The Perfect Drinking Chocolate

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Drinking chocolate mixes by Acalli Chocolate gifted to me in 2015

About a year ago, I developed a bit of an obsession with drinking chocolate. While I am partial to Philadelphia’s Chocolate Alchemist’s inspired creations, they are made on-premises from the bean, which means you can’t recreate them at home. Thankfully, many craft chocolate companies now offer delicious, quality mixes (with cacao listed as a first ingredient, not sugar) to help us get through winter.

But first, let’s define what makes a good drinking chocolate. I personally like mine thick and dark, rich but not heavy, so I usually find hot cocoa to lack body and most drinks made from melted bars too thick or sweet. With that settled, I started experimenting with a few mixes, adapting milk and water volumes and ratios, until I obtained a drink with a taste and texture that I liked.

The three pouches above, gifted to me by Acalli Chocolate, were some of the most flavorful mixes I tried. To prepare the mixes, I drew inspiration from the “hot chocolate shot” prepared by Ritual Chocolate in Utah. I halved the amount of water recommended on the package, and dissolved 2 tablespoons mix (which is equivalent to 1/2 package) in 2 tablespoons of milk and 2-3 tablespoons of hot water. I loved the thicker texture and strong taste of the resulting drink. My favorite mix was the 1579 because of the balance of spice/chocolate. Original was next. Spicy was for my husband, as I cannot handle hot foods too well.

You can order these pouches online on Acalli Chocolate’s website. Another mix I really like is Undone Chocolate’s, which is made from Ecuadorian cacao. It is sold in powder form, so it is mixes really well with hot water or milk. Too bad my jar’s empty.

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Dick Taylor drinking chocolate sampled at Philter Coffee (Kennett Square, Pennsylvania)

Looking for more drinking chocolate inspiration? Read John Nanci’s comprehensive post on Chocolate Alchemy’s blog. Here is how a few of my Instagram followers prepare their drink.

I make Frankencocoa! We mix a bunch together.

Jess

2 tablespoons of unsweetened cocoa powder, 2 tablespoons of sugar and 1/2 cup of milk (the 2% works); mix very well, add spices (cayenne pepper, cinnamon, ginger, whatever you like) and bring to a boil so it really thickens.

The sugar and cocoa mix should be first heated up with 1/4 cup of the milk and whisked VERY well so there’s no cocoa lumps; then, once smooth, add the second 1/4 cup of milk (whole is even better, of could) and gently bring to 2 or 3 boils; that’s how it gets thick 🙂

Stéphanie

I like Taza Chocolate Mexican Chocolate Cinnamon disc mixed with blue corn masa or atole and piloncillo. I make mine with almond milk. I pretty much make most of my drinking chocolate with almond milk or water.

Sophia, Projet Chocolat

Now tell me: how do you prepare your drinking chocolate?

Eat, Listen, and Read: My Fall in Chocolate

Well, hello there. I hope you’ve had a good fall so far. I have not stopped by here for some time but, as like to say, a quiet blog is usually a sign of a busy life, which usually is good. Here is what I have been up to these past couple of months.

Eat: Chocolate Tasting Workshops

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Ever since I was a kid, I loved the bustle of back-to-school shopping. In France, that meant loads of composition books, a new fountain pen (Waterman, preferably), and, when my mom agreed, a trendy pencil case. Now that I am older, back-to-school shopping involves a different kind of supplies: chocolate tasting sheets by Projet Chocolat, a tasting kit by Map Chocolate, and cacao beans from Chocolate Alchemist. This fall, I have indeed been busy hosting several chocolate tasting workshops locally. A highlight of this fall was introducing 280 school age kids to the world of cacao and (real) chocolate. Witnessing children see, touch, and smell cacao beans for the very first time filled me with such awe!

Of course, I have also enjoyed sharing my passion with grown-ups, too: last September, I was invited by Chris Thompson, owner of Philter Coffee in Kennett Square, to train his staff on chocolate. Together, we sampled most of the bars carried at the shop, including a new personal favorite, Dick Taylor’s Camino Verde’s bar. The chocolate won me over with its rounded, comforting, slightly nutty flavor: the perfect bar for back-to-school, if you ask me.

