About Kerstin

I am the founder of Kerstin's Chocolates, and a chocolate fanatic.

Meeting Stephane Bonnat

[This post was from early November 2011, but was delayed due to difficulty from posting from Madagascar, which has unreliable power and internet services! Stay tuned for the Madagascar reports coming soon.]

We all drove up in the alps to a place called Voiron which is the home of Stephane Bonnat and the House of Bonnat. Clay Gordon had made the introduction, and Mr. Bonnat himself called us after Cyrus left a message in French on his answering machine. It was pretty amazing to me that we would meet the man behind some of my favorite chocolate.

When we got to his shop we were invited to wait in his office, which had the feel of some undetermined era. There were old family photos on the wallpapered wall and other paraphernalia collected over the decades including framed chocolate bar wrappers and what appeared to be a golden ticket! When Br. Bonnat entered the room through a creaky wooden door in the back of his office, he explained that the door suffered some damage from a storm that blew through the town the night before. “It’s the only thing that’s happened around here in 100 years”, he said jokingly.

Mr. Bonnat is 4th in line to run his family’s chocolate company. His great grandfather started it in 1884 and it is the oldest family run chocolate company in France. Stephane Bonnat takes the tradition of chocolate making very seriously. In excellent English, he told us that one of his goals is to make chocolate that creates the feeling of nostalgia by allowing people to taste what their parents had tasted: “the first time you eat chocolate, it leaves an indelible mark” he said “and I want people to experience that every time”. As we were listening to Mr. Bonnat, he was beginning to leave an indelible mark on us too — that perhaps this was Willy Wonka in the flesh.

Stephane Bonnat is highly energetic and enthusiastic about everything. He believes that great chefs need to be interested in many things (He is crazy about chocolate but he also loves riding motorcycles and traveling). It is this curiosity that triggers his imagination because “chocolate is imagination”. He is also a bit of of a mad scientist drawing his inspiration from antique chocolate making equipment which he collects and restores. As we walked around the factory floor, he would point to a machine and say, “this is another old new machine I bought”. He believes that old equipment makes better chocolate and after years of loving his chocolate, I am in full agreement.

In the Roald Dahl book, the character of Willie Wonka is paranoid about spies and infiltrators who want to steal his recipes. Stephane Bonnat is very open about his chocolate. He gave us a full tour of his facilities and even told us the ratio of beans to sugar and cocoa butter that he uses in his bars. He is however, suspicious of chocolatiers who make claims to having the best chocolate in the world, namely some unnamed Italians. In his opinion, the difference between French and Italian chocolate is that “the French are innovators and the Italians are followers” To him, the proof of the pudding is in the tasting, or in the taste of the chocolate, in this case. The Bonnat family has been making chocolate for 137 years and that’s a long time to perfect a recipe!

Some things we learned about our visit to the Bonnat shop and Factory:

1. His dad started making single origin bars in the 80’s, which was revolutionary at the time.
2. They support programs in Peru to reduce cocaine production by having farmers plant cocoa trees instead of growing coca.
3. They still produce a complete line of Bon bons and pastries which they sell in their tea and chocolate shop in Voiron.
4. They have 2 retail locations in Tokyo that are run by local partners.
5. He uses organic and kosher milk powder in his milk chocolate bars.
6. Bonnat is very concerned about allergens. He doesn’t add soy lecithin to chocolate and his dark chocolate bars are made in a special room to avoid cross contamination.

Thanks to Clay for the introduction, and thanks to Mr. Bonnat and the House of Bonnat for their hospitality. We really loved our visit. Vive Bonnat!


