Whew! For the past couple of months, we have been working hard with genius designer Marilee Sweeney at Gastronaut Design to develop the perfect branding to best showcase the creative, innovative work of Portland’s talented chocolate makers and chocolatiers.
Now introducing Melt Portland Chocolate: a federation of Portland chocolate makers.
We made our official debut at this past weekend’s Northwest Chocolate Festival in Seattle, showcasing just of few of Portland’s top chocolate makers in our booth.
Over the coming weeks, we’ll be growing our new website Melt Portland Chocolate, as well as our instagram @meltportlandchocolate; we hope you follow us and learn to love these scrappy, insanely delicious chocolate makers as much as we do!
Chocolate has long been considered as medicine, of a sort. Ancient Mesoamericans documented how the fruit of the chocolate tree was good for the heart, as well as how it conferred stimulant effects. More recently, the discovery of antioxidant properties from the flavonoids abundant in fine dark chocolate have led some to classify the bean as a nutraceutical.
In Portland, naturopathic physician Melissa Berry founded Missionary Chocolates as a business intended to fund a local independent, integrative healing center. The side effect? Amazing, creative, delicious chocolates that also happen to be vegan and gluten free!
Today, Missionary Chocolates launches a new product: CBD oil-infused truffles. Note that these are not marijuana chocolates. CBD (or cannabidiol) oil does not produce the “high” associated with THC (tetrahydrocannabinol, the main psychoactive component of cannabis).
So while the truffles have no psychoactive effects (and because they’re made from the hemp plant rather than marijuana), they are legal to purchase in shops other than official dispensaries, and won’t show up on most drug screening tests. But they do confer the benefits of CBD, which is medically used to treat, among other things:
inflammatory bowel disease
Kudos to Melissa Berry and Missionary Chocolates for upping the ante on healing via chocolate!
We’re taking a short break from weekly articles as we ramp up our new, improved site, which will contain listings, news, events, and more from all of Portland’s excellent chocolate makers and chocolatiers. We will resume in early August bringing you fun and informative bites of Portland chocolate culture! A bientot!
When it comes to distinguishing fine chocolate, the origin of the beans becomes very important. Much like fine wine, different varietals (and, to a lesser extent, terroir) can play a large part in determining the flavor notes you might experience.
The four small bars pictured above might all look the same, but upon closer examination, you’ll see four different countries of origin: Madagascar, Bolivia, Ecuador, and Trinidad. Portland’s Sebastian Cisneros, whose company is called Cloudforest, chooses to focus on different varietals grown in different regions (and even on different estates!) within those countries.
As a result, a side-by-side tasting of these four bars will yield a broad variety of flavor notes, from magnolia to dry fig and persimmon to rye.
A friend posted on her Facebook the other day about brewing cocoa: roasted, ground cocoa beans intended to be steeped in boiling water* and consumed like tea or coffee. Her question: is this stuff good for me?
It certainly tastes good. Coarsely ground cocoa beans prepared in a French press result in a pleasant, toasty tea-like beverage with subtle chocolate aromas. (Some sources warn that steeping for more than five minutes will make the resulting drink “astringent and funky,” but others recommend steeping times up to 10 minutes; I leave the actual experimenting up to you!)
And because it contains no dairy or sugar, brewed cocoa beans are thought to confer the health benefits of cacao without the potential downsides of added fat and calories.
As far as stimulant effects go, brewed cocoa is said to give you a “natural, healthy energy.” Most of this energy is due to theobromine, though cacao does contain a small amount of caffeine. In general, theobromine’s stimulant effects are described as milder than caffeine, also slower to ramp up (= no sudden caffeine jolt and resultant crash) and longer-lasting. (Science nerds look here.)
You can get roasted, ground cocoa beans from a wide variety of sources. Some well-publicized brands include Choffy out of Nevada, and Utah’s Crio Bru, but in Portland, any chocolate maker working with whole cocoa beans can make the stuff. One of our favorites is the Brewing Cacao from local, family-owned Portland bean-to-bar maker Creo Chocolate.
*Ground cocoa beans can also be steeped in room-temperature or refrigerated conditions, much like cold-brewed coffee.
In Portland, you don’t have to look very far to find a bean-to-bar chocolate maker. Starting alphabetically, I could list Cloudforest, and Creo, and Pitch Dark, and Ranger, and Woodblock. . . but wait, you say. What about Alma? And Cacao? And Missionary? And Moonstruck (to name just a few of the more well-known Portland companies)? Don’t they make chocolate too?
Well, yes and no. In the chocolate business, chocolate maker means something very specific. Chocolate makers begin with dried cocoa beans (grown in the tropics, within 20% north and south of the equator), and put them through a complicated series of steps to make chocolate. They may have relationships with individual cacao farmers, and can be closely tied to the communities that depend on cacao farming to exist.
The word chocolatier refers to culinary artisans who take that already-made chocolate and create a virtually infinite variety of confections. Does that make chocolatiers any less skilled or valuable than chocolate makers? I’m not going to go down that road! I do know that chocolatiers do depend on high-quality bean-to-bar chocolate; I also know chocolatiers who dream up more interesting and complex flavor and texture combinations than you can imagine!
Of course, there are bean-to-bar producers who then create confections (with inclusions and added flavorings and coatings, for example), which would be classified both as chocolate makers and chocolatiers! As we will see, Portland has no shortage of this category as well. Lucky us!
In late 20th-century America, “chocolate” meant the brown, sweet, solid stuff that came in bars, kisses, and chips. “Cocoa” was short for “hot cocoa” or “hot chocolate:” the foamy drink we made at home with milk and a sugary powder from Nestle.
