San Francisco never disappoints

It had been many years since my last trip to San Francisco, so I was glad that there are enough terrific chocolate makers in this remarkable city to warrant a return trip. It was as beautiful as I’d remembered.

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Approaching San Francisco on the ferry.

I loved taking the ferry from Oakland to San Fran, as the views as you approach the city are stunning. Lots of interesting architecture, boats and ferries coming and going. A real hub of activity.

When we got off the ferry, we headed straight for the old Ferry Building that is now occupied as the Marketplace, with all sorts of businesses, including the Wild West Fungi fresh mushroom shop, which I found to really unique! I’ve never seen so many varieties of wild and cultivated mushrooms available in an urban market before.

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Yes, there was good chocolate in the Marketplace as well, but I’ll save that for the next post!

We also enjoyed strolling around Fisherman’s Wharf. The city is celebrating 150 years as a port during 2013 and there was plenty of action happening on the piers and along the wharf.

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Fisherman’s Wharf is a San Francisco landmark.

Taking a Bay Cruise under the Golden Gate Bridge and around Alcatraz Island was a highlight. The US Federal Government had shut down all non-essential services during our visit, so Alcatraz was closed to the public, but we did sail past really close and the old former federal prison appeared eerie, and almost haunted even in the light of day.

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Alcatraz Island was named for the pelicans that once populated the island, now known for its former federal prison.

The city of San Francisco is serviced by two magnificent bridges. The Bay Bridge crosses San Francisco Bay over to Oakland, and is probably best known for being one of the most illuminated bridges in the world with 25,000 white LED bulbs illuminating the bridge at night in a light sculpture designed by Leo Villareal. The Golden Gate Bridge painted bright orange is one of the most photographed bridges on the planet and has the longest suspension bridge main span in the world at 4,200 feet. It really is a sight to behold.

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Sailing under the Golden Gate Bridge is a must for any fan of modern architecture and engineering feats.

There were many more highlights of our trip to San Francisco, but we’ll leave it at that for now, and leave you waiting for that taste of chocolate in our next post. Be sure to visit the week of November 4th or you might miss it!

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Chocolatouring in Oakland, California

As I mention in my book, Chocolatour: A Quest for the World’s Best Chocolate, I love discovering great chocolate in places that are somewhat off the beaten path. So I jumped at the opportunity to discover Oakland, California when planning a visit to San Francisco last month. Oakland is San Francisco’s sister city, located just across the Bay Bridge from the more photogenic and better known Northern California port city made infinitely popular by Tony Bennet’s hit song, “I Left my Heart in San Francisco.” Well, I have to tell you. We left a little piece of our hearts in Oakland, where we had a massive patio room at the Best Western Plus Bayside Hotel overlooking the Oakland Estuary, which runs into San Francisco Bay.

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a view from the Best Western Plus Bayside Hotel in Oakland

After a full day of travelling, we were thrilled to be able to put our feet up and sit on the patio, watching boats of all sizes go by. But the next day was filled with excitement, as we happily took in the Eat Real Food Fest adjacent to Jack London Square, my favourite part of Oakland, where you can dine on fresh seafood and local vintages, shop till you drop, or just enjoy the fabulous sculptures and waterfront scenery.

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A beautiful sunset in Oakland

my picks for the best chocolate in Oakland

But, yes. I was there for the chocolate. And I wasn’t disappointed. I discovered two Oakland chocolate companies that I can wholeheartedly recommend. If you’re looking for some fun in your chocolate, try the Ramona Bar made by Double Dutch Sweets. This was probably my most fun chocolate discovery of the trip. The 1.9 oz (54-gram) Ramona bar is handcrafted with dark chocolate, peanuts, salted caramel and nougat. All certified organic ingredients with no additives or preservatives. It was absolutely delicious, and let me tell you … I didn’t share much more than a small bite of one bar with my traveling companion, Mary Ann. There’s just some of my chocolate stash that I won’t share.

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Another excellent chocolate company that is based in Oakland is Barlovento Chocolates. They had a very busy booth at the Eat Real Food Fest. The sea salt caramels were good, but the Chipotle Almonds covered in 64% Venezuelan Dark Chocolate were awesome! Just a little kick (from the peppers) blended with some of the most delicious chocolate I’ve ever tasted.

