First off, this is a very long offer with long descriptions of the items (long even for me – uh, oh!). Take your time to read it...
Bean to bar.
A simple concept...that is not so simple
Today's missive goes beyond Fair Trade (a farce of sorts), Direct Trade or any semblance of cooperative production – it is a true partnership between the farmer, grower, wet mass harvester, producer and you.
Those of you that know me personally (and via our daily email tryst) already have a good handle on what motivates my movement around the globe: the search for the very root of artistry and identity.
That identity may be found in wine, culture, food, art, music, pogo sticks or other – often that search leads to a specific person and their native devotion to “the truth” and/or to their craft. The individual artisans (in mind, spirit, discovery or in tangible output such as a canvas painting) are the reason hope does spring eternal. As long as human kind fosters a belief in the importance of moving forward and of uncovering the next ray of creative sunshine (a ray that may be beneficial to man/woman around the globe, even if its original impetus was unrelated to “saving the earth”), the day is worth greeting for this scribe as you never know where the next potent and important work will come from.
Sometimes, it’s in your own back yard.
Over the years, I have chased and penned lengthy reports on the finest pizza in the world, top street eats, underground French artists, coffee, the London music scene, undiscovered cultural hotbeds, organic agriculture, the top beaches, et al and of course wine and undiscovered food. Discoveries that begin with “The Greatest...” do not come lightly (or easily, or very often) but we have one today.
My passion for aiding and propping up the finest growers and wine producers also runs to coffee – a passion that runs back to the mid 1980’s when I worked for a mom and pop operation in the midst of their first expansion outside of the Northwest. I worked and learned nearly every job as a part-time espresso puller behind a little known green awning on Rush/Oak streets in Chicago. That mom and pop shop was the first Starbucks outside of their home region and the passion behind the curtain was Howard Schultz – he mortgaged everything he had to take a chance on expansion, to cultivate his dream and his belief in a better way to do things (at that time, he was still the sole owner of what was a small company) – for Howard, the road was forked right and left - he took a turn with the Rush/Oak St cafe that ultimately became a global empire.
Howard Schultz redefined our notion of what coffee is/was and he believed in his process as the way of the future. Prior to the green awning, Chicago was a Maxwell House town – a canned coffee city of blue collar workers. Post green-awning...I think you know the rest.
Today, an artisan with the same potential exists – a potential to redefine what is expected of a known commodity.
That commodity is chocolate and today I present a craftsman and thinker of exemplary note – [chocolate maker and owner, Brian Flick] a young man that has by no luck at all but by an intuitive and creative drive and thirst for knowledge and perfection, created a process of plantation/estate raw material sourcing (a la Intelligentsia) and combined it with an ultra-high-end traditional-meets-modern methodology of production that is unlike anything else in the world.
To “prepare” myself for this missive, I tasted over 150+ of the world's “finest” single source bars, from producers in eight North American and European countries – all are considered the very top 1% of chocolate.
None of them came close to...
The Greatest Chocolate on Earth.
(I added the capital letters for OVER-emphasis).
Now, chocolate is something I probably don’t need to force any of you to enjoy - at least most of you :)
Pretty much everyone likes/loves a nibble of chocolate now and again and most of you have tasted very high grade bars from various top-tier sources (Askinosie for example) but you have never tasted this.
Pitch Dark is a Portland, Oregon entity – the one-man show of Brian Flick. Up against Third World odds in a chase for terroir that most associate with wine (or maybe coffee at this point in our education, but rarely with chocolate), this man dreamed of making chocolate at age 14, forced his way into Scharffenberger's production plant in Napa at 17 (and created his own mental and drawn schematics for chocolate production) and lived with a tribal group of farmers on Fiji for three months learning, living and breathing the coca plant in a remote section of the island...at 21.
Naked and afraid indeed.
There are those dedicated to their craft and then there those that ARE their craft.
Brian is the later.
This is attention to detail that rarely exists – a garage band that you hope makes it to the top but you will always pine for the underground club shows and 100 disc pressings of their original home-spun 45s.
The bars we offer today are the original 45s....you almost want to save them, play them over and over until the grooves are worn thin.
Think of your palate as the turntable and away we go...
You are about to find out that chocolate possesses as much (or more) terroir than wine or any other olfactory/gustatory item. With chocolate, “vintage”, “vineyard” (specific plot on a plantation) and “old vines” makes all the difference.
The really fun part for me is the opportunity to get as close to the source and production cycle as possible and to share that with you. Therefore, this parcel of Pitch Dark (what would already be the top of its kind in the US) will be MADE FOR YOU – ground, roasted, packaged and presented expressly for you, individually, like a mixologist shaking an individual cocktail in front of you at your favorite watering hole.
That means, you will have the opportunity to taste the chocolate (if local) only a few days after it has cooled into bar form. For out of state Email List members, only a few weeks will pass (most chocolate consumed in the US has been packaged for months or even years). If you can't taste the highs/lows, sound register and feel/taste the energy of this situation versus the norm of “gourmet chocolate” I'm not sure what to say – it's like tasting a sample of 2010 La Tache next to 2010 Chambolle Villages – both are good, even great, but the La Tache commands the stage (even in the presence of Romanee-Conti), the Villages is merely a band member...
For of-the-moment photos of Pitch Dark et al (I'm posting photos as I type this):