Visiting the Valrhona factory

I made sure to brief the kids before we toured the Valrhona factory. I was especially concerned that Ilona would do some damage so I explained to her that we would be visiting a chocolate factory kind of like Willie Wonka’s factory except that there would be no Oompa Loompas. To that she said, “I’ll be the Oompa Loompa”, which I thought was cute. I told the kids that this visit was very important to me and that in a way, I had won the golden ticket. This piece of information got their attention pretty quickly. I told them that they had to behave and reminded them of what happened to the kids in the story who didn’t follow Mr. Wonka’s rules. “Do you remember what happened to Violet Beauregard when she refused to stop chewing gum?” I asked. “She turned into a giant bubble and flew away” Ilona said. “And do you remember what happened to Charlie?”. “He got to keep the factory” Darius said. “Exactly” I said, “Except I don’t think we will be able to keep the factory, but you might get something good”. The next day, the kids put on their protective clothing not once, not twice, but three times and listened quietly as our guide, Luce, walked us along the gleaming factory floors explaining the functions of many different machines including roasters, conchers, and winnowers. I think their favorite machine was the robotic arm that picked up boxes and piled them neatly into stacks to be shipped. “I think that’s your Oompa Loompa”, I told them.
Here’s what Darius had to say about the visit:
Valhrona chocolate factory

I thought the Valhrona chocolate factory was very interesting. I still can’t believe the effort you need to put in to make good chocolate. After this tour it became obvious to me why Valhrona is so much better than the leading mass chocolate enterprises who value speed and money over quality and ethics.
From my point of view, there are four things Valhrona does that the leading brands of low-quality chocolate do not do, (among many other smaller things.)
1. Unlike other chocolate factories, Valhrona takes the time to make their chocolate perfect. It takes them 8 to 10 to days to get the finished product. Other bigger companies can make a bar of chocolate in only 1 or 2 days. But, if they really cherish quality other companies would take their time.
2. Valhrona staff will go straight to the producers to ensure good quality, safe working environments, and consistency in their chocolate. They also always get the cacao strait from the plantations and co-ops, rather than buying it from a cheap provider and not knowing where the chocolate is from. This is why Valhrona is much more ethical then the other large chocolate companies.
3. They education pastry chefs how to properly work with chocolate and improve their techniques. This is vital if you want the future generations to continue the chocolate legacy.
4. It tastes so darn good!!!!! Valhrona puts in so much quality that when ever you bite down on a piece of chocolate, you feel like you are in heaven! And the gianduja !!!!!




Paris chocolate tour with Chloe

The day after our visit to the Salon, Cyrus and I joined Chloe Doutre-Roussel‘s chocolate education/chocolate tour. It was pretty awesome. I’ve been wanting to meet her since I read her book, The Chocolate Connoisseur, several years ago. Her book helped me gain an understanding of fine chocolate and build a vocabulary to better explain what I was tasting.

We started the morning out by tasting some chocolate.  It was fascinating —  I learned to taste chocolate in a different way. Chloe suggested that instead of picking out various notes in the chocolate, we should take note of how the chocolate makes us feel. She used the metaphor of a symphony to describe tasting chocolate. There’s the beginning, the

crescendo and the end. You don’t dissect the piece while you listen, but every once in a while your ear picks out the piano or the violin. Overall you listen to music for the pleasure that it gives you. It’s should be like that with chocolate. I hadn’t thought of it, but she said that you choose a chocolate because of the way it makes you feel, and you do the same when you choose the music you want to listen to.

Afterwards we went to Rue St. Honore where we visited 2 chocolate shops: Michel Cluizel and Jean-Paul Hevin. We compared the difference between a fresh truffle and one that was made to last a long time. The fresh one from Hevin was as delicious as I remembered from a year ago. We concentrated on plain dark ganaches and a rocher made of praline (roasted hazelnuts and caramelized sugar). The difference between them was interesting.

My favorite rocher was the one I tried at La Maison du Chocolat. It nearly brought tears of joy to my eyes. During our morning discussion, Chloe told us that the French don’t forgive inconsistencies in quality. Once you’ve messed up, you don’t get another chance. Thank you La Maison for always delivering!

We stopped at Pierre Marcolini (who has partnered with Nestle since 2007 but is still making great chocolate as far as I can tell) before ending the tour at Gallery Lafayette where Chloe dropped us off at the chocolate section. She suggested we buy our gifts here because they have the best selection and best prices for gourmet bars in the city. Knowing I was planning a visit to the Valrhona and Bonnat factories, I decided against buying anything, but didn’t stop me from marveling at the selection (and prices!).