And that’s just the beginning of our taste-tempting visit to California! Please join me back here the week of October 21st for our next new post.

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Chocolatouring in California

I recently had the pleasure of attending the Grand Opening of the new premises of Constance Popp Chocolatier of Winnipeg who is now located at 180 Provencher. A great time was had by all, but let me tell you … I won’t be taking these cute chocolate pumps with me to California this week!

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These chocolate shoes from Constance Popp Chocolatier don’t quite took comfortable enough to wear to California.

I’ll be putting on a lot of miles, all in the sake of chocolate. We’ll be starting in Oakland, California, where we’ll attend the Eat Well Fest  and meet some of the local chocolatiers.

We’re then off to San Francisco to meet with Dandelion and Tcho Chocolate, two of the finest in the Bay Area. Each received an award in Chocolatour for their excellence in chocolate bar making.

Then it’s off to wine country, where Susan Cooper has arranged some chocolate and wine pairing events for us.

And we’ll finish the Chocolatour to California with a visit to the Los Angeles International Chocolate Show in Pasadena On October 6th.

Stay tuned for details!

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Peru is a perfect destination for a culturally-rich Chocolatour

If you’re interested in chocolate travel that focuses on where the cocoa is grown and an exploration of the culture and cuisine of the local farmers who grow the cocoa, Peru is a perfect destination for you. Peru is growing an increasing quantity of fine aromatic cocoa, and as a result, some of the most taste-tempting chocolate can be found in this South American country of breath-taking beauty.

Peruvian chocolate remains a personal favourite

I prefer chocolate with fruity notes in its flavour palate, so Peruvian chocolate remains one of my favourites. In previous posts, I’ve introduced you to the beautiful hand-painted chocolates of Roselen, and the tropical flavour offerings from other Peruvian chocolatiers such as Giovanna Maggiolo. In this post, I’d like to introduce you to a Peruvian coffee and chocolate cooperative that focuses on the purity of pure chocolate flavour.

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The Naranjillo Cooperative of Tingo, Maria, Peru, produces some great products … including chocolate!

Cooperativa Agragaria Naranjillo is located in the small city of Tingo Maria and is the largest producer of cocoa in all of Peru. We visited the factory and reception centre and learned that in addition to coffee and cocoa, farmers of the Naranjillo cooperative also produce honey and mead. We tasted the Mead Amazónic, called the “drink of love” as it is said to increase fertility and the likelihood of producing a male child.

I really enjoyed the Naranjillo milk chocolate with cocoa nibs. It was deliciously creamy, with crunchy bits of cocoa nibs to provide an interesting texture and taste. Everything Naranjillo makes is totally pure, with no added soy lecithin or vanilla added to the chocolate, and just a touch of organic cane sugar from Paraguay to take the bitter edge off the pure 100 percent organic chocolate.

Now in its 48th year of operations, there are 3,500 member farmers in the Naranjillo cooperative; 2,000 of those grow cocoa. Many also grow coffee, and I was fortunate to have been first introduced to Naranjillo chocolate a couple of years ago, when friend and coffee roaster extraordinaire Derryl Reid of Green Bean Coffee Imports returned to Manitoba from Peru with Naranjillo coffee and chocolate in hand. I still remember the intensity of tasting the pure 100% chocolate.

Naranjillo has just replaced their equipment with new pieces from around the world and continues to expand and improve their product line. They are also ready to welcome groups interested in experiential travel, so you can be sure that a return visit to Tingo Maria is high on my visit for a future group Chocolatour. We only had one night to spend at the amazing Madera Verde Tourist Hotel. How I wish we’d been there for a week!

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The Madera Verde Tourist Hotel in Tingo Maria, Peru, is a lovely place to stay and connect with nature.

Please join us back here the week of September 23rd for our next new post.

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swept away in the WAVE Interlake Artists’ Tour

I make it a habit on this blog to devote at least one post per year to my own backyard — Manitoba’s Interlake region. And there is no better time to salute the Interlake than during the semi-annual WAVE Interlake Artists’ Studio Tour.

