Why Cacao in Portland Needs to Be on Every Chocolate Lover's Bucket List
If there's a better place for chocolate lovers, well, then I haven't been there. Cacao is an emporium of all things chocolate, including shelves of gilded chocolates and artfully wrapped bars, many of which you've probably never seen before, and a menu of drinking chocolates served in little mugs.
Don't let the wide array overwhelm you—the shop is meant for exploration. In fact, owners Aubrey Lindley and Jesse Mannis will let you sample anything you want. "We don't want people to think they're getting ripped off by fancy chocolate," said Lindley, who gave us a tour of the shop one recent morning.
They opened in 2006 when they realized the conversation about chocolate was evolving. People were starting to talk about chocolate like it was coffee or beer, valuing craft ingredients and small-batch production. So small, some were being made in the chocolatiers' basement.
The shop showcases chocolates from all over the world, with special attention paid to ones made locally in Portland. Woodblock Chocolates, for example, was started by a husband-and-wife team of woodworkers. The packaging is very stylized and clean, and eye-catching in a way that so many micro-batch chocolate wrappers are, but Lindley cares more about how the chocolate actually tastes. He's really selective about what makes it into the store.
Woodblock felt pretty tame compared to Xocolatl de David, made by a former sous chef at Park Kitchen. David Briggs isn't a sweet-tooth person so he likes to experiment with animal fats. He has a whole "Pig" line with bacon caramel sauce and a bar made with Iberico pig lard. "He's pushing the boundaries with alternate fats in chocolates," said Lindley.
Another made-in-Portland chocolate: CocaNu. "This is poetry," said Lindley as he spread out all of the square-shaped bars in front of us, each of them wax-sealed by Sebastian Cisneros, the chocolatier himself. He makes the Palo Santo Bar by infusing a block of the wood, burned for ceremonial purposes, into the chocolate. "Woman in villages in Ecuador smell like this holy wood." It was smoky in a wood-burning way and, admittedly, it did have some transportive powers.
Another spiritual chocolate experience: the Buddha, ganesha, and hamsa hands, made from special molds by Alma. She gilds them and they become truly stunning chocolate creations. (She also makes hedgehog shapes.)
Some people come in just for a little mug of drinking chocolate. Thick, rich, and heady, it comes in three flavors: dark chocolate, cinnamon dark chocolate, and spicy dark chocolate, available as a flight if you need to try the trio (which you should). Each little sip coats all of your insides as it goes down.
All of this chocolate reverence may seem a little silly, but if you're a die-hard chocolate enthusiast, you must visit this place. Really, it's imperative.