by Estelle Tracy
If the counter of Philter Coffee in Kennett Square is any indication, the craft movement has taken over chocolate. The shop currently carries 12 different bars from small American makers, and yet, owner Chris Thompson still wishes he could carry more.
“There are other makers who I’d like to eventually work in,” he says. “It’s mostly a space issue, and it’s also hard to move someone out when they do such an amazing job.”
There’s never been a better time for American bean-to-bar chocolate: Ten years ago, there were only a handful of makers in this country; today, there are more than 180. While not regulated, the term bean-to-bar refers to the process of making chocolate from the bean, as opposed to melting industrial chocolate to use in new confections such as truffles and bonbons.
Craft chocolate companies are known for the higher price of their bars (think $8 to $10 for a 3-ounce bar), but the trade-off is transparency in the sourcing process and the realization that chocolate is not a singular flavor, but a swirl of tasting notes. For instance, a chocolate made of Madagascar cacao beans will stand out with its strong citrus notes and no bitterness.
The Philadelphia area offers an ideal location for many chocolate makers. Former pastry chef Nathan Miller started his eponymous company in Boulder, Colorado, but eventually moved the company to Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, back in 2013. Managing Director Chelsea Russo explains that they picked the location “after considering its proximity to the cocoa ports and Washington, D.C., and New York City.”
The company now offers 15 chocolate varieties, from the playful strawberry and rye whiskey to the classic 72 percent Peru dark chocolate. Wrapped by hand, the bars have received national attention and are now distributed worldwide.
On a smaller scale, two chocolate makers are serving their creations to cocoa aficionados in the city. In Northern Liberties, Robert Campbell has spent the past decade developing an extensive bean-to-cup chocolate menu as his charismatic alter ego, the Chocolate Alchemist. Campbell is known for his lightly sweetened, boldly flavored organic concoctions served at Sazon, the Venezuelan eatery he co-owns with his wife, Judith Suzarra-Campbell. While most makers prefer single-origin cacao, Campbell prefers blends “because you can add your personality into it,” and he uses only unrefined sugars. In 2015, he started creating a bar version of his drinks, such as his popular Clásico, keeping sustainability in mind: Made of lokta paper, the chocolate wrappers are stitched by hand and designed to be reused or refilled at Sazon.
Over in Old City, Shane Confectionery has also been working with cacao beans for years, using housemade chocolate in its Royal Spanish drinking chocolate, chocolate popsicles and, for over a year, in square chocolate bars. Most notably, the shop makes cacao fruit pops from the sweet cacao pod pulp extracted from weekly cacao pod shipments. With a flavor described by chocolate maker Kevin Paschall as a mix of “citrus, melon and mango,” the sweet treat will carry you through the summer.
110 Market St.
The Philadelphia landmark currently makes three different bars from cacao sourced from Guatemala, Ecuador and Bolivia. In addition to housemade creations, Shane Confectionery carries bars from several acclaimed American makers such as Askinosie, Fruition and Ritual.
Chocolate Alchemist at Sazon
941 Spring Garden St.
With a high cacao percentage and no refined sugar, the Chocolate Alchemist bars are a dark chocolate lover’s dream. The Zarumilla bar’s 90 percent cacao content will satisfy the most serious of chocolate lovers.
Michel Cluizel Chocolatrium
575 Route 73 North, Building D
West Berlin, N.J.
Founded in France in 1948, this family owned business picked the Greater Philadelphia region to open its second Chocolatrium. During the 60-minute tour, you’ll learn the history of chocolate and taste the difference between several single-origin chocolates.