Friday, April 9, 2010

Chocolate Pain - Cacao Atlanta

Did I seriously just take out a loan to buy some chocolates? Cacao is a small boutique chocolate shop nestled in the side of a building in the Inman Park commercial district. Since its inception in this location, "foodies" have embraced the chocolatiers like their own children - waxing ecstatic about their child's bean to bar accomplishments that they learned in college while studying abroad. Let me say this - there is a fine line between knowing what you're talking about and jumping on the bandwagon because of price and impressive techniques. I'm afraid that many Atlanta gastronomes have fallen into the latter category. After all, you get what you pay for, right? I fear that if some of the most seasoned and experienced palates gathered in a room and took a blind taste test between Russell Stover's and Cacao's offerings, Mr. Stover might take home the gold.
I couldn't help but be reminded of the scene in Half Baked where Thurgood wants to score some weed:
Dealer - You want highs, mediums or lows ?
Thurgood - How are the highs, man ?
Dealer - I say they got a piney taste, almostminty. Notice the little red hairs.
Thurgood - Yeah.
Dealer - And the rich greenery?
Thurgood - I see those.
Dealer - It's definitely the highest grade hydroponics in the city.
Thurgood - What'd you go to weed college?
Cacao is a small boutique chocolate shop nestled in the side of a building in the Inman Park commercial district. They are one of the very few groups that actually hand select their beans and produce a finished, chocolate product. It's impressive. Read one of the many press articles featuring owner Kristen Hard, and you will think that their chocolate must be as world class as it sounds.
Upon entering the storefront, I was greated by a chocolate scientist draped in a white, choclate-dusted lab coat. The scientist was actually very helpful in informing me about where their current batch of beans was from and informed me of the flavors that I should be looking for when sampling their selection - smokey and tobacco-y. I can absolutely attest to the fact that you can taste these subtleties in their product. Admitedly, I felt like high society at three moments in this visit. The first was the chocolate schooling I received and very thorough explanations of the products. The second time was when I selected the truffles, they were literally placed on a silver platter before being dropped in the bag. Lastly, when I was rung up at the register - $35 dollars later I was bringing home one of their Love Bars and 8 truffles.
If there is anything Cacao has done unquestionably correct, it's naming their business because their chocolate, much like the unprocessed cacao, is extremely bitter. I understand there is a certain amount of pride taken in procuring your own beans and you want to showcase the individuality of the harvest, but both the bar and the truffles really could have benefited from some more sugar.
If you do go, my only suggestion is to try the Love Bar. It is Cacao's signature product and each one is wrapped in a dainty note from Kristen Hard explaining how much work went into the bar. The flavors of the Dominican beans were most prominent in the bar and frankly, it was the tastiest of the sampling that I took home. The bitterness is certainly a little understandable as the bar is 75% cacao which is 10% more than what you can usually get in most stores. By the way, it's $8. This ain't no Snickers.
The truffles use wonderfully unique and epicurean flavors and ingredients but the bitterness is so overwhelming it's hard to enjoy them. The tree-shaped cardamom and rosemary was unbearably bitter (I thought this would be one of my favorites). On the other side of the spectrum, the "Harmonize" featuring clove honey, crunchy peanut butter, and dark chocolate ganache was actually sublime if not a little bitter (expected by this point). The "Lotus Sutra" was a ginger filled mini-buddha thats belly even has a piece of candied ginger - another one of Cacao's better choices.
I can see it now, a bunch of yuppies rolling up to Cacao in their Audi's, BMW's, and sweater vests. Don't worry, they're in Inman Park, they've got street-cred! They all gather, make their selections and take their chocolates to the outdoor seating. Everyone simultaneously takes their first bite and they are caught off guard by the bitterness. They all eye each other suspiciously and the head, self-proclaimed foodie of the group rejoices, "This is divine! The most scrumptulescent morsel I've ever tasted!" Everyone else chimes in, "Yes, yes! A chocolate masterpiece!"

Cacao also offers a number of other items including ice cream, hot chocolates, and chocolate dipped fruit at $85 a pound! I truly believe that Atlantan's have been duped into buying extremely expensive chocolate because the employees at Cacao talk a good game. If it tastes unpleasantly bitter to everyone, it's not an unrefined palate that's the problem. I've eaten a lot of chocolate in my day, both high-end and low brow options and I can honestly say Cacao ranks right in the bottom tier of my experiences.

Cacao on Urbanspoon


  1. I like my chocolate very bitter; in that case, would you say it's worth it?

  2. i likemy chocolate bitter too. can you give me an example of a product you like and perhaps i can compare the two?

  3. I thought the whole point of high-quality chocolate was to preserve its bitter essence. Sugary, milk chocolate is a distinctly American drugstore counter purchase. I remember I had a client in Prague who worked for Danone/Opavia and she always delighted in telling me how, against her advice, her company introduced American-style sugar-loaded milk chocolate products to the European market and no one bought them. They just languished on the shelves.
    Quality foods require refined palates. Maybe you don't have one. Maybe you should stick to a Snickers.

  4. the cacao bean is processed to taste better - one of the elements in this processing is sweetening. even the fine chocolate in prague is sweetened more than what cacao atlanta is offering. i agree that bitter is good but it should be sweetened to be enjoyed like many other edible delights which would otherwise, be abysmal. there is art in restraint. but there is also art in preparation. when art is bad it treads on the extremes of this spectrum. it's obvious where i think cacao lies.

  5. Very belatedly...85% cacao content doesn't phase me if the chocolate's good. Anything less than 60% is way too sweet.

  6. If 85% doesn't phase you, try Cacao. But let me know what you think afterwards!