It's been a week since the Northwest Chocolate Festival, and I still can't get it out of my mind.
North America’s most prestigious (and largest) chocolate event features upwards of 150 exhibitors from all over the world assembled into one giant two-floor convention center-style building (the Smith Cove Cruise Terminal at Pier 91 in Interbay). There are thousands of places where you can get wiped out by eating too much chocolate, but only at the NW Chocolate Festival can you be wiped out by sheer chocolate exposure.
Everything you could possibly want to see involving chocolate was on display there. The booth of Seattle mainstay Fran’s (also the maker of Barack Obama’s favorite salted-caramel chocolates) featured the talents of chocolate sculptor Amanda Snouffer, who created both a chocolate owl and a big, lifelike turkey out of chocolate to be raffled off at the convention. Portland company Moonstruck has just released a new series of chocolate bars with a mosaic of toppings on them; dark-chocolate-strawberry-basil, dark-chocolate-raspberry-fennel, dark-chocolate-praline-pecan-ginger. Any one of them, if mounted on a wall, would be mistaken for an actual mosaic—until it started to melt, of course.
The new flavors at the festival ranged from Singleton's single malt scotch chocolate cocktail, garnished with 60 percent Dark Bolivian Chocolate (disgusting), to Vivra’s Curry Cashew Milk Chocolate bar (intriguing), to ChocOat Vegan Chocolate from Finland’s new oat milk chocolate (healthful-feeling). Honey Mama’s Paleo chocolate was somehow sweeter and creamier than regular milk chocolate, despite containing no milk and being sweetened entirely with honey.
The problem with tasting all that chocolate is you could only walk past two sample stands before your mouth tasted like Easter and you wished the closest water cooler had a horse ranch-grade salt lick next to it. Bakke Brothers Brand Jerky very lucratively capitalized on the lack of the event's savory offerings; their black pepper, ghost pepper, double habanero, and scorpion pepper jerkies sold as well as the finest chocolates of Europe.
Even more than beef jerky, the ultimate palate cleanser for the ultimate chocolate enjoyment was, surprisingly, chocolate. Raw, unsweetened, non-creamed, American chocolate.
On the terminal's lower level, two volunteers ground cocoa beans on a molcajete lava stone, the way Central Americans had prepared it centuries before Columbus arrived. In its original form, chocolate is brittle, bitter, and Sun God-energizing. The last Aztec emperor used to drink 50 frothy goblets a day to give him the energy to rule Mexico, and a Spanish conquistador wrote, “He who drinks a cup of this liquid, no matter how far he walks, can go a whole day without eating anything else.” Whenever I felt a sugar crash coming on from the milk chocolate, a pinky nail sized piece of fresh ground cocoa was all I needed to get back in the game.
Lethargic dairy was not added to chocolate until the late 19th century. When breast feeding went out of fashion among the European upper class (it was considered too peasant-like), Henri Nestlé came up with an ultra-processed condensed milk as a substitute. It was found that his fake breast milk tasted great when mixed with cocoa, and thus, chocolate completed its journey from food of Gods to candy.
Both Europe and North America are too cold to produce cacao, and yet, the Euro-American palate has assumed total control over what chocolate tastes like. Mexican chocolate company Cuna de Piedra is attempting to change that. Instead of going for the sweet and creamy qualities forced on chocolate by the Swiss and Spanish, Cuna de Piedra flavors their chocolate with hibiscus and mezcal. Their chocolates would make the eternally closed stone mouth of an Olmec head suddenly lick its lips.
While traditional joven mezcal aged in clay pots would not seem like as natural a mix with chocolate as peanut butter, by the second morning of the festival, both the Mezcal Joven and Mezcal Reposado chocolate bars were completely sold out.
When I asked if they had any milk chocolate, the salesman replied, almost contemptuously, “We do not do milk chocolate.”
I'm still nibbling on my discoveries, and the free gift bag covered most of my Christmas shopping. Since it’s fancy artisan chocolate, it’s already wrapped.