Chloe’s tour was a huge highlight of my trip to Paris (dare I say I enjoyed it even more than the Salon du Chocolat?). It was great to meet someone so influential in the chocolate world and to learn from her the secrets of enjoying chocolate even more (which I had thought  was impossible!). Once again I am in awe of how much there is to know about chocolate, and I am inspired after meeting people who are truly knowledgable.

Paris Salon du Chocolat (Grand Publique) 2011

At the Michel Cluizel booth.

The Salon du Chocolat was everything I expected and more. It seemed like every chocolate shop in France represented there and every type of chocolate imaginable was for sale. Next to the showcases popping with colorful bon bons, there were booths with mountains of chocolate barks, dipped marshmallows, and macarons, over which the French are obsessed. There were spreads, and pastes and creams and even some fois gras laced with chocolate for your baquette.

Painted Chocolate Sphere At the Pralus Booth

The chocolate came in many shapes from cocoa pods to hand painted spheres to penis shaped lollipops. People were crazy for those. At Chapon, they scooped single origin mousses with or without cocoa nibs into little paper cones which you could take with you while you wandered around. It dawned on me that perhaps I am more of a consumer of chocolate than than I am a maker.

We came pretty early with the kids and Cyrus’ folks. The plan was to see as much as we could together until Ilona got tired and then to separate. I think Ilona lasted about 45 minutes before refusing to visit any more booths. She did agree to watch the Peruvian dancers with her grandpa who also rejected our agenda of visiting and talking to anyone who would either facilitate a plantation or factory tour or who would dole out free samples.

Simone From Sabadi with his Sicilian Chocolate

There were a few bean to bar makers there who we spoke to about the former. One was Michel Cluizel whose rep was pretty positive about the likelihood of visiting the Maralumi plantation in Madagascar. The other was Bonnat who has a factory in Boiroin, France. We spoke to Stephen Bonnat’s sister and brother-in-law who were extremely nice and genuinely wanted to help us facilitate a factory visit.

Kerstin With Rasmus Bo Bojesen at the Oialla Chocolates Booth

Samples were everywhere but we bee-lined it to the good stuff: Pralus, Jean Paul Hevin, Pierre Marcolini. We bought some things that would travel well and make good presents (look out staff at Kerstin’s Chocolates- good things are doing your way!) and then of course, we also got treats for ourselves. I got a beautiful box of chocolates at Franc Kestener ( I tried them today and they are really incredible), some chocolate neapolitans from a Sicilian chocolate maker named Sabadi who makes unconched chocolate flavored with fruits and wild herbs found in Sicily, and a 100g bar of chocolate by a Danish chocolate maker who turns wild Amazonian beans into a masterpiece.

By late afternoon, the place was a mad house and the grandparents took the kids to the Eiffel tower so we could continue our shopping, I mean, our networking.

Chocolate Logs, a traditional treat.

We stopped briefly to listen to chocolate expert, Chloe Doutre Roussel speak about the differences between good and bad chocolate. I wanted to say hello because we were signed up for her chocolate tour the next day.

Macarons, Lovely Macarons

I was impressed with the information present at the salon. There were educational lectures, musicians and dancers from cocoa growing regions and other visual aids aimed at connecting the grower to the consumer. Some bean to bar makers brought machinery, and some brought beans in order to educate people chocolate origins.

A Chocolate Hedgehog

A Chocolate Hedgehog

My favorite moment was speaking to a man who runs the chocolate museum we visited in Paris (the very same museum where Ilona spilled her hot chocolate on the man). He told me about an ethnic group in Panama who consume cocoa daily and use it for ceremonies not unlike the ancient mayas would have hundreds of years ago. I was happy discover that there are others who share my passion about discovering other cacao cultures.

