(*What is good chocolate? Any chocolate that makes you happy!) A helpful guide to finding chocolate during your next visit to DC (Updated 4/2020) Whether your visit is online (for now!) or in person (the future), this list offers some great chocolate that can…
Chocolate Chasing Rule #1:
Good chocolate is chocolate that makes you happy.
It could be a handful of crunchy peanut M&M’s, a spoonful of Nutella or a dense fudge truffle. Any chocolate that satisfies you, makes you smile, or simply fills an emotional craving qualifies as chocolate worthy of eating.
Emotions, not just taste, play a surprisingly large role in how we connect with food. So, if chocolate is speaking to you, answer with enthusiasm.
Eat the chocolate you like!
Be warned, though, chocolate has changed since you were a kid. Mostly in a good way. And don’t worry, your lovable snack favorites are still here, eager to lend comfort at a moment’s notice (we’re looking at you, Reese’s!)
The biggest change in chocolate? In 2020 there are more choices. Good choices, and lousy choices. Sometimes chocolate is just candy. Other times? Chocolate, as it was meant to be, can be magic.
How to find that magic? It surprisingly starts with a cacao tree. Yes, chocolate grows on trees. And the long journey to the melted morsel on your tongue begins with a dedicated farmer. Because every single cacao fruit in the world (known as a pod) is harvested by hand.
If you follow the rugged path of the cacao beans, from tree to chocolate bar, you’ll be amazed. Along the way you’ll find chocolate charmers who lovingly transform just two simple ingredients, cacao and sugar, into chocolate that will nourish your soul. A two-ingredient chocolate that is unapologetic and authentic-to-its-roots with the potential to change how you see and taste chocolate. It’s called bean-to-bar (or craft chocolate), and the simplest analogy is craft beer. The goal: to let you, the customer, taste the tropical ingredient as it was meant to be.
Chocolate doesn’t have to be fancy to be good. It doesn’t need a ruffled box. Sometimes all it needs is inspiration to transform a dried bean from a fruit into something to be savoured. And other times, it’s comfort food in a familiar package.
Chocolate Chasing Rule #2:
Trust your taste buds. They are yours.
Your taste buds and your food choices don’t need someone else’s approval.
It’s important to remember: taste perception is a highly personal journey. You are your taste.
There are chocolate guides & experts who can navigate you through tasting the chocolate landscape. But no one, except you, can define what you like and don’t like in a chocoalate.
What IS taste? Are you a little bit curious about the science?*
Taste (or how things taste to us) is a combination of:
- Genetics: If you think cilantro taste likes soap, you can credit your grandparents.
- Biology: Did you know everyone has different amounts and intensity of their five types of taste buds?
- Your childhood & life experiences: Specific tastes you’ve been exposed to, your food memories, and your cultural environment.
- Your sensory systems: How your brain processes other sensory data such as smell & sound. Over 70% of taste is based on smell. And cacao beans have almost 600 volatile (meaning aromatic) compounds which can influence the brain’s perception of the chocolate taste experience.
“All the tastes (in chocolate) that you can identify are valid. There’s no right or wrong. No other person has your palate.“ Chloe Doutre-Rossel, describing taste in The Chocolate Connoisseur
Remember: Taste is subjective. Two people can taste the exact same food differently, and that’s okay.
*(For more about the science of taste, see Taste What You’re Missing, a great reference book by Barb Stuckey, 2012)
Chocolate Chasing Rule # 3:
Keep an open mind when eating or tasting.
You can close your eyes but keep an open mind.
Try new things. Try old things. And don’t make assumptions. Dark chocolate doesn’t have to taste bitter. White chocolate is actually made from a cocoa bean. Belgian & Swiss chocolates are good, but not necessarily the best. The chocolate world has changed dramatically in the past 20 years. Adjust your expections & leave your chocolate bias at the door.
And, be honest with yourself. If you taste something different, or unexpected, it doesn’t mean it’s bad. If you truly don’t like how a chocolate tastes, no need to apologize. But, if you bite into a chocolate that tastes ‘bad or ‘off’ to you, it could be a chocolate that took a wrong turn somewhere. There’s lots of technical reasons why chocolate may taste lousy, and that is the lengthy subject of another blog post.
As mentioned above, bitter tasting is a different story. A chocolate myth that should be destroyed? Dark chocolate does NOT have to be bitter. If the farmer, fermenter & the chocolate maker have done their jobs well, a dark chocolate can be as mellow as a warm June evening.
If, it is indeed a bad-tasting chocolate, trust your instincts. However, if it simply tastes different, keep an open mind & always ask when in doubt!
Chocolate Chasing Rule #4:
There is no wrong way to eat chocolate.
Just like there’s no wrong way to eat a Reese’s. Don’t be intimidated.
Chocolate can be comforting. And chocolate can be captivating.
Are you curious about a cacao tree’s ability to capture a taste of that region? Or how two ingredients, just cacao and sugar, can transport you to the heart of a jungle in just one bite? If you’re open to learning, a little guidance and knowledge may lead you to make some new chocolate choices.
Chocolate tastings & experts can help you to better understand and appreciate nuances of chocolates, with tasting vocabulary & helpful tools. But in the meantime, if chocolate is speaking to you, answer with enthusisam, and eat!