(One of my most enduring winter childhood memories involves buying styrofoam cups of grainy, near-boiling instant hot cocoa at the Northside Park warming house for 25 cents apiece. While I attempted to thaw my be-mittened fingers, stiff and cold due to repeated falls from playing crack-the-whip
on the frozen lagoon, I would never–NEVER–be able to resist what always turned out to be an inadvisably premature sip. You can probably still see the burn scars on the tip of my tongue.)
“Cacao” wasn’t a word most of us had even heard until fairly recently*, and confusion still exists as to whether it does (or should) have a different definition from “cocoa.”
While many dictionaries will use the terms interchangeably, the rising prominence of the craft chocolate industry has resulted in emerging conventions as to what each one means. In general, those in the know nowadays are referring to “cacao” as the living plant: cacao tree, cacao pod, cacao beans.
After the beans are fermented, they are no longer alive. “Cocoa” has become the accepted term for the bean and its products once the fermentation step has occurred: dried and roasted cocoa beans, cracked cocoa nibs, cocoa mass/cocoa liquor; also cocoa powder and cocoa butter.
While no one is going to be quizzing you on this anytime soon, and even today’s fine chocolate makers may not be completely in sync with these definitions, it’s nice be able to start somewhere!
French for “covering,” couverture does not refer to silky pajamas sourced from The Continent,* but is just a fancy word describing already-made chocolate that chocolatiers re-melt and use to create their confections.
(Many of us first heard the word couverture used in this context when the Brooklyn-based Mast Brothers chocolate company admitted to using Valrhona couverture in bars the public believed were made bean-to-bar by the company.)
Despite the bad taste that particular scandal left in many people’s mouths, it is standard practice for many fine chocolatiers to trust long-standing, reputable companies such as Felchlin, Valrhona, and Guittard for their couverture. They rely on the consistent flavors and workable texture of this type of chocolate to be able to experiment with (and reproduce!) their own original combinations of ingredients and textures.
As opposed to “compound” chocolate, made with cocoa powder and oil, couverture is made with cocoa liquor and added cocoa butter. And its extra-high percentage of cocoa butter to cocoa solids makes it ideal for coating truffles and other bonbons.
*Full disclosure: a couple of weeks ago I had the great pleasure of lounging about all day in sumptuous silks from France and elsewhere, thanks to longtime client Jane’s Vanity (see above photo). I don’t actually mix up the words couture and couverture, but their similarity does make me giggle 😊
Is white chocolate even chocolate? Some say no, as this sweet, creamy confection doesn’t contain any of the cocoa solids from the whole cocoa bean. But that doesn’t stop us from loving it!
The main ingredient in white chocolate is cocoa butter. Cocoa butter is just the natural fat already present in the cocoa bean. Once you’ve obtained cocoa liquor from the first stages of cocoa bean processing, that liquor (or cocoa mass) can be pressed to extract the fat.
Cocoa butter isn’t all used for eating—it also has many uses in the cosmetic industry. But to make white chocolate, producers add sugar and powdered dry milk to food-grade cocoa butter. (Depending on the desired final consistency and mouthfeel, added emulsifiers such as soy lecithin might also be used.)
The resulting white chocolate will have the scent of chocolate, and a very light and sweet flavor that can be the ideal complement to some of our favorite ingredients!
After last week’s article about drinking chocolate, it feels timely to present our first Local Focus feature, on Portland’s Cacao. Written on the door of this beautiful shop in downtown Portland’s west end are three words: Cacao drink chocolate. The first one is descriptive—inside you’re going to find chocolate, and plenty of it. The second two are an order—drink chocolate.
Open since 2006, Cacao is a two-pronged business. And they do mean business with their drinking chocolates! To get the full experience, I recommend ordering a flight, made up of all three of the drinking chocolates on offer. What you will receive packs more flavors and textures than might seem possible in such a modest-looking presentation.
Sit back and get ready to enjoy these three small ceramic cups filled with:
Rivoli dark drinking chocolate. Crafted in the French tradition (which means there are no thickeners added), and named after the Rue de Rivoli in Paris (where I first tried this type of drinking Chocolate, at Cafe Angelina!), this dark drinking chocolate is made from half whole milk and heavy cream, and half melted chocolate. The 72% chocolate is made by a Swiss company called Felchlin from a very special Ecuadorian bean called Arriba Nacional, which most palates will find contains traditional comfort notes of nuts and caramel.
Spicy dark drinking chocolate. This is basically the Rivoli style with the addition of ginger, smoked paprika, cayenne, and a touch of coconut milk. It has just the right amount of heat, not shocking the tongue or overwhelming the chocolate, but providing a nice tingle that lingers in the throat.
Cinnamon milk drinking chocolate. This lighter version of the drinking chocolate is composed of a mix of milk and dark chocolates with a little higher proportion of dairy, and the addition of a touch of Saigon cinnamon. This might be my favorite of the three!
The other half of Cacao’s business features a very carefully curated collection of craft-batch chocolates from around the world. This is an unusual and very special selection, with a depth and breadth of choices rarely found in any chocolate shop, no matter what city you’re in. A comprehensive inventory of what’s on the shop’s shelves today found chocolate from 27 different countries of origin!
Cacao believes in featuring the best chocolates available on the marketplace today, and their selection is always changing as new products emerge. On a recent tour of the shop, a staff member estimated that perhaps 85% of the makers on their shelves were not even in business when Cacao first opened 12 years ago—that’s how fast the world of flavor-bean cacao is expanding. It’s a great place to find makers who might be hard to find or underrepresented in the marketplace, and you will also find a nice selection of Portland bean-to-bar makers and chocolatiers.
p.s. We’ve just had our first two summery days of the season here in Portland, with temperatures soaring into the 80s. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Cacao also offers affogato (Italian for “drowned”), with local Salt & Straw arbequina olive oil ice cream topped with espresso, drinking chocolate, or a mixture of the two!