If you live in Winnipeg or near the Interlake and haven’t yet been to the self-guided WAVE Interlake Art Tour, you’re really missing out. Each year, during the second weekend of June and the September long weekend, painters, sculptors, potters, metalworkers, jewellery and clothing makers, photographers, and creatives of many disciplines open their homes and studios to the public so that we can see where they work, how they work, and what inspires them.

I am fortunate to know many of these amazing people personally, but had only been to the studios of a couple of them. I found it really insightful to be able to see their work displayed in the space in which it was created. Now I know why people I know get a kick out of seeing my office and the place where I write my books and articles.

I started at the northern end of the WAVE tour with a visit to Loch Wood Estates and the Blue Door Studio of Marlene Van Helden, a writer, painter, and stained glass artist. I love Marlene’s new offerings this year: her stained glass fish made of bubbled and tempered glass and adorned with metal fins.

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Linda Dorian of Sandy Hook is the photographer known as Raven

I also visited the home of Sandy Hook photographer Linda Dorian, who goes by the professional name of Raven. Linda is one of the most incredible photographers I’ve ever met. And why shouldn’t she be? The world is her canvas, so to speak. Linda lives on the shores of Lake Winnipeg in Sandy Hook and spends hours just watching wildlife and nature from her beautiful beach-front home. No one else captures local wildlife, flora, and fauna better than Raven. If you are a pelican fan as I am, look for Linda’s pelican prints and cards. They are delightful!

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Gayle Halliwell of Studio 410 in Winnipeg Beach.

I was also impressed with Studio 410 in Winnipeg Beach featuring the work of artist Gayle Halliwell. I know Gayle as a fellow member of the Toastmasters in the Arts club which meets Wednesday mornings in Gimli. Gayle is a delightful speaker, but she is also a very talented artist. I like the way Gayle explains her motivation and technique for each piece of art. It gives visitors the opportunity to get inside the head of this highly-creative individual.

That’s just a snapshot of the 46 stops you can visit during the 12th annual WAVE Interlake Artists’ Studio Tour. The WAVE will run Sunday, September 1st from 10 until 6 pm.  Do yourself a favour and spend Sunday riding the WAVE. If you can’t make it, spend some time perusing the WAVE website. It profiles the various artists. You can make future appointments to visit them in their studios, and you can order custom artwork from any of them.

Join us back here the week of September 9th for our next new post. And if you have a moment, do check out the list of Top 100 Canadian Travel Bloggers posted by Flight Network. You’ll find this blog (Diversions with Doreen) listed in the D’s.

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come Chocolatouring with us to Switzerland

Thanks to everyone who has been sending positive reviews and testimonials about Chocolatour. I’ve posted a few of them on the About page at http://chocolatour.net/about/. There are also reviews posted on Goodreads at http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/18323528-chocolatour.  It’s fabulous to have reader feedback so soon after publication of the book. Yes, I will eventually put the book on Amazon and other large outlets, but for now, I’m having fun personally filling your orders for books, and autographing each one of them.

Some really exciting news is that we are planning the first in a series of Chocolatours with readers and members of the Worldly Women Travel Club. If you like the idea of travelling to exciting travel destinations and experiencing some chocolate travel of your own with me as your guide, please subscribe to Chocolatour.net for updates on what we have planned.

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I brought an entire suitcase of chocolate home from Switzerland on my Chocolatour there in 2009.

For our first group Chocolatour, I’m pleased to say that our destination will be Switzerland. There’s truly no better place in the world to experience chocolate, and what’s really exciting is that we will be in Zurich in time to attend the 2014 Salon du Chocolat in Zurich from April 4-6, 2014. If you’ve never attended a Salon du Chocolat, these international chocolate shows are truly the ultimate experience for any serious chocolate lover. There is unlimited sampling at the booths of dozens of top-notch chocolatiers, chocolate-making demonstrations, chocolate art exhibits, and even chocolate haute couture where you can see fashions adorned with chocolate accessories and appliques.

