Last night the Zietsman clan decided to head out to a “Choklat Snobbery 101″ class in a store we had stumbled upon at the end of last summer, Choklat. We had been walking down the street when the smell of roasting cocoa beans literally drew us in the door, and we tasted the best hot chocolate I had ever had to date. When we discovered they offered a class about chocolate (including wine pairings!), we were in. It started at 7:00 and we left about two and a half hours later, stuffed with dark chocolate and newfound knowledge (I definitely asked a lot of questions).
The small shop was packed (there were thirteen of us, and usually he only accepts ten reservations), but we started off on the right foot with a cup of the thickest, creamiest drinking chocolate you’ve ever dreamed of–complete with cinnamon and cloves and topped with whipped cream and nutmeg. If you’ve read any of my fall recipes, then you know that was a fantastic spice combo to win my affection straight off. Throughout the class we tasted a few other treats–a peppermint truffle dipped in dark chocolate (made with peppermint grown by the owner Brad Churchill himself), a raspberry truffle dipped in dark chocolate and rolled in crushed brownies and four different types of dark chocolate and one milk chocolate. Throughout his shop we spotted several other treats–edible glitter lollipops, potpourri made from the shells of freshly roasted cocoa beans (waste not, want not, right?), hand-poured chocolate bars, and of course, their brownies and cupcakes.
So what makes this shop different from the multitude of gourmet chocolate shops scattered across Calgary, and really, all of Canada and the United States? Choklat makes their own chocolate. Like, really. They buy the beans directly from growers, roast them on-site, then process the cocoa in their own shop, adding cocoa butter, Madagascar bourbon vanilla, and sugar to create their one-of-a-kind truly Choklat taste.
We saw every step of the chocolate-making process, smelled and tasted the beans, and worst of all–compared his chocolate to Lindt chocolate, a so-called high-quality company that makes their own chocolate as well. You may remember me very recently touting my love of Lindt’s ”supreme dark” 90% cocoa bar a few posts ago, and I very ashamedly had a bar of it in my purse when we compared the two. Once you’ve been taught how, you can detect notes of burnt cocoa (that’d be the burnt rubber taste on the very back of your tongue), the dry-mouthed astringent taste of improperly fermented beans, and the jarring absence of any fruity notes whatsoever.
Did you know chocolate can (and should!) taste fruity? Me neither…but now I do. And I will never go back.
I also learned that 90%, 80%, and 70% cocoa doesn’t mean that percentage of ground up cocoa bean (hello antioxidants!) is suspended in your chocolate bar. That percentage also includes any part of the cocoa bean, including cocoa butter (hello fat!), and therefore is basically meaningless. Bummer.
We also did four wine pairings, and busted the myth that red wine and dark chocolate go together. Yeech. For the wine pairings we tried, go to their website.
Now let’s talk fair trade. Fair trade means that cocoa beans are purchased from the farmer by a local co-op for a “sustainable” price. Sadly, the World Fair Trade Organization price puts a ceiling on the amount that fair trade certified farmers can get, even if the world market price is higher–and the price they will receive keeps farmers near the poverty line. Doesn’t really seem fair, does it? Farmers also have a difficult time getting certified, because of costly fees and bureaucratic tape standing in their way as a barrier to entry. However, when the market price drops below the ceiling price, they will continue to receive that same amount per metric ton. That’s a good thing, right? A second side to fair-trade certified cocoa is that fair-trade certified farms are inspected to insure that no forced child slave labor is driving the production of crops. Because all cocoa beans are a product of third world countries (and we’ve established that they don’t get paid very much), slave labor is often the solution.
So to buy fair trade or not? You decide. Either way it is important that the consumer of chocolate (that’s us!), knows what we are buying and how it’s made.
Go visit Choklat at their website, and enjoy the best chocolate you’ve ever had–and be ready for a paradigm shift in how you think about chocolate.