“Chocolate is a perfect food, as wholesome as it is delicious, a beneficent restorer of exhausted power. It is the best friend of those engaged in literary pursuits.”—Baron Justus von LiebigRosemary mint. Wasabi and ginger. Coffee. Curry. Pomegranate. Blueberry. Cacao nibs. Orange. Pear. Lavender and cloves. Chili and cinnamon spice.
These are just some of the flavors of chocolate we’ve been discovering and tasting lately. Some come in bars with names like Xocolatl, Black Pearl, Fire, Refresh, Sexy, and Pleasure. Others are more literal; Earl Grey, Citrus and Chili, Salt and Pepper. Most of these can be found at one of our favorite chocolate shops—Biagio. The place is like a jewelry store for chocolate bars; it’s impossible to walk out of there in a bad mood. Just below street level, the store is easy to pass if you don’t know better. But once you do know, you won’t be able to help yourself. Every chocolate lover in the neighborhood frequents this place.
It’s a cold and dark winter Tuesday evening. A man in cycling gear stands by a shelf and quickly chooses several chocolates. Another customer studies the two different chocolate bars in her hands, then sets one back on the shelf.
“I’ll get that one next week,” she says.
The door jingles and a young woman wearing a brown knitted scarf enters. She walks straight to the counter.
“I’m trying to remember which chocolate my boyfriend likes best,” she says to the clerk. “His name is Scott.”
The clerk, a woman with curly white-gray hair and a strong New York accent, seems to know who Scott is; at least she takes the younger woman over to a shelf and points out different bars. One of her suggestions is a chocolate bar flavored with sea salt. This may sound strange, but it’s pretty fantastic. Think sweet and salty combinations. There’s also salt and cracked pepper. Last week we came across a peppercorn-flavored bar, though we opted for another with rose and ginger instead. It tastes like rose petals and reminds me of the perfume my Ukrainian relatives would bring as gifts. Strangely enough, the combination of spice and flower is quite good.
Soon I’m the only customer left. Of late, I’ve been on a quest to find the perfect chili-and-cinnamon-spice chocolate bar (ancient civilizations in Mesoamerica—the Olmec are thought to be the first—made the first chocolate and flavored it with chili spices; the Aztec called their rich chocolate drink xocoatl, which Hernando Cortez brought to Spain and sweetened with sugar, vanilla, nutmeg, cinnamon, allspice, and cloves), so I ask the clerk what she recommends. She approves of my choice of Christopher Elbow’s Dark Spice bar. When I also ask about a raw 100 percent cacao bar, she suggests I try the store’s best seller: Pralus of France’s 100 percent cacao bar . She breaks off a piece for me. I’ve never tried chocolate made from 100 percent cacao before; the closest was a 99 percenter R. and I found the other month. We enjoyed it, but the bar was sort of powdery and took some time in your mouth before its flavor and texture could be appreciated. The Pralus bar, though, was creamy with subtle fruit and flower flavors. Let’s just say we’ve since purchased several of them.
The most interesting thing about trying different chocolates has been discovering how much flavor pure chocolate contains. Chocolate from different countries and continents tastes of a variety of flowers, fruits, and spices—it all depends on the soil in which it is grown. Because of these nuances in taste, savoring a quality piece of chocolate is similar to sipping a fine wine. And having synesthesia adds color to the subtle differences; for instance, I see a lot of soft reds and pinks with the Madagascar chocolate bars we’ve been trying. The Pralus bar has a kind of bluish gray in it. The rose one actually evokes a lavender hue.
I have to mention one more chocolate lover’s stop in the nation’s capital: AC/KC. The best thing about this place is that you can order rich hot chocolate in different flavors named after “The Divas.” I keep ordering the Lucy—a cinnamon-and-chili-spice concoction that takes its name from the fiery redhead of comedy. There are also the Audrey Hepburn, Liz Taylor, and Eartha Kitt. R. ordered the lavender-infused Liz Taylor last time. We’ve also tried the Ginger Rogers, which contains dried ginger and wasabi.
The next chocolate bar I plan to try is salted caramel. Or maybe another spice-flavored bar. Or maybe a rich xocoatl drink. There are worse addictions.