Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Seattle Chocolate Scene: I am SO there

We all know that there's a pretty happening music scene in Seattle. There's also a huge following for green and natural living. And some of the best seafood in the country can be found in this region. What I was unaware of, until recently, was just how big chocolate is becoming out here. And not just fancy creations at top restaurants and bakeries, but the entire process of making delicious artisan confections, many times from bean to chocolate box.

Speaking of chocolate boxes, one particular epicenter of Northwest chocolates is the Chocolate Box, located on Pine Street just across the street from the famed Pike Place Market. It is here that one can find the entire range of local chocolates from a selection of both renowned and up-and-coming chocolatiers.

To me, the shop is slightly Willy Wonka-esque in the variety of chocolate products to sample: there is everything from the elegant truffle to Aztec spicy hot chocolate to the grand red velvet cake. Even those in need of a gluten-free sugar fix can find something for their fancy here, and the crowd at any given moment ranges from delighted children who, incidentally, are excited to be in a candy shop, to curious tourists interested in picking up a piece of Seattle to bring back to their hometowns, to the local businessperson whom the baristas recognize and greet with a familiar smile and their regular mocha espresso order ready at the counter.

Once the initial overload of chocolatey sensation passes (first there is the smell, then the sight, then – inevitably – the taste), one is able to calm salivation and bring focus to what each local chocolatier has to offer. And that selection is vast.

Here's a brief rundown of some of the Chocolate Box mainstays.

Theo Chocolate: the first roaster of Fair Trade Certified cocoa beans and the only roaster of organic cocoa beans in the United States, conveniently located in the Fremont section of Seattle.

Fiori Chocolatiers: Specializing in the truffle chocolates, they create unique Italian-style confections in small, carefully tended batches.

Chocolate Vitale: Using old family recipes, they manufacture startlingly decadent chocolate drinks like European sipping chocolate and Chocolate crème tea.

Oh! Chocolate: Beautifully made artisan chocolate pieces made with premium chocolate, in the French tradition.

In browsing the shelves, one will find a variety of other local chocolates in bar form, nib form, powder form...nearly every form imaginable. There are sea-salt caramels and actual sugar plums and white chocolate made from San Francisco goat's milk. Novelty chocolate box sets sport Barack Obama's face, and one can sample chocolates with names like “burnt brown sugar” and “Sri Lanka Curry.” Of course, there is also a veritable mountain of plain, old-fashioned chocolate, in nearly any cacao percentage one can dream of, all the way to Theo's incredibly earthy 91% cacao chocolate bar.

It's not simply that I love chocolate or that I might as well build a shrine to sugar in my apartment; a place like the Chocolate Box goes beyond offering rain-dampened customers with a warm drink or satisfying chocolate bar. This chocolate shop is a celebration of a very local, very fine market of chocolates that oozes the character of the Pacific Northwest. Sampling a confection here is not merely eating a piece of chocolate, but it truly is partaking in a piece of Seattle.

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