Thursday, April 28, 2011

A Chocolate Tour of Seattle, Part II

You've looked at the must-visits from last week's post, picked the ones that work best for you, and now want to know what else is around to fill out your tour. The shops here are those that I haven't been to myself or that have a particular specialty, followed by some tips for a happy chocolate tour.

Other Shops

I visited and reviewed Marie & Freres when it was simply the flagship store of Claudio Corallo, and the chocolate was unusual, excellent, and expensive. When I visited the other day it was similar, but with a smaller selection of Claudio Corallo and a few additional bars and items like macarons. Marie & Freres isn't in an especially walkable neighborhood, but it is very central (e.g. a couple blocks from the local Whole Foods) and not hard to find if you're driving around town.

The Confectionery is like an upscale, modern version of the old penny candy shops you romanticize, with big glass jars, a panoply of colorful sweets, and whimsy in abundance. The chocolate counter is attractive and fun, and while the prices are high, just being in the store is cheering and it's located in the same outdoor mall as a Fran's Chocolates (discussed in part I).

Already visited Fran's and Chocolate Box, and now you're walking around Pike Place Market? Try Chukar Cherries, whose stand is right in the middle of the market. I don't think the chocolate enrobing their dried fruit is the best, but the fruit is local and the nice folks behind the counter are happy to give samples.

Based on the Eastside? You can find a Fran's and an Oh! Chocolate there (both in Bellevue Square mall) as well as a couple small shops I've never visited, Amore Chocolates and Grendelsweets. I'm seeing good reviews, so if these stores are convenient to you, give them a try.

[Update 9/28/12: I have now visited Grendelsweets and found it to make high-quality, not-too-sweet confections. I wouldn't call it a necessary stop on a Seattle-specific chocolate tour, but if you're touring in that area, it's worth a visit.]

To round out this list, here are three more Seattle chocolate shops that I've never visited but are getting good buzz: Chocolate Shoebox is part leather-free shoe store, part vegan chocolate shop; Intrigue Chocolates makes truffles infused with interesting flavors; and My Divine Chocolates is both chocolate shop and café.


Tips

  • Ever read The Chocolate Touch? You actually can overdo it on chocolate, and you'll enjoy it more if you're not sick to your stomach. Many of these stores are in lovely, walkable neighborhoods, so stop for a sandwich or something and fill up on real food.
  • Hungry or not, a chocolate tour can give you an excuse to walk around Green Lake, Queen Anne, Fremont, and other neighborhoods you might not otherwise see as a visitor. Go for it!
  • There's good chocolate all over this town, in bakeries with chocolate counters, big grocery stores with both high-end and mid-range bars, and little gourmet shops with shelves and shelves of imports. Keep your eyes open and you can find almost anything you could want.
  • On a (relatively) low-sugar diet? At confection shops, ask for the darkest truffle they have. Theo and Fran's both make smaller confections than others, but their darkest truffle centers are so high-quality and complex that you won't want to gorge.
  • Or you can forget the whole self-tour thing and just pay someone else to run the tour for you.

Friday, April 22, 2011

A Chocolate Tour of Seattle, Part I

This past week we hosted some visitors who asked me to take them on a tour of local chocolate shops. I took into account our home location, the amount of time we wanted to spend, neighborhoods that might be interesting, and Seattle's hellacious rush hours, and we ended up making a nice loop through town. I had fun, and I think they did too.

Considering the city's fancy bar shops, confectionary stores, and numerous small chains, add a car and a good relationship with Google Maps and any visitor or resident can make his or her own tour. This week I'll cover what I consider must-visits and bonuses for bar lovers; next week I'll list specialty shops and those I haven't seen myself as well as a few additional tips.

Must-Sees

These stores are must-visits because they fulfill one or more of the following criteria: meaningful to Seattle, easy to fit into your route, generous with samples, or a way to break up a bonbon-heavy tour.

Theo Chocolate produces its chocolate from bean to bar right here in Seattle. (Most companies buy elsewhere and blend with flavorings or use to coat confections.) It's fair trade and organic, which are a taste of Seattle in and of themselves and simply good besides. Theo holds inexpensive factory tours several times daily; if you're interested, make reservations well in advance. Whether or not you're going behind the scenes, the shop displays most of its bars with a pile of sample pieces, so you can taste as much as you want before you buy. Don't ignore the small case of confections: They're high quality, the flavors are interesting, and some are vegan. On your tour, Theo is the best place to fill up on samples.

Fran's Chocolates is a local institution best known for salt caramels. Flavors are not especially unusual but are all high quality. There are three locations, two in Seattle and one in Bellevue, and one of the Seattle options is downtown near Chocolate Box (below) and tourist mainstay Pike Place Market, inside the Four Seasons—very swank. Visit because it's local, everything you get will be good, and it's a good place to buy gifts for the folks back home.

Oh! Chocolate is a familiar-feeling confectioner: big glass cases filled with chunky chocolates, a large assortment of fun fillings, and whole chocolates as samples. There are three locations, one in Seattle, one in Bellevue, and one between the two on Mercer Island. (There's actually a fourth in Georgia, but that's neither here nor there.) Not every flavor is a standout, but there's something for everybody, they're cheaper than many others, and the experience will make you smile.