The Salon du Chocolat is a huge spectacle that speaks to our passions: for pleasure (chocolate), for knowledge (about chocolate) and for great skill (the chocolatiers).

Darius And Ilona trying some of the confections.

Michel Cluizel Bars

World Chocolate Masters 2011 (preview)

We made it to the Salon du Chocolat! The chocolate masters are currently underway. Some of The best pastry chefs in the world are competing for the title of world chocolate master. They are making wild and wonderful chocolate sculptures and there’s a huddle of judges observing and calculating including my favorite Parisian chocolatier, Patrik Roger! We haven’t made it to the public salon yet. We must pace ourselves.


Meeting Herr Mohr

Me and Mr. Mohr, the man who made Puffreis.

I had an interesting meeting with a man who used to own a chocolate factory in the town of Maechtersheim where I lived as a child. His name is Mr. Mohr and he and his family once made chocolate in the region including a certain confection called “puffreis schokolade” which simply means chocolate and puffed rice. For some strange reason, this confection is adored by Germans and supposedly, Mr. Mohr made the best around.

A mass-produced Puffreis that is very popular in Germany.

I’ve wanted to make it commercially for a while but I didn’t know how to make it without the chocolate hardening too quickly before it got into the molds. I mentioned this to my aunt and she arranged a meeting with Mr. Mohr at her house on the evening that we would have our family gathering. When we arrived a bunch of us (my aunts are as into making food as I am) grilled him on the proper puffreis making technique. What’s the proper ratio of chocolate to rice? How do you put the mixture into the molds? How do you scrape the lumpy chocolate to get it smooth on top? Most importantly, how do you keep the stuff from hardening? The trick, Mr. Mohr explained is to use a water bath with 2 compartments and to have the rice chocolate in one and tempered chocolate in the other. You then add more chocolate as the mixture runs low. This was not groundbreaking information and I probably would have figured it out myself had I made it on a regular basis. I suppose I was hoping there would be some magic piece of machinery that would make the job easier. It’s tedious work, hand making bars of chocolate, but alas, no new miracles were made. Nevertheless, it was nice to get a description of the full process from someone who made it commercially. I did however, discover something upon speaking to Mr. Mohr. The best way to learn how to do something is through trial and error. If I spend too much time researching and don’t spend the time on doing, I won’t make any discoveries. The making is the research.

The main drag in my home town of Speyer. We have a 950 year old basilica too!

One night in Paris…

On route to visit my hometown in Germany, we stayed one night in Paris to catch up on some sleep and to try to overcome our jet lag. Our hotel was situated near the Gar de L’Est where we would catch our train to Mannheim the following day. We decided to do some sight seeing in the neighborhood and came upon a chocolate museum. We paid our 8 euros to get in plus a couple more for some hot chocolate that we received upon finishing the tour. The museum was very interesting and contained many artifacts such as ancient Mayan drinking vessels and silver hot chocolate pots from the 17th century. There were antique winnowing and conching machines on display and a chocolatier demonstrated proper tempering techniques.  The museum was excellent but I was severely fatigued and couldn’t enjoy it as much as I wanted to.  We finished our tour early and went to the lobby for our hot chocolate.

One word of warning: do not give your child hot chocolate when she is over tired and jet lagged because something bad will happen! We had the not so brilliant idea of letting our kids sit on a bench next to another guest while we looked over some of the displays that we missed. Just as we began to walk away, we heard a splash and to our horror, our daughter Ilona had spilled her entire drink on the man sitting beside her including his briefcase! The man calmly stood up and said goodbye to the person he was speaking to on the phone saying “I have to go, a girl just doused me with hot chocolate”.   Cyrus and I began frantically dabbing at him with paper towels and apologizing profusely. To make matters worse he told us that the suit he was wearing was brand new. We offered to pay for dry-cleaning. He explained that it needed to be pressed too. I gave him 50 euros and we got out of there as quickly as we could. It wasn’t funny until much later when we realized that our 5 year old had just had the most expensive hot chocolate in the world!