My next tasting workshop will be scheduled at the Kennett Library in Kennett Square in February. To be notified of my next events, please sign up for my newsletter and follow me on Instagram @37chocolates.

Listen: A Chocolate Podcast

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I am thrilled that there finally is a podcast devoted to my favorite food – chocolate. Well Tempered is the brainchild of multi-talented maker Lauren from WKND Chocolate. I am both humbled and honored to have been her second guest. If you’d like to know what three chocolate products I would bring to a desert island, listen to our conversation here.

Read: My Chocolate Story

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Finally, I wrote the story of my 37 Chocolates challenge for the the Sweets/Holiday issue of Edible Philly magazine. To say I am excited about it is an understatement: I am so grateful that Joy Manning published my story in such a respected publication! The story is not only about chocolate, it also about stepping outside of your comfort zone, trusting your palate, finding – and claiming – your voice. I can’t wait for you to read it. You can pick up a copy at one of the following locations or read it online here.

If you’re coming here after reading the article, welcome! You can learn more about my chocolate journey here and why bean-to-bar chocolate matters there

Now tell me: what have you been up to this fall?

Interview with Carol Morse, Founder & Maker, Acalli Chocolate (New Orleans, Louisiana)

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Carol Morse, maker and founder, Acalli Chocolate. Photo credit: Erin Krall.

“So. Much. Flavor.”

Those were my thoughts as I sampled the Milk & Nibs bar by Acalli Chocolate last summer. The brand had been recommended to me by Laura, a chocolate-loving barista, soon after I committed to the 37 Chocolates challenge. I was looking for recommendations and she was happy to share hers. She jotted down the names of four makers on a piece of parchment paper before commenting on each brand.

“Acalli. I like what she does in New Orleans.”

She?

That was a first.

I was not aware of any female chocolate-makers. I obviously had to learn .

A few weeks after that conversation,  I found myself in Wayne, Pennsylvania, trying to escape the scorching heat with my friend Teresa. We pushed the door of Gryphon Cafe and, as I ordered an ice latte, my eyes caught the sight, on the elevated counter, of a small orange box with the name of that Louisiana maker – Acalli Chocolate. The bar, a combination of  65% dark milk chocolate, was sprinkled with cacao nibs. I was intrigued.

After we picked our drinks, Teresa and I sat down, we breathed a sighed of a relief – cool, at last. I opened the orange box, inside which was a thick cellophane wrapper that I unsealed to reveal a dark piece of chocolate. I cut the bar into squares, one of which landed on my tongue.

“So. Much. Flavor.”

That day, I finally understood what craft chocolate was about.

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Soon after I posted my video review of Acalli Chocolate’s Milk & Nibs bar , I connected with Carol Morse, founder of Acalli Chocolate and we spent a couple of hours on Skype getting to know each other. Unlike other makers, who fall into chocolate by wondering how chocolate is made, Carol became curious about chocolate after finding herself on an actual cacao plantation. How cool is that? I found her story so interesting that I invited her to share it with you. In this article, Carol answers a few of my questions about her background, her brand, and what’s next for her company.

Thank you, Carol for sharing your chocolate story.

1) When we first talked last year, I was surprised to learn that you have a PhD in Anthropology. How did you make the switch to becoming a full-time chocolate-maker?

I don’t have a PhD, but anthropology was my college major. I also have a background in economic development, as I worked in micro-finance before I made chocolate. So the full chain of chocolate making – from cacao and the people that grow it to the final bar – lets me combine a lifelong love of chocolate with an interest in people and the work that they do.

My husband is an archaeologist (he is pursuing his PhD), and three years ago we spent a summer in Guatemala while he studied a Mayan language and I worked remotely for a California micro-finance nonprofit. We visited Maya Mountain Cacao in Belize and I met Guatemalan chocolate-makers. I was just fascinated by everything, and when I got back to the U.S., I ordered small equipment and cacao from John Nanci (I don’t know what I would’ve done without his Chocolate Alchemy website!) to begin making chocolate at home. The Chocolate Life was also a really helpful forum for me when I started out – so many chocolate-makers offering advice and guidance.