For our Chocolatour, we will depart Winnipeg on March 29th and arrive in Zurich for some visits to chocolate shops and factories, meet some chocolatiers, and do some shopping (Zurich is a fabulous place to shop for chocolate, watches, fashions, and more.) We’ll then head out of the city and visit Basel for more chocolate and wine, and if we can make special arrangements, we hope to ride the Swiss Chocolate Train and visit a cheese factory in Gruyere, and the historic Nestle-Cailler chocolate factory in Broc. We’ll then head back to Zurich in time for the Salon du Chocolat. Exact details of the itinerary and price of the Chocolatour will  be available within the next couple of weeks, but we’ll be officially launching the idea at the Wine & Chocolate Event to be held at the Caboto Centre in Winnipeg on August 20th from 7 – 9 pm. Please register if you plan to attend.

I hope you’ll consider joining us for the event if you live in the Winnipeg area, and for the chocolate tour (Chocolatour) if you like the idea of chocolate exploration  in the country that consumes more chocolate on a per capita basis than any other country in the world. The Swiss really love their chocolate!  It will be a trip to remember, and one that is guaranteed to produce sweet memories–and a lot of laughs, because after all … chocolate makes everyone smile.

Please join us back here the week of August 26th for our next new post.

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growing cacao in the Peruvian jungle in Tocache and Tingo Maria

As much as we enjoyed the Chocolate Salon in Lima, Peru, our journey of chocolate discovery was not to end there. We had been booked on a flight to take us to Tingo Maria, located in Huanuco Province, and also to Tocache, located in the southern part of San Martin Province.

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These Peruvian ladies from Santa Rosa are proud of the products they are now producing. Charita is on the left.

We had been in the northern part of San Martin province last year when we visited Tarapoto and the cocoa farmers of Santa Rosa. How surprising it was to see these ladies whom I had met last year when they welcomed us to their farm. Those of you who already have a copy of Chocolatour will recognize Charita on page 16 in the first volume of the book. Charita and fellow members of the Santa Rosa Cooperative are now making a cocoa drink mixed with various flavourings such as wheat, packaging it, and selling it via shows such as the Salón del Cacao Y Chocolate in Lima and other local markets.

My trip this year was as part of an international delegation of people involved in the chocolate industry who were invited by PromPeru and USAID (the US Agency for International Development) to visit Peru and learn more about its fledgling cocoa industry. I had heard mention of USAID last year on my visit to Peru, but the trip this year reinforced just how important this agency has been in helping Peru rise like a phoenix from the smouldering ashes of the coca industry and reinvent itself as an integral player in the cocoa industry. Peru now grows some of the finest aromatic cocoa in the world, and is determined to make sure the world knows about it. I didn’t need anyone to convince me that Peruvian cocoa makes great chocolate. I learned that last year, when I tasted the chocolate of Orquidea, Roselen, Xocolatl, and others, and knew it was something special.

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Our welcoming committee in Tocache, Peru included a visit from a group of school students who presented us with cocoa pods.

This year, we visited the cocoa growing regions of Tocache and Tingo Maria as key stops along the Ruta del Cacao (Cocoa Route) and were welcomed with great enthusiasm as we learned the intricacies of growing cacao in this part of Peru. It was a fascinating journey, and provided me with more great information for the second volume of Chocolatour and this blog.

We visited several cocoa farms and saw the pride from each of the farmers as they described their growing process and how the harvest is a family and community affair. We met many passionate people who want the world to learn of the quality of their delicious aromatic cocoa.

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Peruvian cocoa farmer showing us the inside of the cocoa pod.

And as in every region I have visited, the cocoa farmers in this region had their own unique challenges. I was surprised to see so many miniature black pods on the cacao trees, and when I asked what they represented, I was told that these were aborted pods. The tree senses how many pods it can nurture to maturation, and aborts the rest. So you will see these tiny black pods on the trees that will just fall off and decompose onto the ground.

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The mini black pop on the right is an abortion.

Please join us back here the week of August 12th when we’ll continuing exploring the world of chocolate.

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Salon del Cacao y Chocolate in Lima, Peru

I was at the Salón del Cacao Y Chocolate in Lima, Peru earlier this month. The three-day event is organized by the Peruvian Association of Cocoa Producers (APPCACAO) and was interesting in that it really gave visitors a chance to meet cacao growers, see and taste cocoa beans (both raw and roasted), and sample a wide assortment of Peruvian chocolate, chocolate mixed with Pisco (Peru’s national brandy-like drink), and other innovative chocolate creations including chocolate sushi!

