I was perusing Seattle Weekly's annual Best of Seattle issue a couple weeks ago when I zeroed in on the category “Best Place to Taste Chocolate,” and found that their pick surprised me: Claudio Corallo, a store I'd never heard of. I was even more intrigued when I visited the company's website, because all of Claudio Corallo's products are 70% cacao and higher—score!—and I vowed to visit the Seattle flagship store post haste.
On the weekday afternoon when I pulled up to Claudio Corallo, I was surprised to see that the shop was full of people. It turned out that a group from a nearby business had come in for a semi-private tasting, and I'd barged in mid-presentation. The proprietor was rather occupied but also gracious, and she suggested I come back in ten minutes, by which time most of the other customers had left and I was able to try samples and ask questions.
Let's get something out of the way: This is expensive chocolate, more than $4 per ounce for a single bar. But that's not really bad news, just an indication that it's a whole different product from most of the other bars you see on grocery store shelves. Most of us don't eat at three-star restaurants frequently, but on the occasion that we do, we appreciate the effort and artistry that makes it something our Wednesday night stir-fries are not. It's this perspective from which I approach pricey, high-quality chocolate.
Claudio Corallo the person is a gentleman who operates his own plantation and chocolate processing facility on the islands of Sao Tome and Principe, off the coast of West Africa. His operation is essentially dirt-to-bar, because it involves everything from farming all the way to choosing sugar and inclusions. Claudio Corallo the company imports Corallo's finished products and sells them in a selection of retail stores and online. The current Seattle flagship location opened late in '09, though online reviews indicate a previous storefront in another part of town.
The tasting experience
When I first stopped in at Claudio Corallo, I watched as the organized group ate every offered sample excitedly and, at the conclusion of the presentation, immediately began dropping $20s on the items that had impressed them the most. It's a vivid illustration of why every high-end chocolatier ought to offer plentiful samples: Sampling done right can engender goodwill, encourage informed questions, and produce repeat customers who bring friends. There's no better way to up-sell than to have customers come up with the idea themselves, and on a personal level, if I'm going to pay dearly, I want to walk out with something I absolutely love.
Claudio Corallo offers a more guided tasting than Theo Chocolate. Rather than piling pieces up for unlimited self-service, Claudio Corallo's proprietor stands behind the counter with a pair of tongs, describing the choices and doling out slivers of bars and confections. The options, slightly broader than what's listed on the website, include a 100% chocolate bar; several other high-cacao options; an 80% bar with coarse sugar for textural variation; bars with orange pieces, ginger pieces, or nibs; chocolate-enrobed coffee beans or candied ginger; loose nibs; whole roasted beans; and a couple more complicated bars that involve nuts, dried fruit, and spices combined and sprinkled on top of chocolate. Additionally, the store has partnered with a nearby restaurant to occasionally offer chocolate pastries and other desserts.
I didn't want to spend too much, and so was left to narrow down among several favorites. I put off buying the whole beans, though I loved them: A new experience for me, they were nutty-crisp and not nearly as intense as I had expected. Similarly, I enjoyed the nib bar's contrast between the nibs' texture and near-airiness and the sweetness of the chocolate that surrounded them. I finally bought a box of chocolate-covered coffee beans and the outstanding orange bar (reviews to follow), and definitely plan to stop into Claudio Corallo again.