Tag Archives: soma

Surprising places for chocolate in Vancouver

I love Vancouver, and I like to think that I know it like the back of my hand. Tell me where you are and I’ll tell you the closest chocolate shop. No joke. Just try me sometime.

Thankfully, I’m still surprised by chocolatey discoveries. And lucky for you, I like to share. Information, that is. Not chocolate. Hands off!

At the coffee shop

Soma-epic-sized49th Parallel Coffee Roasters has just launched the Soma Epic Espresso chocolate bar. A collaboration between 49th Parallel and Soma Chocolatemaker (who I wrote about here and here), it’s as if chocolate and coffee met in an upscale (but hip and down-to-earth) martini lounge, had a night of indescribable passion, and this is the resulting love child.

Soma, a bean-to-bar producer in Toronto, blends their chocolate with freshly ground Epic Espresso beans to create a bar that equally highlights the coffee and the chocolate. It reminded me that they’re both similar agricultural products: they start as beans, they’re fermented, dried and roasted, and then turned into something that people in first world countries value quite highly. Economics and agriculture aside, the bar highlights reminds me of the roasting part of the process, and there’s a really nice smoothness to the bar that makes its way to every single tastebud and every cell in your mouth.

49th Parallel also has other offerings from Soma, including the microbatch bars that highlight cacao from Papua New Guinea, Hispaniola, and Madagascar. Alas, they no longer carry Askinosie Chocolate. However, they do have the full line of Thomas Haas chocolate bars.

49th Parallel Coffee Roasters
2152 West 4th Avenue
Vancouver, BC

At the record store

Vosges-bacon-sized

Dandelion Emporium is a dangerous combination of vinyl, handmade cards, laptop bags, cheeky books, and anything else that your hipster heart desires. Ever the strategic thinkers, they also keep a stock of Vosges chocolate bars beside the cash register.

Vosges became famous for its use of spices and beautifully architected truffles, but has gained even more traction since the release of their exotic chocolate bars. I was gifted a bar of Mo’s Bacon Bar last week, and it’s a wacky combination of milk chocolate, applewood smoked bacon, and alderwood smoked salt. It has a comforting salty-sweetness to it, and actually reminds me of Chinese moon cakes. There’s a nice texture to the bar (the bacon’s crumbly, the salt crunchy, the chocolate melty) and the flavours are surprisingly well-balanced.

It makes me want to make more bacon caramel chocolates.

Dandelion Records has some large (100 gram) bars in the store, and have an order of small (15 gram) bars that are set to arrive any day now. Just in time for Hallowe’en, they’ve ordered the red fire skulls: skull-shaped versions of their red fire bar, containing chiles, cinnamon and dark chocolate. And the best part: black salt for eyes. They’re positively ghoulish.

Dandelion Emporium
2442 Main Street
Vancouver, BC
778-737-7367

(Note: Don’t get confused by the old storefront for Dandelion Records on Broadway, just east of Main. They’ve moved just around the corner to 2442 Main Street, under the new – but similar – name of Dandelion Emporium.)

Chocolate vocabulary lesson

I throw a lot of terms around, like “bean-to-bar” and “confection,” and I’ve never really sat down and defined what I mean by those terms. I’ve defined three words: chocolate makers, chocolate blenders, and chocolate confectioners, to the best of my ability. I’ve also listed some of my favourites in each category. These are not exhaustive lists, and I know that I’ve forgotten (or simply don’t know about) some great stuff out there. If I’ve offended you…well, that’s just too bad.

Anyway. Here we go.

Chocolate makers

Also called bean-to-bar producers, chocolate makers actually make chocolate. They start with cacao beans and process them into the delectable thing that we know as chocolate. Typically, the chocolate comes in the form of chocolate bars, or chocolate pistoles (giant, flat chips). This chocolate is sometimes sold to consumers, while some is sold exclusively to industry folks.

Chocolate makers buy dried, fermented cocao beans from farmers, though their level of involvement in the growing, fermenting and drying process can vary. Some chocolate makers work very closely with farmers, while others deal exclusively with bean brokers and never meet the growers.

Chocolate makers are one part agricultural expert, one part production engineer, and one part artisan. They need to understand cacao (an agricultural product), be able to transform it through a series of steps (that’s the engineering part) and create something delicious, nuanced and distinctive at the end (definitely an artistic pursuit).

Some of my favourite small-batch producers: Amano Artisan Chocolate, Soma Chocolatemaker, Claudio Corallo, Theo Chocolate, and Askinosie Chocolate. I’ll also admit that I’m partial to working with Valrhona chocolate, thought they’re far from small-batch.

Chocolate blenders

Chocolate blenders don’t make chocolate, but they buy chocolate and blend it. This is less lame than it sounds. It’s not quite bean-to-bar, but there’s still a fine art to blending a chocolate mixture that is delicious and distinct. Think about an artist’s palette; while the colours come in a tube, the right mixture of colours can express something that stock colours can’t.

I don’t taste as much blended chocolate as I do bean-to-bar chocolate, but I was impressed with Chocolove’s 73% organic dark chocolate bar. You can read about it here.

Chocolate confectioners

Chocolate confectioners are what most people think of when you say chocolatier: someone who takes chocolate and creates bonbons, pralines and truffles. Way back when, the term chocolatier meant someone who took chocolate from bean to confection, but not anymore.

Chocolatiers don’t typically make their own chocolate. It’s partly economic, and partly because the two tasks are so very different. The equipment required is completely different, and it really doesn’t make sense to have the equipment to process chocolate and turn it into bonbons. (Two exceptions: Soma Chocolatemaker and Theo Chocolates are both bean-to-bar producers and chocolatiers.)

