Sunday, July 25, 2010

Bar of the Week: Pralus' Cuba

The final Bar of the Week for our anniversary month is Emily's favorite, the Pralus' Cuba.  This 75% dark chocolate has Pralus' usual heavily-roasted sweetness, with subtle, exotic notes of spice, pepper, and licorice.  Stop in for a sample on Saturday, July 31st. 

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

What a Ride it's Been!

Chocolopolis May 2008
Two years ago I opened Chocolopolis. It was July of 2008, and while the economy had been struggling for awhile, the biggest hit was yet to come. Winter is the time for heavy chocolate consumption, not summer, yet we had a very good July and August in 2008. I don't know if it was the economy or the "wow" factor of being a new business with a cool concept, but our sales were better than I'd expected. I remember thinking, "If business is this good in July and August, can you imagine what September will be like?" We got to September and the stock market tanked. Cue the crickets.

It was a tough first year. We were trying to teach people about artisan chocolate and educate their palates in a very poor economy. Looking back I remember nights of little sleep and many tears. My wonderful husband, Mark Kotzer, kept me sane with optimistic reminders of why I would succeed. In my heart I knew I'd succeed because I always work hard and smart, and I don't doubt my ability to make things work. But it was really tough.

Two years later the sleepless nights and tears are gone. My days are still filled with a lot of hard work, but my job is a lot more fun now. We have many wonderful, loyal customers who have learned about artisan chocolate and come in to chat about their favorite bar, their children or their grandchildren. We've built a reputation around the country for being one of a handful of chocolate retailers that really understand artisan bean-to-bar chocolate. We've got an incredible team working at the store, all of whom are passionate about chocolate and enjoy working with our customers. I'm lucky to have such incredible employees!

One of the absolute best parts of this job is getting to talk to some of the most talented chocolate makers and chocolatiers in the world on a regular basis. I feel like I have a red line phone to Alan McClure of Patric Chocolate and Colin Gasko of Rogue Chocolatier. It's really great talking to these guys, and what I don't hear from one of them directly, I hear from the other. They're incredibly passionate about chocolate, and they're really talented artisans who are both friends and competitors. I've also learned from other artisan chocolate makers like Art Pollard of Amano and Shawn Askinosie. All of these chocolate makers are sources of so much information when it comes to the many interesting topics around fine cacao such as bean genetics, fermentation and drying techniques and cacao sourcing. I'll be talking with all of them in the near future for some upcoming blog posts on these issues.

I also have to thank Christopher Elbow, a world class chocolatier who took our word that we'd treat his confections right and agreed to let us sell these tasty gems on our truffle counter. Chris has been an incredible supporter, making us the only store in Washington state that sells his chocolates, and coming to Seattle to meet our customers in our first year. It's been a pleasure working with Chris and his team, who are incredibly supportive and down-to-earth, and who really care about producing excellent chocolates.

I've also enjoyed getting to know some of the other retailers around the country who are equally geeky about chocolate. Who are they? Seneca Klassen of Bittersweet Cafe in San Francisco, Biaggio Abbatiello and his team from Biaggio Chocolate in DC (my hometown!), Jesse Manis and Aubrey Lindley of Cacao: Drink Chocolate in Portland, and Jack from Chocolate Covered in the Noe Valley neighborhood of San Francisco. These guys are all incredibly interesting characters (particularly Jack), and they're passionate about their chocolate.  I look forward to visiting Seneca, who is leaving the Bay Area for Hawaii, where he'll tend his own grove of cacao trees full time. He's taking the plunge into cacao growing and chocolate making. I admire his willingness and fortitude in being able to follow his passion to the root of the cacao tree! If you'd like to follow Seneca's journey, check out his blog or follow his progress on twitter.

Most importantly, I'd like to thank our customers. True to Seattle's reputation, you have proven yourselves to be engaged and interested customers who want to learn about chocolate from farm to bar. Chocolate makers who conduct tastings at Chocolopolis are always impressed by how many of you want to hear their story while trying their chocolate. You don't just eat samples and walk away. We're proud to have so many chocolate lovers in Seattle.

Thank you to everyone who has helped make our first two years a success! We made it!

Happy chocolate tasting,

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Bar of the Week: Claudio Corallo's Sablé

This week we're featuring Julia's favorite bar, a unique chocolate from a unique chocolate maker.  Claudio Corallo is a cacao farmer and chocolate maker based on the island of Sao Tome, off the west coast of Africa.  Wishing to retain the full range of his cacao's natural flavors, Corallo skips conching--the high-temperature, high-pressure process that most chocolate makers used to refine the texture and flavor of their chocolate.  Despite this, Corallo's chocolate is silky-smooth and full of intense but balanced flavors. 

