll get back to you within 48 hours.

The Chocolate-Lover Guide to Paris – Part 2

Last October, I travelled to France for the first time since the beginning of the pandemic. It had been three years since I last slept in my childhood bed, woke up to warm croissants, and shopped at Carrefour with my parents. It felt so good to be back home!

Of course, I took advantage of my hometown’s proximity to Paris for a pilgrimage at Kosak and check out new chocolate shops. The timing of my trip also coincided with the Salon du Chocolat, where I appreciated the dynamism of the French bean-to-bar scene and met promising new makers. Here’s the round-up of my favorite finds.

This post is the second part of The 37 Chocolates Guide to Paris Chocolate Shops and is in no way exhaustive. The places here will appeal to craft chocolate lovers who gravitate towards high percentage dark chocolate bars and not-too-sweet confections. Save this post for your next trip to Paris and enjoy!

Michel Cluizel

Founded in 1948, Michel Cluizel has been making chocolate from the cacao bean before bean-to-bar was a thing. A few blocks away from the Louvre, you’ll find Cluizel’s range of seven single estate bars, as well as jars of award-winning praliné spreads, and elegant bonbons. All their products are made with pure cane sugar, whole vanilla beans, and absolutely no lecithin.

The family-owned company stands out by its continuous dedication to innovate, whether that’s releasing a line of 100% organic chocolate bonbons in 2020, or redesigning their packaging and increasing the cacao content of all their dark chocolate bars in 2021 as part of an ambitious rebrand.

While you can’t go wrong with any Cluizel products, the organic bonbons are the true knockout. Once the box is open, you can show the same restraint as a real Parisienne because you’ll be satisfied with one bite. If you eat as many bonbons as I do, you know how rare that is.

Good to know: All Cluizel products are made in the company’s factory in Normandy and, if your schedule allows, consider booking a factory tour.

Michel Cluizel

201 Rue Saint Honoré

75001 Paris

Open Tuesday – Saturday from 10 AM to 2 PM and 3 PM to 7 PM. Closed Sundays and Mondays.

L’Instant Cacao

After leaving the Cluizel shop, head to the beautiful Jardin du Palais Royal to rest and relax. Heads up: the entrance is tiny and you may circle it a few times before finding it. Sit on a bench, then dig through your chocolate stash on a bench amidst the rose bushes (so romantic!), but leave room for the most delicious hot chocolate at L’Instant Cacao right outside the Jardin.

Entering L’Instant Cacao’s shoebox-size store will require you to play human Tetris, but the experience inside will all be worth it. Behind the glass wall, you’ll first spot founder Marc Chinchole turning transparently traded cacao beans into chocolate. On the left, you’ll find his work packaged in minimalist wrappers.

Chocolate aficionados will recognize respected cacao origins, like Maya Mountain in Belize, Lachuà in Guatemala, or Kokoa Kamili in Tanzania. You’ll be intrigued by fun inclusions like kumquat and guajillo chili or the white chocolate with sheep milk and Madras curry.

If you need help choosing the right bars for you, Agnès (who happens to be Marc’s mom) will be delighted to assist you. I was charmed with the mellow notes of the 78% Emmoni Bolivia bar (2020 harvest.) If Agnès isn’t busy, she’ll share the improbable story of how the shop secured the beans (spoiler: it involves yellow jacket protesters.)

Don’t leave without a five-pece box of (huge!) craft chocolate rochers and, my favorite, the drinking chocolate. The drink checks the boxes of what a perfect hot chocolate should be — balanced and nourishing, rich but not heavy, intense but not bitter.

Agnès explained to me it took some experimenting to nail the recipe, which is apparently made with both chocolate and cocoa powder. What I know for sure is I drank every drop and that I gave it the unofficial award of best hot chocolate in the universe.

L’Instant Cacao

3, rue des Petits Champs

75001 PARIS

Open Tuesday – Saturday, from 10 AM to 2 PM and 3 PM to 7 PM.


When Plaq opened its doors back in 2020, it was dubbed “the Dandelion Chocolate of Paris.” Like the San Francisco company, Plaq attracts a new generation of chocolate-lovers with its sleek branding, two-ingredient dark chocolate, and a whole array of baked goods featuring house-made chocolate served in a café setting.

If your budget is tight, stock up on the single origin and milk chocolate bars which start at €8 per bar. If your boss gave you a raise, congrats! You can now splurge one of the praliné-filled and pistachio-covered Plaqs. I’m quite fond of the not-too-sweet, super tender almond chocolate cake, which is great with a shot of milk-based hot chocolate and a side of people-watching.

Good to know: Plaq is located in a vibrant neighborhood. You’ll like browsing the book selection at the adorable Petite Égypte before feasting at Salatim on some hummus and za’atar flatbread.


4 Rue du Nil

75002 Paris

Open Tuesday-Friday from 11 AM – 7:30 PM; Saturday: 10 AM – 7:30 PM; Sunday: 10 AM – 6 PM. Closed on Mondays.

La Brigaderie de Paris

A Brazil native, founder Marina Stroh-Ibri has been sharing the flavors of her homeland in France since 2012. First known for her brigadeiros aka Brazilian truffles, Marina started developing a line of bean-to-bar chocolate back in 2018 using Brazilian cacao from Amazonia, Bahia, and Espirito Santo.

Admittedly, you’ll have to venture to the banlieues (suburbs) for a taste of La Brigaderie chocolate, but trust me, the savory inclusions of the Feijoada and Moqueca bars are worth the train ride. Both inspired by eponymous Brazilian dishes, the bars blend masterfully crafted dark chocolate with black beans, puffed rice, and orange (Feijoada) and tomato, pepper, coconut, and coriander (Moqueca.) These stellar flavor combinations are some of the most audacious I’ve had in France. If you really can’t make it to Montfort-l’Amaury, order her bars online and have them shipped to your Parisian address.

La Brigaderie de Paris

14 Rue de Sancé

78490 Montfort l’Amaury 

Les Copains de Bastien

Cacao roaster at Les Copains de Bastien

The latest newcomer to the Parisian French bean-to-bar scene, Les Copains de Bastien opened shop last fall. A few minutes from Gare du Nord, you’ll find a line of single origin chocolate and a few confections. What stands the company apart though is its vocation, which is to provide culinary training and employment to economically marginalized people who want to re-enter the job market.

In a city known for its shoebox-size stores, the workshop/retail space of Les Copains de Bastien (Bastien’s buddies) blew me away with its size. Once you come in, you can order chocolate or ice cream, sit down (!) inside (!) and admire the chocolate-making equipment. The roaster is a heck of a beauty and the melangeurs are huge! I left with 10 mini bars to sample the Bastien line-up. My favorite so far? The Colombia dark milk.

Did you like this article? Then sign up 37 Chocolates newsletter to be notified of blog updates and upcoming online chocolate tastings. For corporate and private tastings, please fill out this form and I’ll get back to you within 48 hours.