Well-versed in the virtues of craft beer, spirits, cheese, charcuterie and, of course, coffee, Rose City residents also enjoy the fruits of the city’s other bean scene: craft chocolate. Wielding homemade winnowers and repurposed grain mills, stringently sourced single-origin cacao beans and a pioneering spirit, bean-to-bar chocolatiers are pushing Portland to the forefront of the country’s cacao circuit. To experience their delicious work firsthand, book a behind-the-scenes chocolate factory tour, drop in for a drinking chocolate flight and stock up on bars at local retail shops.
If you visit the famously well-curated Cacao chocolate shop in downtown Portland, you can’t miss chocolatier Sebastian Cisneros’ Cocanú collection: a neat row of perfectly square 25-gram chocolate tiles labeled with flavor profiles like “dark chocolate, baked milk, bee pollen” and “dark chocolate, hazelnuts, fernet,” and stamped with a fleur de lis of sealing wax, a la 19th century love letters.
Quito, Ecuador-born Cisneros is no stranger to cacao. While interning at a nearby web design firm, he’d frequent the shop on his way to work. One day it hit him: his true passion lay with cacao and not coding, and he landed a job at the chocolate shop. For five years, he worked with the best bars in the world by day, while developing his own at night.
Sourcing beans from his native country, as well as Bolivia and Venezuela, Cisneros crafts nine signature bars, from the single-origin Cloudforest to playful inclusions like the cacao nib and Pop Rocks-studded Moonwalk. When his schedule permits, Cisneros offers tours of his inner Southeast Portland production space by appointment; call 503-897-8247.(Photo courtesy of Cocanú)
After farming raspberries in Washington for nearly two decades, Tim and Janet Straub were ready for a change. Deciding to take their chocolate-making hobby to the next level, they opened a mini chocolate factory and retail shop in the midst of Portland’s busy Lloyd District. Walk into Creo Chocolate, and you’ll find the entire family at work: Tim filling chocolate molds, Janet leading a tour and son Kevin French-pressing a cup of their signature brewed cacao.
The Straubs’ chocolate bars are made with rare heirloom cacao beans, which they source directly from a single farm in Ecuador. They handcraft each with a cast of creatively jury-rigged equipment, which includes a “Crankandstein” beer grain mill powered by a cordless screwdriver and a Willy Wonka-esque self-designed winnower. You can see all of this on the one of the behind-the-scenes factory tours — and yes, eating is included (book here).(Photo courtesy of Creo Chocolate)
Pitch Dark Chocolate
Founder Brian Flick’s obsession with the food of the gods goes back to his freshman year in high school, when the 14-year-old budding entrepreneur started his first confections company, making truffles for weddings and corporate events. In the years since, Pitch Dark Chocolate has become one of the most recognizable names in the city’s white-hot food scene.
Today, Flick’s line of bars (15 and rapidly counting) is made with beans sourced from Nicaragua, Ecuador, Madagascar and Fiji, where Flick did his grad school field work, helping to rehabilitate the Fijian cacao industry. Flick’s bars, truffles and drinking chocolate can be found at his Rose City Park retail space — try the potent 99% Nicalizo, and the Pinot Noir Salt and Chocolate bar, made with Portland-based Jacobsen Salt Co.’s Oregon Coast-harvested sea salt infused with Willamette Valley pinot noir.(Photo by Robbie McClaran)
Ranger Chocolate Company
After a year of experimenting with mini melangers and homemade winnowers in their makeshift laundry room headquarters, Ranger Chocolate Company chocolatiers Patrick and Rhonda Zender, George Domurot and David Beanland were ready for larger, lint-free digs, so they joined forces with Trailhead Coffee Roasters’ Charlie Wicker to open the city’s first combination coffee roastery and chocolate factory, fronted by bustling Cup & Bar cafe and tasting room.
Using organic beans from Peru, Brazil and Haiti, the team crafts eight distinctive bars in their airy inner Southeast production space, from the earthy 70% San Martín and potent 100% Tumbes, to the rotating “Wildcard” bar. Factory tours ($10-$20) are held every other Saturday afternoon, and end with either a cup of rich dark drinking chocolate paired with seltzer water and whipped cream, or a wine and chocolate pairing. Sign up for scheduled tours here, call 503-575-7043 to schedule a private group tour, or just pop into Cup & Bar on a drizzly Portland morning and sip a Dirty Charlie (espresso piled with foam and chocolate shavings) as you watch the factory’s inner workings through the viewing window in the back of the cafe.(Photo by NashCO)
The first on Portland’s bean-to-bar block, husband and wife chocolate-making team Charley and Jessica Wheelock opened their “manufactory” in 2010. In a quiet inner Southeast residential neighborhood, they craft Woodblock Chocolate bars with a hodgepodge of cleverly repurposed machinery that includes a refurbished turn-of-the-century peanut roaster.
On a mission to produce impeccably sourced, “face-meltingly delicious” chocolate, the duo puts out a line of petite, beautifully branded bars found all over Portland and in boutiques and markets from Sweden to Japan. To see the factory in motion and stock up on Dark Milk and Toasted Sesame bars, drinking chocolate and “Roasties” (unshelled, roasted Madagascar cocoa beans), visit their Buckman headquarters, which will soon relocate to a bigger space in the Irvington neighborhood.(Photo by Robbie McClaran)
Cacao Chocolate Shop
Jesse Manis and Aubrey Lindley’s sleek and scholarly Cacao chocolate shop, in Portland’s hip West End neighborhood, is a must stop for supreme bean seekers. Here you’ll find hometown heroes such as Cocanú and Woodblock mingling with national and international chocolate luminaries from Patric to Pralus, and confections by other renowned local chocolatiers Xocolatl de Davíd, Alma Chocolate and Batch PDX.(Photo by Susan Seubert)