Quality confectioners work with quality ingredients: chocolate, but also with cream, sugar, spices, fruits, nuts, and liquor. Beware of fondant, corn syrup, or – to quote Michael Pollan – “anything your grandmother wouldn’t recognize.” The lack of preservatives in quality confections means that these treats have a limited shelf life: 3 weeks, at most.

There are a lot of folks out there masquerading as top-end chocolatiers. Some of them are pretty good – say, an 8 out of 10. And then, there are some whose attention to detail, flavour profiles and execution are all there. If you want to impress me, bring me something from Thomas Haas, Christopher Elbow, Norman Love, Kee’s Chocolates, Vosges, or La Maison du Chocolat.

P.S. Thomas Haas is opening a new location in Vancouver, next to Lumiere. Boss-man says that it’ll be open in mid-October. Wheee!

49th Parallel: where coffee meets chocolate

A while back, I wrote about Soma Chocolatemaker‘s microbatch bars. A few Vancouver readers mentioned that they would love to try the Dark Science Papua New Guinea bar (tastes like toast!) or the Green Tangerine bar (tastes like, erm, green tangerine).

Well, huzzah! You can get select Soma bars at 49th Parallel in Vancouver. They even had some microbatch bars that I didn’t see in Toronto. They also have a nice selection of Askinosie chocolate bars, which I tasted last month and have been meaning to review. I better get on that, eh?

(They also happen to have some lovely coffee, if you’re into that sort of thing.)

49th Parallel Coffee Roasters
2152 4th Avenue West
Vancouver, BC

Green tangerine, where have you been all my life?

A quick Google search of “green tangerine” turns up a scrapbooking store, a spa, and a whole bunch of media companies. I just want to know where to get the damn things so I can try to reverse engineer Soma Chocolatemaker‘s green Tangerine chocolate bar.

Of course, that’s silly. I don’t have a grinder or a conch, or a reliable supply of cacao beans from Madagascar. But, in my dreams I have all those things – and granite countertops, too.

This microbatch chocolate bar is called Dark Fire, and rings in at 66% cocoa content. And it made me say wow. It tastes like 7 am on a beautiful spring day when you went to bed early the night before, and now you’re awake and ready to spring out of bed.

This chocolate is actually refreshing. There’s an immediate kick of bright, acidic lime that mellows to a darker orange-y flavour and just hints at the bitterness of lime zest. Thankfully, it never quite gets there. Chocolate from Madagascar is notorious for its full-on red fruitiness, but I don’t get that from this bar. I’m not sure if the red fruit is just not apparent (whether accidental or intentional) or if it’s just masked by the strong citrus flavours.

I don’t really care, actually. I just want to have another piece.

A toast…to toast

I remember attending a friend’s wine tasting, and tasting a white wine that tasted like broom. No joke. I was really skeptical when someone described it that way, but then I tasted it and got what they meant. I can’t say that I really enjoyed it, nor have I tasted it since, but it was definitely memorable.

Along the same lines, Soma Chocolatemaker‘s Black Science bar is a wee bit unusual. It’s a microbatch bar made of beans from Papua New Guinea, coming in at 70% cocoa content. It smells smoky and sweet, and – wait for it – tastes like toast. Toast is actually not unheard of as a chocolate tasting note, but I rarely experience it. Well, it’s in this bar, and it kind of mellows from breakfast toast to toasted almonds. It’s slightly sweeter than I expected, but not cloying. And there’s this satisfying astringent pucker on your tongue afterwards.

Tonight, I will raise a glass to unusual flavours. To broom, and toast!

Chocolate bars and chocolate confections

Most chocolatiers don’t make their own chocolate, nor do they have to. I don’t know when people started thinking that these were one and the same skill, because they’re very different. Making chocolate isn’t something the average person can do in their kitchen. It can be done, but it’s pretty messy and the results aren’t pretty.

Making chocolate confections, on the other hand, is something that you can do in your kitchen, with varying degrees of success. And most chocolatiers stick to making things out of chocolate, rather than making chocolate.

And let’s be clear: the skill set required to make chocolate and to make confections is quite different. Both are a science and an art, but most people concentrate on just one.

There’s also the misconception that a “good” chocolatier will make his or her own chocolate, or that it’s a “lazy” chocolatier who doesn’t. That’s as preposterous as thinking that a good baker will grow his or her own wheat.

Anyway, Soma Chocolatemaker, as I’ve discussed in previous posts, makes delicious chocolate drinks and confections. But, they also make some pretty mean microbatch chocolate bars…

(How’s that for a teaser?)

Soma Chocolatemaker (pop) rocks!

I have no willpower. None whatsoever. And when it comes to a case full of chocolates, all shiny and beautiful, I usually err on the side of lavish and try one of everything. Now, if it’s a chocolatemaker in Vancouver, I can pace myself and try a few on each visit. But when travelling, I usually get one piece of everything that’s available. It’s a hard-knocked life.

So when I was in Toronto, I bought a giant box of truffles from Soma Chocolatemaker. They range from classic (fleur de sel caramel, orange marzipan) to modern (single-origin flavours) to unusual (Douglas Fir, olive oil). I’m impressed at the range of flavours, but more importantly, with the execution. Each piece was perfect, each shell was uniform and thin, and the fillings all delivered what they promised.

The standout, though, was Sparky: gianduja laced with poprocks. I know it sounds gimicky. But the gianduja (a combination of caramelized hazelnuts and milk chocolate) was the perfect vehicle to deliver those long-lost childhood exploding candies. It was entirely delightful, entertaining, and whimsical – which is, actually, what the experience of tasting chocolate should be like. It’s a seasonal truffle, but maybe if we all request it en masse, it’ll win a permanent spot on the chocolate menu.

Soma Chocolatemaker
55 Mill Street, Building 48
Toronto, ON
416-815-7662