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 have put Portland at the forefront of the country’s cacao circuit.
Ecuador-born chocolatier Sebastian Cisneros’ spent five years working with the best bars in the world at famously well-curated downtown Portland chocolate shop Cacao (now shuttered but never forgotten by chocophiles both near and far) before debuting his own line in 2009.
Irresistible to both the eye and the palate, his exquisitely packaged, pocket-size Cloudforest chocolate tiles bear deliciously distinct tasting notes like “dark chocolate, baked milk, bee pollen” and “dark chocolate, hazelnuts, fernet,” and are stamped with a fleur-de-lis of sealing wax, reminiscent of 19th-century love letters.
Besides Ecuadorian cacao and coffee, Cisneros also imports vanilla from his native country, and its uniquely bold, floral flavor is one of the reasons his homemade chocolate chip cookies have developed something of a cult following. Pop into the cheery pastel-paint-splashed inner-Southeast Portland corner cafe that Cisneros shares with natural wine bar Mattino’s, and order one with a cup of the classic dark cocoa or rich, melty drinking chocolate (toasted-to-order vanilla-bean marshmallow on top optional but recommended).
(Photo courtesy of Cloudforest)
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 Lloyd District. At Creo Chocolate 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.
The family’s labor of chocolove has clearly paid off; since starting Creo Chocolate in 2014, the Straubs’ bars have swept over 100 awards from esteemed industry organizations like the Academy of Chocolate and the Good Food Foundation.
Using rare heirloom cacao beans sourced directly from a single farm in Ecuador, they turn out a tempting lineup of bars, truffles, salted caramels, drinking chocolate and confections like dark chocolate-covered malt balls and black-sesame-seed brittle, all on display at their Northeast Portland retail shop. For a peek behind the cacao curtain, book the 90-minute chocolatier-guided factory tour, where guests design their own bar to take home.(Photo courtesy of Creo Chocolate)
Portland Chocolate Laboratory
Since they began selling their herb- and botanical-infused chocolate online nearly a decade ago, chocolatiers and entrepreneurs Ayomide and Kian Nikzi have been bringing good cacao and good vibes to Southeast Portland’s Sellwood neighborhood, where they now run Milieu, a creative consortium of sustainably minded makers that’s also home to their retail chocolate shop, the Portland Chocolate Laboratory.
Emphasizing the global, spiritual and medicinal properties of chocolate, the couple aims to create an ethereal experience. Their Dream Chocolate set leads those seeking edible insight through a three-night dream workshop via an illustrated guidebook and a trio of chocolates infused with sleep- and dream-inducing herbs like lavender and valerian. The Ayurveda-inspired Chakralot box’s seven chocolates — one for each chakra — are designed to be eaten in step with an online guided meditation, available on their site.(Photo courtesy of Portland Chocolate Laboratory)
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 in 2015 they opened Ranger Chocolate Co., a bona fide chocolate factory in a handsome brick-walled Central Eastside Industrial District building that shares the block with hip hostel-hotel hybrid KEX.
Using organic fair-trade cacao beans, the team crafts an ever-rotating collection of bars both classic and experimental, from the single-origin 70% Mexico bar made with heirloom beans from Mexico’s storied Soconusco region to the playful rice, galangal and coconut cream-infused Thai bar. For a front-row view of the roasting, cracking and conching action, get cozy in the cafe with a decadent s’more mocha and housemade cast-iron skillet campfire biscuit; or, if simply observing won’t suffice, get hands-on with the factory’s two-hour workshop, which includes an in-depth tour, a chocolate drum tasting and four DIY bars.(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 residential neighborhood, they craft Woodblock Chocolate bars with a hodgepodge of cleverly repurposed machinery that includes a refurbished turn-of-the-century peanut roaster.
Now settled in a lovingly restored, light-filled “manufactory” in a historic Southeast Portland neighborhood, the couple’s creative process is on full display via a wall of windows separating the heavenly smelling production space from a bright cafe slinging cups of velvety whipped cream-capped drinking chocolate.
As part of a creative collaboration with Amity’s Brooks Wine, the cafe becomes Bons Amis wine bar on weekend afternoons, serving relaxed no-reservations-required wine-and-chocolate pairings. Sip a quartet of the biodynamic winery’s pinot noirs expertly matched with Woodblock confections, or opt for a sweet or savory chocolate-and-riesling tasting.(Photo by Robbie McClaran)
It’s not uncommon to hear first-timers (and even many-timers) gasp upon entering these three beautifully designed Portland gourmet-goods boutiques. Sudden confrontation with a towering wall of chocolate can have that effect.
The Meadow’s James Beard Award-winning owner, Mark Bitterman, has authored four culinary-themed books on salt and sells an unparalleled array of craft salts and seasonings in the shops, but no less meticulous attention has been paid to his shops’ eye-popping, heart-palpitating array of chocolate bars, mixing the many Portland-crafted chocolates and other Oregon chocolatiers (like Southern Oregon’s quirky Lillie Belle Farms) with bean-to-bar luminaries from around the globe.
If buying one of everything isn’t an option for you, join the shop’s Chocolate Club and let the experts curate your home chocolate library.
(Photo courtesy of The Meadow)