For those of us who love chocolate, let’s face it, any time one is savoring chocolate is considered “happy hour”. But to have a formal chocolate tasting, one of our local, fine chocolate businesses, Chocolopolis, actually has a Happy Hour. Once a week on Thursday evenings at their store (1527 Queen Anne Ave. N.), they feature a certain theme: chocolate from a certain country, how chocolate flavors vary between different regions in the world, or tastings of different “inclusion” chocolate bars that have a surprise center, to name a few. Besides selling chocolate from around the world, their fine chocolatiers also make award-winning truffles under their own brand in their on-site kitchen.
Washington State, not just Seattle, is home to quite a few artisan chocolatiers. This isn’t surprising in the Pacific Northwest, since other artisan foods such as single-origin coffee and microbrews are highly prized for their unique taste. Around Seattle, Fran Bigelow of Fran’s Chocolate’s experimented with sprinkling sea salt on her chocolate caramels years ago, which became extremely popular and may have started the sweet & salty combo movement we see now. Frango mint chocolates at Macy’s locations are produced locally and began back in 1927. Chocolat Vitale in northern Ballard serves their own rich, European hot chocolate made from real chocolate instead of powder (and sell other chocolates, too). Theo Chocolate, a relative newcomer, is housed in a former brewery in Fremont (a hops scent is still sometimes prevalent in the lobby air), and created the first U.S. certified-organic chocolate bar. And Dilettante Chocolates started on Capitol Hill over 40 years ago, and actually make cocktails featuring their confections (Mint Kiss Martini, anyone?).
So back to Happy Hour at Chocolopolis: One can learn much from store owner Lauren’s mother, Marcie Adler, who has worked there for 8 years since the store opened. She was guiding the tasting theme this evening: Ecuadorian chocolate in different percentages (55%, 70%), under different brands. She explained that the key to tasting fine chocolate is to let it melt on your palate, no chewing allowed, and move it around in one’s mouth since taste buds vary.
Marcie also mentioned that cacao, which chocolate is made from, only grows 20 degrees north or south of the equator, so is a specialized crop. Hawaii is the only U.S. state that can grow it. At Chocolopolis, they divide their chocolate bars into world regions (such as Asia, South America, Madagascar, others), via a handy wall chart and labeling, which makes it easier to shop for small-batch, single-origin bars. And besides making their own, some of the other beautiful truffles they stock are from Orcas Island, Los Angeles, France, Kansas City, and San Francisco.
If you really want to splurge on every artisan chocolate under the sun and even take educational classes, go to the Northwest Chocolate Festival each autumn to get your fix. Or occasionally stop by for happy hour on a Thursday night in Queen Anne.