Interview with Chris Thompson, Owner, Philter Coffee, Kennett Square, PA

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Photo credit: Chris Thompson, Philter Coffee

With its modern decor, studious atmosphere, and inspired coffee menu (you should try the gran-all-in-one), Philter Coffee is the type of coffee shop you’d expect to find in a big US city. Lucky me, the shop is actually located an hour away from Philadelphia, in a small town called Kennett Square, right here, in Pennsylvania.

Climb the single step, push the heavy door, and you’ll be welcomed by the sound of a little bell, the smell of espresso, and the smile of a soft-spoken barista. On weekdays, I order a latte, sometimes a cappuccino, and settle at one of the thick but smooth wooden tables. From my favorite table, you can hear the orders (“it’s my first time here!”), spot the regulars, and peek at the craft chocolate selection.

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Photo credit: Chris Thompson, Philter Coffee

As previously mentioned, Philter Coffee was where the “37 Chocolates” challenge truly started. My first bite of Twenty-Four Blackbirds Madagascar chocolate sparked my curiosity for craft chocolate, so I started working my way through Philter Coffee’s bean-to-bar chocolate selection.

Very early, Chris Thompson, owner at Philter Coffee, took an interest in my challenge. As my passion for chocolate grew, I started sharing my stash with him. Because he really appreciates chocolate, I have enjoyed sharing tasting notes with him and geeking out about specific bars or makers (“you should try their Belize!”, “there’s too much cocoa butter in this one”). While I already I have such conversations on Instagram, there’s nothing like having them face-to-face with another chocolate-lover! But since many of you cannot travel to Kennett Square, I have asked Chris to tell us all more about his taste in chocolate.

1 – Tell us a bit about Philter Coffee.

Philter opened in Kennett Square, PA. in December, 2013. We are a hospitality-driven, specialty coffee cafe that takes a craft approach to brewing filter and espresso coffees. In addition, we offer a small menu of sandwiches and salads that are prepared with the same level of care.

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Photo credit: Chris Thompson, Philter Coffee

2 – Your shop carries a small selection of craft, bean-to-bar chocolate. What drew you to the world of craft chocolate?

I read an article about craft chocolate back in 2006. I’ve always loved food and searched for foods/ingredients that were prepared with intention. Back then, it was difficult to find true bean-to bar makers, so it was always a treat when I could get my hands on a great bar. Luckily for all of us there are many more makers to try now.

3 – What are some of the bars Philter currently offers to its customers?

I usually have four origin bars from Dick Taylor, three from Woodblock, three from Parliament, and two from Twenty Four Blackbirds. I personally don’t usually care for inclusions in a chocolate bar, but do get excited when I find one I like, and am happy to offer those. I find that people who aren’t familiar with properly crafted chocolate, may find the inclusion bars easier to approach. Then they’re hooked!

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Photo credit: Chris Thompson, Philter Coffee

4 – What are you looking for when choosing chocolate? 

I have to say that I have never made chocolate before and I know that not everyone will agree with what I say below. These are just my thoughts on what makes a good bar and what has guided me in my selection offered at Philter.

I wanted to only feature true bean-to-bar chocolate makers. Additionally, I prefer a lighter roast profile that, in my opinion, highlights the natural sweetness of the cacao without getting to the roasty/ashy/dry flavors that I find off putting.

I find that I also prefer that there be no additives other than cane sugar. This includes additional cocoa butter. I understand that adding cocoa butter makes the chocolate easier to work with, but I find that it also changes the texture to be waxy and also blocks or mutes some of the more subtle nuances in a bars flavor.

I do make exceptions when I find an inclusion bar that highlights the flavor of the chocolate and not mask it. Some notable examples are: Dick Taylor’s black fig, Woodblock’s dark milk, and although I haven’t brought it in yet, Nathan Miller‘s buttermilk 55% buttermilk & Oko Caribe with Himalayan sea salt is fantastic!

There are other makers who I’d like to eventually work in. It’s mostly a spacial thing and it’s also hard to move someone out when they do such an amazing job.

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Photo credit: Chris Thomspon, Philter Coffee

5 – Craft chocolate is typically a lot more expensive than its industrial counterpart. How do you address the questions your customers may have about the price of your bars?

I usually will tell the story of a small company of as little as one or two people who carefully source cacao from smaller farms based on specific flavor characteristics of the region and quality farming practices. If they seem interested still, I go into how the makers then take the cocoa from it’s “raw” form and take it through the multiple stages of processing until the have the finished chocolate. If I still have their interest, I’ll explain how each chocolate has a unique flavor that can only be brought out by careful roasting, and that comes from experience and a lot of trial and error.

6 – What are some of the chocolates you like to pair with coffee?

Sometimes we’ll have a bar and a coffee from the same origin, that’s always fun. But I encourage people to play with pairings and see what they like.