The sweet smell of chocolate
By Johnston M. Mitchell | Photography by Coreene Kreiser

The sweet acidic aroma of cooking cacao fills the air at Grocer’s Daughter Chocolate in Empire, where visiting customers often pause when they enter to let their senses take over. They may crinkle their noses as they breathe it all in, noting the chocolatiers behind the counter in the shop’s open kitchen and the abundant assortment of chocolates to choose from.

In the shop this day, a woman reaches for one of the 70 percent dark chocolate samples on a small tasting table. Fingering a chocolate disk the size of a nickel, she snaps it in two, and gently rubs her thumb against one half, and then sniffs the fragrance before sliding a piece on to her tongue.

Above: Jody Hayden leads customers through a chocolate tasting. Top right: Chocolate samples are offered to customers.


Seventy percent dark chocolates help visitors discover the concept of “terroir,” according to the owners, nature’s unique blend of soil, climate and topography. Each chocolate is from a region known for growing the rare variety of cocoa that is unique to Ecuador. Each has a distinct taste profile.

“Chocolate is an epiphany of taste,” said Jody Dotson, one of the owners. “People are reliving their nostalgia of having chocolate as a kid.  A more sophisticated taste for chocolate is evolving as they become more educated about its flavor.”

The Manabi dark chocolate represents the middle ground, she said, not super chocolatey, not so fruity. It has some cacao as its backbone and offers the largest span of flavors when tasting it. Los Rios chocolate samples have fruity notes. They have been  “flash roasted” for minimal processing. Los Rios is considered a raw chocolate. The Esmeraldas chocolates on the tasting table are the most “chocolate-forward” of the three — more of what people expect in a more traditional fine cacao flavor.

“There are all kinds of roast profiles in chocolate, just like you would find in coffee,” said DC Hayden, the shop’s other owner…
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