In 2014, I visited the Norandino Cooperative in Northern Peru, and was impressed by both their work and cacao. I began buying from them shortly thereafter.

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The original line-up of Acalli Chocolate bars. Photo credit: Carol Morse, Acalli Chocolate.

2. What is the origin of the name Acalli?

The name Acalli (ah-CALL-ee) means “canoe” in Nahuatl (the Aztec language that also gave us the word “chocolate”). It seemed appropriate as a name since canoes connect people even across great distances, and were an early method of transporting cocoa beans. I also just think it’s a pretty word and one that evokes the spirit of travel and a sense of adventure. My husband is an anthropologist and linguist, so he helped come up with it!

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Carol Morse, founder and maker, Acalli Chocolate. Photo credit: Erin Krall.

3. When I think of New Orleans, I think about hot and humid: what challenges does that climate pose for a chocolate-maker?

I’m constantly learning about the impact of climate on chocolate here! I didn’t realize what I was getting into when I started, but I do feel like I understand chocolate better because of the time I’ve spent figuring out why things go wrong. Humidity is a big issue – I have a humidity monitor in my workshop and it rarely reads below 50% relative humidity. It’s often above 65 or 70…and I have learned that you can temper in those conditions, contrary to popular belief! Summers are also difficult when it comes to keeping the temperature down, especially for tempering and molding. But like anywhere, I guess you just figure out what works for the conditions you have. I definitely get nervous making summertime deliveries, but I appreciate ice packs more than ever before!

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Park Morse, Carol’s brother, at work making chocolate. Photo credit: Carol Morse, Acalli Chocolate.

4. You just added two new bars to your existing bar line-up. Could you tell us a bit more about your chocolate?

Of course! I’m currently buying all of my cacao from the Norandino Cooperative, and it’s a big cooperative that spans several regions of Peru. I started out last year with three bars. Two are made with beans from six communities in the Tumbes region of Peru, and one is made with beans from the community of El Platanal in Chulucanas, Peru.

The bars that I just released are smaller “tasting bars,” and they’re darker, with an 81% cocoa content. They’re made with a blend of the Tumbes and El Platanal beans, and sweetened with local Louisiana sugar. The combination is so fudgy and rich, with a hint of molasses from the sugar. One bar is plain, and the other is topped with nibs and sea salt. I’m a little obsessed!

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The latest (delicious!) additions to Acalli Chocolate’s original line of bars. Photo credit: Carol Morse, Acalli Chocolate.

5) There are over 150 bean-to-bar chocolate-makers in the US today. What sets Acalli apart?

A big tenant of business model is sourcing in person. I’m not the only one doing that, but it was something important to me from the beginning, especially in light of my anthropology and development background. I want to pay a price that treats cacao as a value-added specialty product, not a commodity. Because there is a huge amount of work that goes into cacao production: cultivation, harvesting, fermenting, drying… I want to acknowledge all the work that has been done by the farmers before I even receive the beans.

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Park and Carol Morse in front of a fermentation box in Tabasco, Mexico, summer 2015. Photo credit: Acalli Chocolate.

6) What’s next for Acalli?

Launching the new little bars has been such an exciting way to close out the summer! I’ll be expanding those into more retail locations, and we’re slowly starting to move toward prime drinking chocolate weather, which is great. I quietly introduced some drinking chocolates late last winter and I’m eager to start offering those in a more visible way.

My husband Luke, my brother Park and I (that’s the entire Acalli “staff,” with Park helping with production and Luke doing a lot of the web and social media work) all visited about twenty farmers in Mexico last summer to pursue Chiapas and Tabasco as potential bean origins. I’m hoping to introduce a new Mexican origin some time soon. I’ve been roasting sample batches of Chiapan beans this week, so that’s been an exciting project also!

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The Doing

“To gain your own voice, you have to forget about having it heard.”

– Allen Ginsberg

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I have blogged, mostly in French, for most of my adult life. Work during the day, blog on the evenings, this had long been the way. The practice taught me some of my most important lessons about the creative process, lessons that I am glad I learned early on.

