It seemed that everyone from everywhere was in Seattle for the Chocolate Makers Unconference and/or the NW Chocolate Festival. I took advantage of the opportunity to chat with two of the pioneers of the American Craft Chocolate Movement, Steve DeVries and John Nanci. I also made sure to visit some of the local Seattle chocolate makers and chocolatiers.
Two Pioneers of American Craft Chocolate
We’ll be hearing from both of these pioneers later on in a “Going Deeper” post spotlighting all of the pioneers. Here are a few quick impressions of these two legendary chocolate rock stars.
Steve DeVries, DeVries Chocolate
Steve DeVries of DeVries Chocolate exemplified his commitment to passing on chocolate history and knowledge by holding court at the Steve DeVries Chocolate Reading Library at the NW Chocolate Festival. He sat with his collection of vintage and rare books and made himself available to chat with anyone who sought him out. He shared his story with an obvious sense of pride and humility to be involved at the beginning of a movement that has changed the landscape of the US chocolate experience. We’ll hear about Steve in detail soon.
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John Nanci, Chocolate Alchemy
Many adventurous souls beginning their chocolate making adventure find their way to John Nanci and Chocolate Alchemy. He was one of the first to take the leap and pave the way for everyone else. He’s still very much part of the landscape and a first stop for new chocolate makers. Erin Andrews of indi chocolate in Seattle arranged lunch for the three of us at Pike Place Market where her shop resides and, over Reuben sandwiches, John shared his story. I’ll share it with you later on in a “Going Deeper” piece covering all of the pioneers.
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I made sure to check in with some of the local chocolate makers and chocolatiers in Seattle.
After lunch with John Nanci, Erin Andrews, owner of indi chocolate, a family-owned and operated business in Pike Place Market, gave us a tour of her shop. The name “indi” represents the small, independent nature of Erin’s chocolate making business and was also inspired by her daughter’s name – India.
I was surprised and delighted to see that in addition to hand-crafted small-batch dark chocolate, the store was full of unexpected sides of chocolate — body care products, chocolate chai tea and items created by artisans at the origin of the beans that Erin uses.
She’s a frequent visitor to Peru, Ecuador and Costa Rica and her passion was obvious about direct trade and incentivising the farmers to continue to grow these best flavor beans. “That’s how we can increase the potential for genetic diversity to continue in the face of the easier to grow but less flavorful CCN51 variety that industrial chocolate is pushing.” She sees consumer education as critical in achieving that and indi chocolate is a beautiful lab and classroom disguised as a shop of delights.
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Intrigue Chocolate was a must on my list. I met chocolatier and owner Aaron Barthel and co-owner Karl Mueller two years ago when, on a trip to Seattle for my birthday, my daughter arranged for us to have a private flavor session with them. I learned that my daughter has a spot-on palette and mine is more “associative.” I think that’s a nice way of saying I’ve got work to do.
Intrigue Chocolate has since moved to the Pioneer Square section of Seattle, an arty area with galleries, restaurants and now chocolate! I happened to show up on First Thursday Art Walk in Pioneer Square, so the streets were buzzing with Seattle-ites and tourists. At Intrigue, it’s all about flavor. They use a simple chocolate ganache crafted from dark chocolate, fresh cream (or organic coconut milk), and all-natural flavor ingredients. As Aaron tells it, “Many flavors are only available seasonally as quality produce is available in farmers’ markets or new spice shipments arrive at local shops. Some flavors only make a single appearance – ever!”
I love the Hot Zombie. Once a month, Aaron takes all of the left-over truffles, melts them down and serves it as a hot drink for First Thursday guests. It was delightful.
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I was told not to miss the Theo tour, so I headed on over to Theo Chocolate on Phinney Avenue and joined in with tourists from all over. Our tour guide, Aaron, was passionate about Theo’s sustainable, organic and fair trade practices, process of chocolate making and consumer education, which he did with a flair. I learned a few fun facts. The Theo building used to be a brewery and at one time it was a clown school. I also learned there is no caffeine in chocolate. The kick comes from Theobromine, a stimulant similar to caffeine. We’ll here more from Theo in a “Going Deeper” piece on sustainability, organic and fair trade.
You’ll be hearing more from me about many of the chocolate makers and chocolatiers from across the US who exhibited at the NW Chocolate Festival. Many of them are already on my itinerary. I’m looking forward to sharing their stories with you.