New York: The beginning of the beginning

Clay Gordon with Kerstin and the Family outside Roberta's in Bushwick, Brooklyn

Clay Gordon with Kerstin and the Family outside Roberta's in Bushwick, Brooklyn

It’s our last day in New York and this evening we fly to Paris. We’ve spent the last few days here sorting ourselves out and getting mentally prepared for what will probably be the biggest trip of our lives. I’ve discovered that there isn’t much one can do in terms of preparations except to just dive right into the great unknown.
I have done a bit of research regarding what plantations to visit and where. In Portland, Seattle and Vancouver, I’ve scouted some good bean to bar chocolate companies who I will try to contact to set up a visit. I’m impressed with a company called “El Ceibo” who makes their bars right in Bolivia with the help of Chloe Doutre-Roussel – the chocolate expert and former buyer for Fortnum and Mason. I’ve been impressed with chocolate that uses Bolivian cocoa beans such as Felchlin’s Cru Sauvage and a visit might be in the cards.

Clay chats with Ilona at Roberta's

Clay chats with Ilona at Roberta's

On Tuesday we met up with Clay Gordon from The Chocolate Life in Brooklyn. Clay has a web site and social network called The Chocolate Life where chocolate makers and chocolate affecionadoes can congregate to discuss all things chocolate. We will be posting updates to his new blog, The Chocolate Chronicles as our way to share our experiences during our travels, our discoveries and our insights. (We highly recommend that you take look at this site if you are passionate about chocolate.) Clay gave us many good contacts for bean to bar makers in various countries such as Brazil, Guatamala, Mexico and Ecuador. I’m not sure if we’ll be able to visit all of these countries, but we will try. It will probably depend on the kids and how much more schlepping they can endure by the time we reach Central and South America. I personally hope to spend a lot of time in Chiapas and in Mexico as I’ve developed a bit of a love affair with the culture of this country.
I suppose the best way to organize the trip is to take one continent at a time. Our first stop is Europe where we hope to meet as many chocolate makers as we can at the Salon du Chocolat to set up plantation visits and possibly visit a few factories as well. The kids will have fun going to some of my favorite chocolate shops and patisseries in Paris (Jaques Genin, Patrick Roger, Jean-Paul Hevin!). I’m excited to go to my home town of Speyer near Heidelberg, Germany to revisit the places of my childhood and share these memories with my kids. We’ll probably gorge on the chocolates that I loved as a kid, the ones I found in the candy aisle of the Supermarket. I’ll consume many cakes plied upon us by aunts and long lost relatives. I hope I make it out the same dress size!

Bean to bar experiment #1

On Sunday I tried to make my first batch of chocolate from the bean. I got the whole family involved including my husband, my kids(plus a friend), my sister and my niece. The kids loved it. They thought it was really cool that chocolate came from these weird looking and bitter beans.
We started by roasting raw Mexican cococa beans in the oven. There’s a web site called “Chocolate Alchemy” that gives you step by step instruction on how to roast beans. We decided on the oven method, since that was really the only roasting tool we had on hand. The site suggests heating the oven to about 400 degrees and then slowly lowering the heat. The ideal temperature of the beans is 300 degrees. As soon as we hit that temperature we removed them. The beans smelled really good but they still tasted bitter. Some seemed to be darker and more roasted than others. We hoped that this bitterness would eventually be masked by sugar and conching.
After cooling the beans for about 1 hour, we took them outside to winnow them with our newly acquired “crankenstein”. That’s actually what the instrument is called. It’s basically a hand cranked apparatus that breaks the beans into nibs and separates them from the husks. You have to remove the husks altogether and we did that by blowing hot air on the bowl of nibs using a hair dryer. This simple technique worked surprisingly well and we blew off nearly all of the husks.
Next we needed to grind the nibs into a paste and we did that using a Champion juicer. We just poured all of the nibs into one end and pushed them down using the plunger. Much to my niece’s surprise what resulted was “Chocolate!”. We ran the chocolate liquor through the juicer another time to refine it further and flushed it out by pouring in some liquid cocoa butter. The final step in our home made chocolate experiment was to “conch” the chocolate. This step is important because it makes chocolate smooth and mellows out the flavor. To do this at home, we purchased a machine from “Chocolate Alchemy” that is used in India for making flours out of grains and legumes. It uses 2 stones to break up large particles into finer particles. It’s at this point that we added sugar and more cocoa butter to the chocolate liquor. We then conched it for a total of 24 hours. The result? Yuck!!! Sadly the bitterness never dissipated and tasting our chocolate was not unlike chewing on a couple of aspirins. I don’t know what we did wrong. I suspect that we did not roast the beans enough(is that why they looked green at times?). It may have also been the result of improper fermentation, which results in beans tasting astringent and bitter. In any case, this chocolate may have been the worst chocolate I’ve ever tasted. After tasting it tonight, I noticed a distinct note of rubber tires! I now have new respect for the art of chocolate making. There is so much mastery involved in coaxing out the delicate flavors that lie hidden in cocoa. How do they get it to taste of strawberry, almonds, coffee or honeysuckle? It must be a miracle. Plus a lot of talent.