When I create, I do it for myself first. My job as creator is to get a piece out to the world and move on to the next one. Sure, accolades are great but, be warned, they won’t feed your soul. Do it for the doing, do it because you can no longer hold it in. Your job is to pour your soul into the world. It’ll feel so good when you do.

From the moment I committed to my 37chocolates challenge, I knew that my videos would not reach a large audience. I was OK with that. My job was to review those 37 chocolates by Halloween 2015. Now, I won’t lie, there were times last summer I wondered why I was bothering about those reviews when nobody seemed to care. Right then, an anonymous commenter would share kind words on my YouTube channel or someone shared one my videos. Of course, this made me happy. But, ultimately, the motivation to go to 37 could only have come from within. So, remember, do it for the doing, and do it for yourself.

Finding Bean-to-Bar Chocolate in the Philadelphia Area

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Taza Chocolate bar from my local Whole Foods Market

If you live in a small town like I do, you may have a hard time gathering a large selection of craft chocolate from a wide range of makers. However, with a little curiosity, you may be surprised at the number of bean-to-bar chocolates you’ll be able to find close to your home. For instance, did you know that many independant natural stores carried lesser known chocolate brands right in the candy aisle? Your local coffee shop may also offer a nice selection of bars right by the register, make sure to check it out.

To me, the quest for craft chocolate is part of the fun: I love the thrill I get from finding a bar I had spotted months earlier on Instagram (I am looking at you, Askinosie’s licorice bar.)  I have now been looking for bean-to-bar chocolate locally for over a year now and, while I still have a lot more places to explore, here a list of my favorite craft chocolate purveyors in the Chester County & Philadelphia areas. A word of caution: this is a non-exhaustive, kind-of-subjective list, which I will update as I go. In the meantime, I’d love to know where you shop for chocolate, both in the Philadelphia area and beyond. Leave a comment to let me know!

Carlino’s – both Ardmore and West Chester locations, PA

  • Ritual Chocolate (their 75% Balao bar and 60% Novo coffee bars are excellent).

Gryphon Coffee – Wayne, PA

Lolli and Pops – King of Prussia Mall

Malvern Buttery – Malvern, PA

Philter Coffee – Kennett Square, PA

The West Chester Ice Cream & Coffee Bar – West Chester, PA

Kimberton Whole Foods – Multiple locations

Martindale’s Natural Market – Springfield, PA

Whole Foods Markets – Multiple locations

Sazon Restaurant – Philadelphia, PA

Shane Confectionary – Philadelphia, PA

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A Chocolate Cake in Istanbul

imageThe first thing people notice about me is my French accent. This usually makes them curious about what brought me to the US (work) and they smile when I tell them why I stayed (love). While they usually are interested in the love story (it started at the cafeteria), some people feel so intimidated by the idea of talking to a French person, they’ll start sharing their knowledge about wine (which I know nothing about) or cheese (which I don’t eat).

The truth is, my family is from Turkey, I spent every summer of my childhood by the Aegean Sea, and I was not exposed to French home cooking until my teenage years.

My last trip to Turkey was five years ago, when I took my American husband to Istanbul so he could visit Hagia Sophia and the Palace of Topkapi. Our last day in this beautiful city coincided with his birthday so we each had a piece of this chocolate cake. It was sweet and delicious, just like I’d like to remember that city.

What is Bean-to-Bar Chocolate? (2/2)

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Back in December 2015, the concept of bean-to-bar chocolate was put on the spotlight after Scott, a Dallas-based blogger, published of four-part exposé demonstrating that the Mast Brothers company had not always been a bean-to-bar chocolate-maker. To meet early demand, Scott explains, the company used premade chocolate known as “couverture chocolate” instead of making it from the actual beans. While there is nothing wrong with using industrial chocolate in confections, the Mast Brothers had claimed to be bean-to-bar maker from their very early days. The chocolate scandal, which was relayed on national media, triggered a series of reactions that made one thing clear: there is a lot of confusion around what being a bean-to-bar chocolate-maker actually means.

