Sadly, my chocolate club has disbanded. There are days that it would be awfully nice to go around the corner, knock on my friend’s door, and call the chocolate club to order.
Usually, at those times, I just open my chocolate drawer. Don’t tell me you don’t have one! If not, you should seriously consider establishing one. A false-fronted drawer might be particularly nice. I just tuck chocolate bars in amongst the papers.
But some days call for a more intensely chocolate-centric activity, even if it is without a friend. On those days, I’m lucky to live in Portland.
Alma ChocolateBecause those days I can go to Alma Chocolate. This snug shop feels a bit like a clubhouse--a clubhouse where I’m sure anyone would feel welcome. The women who work there dispense information and great comeback lines (something I always appreciate) with equal grace and speed. They are smart and cheerful. But why shouldn’t they be? They’re surrounded by chocolate!
Alma sells a small selection of other people’s chocolates, such as Taza, the Mexican drinking chocolate whose first ingredient is actually chocolate (Ibarra's is sugar). Taza's drinking chocolate tablets come in various flavors, such as a cinnamon (more subtle than Ibarra’s ‘cinnamon flavor’), guajillo chili, salted almond, salt and pepper; and even yerba mate. It makes delicious hot chocolate. It also fits nicely into my chocolate drawer, scenting my papers lightly, and dusting them lightly with sugar.
Taza’s new factory (located in Somerville, MA) was hard hit by floods this past summer. They’ve cleaned up, but it does seem the least we can do is lend a helping mouth.
An added bonus Cathy and I would have appreciated: each wrapped tablet actually contains two tablets! Do you know how hard it was to break those thick Ibarra tablets in half?
But you’d be remiss if you went to Alma and only picked up chocolate for your drawer back home. If it’s summer when you go, if you’re lucky they’ll have choco-pops—a frozen drinking chocolate that might remind you of your childhood fudgesickles. If you have a very optimistic taste memory!
Personally, I like ice cream anytime of the year. Alma started a CSI (no, they’re not solving crime, that stands for Community Supported Ice Cream) earlier this year. Sadly, I didn’t sign up in time. But they often have pints available for those of us who weren't quick enough. Some of my favorites so far: Coconut sorbet with Marcona almonds, vanilla ice cream with cocoa nibs and Alma’s delicious candied orange peel, and their exquisite rum raisin.
And then there are her bonbons. My favorites these days are the cardamom with burnt sugar sesame brittle and the Sabrina (marzipan and fig). I’m waiting to be there when the star-anise infused 'Collette', studded with candied orange peel is in stock (Alma rotates the bonbons seasonally). I’m pretty sure it will be a favorite.
And her toffees. The toffees’ sweetness is balanced in different ways: spicy (the ginger almond) or salty (pistachio).
And her caramel sauces (I’m holding my breath for the smoky lapsang souchong to return).
And her beautiful gilded chocolates. They are made with single origin chocolate that is poured into molds (everything from little birds to Buddhas; the molds are made here in town) and then gilded with 23K gold leaf.
Now that the days are shorter, I find an afternoon stop for one of Alma’s hot drinks is the perfect fortification for the long evening ahead. You can choose from shots of elixir-like drinking chocolates, or such things as a Chocolate Cloud (essentially a chocolate cappuccino) or the Caramelita (chocolate, steamed milk, and their Habanero caramel sauce).
And they’re the only place I’ve come across outside Torino selling Bicerin, an espresso (from the well-loved local Spella, which has its own little clubhouse of an espresso bar downtown) layered with drinking chocolate and a heavy cream swirl.
Last time I was there I opted for the Mayan Milagro: ground almonds, chocolate, cinnamon, chiles, steamed milk, and a heavy cream swirl. Actually, I had it as a Mayan shot, so the milk and cream were left out. Served in a demitasse, it was rich and complex. The ground almonds added texture, qualifying as food in my book. Sitting at their little counter, lingering over each spoonful, I couldn’t help think that my chocolate club was alive and well.
Though I probably should consider boosting membership.
140 NE 28th Ave.
Portland, Oregon 97232