Chocolati and Dilettante both sell chocolates that I think are just okay, but they're on this list because of their hot cocoa and number of locations, Chocolati's mostly in Seattle and Dilettante's also beyond city limits. Some of the other stores I'm mentioning also offer drinks, but I appreciate the café style of these, and between the two I prefer Chocolati's more relaxed feel and especially its dark hot chocolate with cayenne. With 11 locations between them and as a break in the bar/confection monotony, I think it's both easy and worth it to work at least one hot-chocolate-focused stop into your chocolate tour.

Good Bars

These stores are my reliable sources of fancy bars—those other than the ones at Whole Foods or random finds around town and elsewhere.

Chocolopolis is where to be if you want serious high-end bars. They shelve their stock by origin, so you can look at separate sections for Africa or the Caribbean and so on and another section for bars with inclusions. It's not comprehensive or anywhere near cheap, but like a well-edited wine shop, it'll help you find the good stuff. At the counter, peek behind the glass at the shiny confections (unlike in the shops above, most of these aren't house-made) and take a couple home with you.

Chocolate Box is kind of a hodgepodge store, but it's fun and the location makes it super easy to combine with a visit to Fran's or Pike Place Market. They have tons of confections from a wide variety of regional brands and a bunch of high-end bars, some of which I haven't seen elsewhere in the area. They also have gelato, cookies, and mini cupcakes, and they recently incorporated the wine bar next door, so this is a great place to indulge. Note: Tourist-friendly also means higher prices, as I've seen some of the same confections at Chocolopolis for less. Chocolate Box apparently offers a AAA discount that might make purchasing more attractive, though I haven't tried it yet myself.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Cocanú Picasso 72% Spicy Dark Chocolate, Coconut, Ginger, and Peppers


0.8oz (25g) bar
Ingredients: Cacao, sugar, coconut, paprika, cayenne pepper, ginger

Corporate Info: I bought this bar at Cacao in Portland, and if I recall the cashier's claim correctly, tiny Cocanú is the brainchild of one of the gentlemen who works at the shop. This bar sounded interesting to me, but it's not the only one; if you're in the area, try the Pop-Rocks-studded Moonwalk and let me know what you think. Cocanú's M.O. is to create blends using chocolate from other high-end companies. The Moonwalk, for example, is made from Michel Cluizel chocolate (I'll be reviewing one of their bars soon), and includes nibs from François Pralus (see my François Pralus reviews here). The Picasso contains chocolate from a Swiss company called Felchlin that claims to maintain strong and fair relationships with its cocoa farmers, so take from that what you will. Note: According to the Cocanú website, Picasso is 70% cacao, not 72%, which I assume means the formula was changed after I bought the bar.

Appearance: A smooth, thin, slightly glossy square with a scattering of tiny bumps the size of raspberry seeds.

Smell: Sour.

Taste: Morphing. Not sour but sweet!...Oh, okay, some sour...Hm, there's the flavor: Ginger and paprika are part of a warm ensemble rather than standouts on their own...Spiciness is starting to build in the back of the throat...Small pieces of coconut are textural, with no perfumey suntan-oil scent...sweet-sour chocolate dissipates, leaving a lingering heat and a couple tiny slivers of coconut. Fun.

Conclusion: Cocanú Picasso 72% Spicy Dark Chocolate, Coconut, Ginger, and Peppers is a fun ride.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Divine 70% Dark Chocolate



3.5 oz in 20-something small candies
Ingredients: Fair trade cocoa, ft. sugar, ft. cocoa butter, soy lecithin, ft. vanilla
11g sugar/41g serving (26.8% by wt.)

Corporate Info: I've written about Divine before, and while I didn't love the chocolate, the company is pretty amazing. It grew out of a Ghanaian co-op run by and for small-scale family farmers with a mission to buy the farmers' cocoa at fair prices, increase women's involvement, and work toward environmentally sound growing methods. The co-op eventually decided to produce its own chocolate, and in 1997 formed Divine Chocolate with investment capital from an assortment of socially conscious groups including for-profit corporations, nonprofits, and faith-based charities. The beans are grown in Ghana, the chocolate is produced in the UK, and subsidiaries distribute the finished product in North America and Europe. The investing organizations and the farmers' co-op all receive dividends from their shares in Divine—and the farmers' corporate presence means they're also part of decision-making processes. Everyone benefits in a fascinating globalized web of grass-roots organizing, international business, and social responsibility—it can be done! Divine is listed highly in both my sources of socially-focused chocolate producers, though while nearly all ingredients are fair trade, they are not organic.

Appearance: Dark, with a dull finish.

Smell: Dried fruit, like cranberries or golden raisins.

Taste: Very raisiny, just a little bitter, turning into something still concentrated and succulent but lighter, maybe like dates. Lingering dried fruit aftertaste. Texture is initially hard then melts into dense and creamy.

Conclusion: Divine 70% Dark Chocolate is good for those who like chocolate with a deep dried fruit vibe and/or want to support a really outstanding chocolate company.