Saturday, February 16, 2013

Chocolate Shops in Victoria, BC, Canada

I recently visited Victoria, British Columbia for the first time, and in my first couple hours there I spotted a tourist magazine with a cover article about Victoria-area chocolatiers! My free-form trip suddenly had a focus; I cross-referenced the chocolatiers described in the article with Yelp reviews and my ability to get around, and ended up at three shopsand, sadly, forgot to take photos. So here are my reviews of three shops, albeit in pictureless form.

Of the three shops, one is all over Canada and has a U.S. presence as well, one is a Victoria-based chain that also sells online, and one is for local patrons only, which hopefully means there's something of interest here for everyone. 

International: Chocolaterie Bernard Callebaut

Chocolaterie Bernard Callebaut is based out of Calgary, Alberta, was founded in 1983, and otherwise doesn't go into much depth on its site. According to Wikipedia (and the Chicago-area Bernard Callebaut site), Chocolaterie Bernard Callebaut was founded by a descendent of the more famous Callebaut, he of the Belgian company that is now part of multinational Barry Callebaut. Chocolaterie Bernard Callebaut currently operates under the corporate name Cococo Chocolatiers and has stores (some corporate-operated, others independently owned) all across Canada, one in the Portland, Oregon area, and one in the Chicago, Illinois area.

The store I visited in Victoria was spare, with a long confections counter and shelves for bars, bags of chocolate shavings, and other creations. I ordered about a half-dozen chocolates, including the cinnamon ginger, trio, and bernard. So how were they? Nothing blew me away, but all were pleasant, with fine molding, creamy fillings, and subtle flavors. High-end but not all that interesting, though I had no problem finishing them off. Yum.

Order Online: Rogers' Chocolates

Rogers' Chocolates is totally Victoria: It was founded in 1885 in Victoria, and Rogers' eight stores are all located in British Columbia. I visited the “heritage storefront” on tourism-friendly Government Street and found it charmingly packed with confections and boxed items in an old-fashioned, wood-paneled setting. And the chocolates? Eh, they were okay, large and too sweet, so that divorced from their setting, back in my hotel room, I ate only bites of several before deciding I'd rather spend my calories on something else. But I would return to Rogers' for the ambience, focusing my purchases on the things I expect to be big and homey, like brittle and the turtle-like “Empress Squares”. So...meh.

Locals-Only: Chocolat Chocolatiere de Victoria

Chocolat Chocolatiere de Victoria's website just says that the company was founded in the 1990s nearby, then moved to downtown Victoria in 2004. Other articles note that the chocolatier is Helene Pappas, though I also found an April 2011 obituary for a Helene Pappas, though no other articles about her death (in, say, local business news), so perhaps that Helene is a relative. Regardless, Chocolat's storefront on a busy street had a family vibe, with an older gentleman (founder? father?) speaking familiarly with two women at the counter (daughters?) and with several visitors of various ages and appearances as they walked past the counter and chatted in a hallway in the back. There was a confections counter front and center, and to the left a case of chocolate desserts and a smaller counter for serving various chocolate drinks. A long set of seats along the front window and a separate nook of bistro tables and low, cushioned seats completed the sense of Chocolat as a great coffee-shop-like place where I wished I could become a regular.

So how was the chocolate? I ended up with nearly a dozen of the intriguing-looking and -sounding confections, among them Chocolate in the Raw, a Dark Mouse, Marzipan, Rosebud, and the wasabi-infused Samurai, and mostly saved them while drinking dark, thick, milk-free Xocolatl and watching the staff wrap red boxes in preparation for Valentine's Day. I nibbled on a few chocolates and saved the rest to finish later, in my hotel room, where I tried and savored them all. Some were more to my taste than others, but I had no regrets: Chocolat's confections look varied and interesting and taste evocative, fun, and creative, and I'd love to return. Excellent.

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