If you are not clear on the concept yourself, take a moment to read the post I wrote to define the concept of bean-to-bar chocolate. However, the real challenge does not lay as much in explaining the concept as in determining why it matters in the first place. In this post, I’ll explain why the concept came to matter to me as a consumer.

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This chocolate bar by Cacao Atlanta has clear dark cherry notes

Before I started my 37 Chocolates challenge last year, the only chocolate I ever had came straight from the grocery store. For the past several years, I had resorted to chocolate to help me cope with stress at my deadline-driven job. I would buy 12-packs  of Theo Chocolate bars on Amazon (dark chocolate with cherries and almonds was a favorite), Endangered Species from the grocery store (I had a soft spot for the blueberry inclusion variety) or the 71% dark chocolate by Valrhona that I would stock up on at Trader Joe’s (I still really enjoy this bar). I would not spend more than $3.50 on a bar because I could not justify spending so much money on chocolate I would eat for stress relief purposes and, if I am really honest, mindlessly. In addition, I had already been disappointed by $8 bars marketed as “bean-to-bar” chocolate, which had then made one thing very clear: the term bean-to-bar is not a guarantee of quality. At that time, I made the decision of sticking with mass-produced but reliable and inexpensive bars than taking the risk of getting disappointed again.

Now, to be fair, all of the chocolate I ate at that point was technically bean-to-bar. However, I had noticed that the phrase typically found its way on the wrappers of handcrafted, smaller batch chocolate that you find in gourmet stores and independant coffee shops. As a consumer, I typically interpret that phrase as a justification of a higher price tag, since it’s a lot more work to make chocolate from scratch (i.e. from the beans) than it is to melt and remold industrial chocolate.

Time went by, I left the stressful job and started growing bored with my chocolate selection. While it felt safe to have a list of go-to brands and bars, that first bite of Twenty-Four Blackbirds Madagascar chocolate made me wonder what awaited me outside of my chocolate comfort zone. I had noticed the explosion of American-made, small batch chocolate and, surely, I thought, some of these bars had to be good. Plus, there seemed to be something about the whole “single origin” chocolate, even though I knew nothing at the time about the difference between Guatemalan or Peruvian cacao. Although I felt guilty at the idea of spending the equivalent of one hour of minimum wage into a 3-oz piece of indulgence, I grew increasingly curious and related the likely prospect of eating disappointing bars as the inevitable bad dates leading me to “the one.” So I took a leap, opened my mind (and yes, my wallet), and never looked back.

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Nightswimming, a beloved dark milk chocolate by Map Chocolate

Today, I mostly eat bean-to-bar, small batch chocolate and, while I still enjoy the occasional bar of Valrhona, here’s why there’s no going back.

First, I really appreciate knowing where my food comes from. Most small batch makers will disclose the country of origin of the cacao, some going as far as mentioning the name of the region or the actual estate where the cacao is from. Remember that 40% of the world’s cacao comes from West Africa, where the practice of child slavery is unfortunately still common on some plantations. When you buy industrially made chocolate, the odds are that the cacao used in the blend comes from West Africa.

Next, I learned to appreciate the concept of single origin chocolate, which is not commonly found in grocery stores. While my chocolate-making friend Robert Campbell swears by cacao blends, some single origin chocolates have completely blown me away. For instance, I love the light citrus notes of Madagascar chocolate, have fallen hard for the strong caramel notes of the Castronovo Sierra Nevada bar, and will never forget the distinct cherry notes of this Patanemo bar by Cacao Atlanta.

Finally, I discovered that some makers truly master the craft of making chocolate, going through every single step of the process, from the sourcing of the beans to the molding of the bars, with intention and care. These women and men know how to coax the flavors of each cacao, so the flavors will shine when hitting the tongue. Sometimes, the skilled maker is also an artist  who will infuse the bars with her or his vision of the world. In the right hands, the craft of making chocolate is elevated to the rank of art. Some bars will thus bring us to our knees and make our heart beat faster. And, sometimes, the chocolate will find such an echo in our soul that we may shed a tear. This is what Map Chocolate does to me. That is what an artfully crafted piece of chocolate can do to you. $8 for a piece of art? That’s what I call a steal.

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