Can there ever be such a thing as too much chocolate? I was beginning to wonder, on a recent Chocolate Indulgence Tour in Seattle.
This two-hour excursion, offered by Savor Seattle Food Tours, began in late morning, with participants gathering at the Modernist Cuisine Gallery, a unique space resembling an art gallery with large, full-color photographs of food in various creative arrangements. (Who would come to a “cuisine gallery” under normal circumstances, I wasn’t sure.)
After a brief introduction by our enthusiastic young guide, Will Loughrin, the four of us who had signed up for the tour started off down the street. As we followed our guide and listened to his running commentary, we covered about a mile around lower Seattle, with five stops along the way. As a confirmed chocoholic, I was in my element!
I was going strong as we reached the first stop, Cupcake Royale, on Pine Street. Here, we each enjoyed a Triple Threat Chocolate Babycake (miniature cupcake) with chocolate buttercream frosting and dark chocolate shavings, followed by a small serving of rich, dark-chocolate ice cream.
The second stop, at the Dahlia Bakery on Fourth Avenue, began with a portion of coconut cream pie, apparently a house specialty, with white chocolate shavings on top. (Now, for a purist, this was stretching the definition of chocolate a bit, but the pie was really good.) Then, we were given a chewy chocolate crinkle cookie dredged in powdered sugar, which seemed to be a hit with the entire group. I should note that this was the only one of our stops in which we had the chance to sit, with small painted metal tables and chairs available on the sidewalk.
So now we’ve already had four small desserts and we’re not even halfway through the tour! Along the way, Loughrin gave us enough background on the history, varieties, growing and processing of chocolate to satisfy someone writing a doctoral dissertation. There was only so much I could absorb while eating my way across the Seattle waterfront.
It was interesting to learn that chocolate is believed to have a 5,000-year history going back to what is now Ecuador, and later, spiritual centers for ancient Meso-American tribes. Some consider current times the “golden age of chocolate,” with many choices and easy availability, Loughrin said. Chocolate is also “super good for you,” he explained. “It’s just all that sugar and cream they add” (that can take away from the health value).
Historically, the growing of “cacao” or cocoa beans and their processing were separate operations, Loughrin added. Today, with parallels to the wine industry, there is more interest in “small-batch” operations in which the growing and processing are more closely related.
To make the most of a chocolate treat, the consumer should dive into the experience: looking at the chocolate, checking the ingredients, smelling it, tasting it, noting the texture, and even hearing the snap as you bite into it, Loughrin suggested. “There is so much variety,” he said, with subtle differences resulting from soils in which cocoa beans are grown, the air, acids, processing methods and even additives that range from bourbon to turmeric for chocolate sourced from South India to North Australia, Fiji and Peru.
So, armed with this knowledge, we were off to our third stop on the tour: Indi Chocolate in the Pike Place Market. This was perhaps the most interesting destination in terms of seeing large sacks of cocoa beans, plus on-site roasting and processing equipment. It was a large shop with enthusiastic customers swarming around a glass case with baked goods; another case with treats such as truffles and s’mores; and display shelves with pre-packaged items ranging from cocoa butter lotion to spice rubs with chocolate and cocoa teas. However, this was also the low point of the actual chocolate tasting for me. We were given a slightly bitter, roasted cacao bean to chew on plus just a bit of dark chocolate and a dried Washington cherry encased in dark chocolate. Meh.
And then it was on to The Confectional, also in the Pike Place Market. The title here is a play on the word “confessional,” with a sign that jokingly suggests you “confess your love for cheesecake.” As if chocolate cheesecake is not decadent enough, this place provided “quadruple chocolate cheesecake” to sample. It was very good, and it came along with a piece of chocolate bark drizzled with white chocolate. The next offering of a tiny paper cup of rich, Colombian-style hot chocolate (with optional cayenne pepper for the top) was pushing me close to the edge of a chocolate-induced stupor. I ended up taking just tiny tastes, as our group stood on a busy sidewalk with other tourists milling back and forth.
For our last stop of the day, we walked on to Fran’s Chocolates on First Avenue. A traditional candy store with a massive glass case, it was the most elegant establishment on the tour. Here, we were given treats such as a dark chocolate truffle, Madagascar dark chocolate and a salted caramel-covered chocolate. By this point, I was accepting a small sack and stowing chocolate in my purse because I couldn’t eat another bite!
Our tour concluded after about two and a quarter hours and we were given a coupon to use at multiple Savor Seattle tour stops. However, at this point, the thought of trekking back to a chocolate shop blocks away seemed like overkill. In retrospect, I wished that a little shopping time had been built into the tour.
I will never claim to be a sophisticated chocolate connoisseur. Actually, by the end of the tour, I felt more like Goldilocks, thinking that one chocolate sample was too bitter, one too sweet and one just right. I think that I could happily have spent the entire two hours at Cupcake Royale, just indulging in miniature cupcakes and watching the world go by.