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Chocolate sushi is just one of the unique chocolate creations you’ll find at Lima’s Chocolate Salon.

This was the fourth annual Chocolate Salon in Lima. Although the show is not as big or elaborate as Chocolate Salons you will find in Paris or London, it really was enjoyable and educational, and gives the chocolate lover an opportunity to learn more about Peru’s cocoa growing industry and the people who are growing aromatic cocoa and making the country’s finest chocolate. There was someone at nearly every booth who spoke English, so even if you don’t speak Spanish you can get by. Afterall, chocolate is the universal language of passion and pleasure.

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Roselen Chocolatier gets the Chocolatour Award for most beautiful hand-painted chocolates

It’s no secret that I am in love with Roselen Chocolatier. I awarded this Lima-based chocolatier the Chocolatour Award of Excellence for most beautiful hand-painted chocolates in volume I of Chocolatour and they were featured in this post from last year’s visit to Lima. Giorgio Demarini has taken the skills he learned in the graphic arts industry and applied his artistic talent to making the chocolates that he and his mother create into delectable works of art. I challenge you to find more beautiful hand-crafted chocolates anywhere on the planet.

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Lisi Montoya of Shattell Chocolate

I also love the chocolates created by Lisi Montoya who owns Shattell Chocolate, a small company she opened in the fall of 2009. Lisi started making chocolates for her clients when she was a travel agent, and they became so popular, she decided to open her own chocolate workshop and offer her chocolates to the world. Because of her passion for travel and her desire to create true perfection, Lisi went to Mexico to learn about enrobing chocolate, and to Paris to learn techniques that would improve her chocolates even more.

I also discovered a great new chocolatier that I missed on my last visit to Lima. Miscelánea Dulces makes cakes, pastries, and delicious chocolates. The truffle that won my heart was Miscelánea’s Plátano y Maracuyá which is banana and passion fruit sauteed with rum and vanilla, and then rolled in 65% Puira white cacao. The fresh flavours exploded with exuberance in my mouth. Miscelánea’s shop is located in the Miraflores area of Lima, where you’ll also find Xocolatl by Giovanna Maggiolo — who in addition to assorted fresh chocolates, also sells a divine chocolate and Pisco liquor.

But by far, what sets the Salón del Cacao y Chocolate of Lima apart from other Chocolate Salons around the world is the opportunity to interact with the cocoa farmers, and see firsthand the beans in their raw state. It brings you just that much closer to the passion behind the chocolate. I do hope you’ll try and take in one of the Chocolate Salons (Shows) around the world. If you’ve attended any, please let us know what you liked/didn’t like. about the site, setup, or selection. The one in Lima takes place at the Sheraton Hotel and Conference Centre in early July, which unfortunately, is their winter. The weather was quite cool, windy, and cloudy while we were there.  But the warm smiles of the Peruvian people, and the opportunity to taste the fruity notes of fresh Peruvian-grown cocoa made it all worthwhile.

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A Peruvian cocoa farmer proudly shows off her cocoa pods and beans.

Please join us back here the week of July 29th, when we’ll take you to some of the cacao-growing regions of Peru.

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highlights of a visit to Ottawa

I read in a Kostuch Media news blast this week that Judson Simpson, executive chef at the House of Commons restaurant in Ottawa is the first Canadian to earn the Certified Master Chef (CMC) designation. It made me realize that I should devote another post to Ottawa before moving on, as the Canadian capital really does have some very fine restaurants and major attractions worth checking out. We talked about some of Ottawa’s finest chocolate in the previous post.

 favourite Ottawa attractions

In this post, I’d like to show you a few Ottawa attractions in that I really enjoy. Top of the list is the Museum of Civilization. For first time visitors, spending at least an hour in the First Peoples Hall is a must. Here, you’ll see many First Nations carvings, artwork, and artifacts. This is a permanent exhibit, and the backbone of the museum. You’ll see from the photo below that the setting of the museum is stunning. A full glass wall gives you a panoramic view of the Parliament Buildings located just across the river. The museum itself is a work of art, and the design of architect Douglas Cardinal. You can take a virtual tour of the museum and learn about its design via its website.

