Cross-posted from Calgary is Awesome
Yes, I know I've already posted this photo on this blog over three months ago. So sue me.
If Ray is my go-to guy for interesting meals around town, then Tiffany is my go-to girl for sweets (you may remember her from such fun times as the Sunday Tea Party at Nectar.) Ever since Choklat opened up in Inglewood, I've been trying to get us signed up for its Choklat Snobbery 101 workshop, but our schedules never meshed. Finally, when the July schedule came out in the beginning of June, I picked a Monday between Stampede and Folk Fest, bought tickets, and told her to come with me.
Before I begin, I'd just like to apologize for the lack of photos this outing. No one else was taking photos, and I'm not shameless (or Asian?) enough to be the only one snapping photos around strangers.
Anyway, in case you haven't heard the spiel already, Choklat is one of two chocolatiers in all of Canada that makes their chocolate from scratch from cocoa beans that they import themselves, while other chocolatiers buy their chocolate in bulk and melt it down to create their confections. Choklat prides itself on this extra bit of control it has over the product and the fact that their product is fresh - when you walk into the store, you'll find yourself enveloped in the tantalizing aroma of chocolate, whether it's from cocoa beans being roasted, cupcakes and brownies being baked, or chocolate being tempered. There aren't display cases upon display cases of truffles and other candies—though there's a small case of baked goods and some chocolate bars and chocolate bark off to the side—as they make their truffles are made to order - you pick the type of chocolate, the filling, and the topping and they'll make it for you on-site.
A fellow Calgary food blogger has once described Choklat's owner, Brad Churchill, as a "jack of all trades", and he is right. While warming up the crowd before the workshop started, Brad told us that he's worked as a systems analyst, providing software solutions for companies around the city, and he also owns an outdoor adventure company, where he takes people on off-road, dirt bike tours. Brad has no professional training or background in the culinary arts, and all his knowledge on chocolate comes from four years of his own research.
Brad kicked off the evening with a sample of Choklat's Orient Express drinking chocolate, which is a blend of chocolate, homogenized milk, Chinese five spice powder and sugar, topped with whipped cream and a dash of cinnamon. Although I'm usually a fan of spicy chocolate, It felt like the spice in this drink was grabbing me by the throat. I also found it a little too sweet for my taste, but I liked how the cool, whipped cream provided a bit of respite from the bold flavours in the drink.
The workshop is advertised as two hours, but we were there for three - for the first two hours, Brad walked us through the process of how to turn a cocoa pod into chocolate, from splitting a fresh cocoa pod so that we can see the slimy innards, to stuffing our noses into a bowlful of dried, fermented cocoa beans, to showing us his homemade "cracker and fanner" in the back along with his boxes and boxes of cocoa butter (the shop is cold - bring a sweater!), then to the precise timing needed when roasting the beans and tempering the chocolate. I was amazed at how much information was thrown at me in such a short period of time, and Brad made sure none of us got bored by peppering his talk with rants about some of his competitors and anecdotes about little tricks he used to scale down his chocolate production so that it was manageable for his small shop.
Then came the fun part - chocolate tasting! Brad makes all his dark (70%) chocolates using the same recipe - 40% cocoa beans, 30% cocoa butter, then sugar and vanilla. I was surprised to learn that the percentage labels on chocolate bars accounts for all components that come from cocoa (cocoa beans and cocoa butter, basically), so if a manufacturer is willing to use more of the expensive cocoa butter in their chocolate recipe, a 70% chocolate bar might not be as "healthy" as you think!
We started with the Ocumare, which is a pretty "safe" introduction to Choklat's chocolate as it is probably the one that tastes the closest to chocolate as we know it, but with some fruity notes. The Brazilian was much fruitier, to the point where it made me wonder whether some apricot jam had been slipped into the chocolate somehow. The Cuyagua did not have the fruitiness of the first two chocolates, but tasted to me like honey, with a bit of a raisin-y undertone. Some of the other participants noted that it tasted a little bit like tobacco, but I've never had tobacco, so I can't vouch for that. The last chocolate we tasted was the Porcelana, which is one of the rarest cocoa beans in the world. Brad described it as the "schizophrenic" chocolate, as the taste of the chocolate changes as it melts in your mouth. I couldn't taste the "red wine" and "Glosette raisins" flavours that we were instructed to watch out for, but I definitely felt the chocolate's flavour change in intensity as I rolled it around my tongue.
We were then given some Lindt 70% chocolate to compare, and the difference was apparent. The Lindt chocolate probably had a higher cocoa solid to cocoa butter ratio, so it didn't melt as easily in the mouth. The flavour could only be described as flat - while all the Choklat chocolate seemed to increase in flavour as they were being eaten, the Lindt chocolate just seemed to stay the same. It also had a bit of an acidic undertone, which may have been due to low quality beans. We were also given some of Choklat's milk chocolates to taste, which were very creamy, but the creaminess did not mute the distinct flavours of the cocoa beans.
The night ended with some wine pairings that I unfortunately did not particularly enjoy, not because they were mismatched, but because I did not particularly care for the wines that were chosen. However, I did find it interesting how the wines and chocolates changed each other flavours when they were paired together.
Many of the other participants stayed behind to buy some chocolate bars and/or baked goods for themselves at the end of the workshop, but I was all sugared out for the night. I will definitely be back to pick up some chocolate bars, or perhaps some of Choklat's more whimsical products like their brownies ($2.99), their s'mores which are completely made in-house (right down to the graham crackers and the marshmallows... $4.99), or their "potpourri" - cocoa bean shells so that you too can make your house smell like chocolate without baking brownies everyday.
1327A 9 Ave SE
Calgary AB T2G 0T2
The Choklat Snobbery 101 workshop is held every Monday night at 7 pm. Despite the fact that the Choklat Snobbery 101 workshop has been sold out for two months in advance for the longest time, August is NOT sold out. Sign up on their website. Remember to bring a sweater as the shop is temperature-controlled so that they can store their cocoa butter, otherwise you will be draping yourself over warm, chocolate-making machines.