March/April 2020 Chocolate tastings in Chester County & Delaware + Hello San Francisco

** March 16, 2020 edit: most of these events are now cancelled because of the Coronavirus pandemic. Please be safe and I’ll see you in happier, healthier times. **

The past Valentine’s Day season was one for the books with six chocolate tastings in nine days! We paired chocolate with wine, of course, but also tasted two interpretations of the same wild Bolivian cacao bean at the Kennett Library on Saturday. If you missed the chance to geek out with us, don’t worry, you can watch the recording of the Bolivian tasting on Facebook.

French chocolate tasting at the Kennett Library (February 2020)

You can look forward to more chocolate pairings this spring, not only with wine, but with tea, beer, and coffee too! Until then, read Everything You Don’t Know About Chocolate in the New York Times. Melissa Clarks has done a superb job explaining highlighting what makes fine chocolate special. 

March events & tastings

Friday, March 6, 1:30 PM: Emily Stone of Uncommon Cacao and Enna Grazier of Enna Chocolate, and I will be sharing our Keys to Crowdfunding Success at the Fine Chocolate Industry Association’s Elevate Conference in San Francisco. Sign up information is available here.

Saturday, March 7 and Sunday, March 8: find me at the Castronovo Chocolate booth at the Craft Chocolate Experience at the Palace of Fine Arts. Ticket information available on the event’s website.

Friday, March 13, 6-8 PM: wine & chocolate pairing event at Grace Winery in Glen Mills. Tickets are $42.63/person and include 4 pairings plus one 1-oz bar to take home. Since our February 7 event sold out in 6 days (!), get your tickets now if you’re eager to join!

Thursday, March 26, 6-8 PM: beer & chocolate pairing at Braeloch Brewing. Tickets are $25/person and include 4 pairings. Tickets available on Eventbrite.

Photo credit: Manki Kim on Unsplash

Sunday, March 29, 3-4:30 PM: tea & chocolate Pairing at Brew HaHa! in Greenville, DE (yes, that super cute one). Tickets are $20/person and include 4 pairings. 4 spots are still available The event is SOLD OUT but you can put your name on the waitlist (this would make for a lovely mother-and-daughter date).

April tasting

Photo credit: Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

Sunday, April 5, 3-4:30 PM: coffee & chocolate pairing event at Little Goat Coffee Roasters in Newark, DE. I’m thrilled to partner with Newark’s coffee darling on my very first coffee pairing event. 5 spots are still available, please click here to sign up.

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What makes chocolate bitter?

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Chocolate blind tasting

At a recent chocolate lecture, I asked the crowd what each type of chocolate evoked to them. White chocolate? Not real chocolate (ahem.) Milk chocolate? Sweet. When I said “dark chocolate”, the answer was unanimous: bitter. I wasn’t really surprised. The first time I tried a 99% bar, I almost spit it up. Thankfully, the 37 Chocolates challenge made me realize that a good dark chocolate didn’t have to taste bitter. In fact, some beans make an excellent 100% dark chocolate bar, without a trace of bitterness. So, why are some dark chocolate bars bitter? To answer that question, we need to look at the ingredients in chocolate.

To make chocolate, you need cacao or cocoa beans (it’s really the same thing.) Genetics, fermentation, and roasting will all impact chocolate flavor. Cacao is an agricultural product and not all beans are created equal. Just like a Granny Smith apple is more acidic than a Gala, some cacao beans are more bitter than others. Fermentation is a complicated topic, but it’s easy to imagine the results of bad fermentation (mold.)

Now, let’s take a look at roasting. I had long heard rumors of big companies over-roasting their beans, but I’d never seen evidence of that. All of this changed last summer when I got my hands on a roasted cacao bean husk* from a very large chocolate company. I won’t tell you which one, but I bet you can guess.

Overroasted Cacao

On my left, a roasted cacao bean husk from that large chocolate company. On my right, a cocoa bean from Sierra Nevada in Colombia roasted by much smaller, award-winning chocolate company. The bean on the left was over-roasted, to the point of being burnt. What does burnt food taste like?

Bitter.

However, dark chocolate doesn’t have to taste bitter. The combination of quality cacao beans, careful fermentation, and gentle roasting can create beautiful, intense, but not bitter dark chocolate. Granted, those bars won’t cost the same as industrial chocolate, but which color cacao bean would you rather put in your body? So head to your local coffee shop or specialty food store and start browsing the chocolate section. Your taste buds will thank you.

* The husk is the outside part of a cacao bean, one that is removed and discarded during the chocolate-making process (the fancy name is “winnowed.”) Inside the husk is the cacao nib, which will ground into chocolate. 

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Chocolate Tasting Guides

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I used to be one of those people. You know, too cool for chocolate sniffs and tasting notes, harvest years and terroirs. Heaven forbid someone called me a food snob. But if the 37 Chocolates challenge taught me anything, it’s that slowing down matters. Paying attention definitely matters. Taking notes also matters. Referring to a floral note does not make you a food snob, it makes you someone who cares.