Kick Starting some great chocolate.

We are backing a project on KickStarter that we really like called “A Edible History of Chocolate“. They are almost there but they need more people in the next 4 days to jump in. If you are interested in tasting some cutting edge chocolate from Mexico by way of Hawaii, sign up!

Here is a little video from the folks at Madre Chocolate:

and the current status:

Ice cream party

We are having a party to celebrate our new ice cream this Wednesday, August 3rd from 3pm to 7pm. Come in to sample a flight of 3 different ice cream concoctions: A scoop of Valrhona chocolate ice cream, a thick and luscious chocolate milk shake and an ice cream float made from stout beer! The flight costs $7.00 and if you bring a friend the second one is only $3.50! There will also be ice cream sandwiches and pints of ice cream for sale. Put your name in the draw for 5 chances to win ice cream for a month.
See you on Wednesday!

Memories of Oaxaca

It’s been about 3 weeks since I got back from Oaxaca and the memory of the city with it’s beautiful streets, colorful zocalo and delicious food is beginning to fade. In order to revivie it, I will make and serve Tajate this week at the shop. If you’re unfamiliar with Tejate, I wrote about it in one of my first blog entries during my visit to Oaxaca. Basically it’s a mixture of corn, cacao, flowers and water. Isn’t that lovely? If you would like to try it, drop by on Thursday, Friday or Saturday for a free sample.


A trip to a chocolate factory

I’ve been meaning to post all week about my trip to a local cooperative that makes chocolate from the bean to bar, but somehow I’ve just been too busy relaxing. Now, on this rainy day, I’m finally getting a chance to post some pictures and write a brief description of the visit.
Everyone that I spoke to has assured me that there’s no cocoa growing in Oaxaca, that it grows in Chiapas and Tabasco only. But last week I visited a little cocoa processing operation that makes chocolate from trees grown right here in Oaxaca. The place is called Toltepec and you can check out a cool video on U-tube if you google “Chocolate Toltepec”.

Ilona and I hired a taxi to take us there and after a 2 hour ride, we discovered the place was closed! Luckily our taxi driver found one of the members of the collective and asked him to show us around the facility. To be honest, there wasn’t much to look at. Operations seemed to be on hold. When I asked the man giving us the tour how often they made chocolate, he explained that the chocolate is made on demand. I can imagine that without some marketing, there is a huge disconnect between this little chocolate manufacturing facility in the mountains
and the markets of Oaxaca or elsewhere.
Even though there wasn’t much to see in terms of chocolate being made, it was still cool to be surrounded by cocoa trees. We asked to try the fruit fresh off the tree and it was delicious! Quite sweet and a little tangy at the end. That tanginess must be what gives chocolate its acidity. I asked what type of bean they use in their chocolate (which is really good, by the way) and the man said that they use criollo beans. That must be why it’s so good! I bought a bag of the chocolate and a bag of raw cocoa beans to experiment with when I get home. I have yet to try roasting my own beans-now I have the perfect excuse.






