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IMG_0032Last weekend I had the pleasure of attending the inaugural DC Chocolate Festival, which is exactly what it sounds like. Given the crowds and the fact that the event sold out, I think it’s safe to say that this will become an annual event. Lucky us!

Touted as “the first East Coast chocolate festival focusing on bean-to-bar chocolate and chocolatiers,” the event was organized by The Chocolate House (previously Cocova), a chocolate shop in Dupont Circle, and held at the Westin in downtown DC. No offense to the Westin, but I hope they move the event to a larger space in the future.

Yummy caramels from John & Kira's.

Yummy caramels from John & Kira’s.

In addition to chocolate vendors sampling and selling their products, the event featured workshops where you could learn about the different aspects of making chocolate and being in the chocolate business. We attempted to attend one of the workshops, but after standing in line for about 15 minutes, the seats had all been filled by people in front of us in line, and it was standing-room-only. I wasn’t about to stand up listening to a 45-minute lecture, so we bailed. It appeared that there were only about 30 seats in the room to begin with. Being their first year, I’m sure the organizers were uncertain how much demand there would be for both the workshops and the event as a whole. Now that they know, I suspect they will adjust for next year.

The main attraction was the ballroom with the chocolate vendors—chocolatiers, as they are known. (But please, if you’re going to call them chocolatiers, use the correct French pronunciation: shaw-koh-la-tee-eh. Don’t call them “chock-la-teers,” as one booth staffer was doing. They’re not Musketeers. If the French is too much for you, just call them chocolate-makers.)

Brasstown, from North Carolina.

Brasstown, from North Carolina.

There were 26 chocolate vendors on-site, including the four primary sponsors: The Chocolate House, Valrhona, Michel Cluizel, and Amedei. I was super excited to see Amedei there because I love, love, love their chocolate. Based in Italy, it’s been deemed the “best in the world,” and I have to agree. I get Amedei every year on my birthday because I have an awesome husband. Even the guys at the Amedei booth were impressed that he buys it for me every year (it’s pricey, but worth it for a special occasion).

Until last weekend, I didn’t think it was possible for me to have “too much” chocolate. But after visiting about 20 vendor booths, I was definitely done for. Each booth had a variety of samples, and I didn’t even try them all! Some booths had chocolate-caramel samples, and those are my absolute fav. I think that’s what did me in.

From the Chouquette website.

From the Chouquette website.

I was happy to see that my favorite local caramel purveyor, Chouquette, was part of the festival. They’re based in Bethesda, Maryland, and I discovered them about two years ago when I was researching wedding favors for a client. They have a specialty pack that features DC monuments. The owner, Sarah Dwyer, is super nice (and I met her at the event!), and their caramels are to die for—very soft, creamy caramel surrounded by delicious chocolate. I love their original vanilla/sea salt, but I bought the special Guinness-flavored caramels for MixMasterRhead last year for Valentine’s Day. They even have an Old Bay-spiced version, as any good Marylander should!

IMG_0024Some of my other favorites are below. Bars ranged in price from $7 to $12, and caramel assortments ranged from $5 to $50, depending on how many pieces and how elaborate they were. All in all, pricing was in line with what you would expect from high-end chocolate purveyors.

Charm School Chocolate (based in Baltimore) – 70% Dark Belize with Jalapeño, Nibs and Sea Salt

Undone Chocolate (made in DC)- Himalayan Pink Salt, 72% Cacao

Potomac Chocolate (from Woodbridge, Virginia) – 70% San Martín Peru Single Origin

Chocotenango (another DC company)- 72% Dark Chocolate with Cardamom

Pacari (from Ecuador)- Lemongrass and Goldenberry (both dark chocolate)

Cacao Prieto (based in Brooklyn)- Mandarin & Bergamot and Vanilla & Cassia (and their packaging was Best in Show as far as I’m concerned!)

Upchurch Chocolate – The Party Bar, 72% Tanzania Single Origin

John & Kira’s (made in Philadelphia, but I won’t hold that against them) – their chocolates and caramels are notable for the whimsical and elaborate shapes, like butterflies and mushrooms

Shameless Chef (made in DC) – they make these delicious little nuggets called Dream Bites. I don’t know exactly what’s in them, but they’re kind of like a cakey brownie chocolate concoction. Yum!

IMG_0029Much like attending a wine tasting, it’s best to pace yourself, have some food in the middle of the day, and don’t make any purchases until you’ve tasted a fair number of offerings. Rhead encouraged me to take notes as we went so I could remember which were my favorites. He was really just trying to prevent me from buying ALL THE CHOCOLATE. (Funny story: when he made the suggestion, my response was, “Oh, but I don’t have a pen!” He said, “You have a phone, don’t you?” Duh. Ain’t technology grand?)

If you’re a fan of chocolate and you get a chance to attend a chocolate festival, I highly recommend it. It was great fun and introduced me to a lot of chocolate purveyors I had never heard of. Much like Marilyn Monroe discovering new places to wear diamonds, I just love discovering new chocolate!

IMG_0026IMG_0027(All photos are mine unless otherwise indicated.)

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