For five years, Lauren Adler has steered customers to the finest chocolates she can source world-wide. At her Chocolopolis store on Queen Anne (1527 Queen Anne Ave. N.), she features more than 200 different bars organized by geographical origin, and holds regular chocolate tastings and producer events to hone customers’ palates.
Now, she sells a particularly notable series of Seattle chocolate bars alongside displays that highlight the cherry notes of Madagascar beans or the smoky flavors of bars from Southeast Asia. It’s her own Chocolopolis line, and she’s started to distribute the bars to specialty shops like PCC Natural Markets, with plans for a wider retail audience. Chocolopolis also produces a line of chocolate bars for Tom Douglas’s new downtown market.
“It’s such a really high bar for us,” Adler said (no pun intended). “When we’re creating our own, we’re all perfectionists.”
Adler has focused on chocolate education at her shop since opening day in 2008, intent on showing how different chocolates really can taste as distinct and as nuanced as different wines. It’s about information to her, not chocolate snobbery. The house-made candies are as simple as a peanut-butter filled turtle that kids can love without caring it’s made with high-end Valhrona chocolate, and as grownup as a house-made anise ganache fig where “we specifically chose a black mission fig because it has a wonderful molasses note that pairs beautifully with the licorice notes of star anise and dark chocolate.”
After five years, Adler said she is not intimidated by putting her shop’s own creations alongside the best she can find.
“We’ve built our palates, we’ve built our credibility in the industry and among our customers…” she said.
“I have great confidence that what we’re producing really is world class.”
She’s in the middle of a Kickstarter campaign to raise money for a prosaic but expensive prerequisite to distribute the chocolates to a wider audience – designing and producing appropriate packaging for retail sales. As of Monday, the campaign had raised more than $17,000 toward the $27,500 goal.
“We’re often asked why not get a bank loan. People who work for larger, more established companies don’t realize that it’s difficult for small businesses that haven’t been around for a while to get a loan,” she said.
An unexpected bonus of the process, though, has been seeing the sweet results of the years of weekly tastings, educational events, and meet-the-chocolatier sessions. Customers who have become more like friends over the years have lent their well-developed tastes to critiquing and improving prototypes. Fans have signed up for Kickstarter pledges and called in their friends. And, in an “incredibly wonderful and exciting” boon, three Chocolopolis entries were named as finalists in the U.S. division of the International Chocolate Awards, a young but well-respected competition. (Adler knows that the white chocolate and lavender ganache truffle is one of the finalists, but there are two other categories where she doesn’t know which entries made the cut. She’ll find out when winners are announced in September.)
Adler has sold house-made confections and a signature spicy hot chocolate at the store since Chocolopolis opened. But the bar was raised in 2010 when chocolatiers Dominica and Sebastian Falcon joined the company, both graduates of the Culinary Institute of America who had worked as pastry chefs at prominent Seattle restaurants like Canlis.
The packaged chocolate bars – also all made by hand — come in several flavors, including a chile-spice bar based on the same mix as the shop’s drinking chocolate, and an “Orchard Bar” whose toppings include Lynden-grown du Chilly hazelnuts and dried tart cherries.
“When you’re putting this product out there, it’s very personal…” Adler said. “We give a lot of feedback to other artisans. We’re in the hot seat now too.”
Hot as it may be, she’s glad to be there.
“We opened right when the economy tanked. It’s been a rough 5 years…” she said. “It’s nice when you step back and you do something like this and you see how many people are really excited about it.”
Chocolopolis usually offers free “happy hours” from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Thursdays focused on different single-origin chocolates or cacao-growing regions. The Chocolopolis chocolate bars will be featured at the next happy hour, from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Aug. 1, and samples of the shop’s truffles and confections will be featured from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Aug. 8.