Oaxacan chocolate brownies

You can buy a lot of interesting things on the beach here in Huatulco. Besides the ubiquitous shell jewelry and tie dyed sarongs, you can buy things like photos of yourself with a python or bags of organic coffee. Yesterday I bought a pound of freshly ground chocolate that a woman makes in the local town of Crucecita. Even though I’m surrounded by chocolate here in Oaxaca, I’m having some serious cravings for something intensely chocolatey. Most of the chocolate here comes in the form of a drink, which is great, but sometimes you just want to eat the stuff. Thus, Ilona and I decided to make brownies to put the local chocolate to the test.
We spent a good part of the afternoon in our rented condo looking for a good recipe and getting the ingredients together for our brownies. We found this recipe on Chowhound: http://www.bhg.com/recipe/bars/magic-brownies
The result, I think, is pretty good. The brownies have a nice consistency and good chocolatey flavor. The chocolate we used, like all chocolate here, isn’t conched, which means that it’s fairly gritty and course. You get a bit of that grit in the texture but it’s mostly masked by the other ingredients. When they grind it, they almost always add cinnamon to the beans so the brownies came out tasting pretty strongly of cinnamon, which isn’t unpleasant at all, but I must say that I’m getting a little tired of that cinnamon flavor. Sometimes you just want that pure unadulterated flavor of cocoa, you know? Anyway, the brownies are tasty but now we’ve got a whole pan of them that we have to try to get rid of. Perhaps I can trade them in for a nutella crepe at the creperie next door…



Aqua Miel

Before Ilona and I left Oaxaca last week, we took a trip with our B&B host Alvin to a village to meet a family who makes Pulque. Pulque is an alcoholic drink made by fermenting the juice of the agave plant. You can drink that juice fresh as well and it’s known as “aqua miel”. I was really interested in how the juice is collected so Alvin arranged a tour with a family who we met earlier that week at the market. We got to their house around 5pm to watch them harvest the juice. The process begins first thing in the morning when a family member goes to the field to carve a well into the agave plant. As the day progresses, the juice collects into the well until it is harvested at around 5pm. We were there to witness the harvesting, which is a pretty simple process consisting of a person sticking a tube into the well and then sucking it’s contents into a container. The farmer-whose name I have forgotten gave us a taste of the liquid which was served in a gourd. It was quite sweet with an interesting after taste which I couldn’t quite put my finger on. Ilona said it tasted like honey, which is quite a fitting description since the name of the drink translates to “honey water”. She proceeded to drink the entire contents of the gourd-so I guess she thought it was pretty good. I ended up drinking the pulque which the farmer’s wife had brought along for us to compare. To me pulque tastes a bit like new wine-or slightly fermented juice. Kind of sweet with a little sourness. You can taste pulque in different stages of fermentation. I preferred the first stage which was still quite sweet. I felt that the second and third stage or the 2nd or 3rd day of fermentation made it taste rather like vinegar. By the way, pulque is really a rural drink-you wouldn’t find it at a restaurant, for example. So if you want to try it, you have to come to Mexico!



