The Joy of Chocolate
Artisanal Chocolatiers are Raising the Bar
The artistry and attention to detail found in an assortment of Cacao Chemistry chocolates, is a visual and culinary experience to behold.
From the lure of lovers to the bribery of rivals, the history of chocolate is bittersweet. Tracking back to Mesoamerica, cocoa was believed to be a nectar of the gods, bridging heaven and earth, and was consumed as a fermented beverage to bring health and wisdom.
Arousing conspiracy, trade wars, and libido, the Aztec and Maya used cacao for medicine, coinage, and as an aphrodisiac. The lust for chocolate spread to Europe where invention of the cacao press solidified it into a sweet confection. Today, chocolate continues to be a stimulant of economics, with more than $75 billion spent worldwide annually, and an elixir of love, especially when shaped as a heart or kiss. Some innovative chocolate artisans are connecting with cocoa’s ancient origins by sourcing from places like the Peruvian Amazon and Ecuadorian Coast, creating unique flavor profiles from divine, healthy ingredients that make you feel as heavenly as they taste.
“A chocolate revolution is happening in America,” writes Pastry Chef David Lebowitz in his blog ‘Living the Sweet Life in Paris’, “and lots of new bean-to-bar chocolate makers have emerged on the scene in the past few years, changing the way we think about chocolate.”
Master chocolatiers approach their craft with the depth and complexity of wine making. As grapes are to wine, cacao beans are the source of chocolate. Factors such as topography, rainfall and sunlight create a signature taste or ‘terroir’ (French for ‘taste of place’) bringing flavors of exotic origins such as Madagascar, Indonesia, and Cote d’Ivoire straight to the palate.
This growing interest in fine chocolates has helped independent, local chocolatiers like Cacao Chemistry and Radiantly Raw flourish. Both offer an experience to be savored with small batches of handcrafted chocolates nuanced with unique characteristics.
When a chef and an engineer got together to make a truffle, Cacao Chemistry was born. Founders Sam Lang and Travis Ashing base their award-winning business on culinary chemistry, a theory that flavors which share chemical similarities pair well.
Starting with the finest French chocolate, conventional ingredients are transformed, imparting exotic flavors like the black peppercorn and peppermint truffle. “The heat of pepper, paired with the cooling effect of mint, play off each other for a new flavor sensation,” explains Chef Sam.
“Chemically speaking, chocolate really is the world's perfect food,” culinary author Michael Levine writes. This duo proves his point through chocolate alchemy, conceiving masterpieces like a wood smoked cherry cordial in a halo of Axe and Oak whisky cream, encased in a medium dark shell dusted with edible gold.
The Iberico ham truffle, a favorite at Aspen Food and Wine Festival, is a salted caramel, with the salt derived from rendering Spanish ham. “The flavor starts out sweet and grows more savory as it melts in your mouth,” describes Travis. A big compliment was when a 20-year vegetarian succumbed to the ham-based truffle proclaiming it the best thing she’s ever tasted.
Radiantly Raw creates cacao confections from raw, organic ingredients adding only healthy, nutrient-dense superfoods like organic coconut oil and raw, Colorado honey. Consider it a daily vitamin in bonbon form.
“Chocolate is more powerful and delicious in its natural state,” says owner, Jacquie Mosher. Raw chocolate preserves nutrients typically stripped away by heating. Radiantly Raw caters to those who seek clean treats free of gluten, dairy, and refined sugar.
Among their flavors are Salty Double Dark hearts, with 80% Peruvian cocoa, sprinkled with mineral-rich Himalayan pink salt, the Elvis almond butter banana cup, and lavender lemon white chocolate.
The Aphrodisiac assortment, a seasonal specialty, contains herbs that do specific things to the body. Mosher explains, “Maca root bolsters male performance and Damiana extract heightens female experience.” With cacao’s natural release of “bliss chemicals” - phenylethylamine (an endorphin) and anandamide (a lipid) – this is a euphoric combination.
The sweetest part may be reports of health benefits associated with chocolate that boost immune system, brain function, cardiovascular health, and physical stamina. In fact, concentrations of flavonoids and antioxidants in dark chocolate are often higher than tea and red wine.
Aficionados are finding ways to indulge more in this melty goodness. The International Institute of Chocolate and Cacao Tasting offers certification courses that “methodically explore the gastronomic senses to awaken and educate our chocolate palates.”
Chocolate tasting parties are becoming popular among decadence-craving foodies. A guided flavor map has guests pairing beverages while examining chocolate varietals by category like appearance, texture, aroma, and taste, as it lingers on the tongue, denoting flavors of tobacco, cinnamon, wood and molasses.
Whether a sweet treat, secret indulgence, or contemplative study, chocolate is one of the most historically and universally beguiling foods. Many people find chocolate to be better than…anything. Be it in the form of truffle, bar, beverage, or melted and slathered on top, not many foods excite the senses and bring health, happiness, and pleasure in a single bite.