For the Sablé bar, Corallo concocts an 80% dark chocolate then adds in large grains of sugar towards the end of the manufacturing process so that they remain distinct, giving the bar its appealing "sandy" texture.  Initial flavors recall cool, dark, rich soil, with a sweet finish kicking in as the sugar slowly melts. 

Come by and try this extraordinary chocolate on Saturday, July 24th.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Bar of the Week: Domori's Teyuna

Next up is Candace's favorite bar, the Teyuna from Domori, an Italian maker known for the impeccable texture of its chocolates.  The Teyuna bar is a 70% dark chocolate made from Colombian cacao.  The flavor is simple but seductive, with notes of honey and cashews and exactly the right amount of sweetness. 

We'll be offering samples of Domori's Teyuna on Saturday, July 17th.  Stop by to see what all the fuss is about!

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Bar of the Week: Amano's Dos Rios

Since July is anniversary month at Chocolopolis, we've decided to feature staff favorites as our bars of the week. First up is Stacey, our Chocolatier. She chose Amano's Dos Rios bar as one of her favorites. Stacey liked this bar so much she made a truffle out of it! Here's what we had to say back in February when Dos Rios was the new bar on the block:

"From his base in the mountains outside Salt Lake City, Art Pollard of Amano Artisan Chocolate seeks out the cacao world's most eccentric and flamboyant beans, transforming them into chocolate that showcases their strong personalities.

"Amano's new Dos Rios bar is the product of a chance encounter and behind-the-scenes matchmaking. A friend in the industry came across a uniquely flavorful cacao while traveling in the Dominican Republic and immediately alerted Pollard, who adjusted his processing techniques to maximize the cacao's inherent flavors. The result is a strongly perfumed 70% chocolate with pronounced notes of bergamot, rose, and orange blossom, and a long floral finish. It's hard to believe that none of these flavors were added!

"Dos Rios is probably unlike anything you've tasted before."

Six months later, this chocolate is no longer a novelty, but remains one of our staff favorites.  Stop by for a sample on Saturday, July 10.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Aisles and aisles of chocolate

Close your eyes and imagine this. Five football fields full of cheese, olives, oils, sauces and chocolate. The Barefoot Contessa sitting at a booth radiating her warm smile and waiting to meet you, cupcakes in hand. Rick Bayless sauteing samples of his chicken in roasted garlic and chipotle tomato sauce and arranging them on a tortilla just for you.

This is how I spent last Sunday and Monday, sampling the latest creations of the world's culinary experts at the Summer Fancy Food Show in New York. Open to retailers, distributors and importers, the Fancy Food Show is the trade show to the gourmet industry, and it's a sensory experience to behold. As a veteran, I expertly walked past the blue cheese, the spice-infused olives and the warm cupcakes and nibbled on many samples of chocolate. I hit chocolate saturation pretty quickly, but I soldiered on like a chocolate veteran.

While others might be taking photos with Rick Bayless, I was more excited to meet Francois Pralus, Marc Cluizel and Maricel Presilla, pillars of the world chocolate community. I came home with a camera full of photos of me with the chocolate glitterati, an album only a chocolate geek would appreciate.

Choco-celebrity meetings included an evening choctail reception at Michel Cluizel's boutique on Fifth Avenue with Michel Cluizel's son, Marc Cluizel, a great guy.

Stopping at Amano's booth for another taste of Art Pollard's newest single-origin bar from the famed Chuao cooperative. I promised Art we'd have the bar available for Amano's tasting event at Chocolopolis during our anniversary week so our customers can weigh in on this limited edition bar. Stop by Monday, July 13 between 4:30 and 6:30 to try some Amano chocolate!

Talking cacao with Francois Pralus at his booth on the France aisle as he loaded me up with samples of his fondue, giandujia and barre infernale (which really is infernal).

Meeting Santiago Peralta, the founder of Ecuadorian chocolate company, Pacari, and being interviewed by the Trade Office of Ecuador at his booth.

Finally meeting Shawn Askinosie and hearing about his upcoming trip to Tanzania with students of his Chocolate University. His Cocoa Honors students chose a village in Tanzania as the origin of cacao beans for Askinosie's next chocolate bar, and they raised money to fund the drilling of a deep-water well for the village.

Taste testing Joan Coukos' new line of milk chocolate confections for Chocolat Moderne and sharing a drink with her at a great, neighborhood Greek restaurant she's been frequenting for almost 20 years.

I've got so many stories from my NYC travels, I had to break this up into 3 posts. Next up, geeking out on chocolate at the Fine Chocolate Industry Association event before the Fancy Food Show.

Happy chocolate tasting,
Lauren Adler
Chief Chocophile