Going Forward: We’re all here for the chocolate.
Food is a powerful thing. It can nourish your body AND your soul. So if you choose, you can change your tasting experiences and uncover surprises (in this case, chocolate) you never expected.
Pay attention to your food, especially chocolate! Try to be more aware of what you are tasting. Think about what resonates with you and why. If you slow down to describe what appeals to you, you can improve your eating experiences.
Have the confidence to trust yourself. And try to think outside the chocolate box!
It was a hands-on trip to the Ecuadorian Amazon Rainforest at our October 2019 DC chocolate society meeting. The trek took time & effort, but worth every peeled cacao husk to eat spoonfuls of the resulting rich chocolatey treat. Our Ecuadorian immersion tour…
Mushrooms in your dark chocolate? We were feeling adventurous at our August 15, 2019, DC chocolate society meeting. Our tour guide, CIA trained (Culinary Institute of America) Matt Dixon, head chocolatier & co-owner of Harper Macaw, led us through the taste bud terrain. He re-introduced…
The DC chocolate community knows how to celebrate chocolate.
Within a two-hour drive of DC you’ll find over ten different bean-to-bar makers. (Reality may result in longer-than-expected drive time.)
But even closer to home are a medley of local truffle, bon-bon & chocolate treat shops. Pure drinking chocolate, a sinful cousin of hot cocoa, can be found in DC cafes; Cottage chocolatiers are spreading their wings and their chocolate fairy-dust; And most of our small-but-mighty local bean-to-bar makers are growing, or have plans to expand.
And faithfully once a year, hundreds of chocolate-obsessed zombies swarm to the local Super Bowl of chocolates, the annual springtime DC Chocolate Festival.
But, we need more! Not just more chocolate, but more excuses to gather to eat, and chat, and learn, and ponder the beauty of this amazing cacao fruit that miraculously found its way to our DC tables, so far from its tropical roots.
The result? The creation of a new, community driven, DC-based Chocolate Society. A monthly gathering of local chocolate enthusiasts with a simple goal. To have fun while eating & learning about chocolate–together.
Framework? Each meeting will focus on a “speaker of the month” as the basis for guiding the tastings & discussion.
The meeting will also include an informal “What’s New” roundtable for makers & confectioners. This will give a chance for anyone, professional or novice, to share their chocolate creations or gain tasting feedback from the group.
Ultimately, there is a structure to the meeting but the group will strive to be casual and approachable for anyone with an interest in learning about chocolate.
And it’s important to note that although the group was founded by three DC chocolate enthusiasts, the goal is to be a member-driven group. Members can have a voice in setting the agenda for future topics.
The group is fortunate to have all future meeting spaces funded by Harper-Macaw, which will soon have a permanent manufacturing & cafe location in the District.
First Meeting: June 2019, near Dupont Circle
The much anticipated inaugural meeting took place on Thursday evening, June 13.
Chocolate & conversation were complimented by a surprising variety of chocolate themed samples. The group was fortunate to have in attendance several chocolate makers & chocolatiers.
The supportive local chocolate entreprenuers brought not only insight & encouragement for the group, but also generously shared samples of recent chocolate projects.
The main speaker of the evening, Matt Dixon, Head Chocolate Maker at Harper Macaw, led the engaged audience on a tasting trip using sustainably sourced Brazilian cacao.
The group learned about flavor influences in each step from raw bean to finished bar. The lesson was complete with beans, nibs, sugar and 100% chocolate samples for tasting.
After the interactive Harper Macaw presentation, each of the local makers used the forum to share current samples and obtain feedback. Prior to conclusion of the evening, input cards were distributed to help narrow down future chocolate topics of interest to the group.
Need help with definitions?
Chocolate makers start with burlap bags of cacao beans, eventually creating a bar of chocolate, hence ‘bean-to-bar.‘ Chocolatiers or sometimes called confectioners, start with pre-made chocolate blocks or chips to dream up and create a new confection, such as a truffle or bon-bon. Sometimes a chocolate maker is also a chocolatier, meaning AFTER they produce chocolate from a cacao bean, they use the hand-crafted chocolate as an ingredient in a new treat, such as a truffle.
Bean-to-bar (or single origin or craft chocolate) means chocolate that is transparent—you can trace the bar of chocolate in your hand back to the cocoa bean and the farmer who grew it. Usually bean-to-bar also signifies a chocolate made on a smaller scale than the industrial chocolates most are familiar with (such as Herseys) and can also be refered to as hand-crafted chocolate.
Gratitude to the professionals in attendance: Pacari (bean-to-bar), Potomac (bean-to-bar & chocolatier), River-Sea Chocolates (bean-to-bar), Veritas Artizen (bean-to-bar & chocolatier), Harper Macaw (bean-to-bar & chocolatier), Swoon (chocolatier) and 440 Confections (confectioner). Thanks to Harper Macaw for the lively & tasty presentation, as well as providing the meeting space.
Next meeting: August 15, 2019. Join us!
Next gathering is tenatively scheduled for Thursday, August 15th, from 7-9 pm. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information. Follow @chocochaser or @timetoeatchocolate for updates on meeting topic & location.