Sometimes I crave the expertise of a specialty store, but not the attitude or pretension that goes along with it.
In comes the Pearl District’s Cacao riding in on a refined yet approachable horse that makes me feel like this is the type of chocolate specialty store where you can walk in with either a Prada bag or a bike messenger sack and stay a while.
I get right to scoping out the goods in Cacao’s rustic yet elegant space and like the globetrotting selection: Pacific Northwest-based chocolate from favorites such as Portland’s Alma and Seattle stars Fran’s and Theo Chocolates. There are also the predictable international suspects I have come to find in artisanal chocolate shops.
My adrenaline starts to rise as I spot San Francisco-based Poco Dolce bars, but I know I have reached the chocolate mecca when I spot the trademark non-descript silver packaging from my favorite chocolate producer which looks more like a deflated vacuum-sealed coffee pack than an encasement for a high-end chocolate bar. OMG. This Portland chocolate shop has Claudio Corallo bars, which are about as hard to track down as a rare vintage port.
Sensing my excitement (the huge silly smile must have been a dead giveaway), one of the staff members swings by and we start geeking out on chocolate talk. We discuss how Corallo’s bean-to-bar business is run from the volcanic islands in Africa’s Sao Tome and Principe and how the native Italian doubles his fermentation process and does not use any additives.
It also turns out we are both ardent fans of Mort Rosenblum’s book “Chocolate: A Bittersweet Saga of Dark and Light.” In fact, it is required reading for every employee who joins Cacao. He proceeds to let my friends and I sample the Corallo bars, one which is even a 100% bar. I am all over the Chocolate Sable, which is an 80% bar laced with sugar crystals.
A visit here is not complete without sampling the drinking chocolate. On a Friday afternoon, regulars are starting to scatter in – Dads with their kids, a middle-aged biker leaving work a few hours early, and a couple of hipsters. The majority of these chocolate fans are heading straight for the counter to get their liquid chocolate fix.
I order a flight of sipping chocolates, and like wine, sample them in the recommended sequence of less sweet to sweet: Cinnamon, coconut and a thick dark chocolate.
Surprising for a store named after the bean-like seed that is used to make chocolate, the bestseller at the moment is not chocolate. It’s Béquet Confection’s creamy rich caramels originating from Bozeman, Montana which are sold individually or in packs. My advice: Buy one of everything.