Think about it: if you spent a first date scrolling down your Instagram feed, would you know if that person across the table is right for you? The same goes for chocolate: the more present you are with it, the better you’ll get to know it, and the better you’ll determine if it’s right for you. And just like we sometimes need a friend’s nudge to see some signs, we can use a helping hand to catch some subtle notes. So head out to my latest post on the Bar & Cocoa blog (formerly Choco Rush) to discover three of my favorite tasting guides.

Three Chocolate Podcasts You Should Listen To Now + My Favorite Local Food Podcast

Updated on September 16, 2019

You know what I like the best about being part of a new movement? Watching so many projects come to life. As the American craft chocolate scene has been booming over the past couple of years, I’ve been thrilled to witness the creation of several chocolate podcasts to help us all make sense of that world. These shows have informed, entertained, moved, and inspired me and I hope that they will do the same to you too. Happy listening!

Well Tempered, by Lauren Heineck

img_2180Hosted by Lauren Heineck of WKND Chocolate, Well Tempered is a podcast about the “smart and crafty women of the chocolate industry.” Each episode features an intimate conversation with an inspiring woman. Guests range from bloggers and brand strategists to makers and educators (I was the guest of Episode 2!).

This podcast’s for you if you have In The Company of Women* on your bedside table and could use some female inspiration to get to your next chapter. Lauren is a gifted listener and each episode makes me take action, whether that’s contributing to a crowdfunding campaign or book a visit to a chocolate factory. In short, I am a fan.

Chocolate on the Road, by Max Gandy of Dame Cacao

Added September 16, 2019

Chocolate on the RoadKnown as Dame Cacao, Max Gandy has traveled Asia extensively both for work and pleasure. Between air flights and car rides, she shares chocolate stories on the Chocolate on the Road podcast.

Twice a month, she covers topics as varied as South Korean chocolate or social media in the chocolate industry (and yes, it’s my French accent you’ll recognize on that episode).

Tune in if you’re a true chocolate enthusiast, as some of the episodes will require some familiarity with the big names of the craft chocolate industry.

The Slow Melt, a Podcast about Chocolate, by Simran Sethi

IMG_6660Written by the author of Bread, Wine, Chocolate: The Slow Loss of Foods We Love*, this podcast’s mission to educate listeners about the complexity and sometimes harsh realities of the chocolate world. After a first season focused on the basics of chocolate (from the origins of chocolate to how to savor chocolate), the new season is dedicated to chocolate-makers. 

This podcast is best for anyone who already cares about the issues of sustainability and biodiversity in food and would like to expand their knowledge to the lesser-known world of cacao and chocolate. The episodes are short (30 minutes) and professionally edited. If you only listen to one episode, may it be this interview of Shawn Askinosie, founder of Askinosie Chocolate. A pioneer of the American craft chocolate movement, Askinosie left a job as a criminal defense attorney to become a chocolate-maker. You’ll relate with his struggle to transition careers and finding work that matters.

September 2019: this podcast hasn’t been updated in a year.

Unwrapped, a Conversation about Chocolate, by Sunita de Toureil and Brian Beyke

UnwrappedWhen two friends who “love to talk about chocolate” want to share their passion, guess what they do? They record their weekly chats and make them available to everyone (yay!). Hosted by Sunita de Toureil, founder of The Chocolate Garage in Palo Alto, California, and Brian Beyke, co-host of the I Brew My Own Coffee podcast, the show covers a variety of topics, from consumer expectations to subscription box business models, all while keeping it very real. The podcast stands out by it very laid-back tone (Brian will occasionally eat a bar during a recording!), making it the perfect road trip companion.

Unwrapped will appeal to chocolate-lovers who already have a good knowledge of the US craft chocolate movement. If you’ve already heard of Areté Fine Chocolate, Stephen DeVries, or Patric Chocolate, then this podcast’s for you.

September 2019: this podcast hasn’t been updated in a year.

Local Mouthful, by Joy Manning and Marisa McClellan

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Finally, I have to give a shout-out to Local Mouthful, a show about “living the food life in Philadelphia and beyond.” Each of the 30-minute weekly show has been helping me go through the Wednesday lunchbox packing duty for well over a year (will I find two snacks by 8:30 AM? Does dark chocolate count as one?). Listening to two food lovers dish about foods of all kinds is a good reminder that there’s a whole other world outside of cacao and chocolate. Local Mouthful keeps me up-to-date with food news, helps me discover new cookbooks,  and even inspires me to make pierogis from scratch.  Now, if Joy and Marisa would devote a whole show to chocolate, that would make my Wednesdays extra sweet.

* Affiliate links.

How is Chocolate Made?

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How Cocoa Beans Become Chocolate: Graphic Developed by Ecole Chocolat and Megan Giller of Chocolate Noise

How is chocolate made? Find that out in my latest post on the Choco Rush blog. A big thank you to Ecole Chocolat and Megan Giller of Chocolate Noise for providing the fun and educational graphics, including the one here. Happy reading!

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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?

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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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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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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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.