Chocolate: Taste, Learn, Love

Gourmet food shop Domasoteca, in Rosslyn's Hotel Palomar, pairs chocolates with wine at its tastings. The next free event is scheduled for March 15.
Gourmet food shop Domasoteca, in Rosslyn's Hotel Palomar, pairs chocolates with wine at its tastings. The next free event is scheduled for March 15. (By Juana Arias For The Washington Post)
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By Erin Hartigan
Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, February 17, 2008

As the chocolate market has filled with such high-end selections as Italy's Amedei and France's Valrhona, local stores have started to give chocolate the tasting honors previously reserved for wine. Customers are coached to discover new brands and to understand the taste nuances that result from different percentages of cocoa and countries of origin.

"Like wine, chocolate is impacted by its terroir," says Eric Nelson, co-owner of ACKC Cocoa Gallery. "Each country or even region of the country can impact the flavor of the chocolate."

For those who want to branch out from the grocery store selection of brightly wrapped bars, these tastings are an affordable way to please your palate as well as your wallet. After all, while the finest wines can sell at auction for tens of thousands of dollars, a prized bar of chocolate is a relative steal at $40.

ACKC Cocoa Gallery

1529C 14th St. NW, 202-387-2626,

Types of tastings: This spacious, art-filled chocolate shop and coffee bar with vivid red walls hosts tastings to introduce people to the nuances of chocolate. ACKC is a joint venture between Eric Nelson of Artfully Chocolate and Rob Kingsbury of Kingsbury Chocolates.

What to expect: The tastings are an education in chocolate. "We let customers hold actual cocoa pods and crack open beans to see how nibs are made," Kingsbury says. Participants begin with white chocolate and then try milk, Belgian dark and sugar-free varieties, plus a piece with 99 percent cocoa. "With that one, I tell them that it's like the time you broke into mom's cupboard to find the cooking chocolate and immediately spit it out," Kingsbury says.

Best for: Anyone who wants a crash course on chocolate from pod to bar.

What you might taste: Kingsbury's Plain Milk Chocolate Bar ($6), smooth with nutty undertones.

Next up: On Monday, a two-hour tasting class ($25) will touch on the history of chocolate and the characteristics of different cocoa trees. Participants receive a chocolate gift box. Beginning March 3, the store will host two-hour chocolate-making classes for $25.

Biagio Fine Chocolate

1904 18th St. NW, 202-328-1506,

Types of tastings: The tiny shop -- decorated with tribal masks from different chocolate-producing regions -- always has samples for nibbling, and its tastings generally are centered on a specific region, cocoa percentage or common flavor. "Experience the taste of Madagascar or fruity chocolates, for example," says store co-owner William Knight. Biagio hosts occasional events to present confections from such local chocolate makers as Artisan Confections and J. Chocolatier.

What to expect: Knight's aim is to teach customers the four types of cocoa beans and how to eat chocolate to heighten the tasting experience. "The proper way to eat chocolate is to note the color and the sheen. It is an experience that impacts all of your senses," he says.

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