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The First Peoples Hall at the Museum of Civilization in Ottawa.

While I was there last month, I took time to explore the temporary exhibit called Vodou, an examination of Haiti’s voodoo culture. This exhibit will be on display until February 23, 2014. Don’t miss it if you make your way to Ottawa, as it’s really quite compelling.

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The Vodou exhibit at the Museum of Civilization is intriguing.

I love to visit farmers’ markets wherever I go, and Ottawa’s ByWard Market is a fine example of combining fresh produce and garden offerings with every other kind of handcrafted item you can imagine. The ByWard Market is one of Canada’s oldest, longest running farmers’ markets. A few years ago, I managed to visit the market in time for the weigh-in at the giant squash/pumpkin contest. They really were big enough to live in! This year, my visit was at the beginning of the growing season, so plenty of fresh flowers, herbs, and berries were the prime offering.

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Ottawa’s ByWard Market is a terrific place to visit on a summer weekend.

And yes, I managed to find a terrific new restaurant to try. If you are a vegan, or into really healthy cooking featuring the utmost in creativity, I’d highly recommend a visit to Zen Kitchen, located in Ottawa’s Chinatown. We were treated to the chef’s sampling menu and were not disappointed. And yes … there was chocolate involved.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this brief visit to Ottawa with me. Please join us back here the week of July 15th, for our next new post.

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best chocolate in Ottawa

What I love about Chocolatouring around a city is discovering the various faces of chocolate you’ll find in any given location if you keep your ears and eyes open. While attending a recent conference in Ottawa, Ontario, I had the good fortune to make a couple of outstanding chocolate discoveries thanks to tips from local chocolate-loving residents of the Canadian capital. What’s really interesting is how opposite each of these chocolate discoveries is, proving that when you’re on a chocolate tour you will undoubtedly find something to please your palate and chocolate personality if you heed the right advice and do your research.

Let’s begin with Stubbe Chocolates, where I met Anne Stubbe, a sixth-generation chocolatier and confectioner whose German heritage and family traditions heavily influence the style and offerings at the Stubbe chocolate shop.

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Anne Stubbe of Stubbe Chocolates in Ottawa

What I really loved about Stubbe is the old-world ambiance, where tradition and the history of the family business is honoured by a wall of photos reminding you of the family’s German heritage.

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the historic family photos at Stubbe Chocolates

If you’ve never had German florentines, you’re missing out on a delicious offering of a thin chocolate disc topped with candied with nuts, fruits, and caramel. Stubbe also specializes in high quality chocolate novelties such as chocolate shoes, champagne bottles, gondolas, and edible boxes to hold the chocolate truffles and treats you have selected. Candied orange peel dipped in dark chocolate is their most popular product. Stubbe also has a few cafe tables, where you can enjoy a coffee or hot chocolate with a slice of one of the sumptuous tortes they offer in the German tradition. If you can’t make it over to Germany, this is the next best thing, and Stubbe is located just steps from Ottawa’s Byward Market where you can buy all sorts of fresh and handcrafted delicacies and foods.

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Erica Gilmour of Hummingbird Chocolate

Another terrific chocolate maker based in Ottawa is Hummingbird Chocolate, a new bean-to-bar company run by Erica and Drew Gilmour. Hummingbird offerings are small in comparison to Stubbe, but they are well worth searching out. Presently, they don’t have a shop of their own, and only offer their handmade dark chocolate bars at selected Ottawa stores and at the Ottawa Farmers’ Market held at Brewer Park, where Erica is pleased to give you a taste and explain the flavour nuances of the intense chocolate to you.

Of the four flavours of bars in the Hummingbird lineup, I loved the Patanemo bar made of Criollo cocoa beans from the coastal region of Patanemo, Venezuela—also known for its excellent surfing. Erica creates her own tasting notes for each bar, and the fruity taste of the Patanemo bar is described as featuring hints of toffee, fresh bread, and strawberries. You can bet that a trip to Venezuela is now high atop my list, as Hummingbird makes chocolate with beans from three different growing regions of Venezuela, as well as some wild beans from Bolivia which were also extraordinary and intense.

Please join us back here the week of July 1st four our next new post.

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