I'm a big chocolate enthusiast. So is my partner. We do tastings and culinary experiments. We explore broad and far. It's neither of our jobs though.
I’ve been a chocolate hobbyist and enthusiast for many a year, I think getting my start with some of the early chocolate history, chocolate origins books in the 1990s. Since then I have gleefully explored various dark, milk, and 100% chocolates from various producers, enjoying getting used to the flavor palates from different regions, and different major brands, throwing occasional tasting parties, pairing parties, and just sharing with friends and loved ones. The San Francisco Bay Area is an awesome place for a chocolate lover. Even in the 1990s and 2000s it was great, with the Scharffen Berger (but pre-Hershey acquisition, now I’m not so sure about their quality) factory and factory tour in Berkeley, Ghirardelli, of course, and Joseph Schmidt, and later, other smaller businesses coming up and succeeding, including Michael Recchiuti (of whose work I am a great fan and I try to visit his stores in Dogpatch, SF when I can), and Christopher Elbow (don’t miss their yummy drinking chocolate), and Blue’s Chocolates (formerly Chocolatier Blue, in Berkeley), and Tcho, and Dandelion (if you visit their SF Ferry Building location, consider getting the fruit smoothie — aside from cacao tours in the Hawaiian islands and anywhere else closer to the equator than 22 degrees north or south, I’m not sure you can easily taste the cacao fruit), and also chocolate bar specialty stores like Fog City News, etc. I still remember my first tastes of Valrhona, and I remember buying a big 5 kg box of El Rey discos for home couverture and experiments with chocolate tempering, making buckeyes at home and giving them out to friends for Christmas and other holidays and celebrations. For a while (though I’m unsure if I can still be so accurate — not only am I out of practice, but since the market is diversifying into many obscure single origin chocolates, I think the market’s palate is also changing), I could taste when a chocolate came from Venezuela versus Africa. In the spring of 2018, Jen and I took at spring break trip to Maui, which included the Maui Chocolate Tour. After a scary drive through washed out back roads (thanks Waze! — hard earned wisdom — don’t use Waze on the islands, or at least corroborate with Google Maps or a more standard mapping software!) we made it there and did lots of things and took lots of pictures and videos. It was a grand time. Pictures in that portfolio are of raw cacao beans, separated from the husks, separated from the fruit, as well as a shredded-by-wind immature cacao tree/shrub (the docent told us at length that essentially cacao plants are super fragile and will get torn up by just a stiff breeze — later we toured an organic fruit farm — Ono Farms near Hana — that has cacao trees planted inside banana tree groves to seriously reduce threats from wind). There is also a video of me using a mortar and pestle to mix spices and other ingredients with ground cacao beans for a modern version of the ceremonial cacao drink (my sense was it wasn’t particularly authentic or historically accurate, but the cacao they used was very tasty).