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Single Origin Chocolate: The First Bite

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Some of the bars carried by Philter Coffee in Kennett Square, PA.

“You like food. Try this.”

I was about to pick my espresso drink when Chris Thompson, the owner of Philter Coffee in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, called me from behind the counter. He was holding a white saucer on which sat a few pieces of chocolate. They were bits of Twenty-Four Blackbirds, 75% Madagascar, as I recall, and all I noticed was their color, much lighter than the dark chocolate I was used to then. I helped myself to a piece and let it melt on my tongue.

To my surprise, the chocolate was very light – I could have mistaken it for milk chocolate – with no  hint of bitterness. This did not taste like dark chocolate at all and I was not sure what to make of it. Did I like it? Was I supposed to like it? Was I expected to share tasting notes? Was I being judged? I was very confused. I don’t remember what I said to Chris but it must have been something flat and generic. “It’s good”, maybe, or “it’s different”.

I picked my drink and left the shop.

Several months later, after I shot my very first (grocery store) chocolate reviews , I knew I wanted to make the leap into the world of single origin chocolate. I started with what I knew, so I went back to Philter Coffee and started studying the chocolate selection. I looked for the smallest, least expensive bar I could find, and so I went back to where it all started: the 75% Madagascar bar by Twenty-Four Blackbirds. This time, I sampled the chocolate by myself and paid close attention to its taste.

The chocolate was as light as I remembered and the lack of bitterness stood out again. But while I was still somewhat confused, I was also very excited: this was a dark chocolate that did not taste like dark chocolate.I thought of all the people who claimed they did not like dark chocolate but never had that kind of bar before. Oh, the possibilities! I wondered if all Madagascar beans tasted the same. I was curious about other origins, too. How would they differ from this Madagascar bar? I had a lot to learn.

Today, when people ask me who makes the best chocolate or who is my favorite maker, my answer is this: for me, it was and always will be about the journey. It is not about liking or disliking a bar, it is about being pushed, moved, stirred, puzzled, delighted, and confused. When I travel to a new country, I love that sense of confusion that comes with not understanding the culture or the language. For me, the same goes for chocolate. Confusion was the first step for me and it may the first step for you. Embrace it and keep tasting.

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