Friday, April 20, 2012

Coco Chocolate: good enough to make me like sweets

Note they advertise their vegan chocolate on the sign...

I suppose that title is a little extreme. I don't always hate sweet foods, I just don't feel drawn to them at all. At restaurants, the dessert menu holds no sway for me. Every once in a while, I'll want a little taste of something sweet, but I never really enjoy more than a couple of bites. A piece of baklava is perfect. The only exception I can think of is cake, though I tend to scrape off the icing. A travesty, I know.

Most people, when they hear this, say, "Oh, you're so lucky! My sweet tooth owns me" or something similar. And to them I say, "People, you haven't seen me eat mashed potatoes." Starches and salt, and I'm helpless. It's a trade-off.

But, as with a really good homemade baklava (that's you, Palmyra), every once in a while, something will hit me hard. And such it was with my first experience at Coco Chocolate in Edinburgh.

 Their hand-made organic chocolates are so appealing, the in-house graphic design so lovely, and the store itself so inviting, that I fell a little bit in love. I took their chocolates home to Tennessee as Christmas gifts to all of my favorite people (Haggis spice! Frankincense and myrrh with gold dust! Date and ginger!), and was delighted to learn that all of their dark chocolate is vegan.  

As  I was deciding on my first visit what kind of  made-to-order-from-the-real-deal vegan hot chocolate I wanted, the young lady behind the counter mentioned their award-winning rose and black pepper flavor, so naturally I had to try that. Rose isn't my favorite, but with each sip I was sensing every flavor, how the new tastes interacted with the underlying flavors of the chocolate, the texture of the liquid with tiny bits of melting chocolate suspended through it - such a memorable experience. I’ve since had the Aztec hot chocolate, which in truth I liked much better, but I really don't doubt that you could walk in off the street and order anything and it would be great.

One of my complaints about some artisanal food products and haute cuisine in general is that sheer novelty doesn't always make for good food. "Creative" (read: bizarre) flavor combinations aren't always pleasant, or even palatable. Sometimes, they make you want to spit that wild mushroom foam right into your napkin. Occasionally, though, they are surprising, challenging, and can make you think differently about food and taste.

While Coco offers all the classics made with the great care, it is their more unusual pairings that I'm drawn to - pink peppercorn and nutmeg, hazelnut and sea salt, and even a tobacco-flavored dark chocolate bar. Each is carefully thought out to complement the chocolate's own complex flavor, and in my experience they have all succeeded. 

I came home from my most recent visit with tobacco and date and ginger dark chocolate bars, which I’ve been enjoying a little piece at a time. During that visit I also learned that they serve mochas, so I’ll be back soon. And while I’m there, I might pick up that orange, lemon and geranium bar… and the lime and coconut, just to celebrate it almost being summer… and I really want to try the Earl Grey dark chocolate… 

Those are candied flower petals in the dish

If you're lucky enough to be in the Edinburgh area, you can find Coco Chocolate at 71 Broughton Street, Edinburgh EH1 3RJ, or 174 Bruntsfield Place, Edinburgh EH10 4ER, or visit their website. They also run a chocolate school in Roslin for the amateur confectioners among us. The owner is Australian, and chose to return home after gifting the UK with her delightful stores, and there are two Coco Chocolate shops in Australia, if there are any interested Aussies out there. Enjoy!

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