Seattle is brimming over with chocolate. A dog-eared copy of the February 2013 chocolate issue of Seattle Magazine made my friend Leslie's eyes glisten and prompted her sister, Marilyn, to drive us on our own tour.
We started at Theo Chocolate in the Fremont neighborhood, where you get to see how chocolate is made from pod to bar. Theo's is only 1 of 20 chocolate makers in the United States, so this is an exciting opportunity.
The tour starts with a chocolate tasting, where I learned that orange essential oil greatly softens the bitter taste of 70% chocolate. But I still prefer milk chocolate.
Our enthusiastic tour guide reminded us that recent studies have shown the health benefits of dark chocolate but that all chocolate still plays an important role in our diet: "Dark chocolate is healthy for your body," she said. "Milk chocolate is healthy for your soul."
After a sit-down lecture in the tasting room, and still wearing dorky hairnets (guys with beards have to wear even dorkier beard nets), we traveled through the factory to follow the process of crushing cocoa pods and producing streams of liquid chocolate.
I was enchanted by the idea of a chocolate pipeline (see first photo above).
The tour naturally leads you into the shop, which is filled with everything a chocolate lover could want. You can sample chocolate bars, buy truffles, or simply stand and breathe in deeply.
A former employee of Theo's branched out on her own to create a delightful cafe in Ballard that specializes in molten chocolate cakes, called Hot Cakes.
I stood mesmerized by the seemingly endless choices available on the menus boards.
Outside a sign announced "smoked drinking chocolate," but after trying a sample of the smoked chocolate chips, I wasn't impressed. To me, smoke flavor belongs on food coming off a BBQ grill.
I finally gave in to butterbeer. It's not chocolate, but being a huge Harry Potter fan, I've been wanting to taste this beverage. I was not disappointed!
Hot Cakes butterbeer is made with butterscotch, apple juice, and ginger. For fizz, kids get ginger ale added, but I opted for the adult version with sparkling wine.
I was blown away at how authentic I thought this was. I can easily imagine Fred and George sneaking it back to the dorms. I wish I could apparate so I could enjoy this whenever I wanted.
This time of year, you can buy a bottle of the mix (add your own sparkle) in limited quantities. If you live close enough so you wouldn't have to apparate to get here, I highly recommend rushing to Ballard and stocking up.
Tucked into a side street near Greenlake is George Paul Chocolates. It's kind of hard to find parking, even in the middle of the week, but I suggest persevering because you'll want to visit this shop.
George Paul was there today, describing his chocolates and how he makes them and explaining that he really likes doing what he does.
On the counter is a cocoa pod, which is the size of a football. As we learned at Theo's, it takes 2 to 4 of these to make 1 bar of chocolate.
You'll also want to look at George Paul's fabulous tablet selection. They are embedded with all sorts of interesting items, including Hawaiian sea salt and pineapple.
I was tempted by the wide selection of imaginative hot chocolate flavors, but I opted for a salted caramel ice cream cone to enjoy on the way home.
It's hard to choose, but you can't go wrong here!
So that was my day with chocolate. I urge you to make up your own tour. Even if your stop at only one place, you won't regret your indulgence.