Each Sunday, I follow a ritual of making cup of cocoa with a mixture of Dagoba’s hot chocolate, cocoa powder, Xocolatl and a little vanilla. The drink cheers my heart and gives me a little boost in the midst of a sleepy afternoon. While this drink cools my burning addiction to chocolate for a moment, it tastes more like a tonic than the typical hot chocolate you’ll find at any number of chocolate shops. These shops have appeared overnight like mushrooms. Look for a chocolate shop coming to your neighborhood soon. Speaking of fungus, Starbucks briefly attempted to provide a unique, delicious chocolate drink with their Chantico product. It had some merit as a genuinely creative approach to a chocolate drink. After only a year on the market, the product died because customers couldn’t customize it with a variety of pretentiously named options. And it didn’t help sell music.
After confessing my deep and abiding love for a good cup of cocoa, Dave Monk suggested a trip to the Bittersweet Chocolate Cafe on College Avenue in North Oakland’s Rockridge district. I had a such a ho-hum experience with Viva Chocolat in Petaluma that I thought it couldn’t possibly be that great. Dave did me wrong. An injury in fact. I walked into the Bittersweet Cafe, plunked down $3.75 and tried a cup of chocolate simply named Bittersweet. While waiting for the preparation of my drink, I ogled the unbelievable array of chocolate bars on the wall. I walked out of the cafe as a complete addict. The young woman behind the counter called it a European style hot chocolate without milk. I don’t know what I’d call it. Every single drop became precious to me. My precious, my precious. My brain screamed out, yes, yes, more of that stuff. Now. Now is good. An hour later, I could still taste a wonderful citrus finish. Bittersweet doesn’t cater to the cheap grocery store addict. Bittersweet aims squarely for people who’d dump $24 in one week on hot chocolate.
For the rest of the week I looked for any excuse to stop in at the Bittersweet Cafe and get me a cuppa dat stuff. Let’s see, I’m in San Francisco near the courthouse. You know, I forgot to recycle that piece of paper at the office in Berkeley. I should stop in at the office on my way home. And hey, Berkeley is near Oakland, oh, you know, I should just stop in at the Bittersweet Cafe and have a little chocolate drinky-poo. By the end of the week, a flight into Los Angeles might just have been a good enough excuse to find my way to the Bittersweet Cafe in Oakland. I tried all of the major variations of chocolate drink. Each offered a unique and interesting approach. The Champarado offered the most unique take on chocolate with a hint of corn masa in it. After finding an excuse to bring my wife to the Bittersweet Cafe, she didn’t have the same magnetic reaction that I did. I think her brain must have erected a large concrete bunker around the area vulnerable to chocolate addiction. So your mileage may vary.
An upside exists for chocolate addiction. Recent research shows that chocolate has a number of a health benefits. According to Andrew Weil’s newsletter, chocolate can increase blood flow, reduce blood pressure, improve HDL “good” cholesterol and decrease some of the negative impacts of LDL “bad” cholesterol. Unfortunately, the candy industry has funded much of the popular research available making much of the data tainted. I found it difficult to sort out the details of the actual health benefits while searching for additional information.
Like many foods, the problem seems to lie in quantity and quality. Except for fresh fruit of course. Eat as much fresh fruit as you like. Even more than you want, actually, fresh, unprocessed fruit really is good for you. The chocolate bars at the check stand can make life hard for addicts. Rise above, brothers and sisters, cheap chocolate offers you no good. These chocolate bars contain so little cocoa and contain so much fat as well as high fructose corn syrup that any health benefits have been lost.
The chocolate should contain at least 70% cocoa. The cocoa contains the beneficial antioxidant flavanols and not the sugar or fat. Funny that. When you try the 70% cocoa, you may find that the chocolate feels a little dry in your mouth. For my birthday, my friends brought dozens of chocolate bars. I had some positively luscious 56% cocoa chocolate. The 56% chocolate felt luscious because of the high fat content. Fat gives food–chocolate in particular–that luscious mouthfeel. It also makes your blood into a luscious thick layer of cement in your veins. So pick chocolates with higher percentages of cocoa and lower percentages of saturated fat to feed your addiction and get the health benefits too. Also, I prefer to have just about 1/2 an ounce of chocolate a day. This low amount keeps the saturated fat to about 15% of your daily allowance and the calories down to about 60 – 70–an acceptable amount if the rest of the meal isn’t also high in fat. Both the Dagoba Conacado and Amano Ocumare fall into this category and provide a nice little health benefit as well as soothing the addiciton to chocolate.