Highlights from the NW Chocolate Festival

This weekend marked the 4th annual NW Chocolate Festival. The theme was flavor. And because of its growing popularity, this year’s event was at the Washington State Convention Center, instead of at the Seattle Center. Once the crowd dissipated a bit, I appreciated the layout and was able to roam freely and not battle for a sample, of which there were plenty.

I could only attend on Sunday, and excitedly geeked out to a presentation by Madre Chocolate (who I first learned about at last year’s festival). Here’s what I learned:

  • Besides the more commonly known factors that contribute to cacao flavor (cacao variety, soil, fertilizer, and climate), the most important contributing factor to flavor is the fermentation step. There are 5 I’s of fermentation if you really want to get into the nitty gritty. I did not note them, but it was fascinating to hear about the microbiology nonetheless;)

Next up, I checked out the multiple artisanal vendors. My favorites included Dandelion chocolate, Madre, Taza, Fresco, Pacari and a vendor that had a salted caramel surprise that melted in my mouth like a ganache.

Moving through the workshops, I learned about the C-Spot, the site of Mark Christian, premier reviewer of all the good chocolate out there. Awesome resource! Mark was also on the panel that included chocolate superstars such as Steve DeVries, Chloe-Doutre Roussel (author of “The Chocolate Connoisseur”), Colin Gasko and Art Pederson. Discussions arose around customers’ roles in choosing more sustainably sourced and higher quality chocolate. There is no way the fine chocolate market can cater to the mass market demand that exists, but the opportunity exists to educate customers’ to learn how to develop their palates and seek out more refined bars.

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(Photo credit: http://www.nwchocolate.com)

The next two panels were my favorite of the day – Nathan Royston of Theo talked about the realities of sourcing chocolate with integrity and high quality in Tanzania. He regaled us with stories of his travel there, and showcased Tanzanian culture in a beautiful way, while revealing the difficulties surrounding doing business in a country where incentives don’t exist to improve the farming quality of the beans. I hope to report more on Theo’s holistic business practices in a future post.

Finally, I watched a documentary featuring the story of the Grenada Chocolate Company and its founder, Mott Green. It’s called Nothing Like Chocolate and I recommend everyone watch it. I intend to ask the filmmaker if I can host a screening.

For those who have never been to the NW Chocolate Festival, I highly recommend you go next year. This event is not just a chocolate lover’s dream, it’s an event featuring fine, ethical, amazing chocolate. There are important workshops that will teach you about the complex process of making chocolate, panelists discussing the latest trends in the industry, makers who are so passionate about what they do, they’ll inspire you to ask where your chocolate comes from, who it impacts, and more. And it’s fun! And you get samples of the actual fruit of the cacao pod, the cacao bean, and the chocolate. You can view cooking demos and learn how to make truffles. Your mind will be blown, and your palate will be rewarded.

Since a year is a while to wait, check out some of the above-mentioned bars at Chocolopolis in Seattle. The owner, Lauren, knows so much about chocolate and will happily recommend some bars.

The festival revived my passion for spreading the word about chocolate. Stay tuned for more stories about these amazing bean to bar and tree to bar chocolate makers!