Drinking chocolate, bitters: How sweet it is
Could drinking chocolate with bitters be Portlands next hip beverage?
Mark Bitterman hopes so. Or at least that Portlanders will be brave enough to give it a try this holiday season.
The James Beard Award winner for his 2010 book Salted has opened Madrid Chocolatería, a pop-up located at the back of The Meadows Northwest Portland location, 805 N.W. 23rd Ave.
It features Woodblock Chocolate, made in Southeast Portland by artisan Charley Wheelock and his wife, Jessica. The 70-percent dark cacao is transformed into drinking form by adding a little water, and a pinch each of fleur de sel, sugar and spices like star anise and clove.
And it sits in a shiny gold dispenser at the front counter to keep warm, ready to be poured into little mugs or to-go bamboo cups at $2.50 a pop.
Its pretty balanced, says Bitterman, who opened The Meadows first location on North Mississippi Avenue in 2006, then followed with one in New York City in 2010, then the Northwest 23rd Avenue shop in 2013.
I dont put too much sugar. Theres no dairy. Its much lighter (than coffee), energizing. I almost dont think of it it as decadent; I think of it as satisfying.
In such a huge coffee town, Bitterman says, people get the idea of sipping chocolate.
Even though its not caffeinated, the cocoa beans bitter alkaloid, theobromine, is a natural stimulant that gives a gentle buzz. It aptly translates in Greek to food of the gods.
Add to this another layer of complexity with a few drops of cocktail bitters, the hot trend in mixology that can also be used as a flavoring agent in baking or other drinks or dishes. The Meadow is a popular stop for bartenders and home mixologists, with a selection of about 200 varieties, priced at $9 to $40 per bottle.
Bitters are to a drink what salt is to a meal, Bitterman says.
There are four suggested bitters at the counter to add to the drinking chocolate: lemon, cardamom, Abbotts and rye whiskey.
The classic Abbotts brand, dating to pre-Prohibition, was the original bitter used for the Manhattan cocktail, with clove, vanilla and cinnamon.
People think chocolates bitter, but good chocolate doesnt have much bitterness at all to it, Bitterman says. A drop of bitters in there just brings a whole aromatic quality to it. The bitterness helps to align it all.
The shop carries nearly 200 varieties of bitters, from citrus, lavender and wild ginger to pimento, sasparilla and blackstrap. Sampler packs and make-your-own bitters gift sets are two popular gift items; another is the Himalayan salt shot glass or goblet that make a worthy vessel for everything from tequila to a mint julep to drinking chocolate.
The chocolateria on Northwest 23rd Avenue is open until Dec. 31. A gathering space called 25 Chairs at the back of the store also makes its debut this month, as a spot for private events, artisan collaborations and special chefs dinners.
A native New Yorker and class of 95 Reed College alum, Bitterman last year released his second book, Salt Block Cooking: 70 Recipes for Grilling, Chilling, Searing, and Serving on Himalayan Salt Blocks.
He sells his book in a bundle with the salt block at the store for $72.
The shop has been an easy concept in Portland, he says, where people love the underpinnings of making things. New Yorkers, he says, love the finished product.
They just want the solution; Tell me the solution, Im done, he says. In Portland, its No, what if I did that? How does this work? Can I do this at home?
Portlanders are very earnestly interested in things, he adds. Were like hippie hands-on craftsman people in everything we do.
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The $100 candy bar
We knew fine artisan chocolate was pricey, but Portlands Woodblock Chocolate is breaking new ground with this one.
The four-year-old Southeast Portland outfit this month announced its $100 holiday chocolate bar made from 2,400 types of cacao beans to benefit charity. It will be released in the spring.
The bar is called Trinidad Fundare, and only 65 pounds have been produced.
Its a collaboration with the Cocoa Research Center at the University of the West Indies in St. Augustine, Trinidad, where co-owner Charley Wheelock travels to source cacao beans for some of his bars.
This bar represents the efforts of the International Cocoa Genebank, a conservation and research facility consisting of 16 cocoa trees per plot within about 100 acres.
All proceeds from the sale of the Trinidad Fundare bar will go to the maintenance of the Genebanks living library of cacao, with one of the most diverse collections of cacao varietals in the world.
Woodblock was one of the first and only U.S. chocolate makers to use cacao from the Gran Couva region of Trinidad.
Woodblock imports its own beans, then roasts, conches, ages and tempers the cacao on-site.
Six varieties of the .88-ounce 70 percent cacao bars with chocolate sourced from Ecuador and Peru are sold for $4 each or in a 10-pack for $45 online. The holiday bars are sold at Woodblock Chocolate, 1236 S.E. Oak St.; online or at various retail locations.
For details: www.woodblockchocolate.com.