Mole Negro

I had my first taste of mole negro which is the mole sauce they make here using chocolate. It was slathered onto a chicken leg and served with rice and beans. It was pretty yummy, I thought. More sweet than spicy. The flavors definitely evolved as I continued to eat the dish. I started noticing a subtle smokiness which was really nice-I suppose it is created by roasting the chilies. Yesterday I was supposed to learn how to make mole negro from a local chef, name Pilar Carbrera who owns a restaurant in Oaxaca named “La Olla”. I woke up feeling pretty crummy but I thought it was the effects of the Mescal I had the night before. I decided to go ahead with the class anyway figuring i would start to feel better. Ilona and I got to Pilar’s house around 9:30 to begin the first part of the class which was the market tour. At the market she showed us the different ingredients used in Mexican cooking and pointed out what was in season now(herbs, guanabana or soursop). She took us to the “food court” inside the market and showed me the stand where she likes to buy “atole” which is a drink made of corn, water and unrefined cane sugar. Pilar purchased 2 cups of chocolate atole for us, which the woman made by frothing a chocolate liquid which she spooned out of a jug and adding some of the thick atole to it. It was delicious. Like a thickened hot chocolate with bits of corn but not as sweet as the hot chocolate that I had at Majordomo. I find it interesting that people still froth their hot chocolate-a tradition that dates back to the mayans and aztecs. Perhaps there’s something to be learned from that. After the market tour we went back to chef Pilar’s house to begin our class. By now I was feeling worse and could hardly stand up. Sadly I had to cancel the remainder of the class and reschedule it for a later date. I hope to make my mole negro with chef Pilar when I return to Oaxaca at the end of the month.





On Sunday Ilona and I went to a market in the town of Tlacolula just outside of Oaxaca. There were lots of interesting things there but nothing more interesting than my first taste of Tejate. Tejate is a drink made of ground corn, cocoa beans, ground mammey seed (a fruit) and rosita de cacao flowers-which are not actually flowers from the tree but called thus because they are used in this specific drink. I found tejate to be extremely refreshing and tasty on a super hot day. Kind of like an ice cream shake but not as heavy. It is has a slightly starchy texture and a subtle but distinctive cocoa flavor. The best part was the cocoa butter “scum” on top which gave it just enough richness to make the drink both refreshing and pleasurable.


Father’s Day is approaching.

chocolate bacon bars

Two two types of chocolate bacon bars!

Father’s Day is on June 19th this year. To commemorate this special day, we are bringing back our Bacon Bars for a limited time. Come in from June 9th to June 19th to pick up our:

  • Milk Chocolate Chipotle Chili and Bacon Bar or our
  • Dark Milk Chocolate Salt, Pepper and Bacon Bar.

All of our bacon is locally produced by Al and the team at Irving’s Farm Fresh in Round Hill, AB. We are using certfied organic milk and dark chocolate for these bars.

If bacon chocolate is not your thing, then we’ll also have a wonderful selection of truffles based on dad’s favorite beverages such as:

  • The Orange Martini- Madagascar Dark Chocolate with vodka, cointreau and fresh orange juice
  • The Mojito- Venezuelan Dark Chocolate with spiced rum, mint and fresh lime juice
  • The Virgin Pina Colada- Venezuelan Milk Chocolate, caramelized pineapple and coconut milk
  • The Canadian Whiskey – Dark Milk Chocolate and Gibson’s Whiskey

Oaxaca with Ilona

Ilona and I went to Mayordomo today and tried their hot chocolate. First we watched them grind the beans and cinnamon into a paste. Pretty simple process really. They just dumped the whole lot into the grinder and mixed it with sugar once it was turned into paste. The smell was most delicious! The hot chocolate was good too. Sweet but very very fresh tasting.


You have one week to try and win a year’s supply of chocolate.

This Easter we are going to give one lucky person a free 1-year membership to our new Chocophilia Choc-o-the-Month Club (worth $600!). Everyone who comes down to Kerstin’s Chocolates and makes a purchase at the register will get an entry form to fill out. Each form entered give you one chance at winning! The contest ends on April 23rd, and we will draw and announce the winner on April 25th. [There is no limit to the number of times you can enter, but only one entry per visit please!]

Each web order will also give you one entry, so please order chocolate this week from our web shopping site, Chocophilia.ca, if you can’t come down to our shop.

Third Year Anniversary Party on Saturday, March 5th.

This Saturday, March 5th, we will be having our 3rd year anniversary party.  Come in between the hours of 5 and 9 to sample some new chocolate creations and help us celebrate with a Chocolate Martini!  Everything in the shop will be 20% off (except for our sale items).

To RSVP for this event, send an e-mail to:


(If you don’t RSVP, you won’t be on the guest list, so make sure to RSVP. Also, if you are bringing friends with you, let us know how many!)