Christmas on the Westcoast – visiting Chocolate Arts

I’m originally from Vancouver so every year I go back for Christmas – which is great. I get to escape the cold Toronto winter for a week and spend time with family and friends. I also get to visit some of my favourite food places. The places can change over the years but right now one of my favourite chocolate shops is Chocolate Arts. It’s a boutique chocolate shop located just off of Granville Island where they make all their chocolate on site. There is also seating if you want to have a snack or hot chocolate. I reminds me a lot of SOMA in Toronto where you can see people making chocolate in the background while you choose products from the display case and shelves.

chocolate_boot

Chocolate Arts has a fabulous chocolate tasting station where you can sample all the different types of chocolate that they sell. They are arranged in order of cocoa content from 48% to 70%. They carry single origin chocolates as well as blends and there are descriptions of the taste profiles for each type. I love it!

chocolate_tasting-300x225

What I find really interesting is that chocolate that has the same cocoa content can still taste quite different from each other. Some have a fruitiness while others have s buttery, smooth finish. Some are more citric and others are more mellow. And even though generally the higher the cocoa content, the more bitter (i.e. less sweet) the chocolate, today I sampled a chocolate with a 65% cocoa content that tasted more bitter than chocolate with a 70% cocoa content.

chocolate_arts_sign

At this level, chocolate is a bit like wine where other flavours and characteristics need to be taken into consideration rather than just the percentage of cocoa. I bought a bag of 65% fleur de cocoa because it had a mellow flavour and smooth finish. I figured it would make an amazing hot chocolate but would also be suitable for a wide variety of baking recipes. Now I just have to find a recipe worthy of this good quality chocolate (that’s assuming that I don’t use it all up making hot chocolate instead which I think is one of the best ways to enjoy it in its purist form). Did mention that ice storms have been hitting Toronto this year?

Do you know of a great food shop in Vancouver that I should visit the next time I’m there? Please share it in the comments below.

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The chocolate in Paris

One of the first things I was exposed to when I arrived in Paris was the amazing chocolate shops. It was Easter weekend and many of them had their Easter chocolate sculptures on display. I had never seen such amazing looking chocolate sculptures in all my life! They were all different shades of colors as if they had each been hand painted (perhaps that is the case, who knows)! I decided that I could not leave Paris without taking advantage of the timing and buy my own chocolate sculpture and was trying to decide which shop to buy one from. La Maison du Chocolate was a chocolate store that came  highly recommended from my “Edible Adventures in Paris” guidebook along with my newly acquired “Le Cordon Bleu – Welcome to Paris!” booklet. That afternoon, I set out to find La Maison du Chocolat. One of their main stores was located in the high-end shopping district, just a stones throw away from the Champs-Élysées and the Arc de Triomphe. I figured I would make a trip out of it.

Arc de Triomphe

Wow, the Champs-Élysées is what I call BIG Paris! Kinda like Fifth Avenue in New York City where there are huge avenues, lots of traffic, huge sidewalks full of people and high-end designer flagship stores with the Louis Vuitton flagship store taking up a very prominent corner.

Louis Vuitton flagship store

I arrived at le Maison du Chocolate and was actually intimidated to go in at first! It felt like I was walking into a high-end jewellery store with gorgeous sales associates behind the counters handling chocolates with special metal clamps so as not to melt them and placing them in distinguished gift boxes tied with ribbon. There were signs in french next to each of the chocolates but I was missing certain words in translation and when it comes to fancy chocolate, I don’t like to take chances. I asked the sales associate “Est-ce que vous parlez anglais?”, His reply – “Oui”. Yay! What a relief! I said that I would like to get some chocolate but I wasn’t sure what all the different types were. The sales associate patiently walked me through each chocolate and explained what was in each one (there were at least 15 different kinds). I must say, the service that I have experienced in Paris so far has just been fabulous!

La Maison du Chocolat

La Maison du Chocolat

I chose 5 chocolates to take home (mint, passionfruit, caramel mousse in dark and milk chocolate and a salty praline). He wrapped them up and then asked me “Would you like to try one?” (this seemed to be standard practice – people often get a sample of chocolate whenever they buy something). How nice! He recommended I try Dentelle – a milk chocolate praline which had slivers of crispy biscuit/waffle inside. He said it was a new flavour and that lots of people had liked it. I bit into it…..oh my goodness, it was amazing! It had the texture similar to a KitKat bar but the crispy texture was a lot more fine and delicate and the chocolate was AMAZING! I will definitely get that next time!

The chocolates were surprisingly affordable! When they rang up my order, the bill only came out to 5,50 euro for 5 chocolates (or around $1.50 Cdn each). They sell the chocolate by grams. However, when you purchase them in a box, the price goes up quite a bit (they smallest size box will fit around 21 euros worth of chocolate). But if you just want to try a couple at a time (like me), you can buy 4 or 5 pieces and they put them in a small bag and the price is very reasonable.