Places and Tastes, Part 1: The Tropics

Juicy cacao fruit
I'm often asked, "How do you come up with all these flavors?"  Part of my inspiration comes from travel. Here are some of the places I've been and the flavors born from them, starting with the tropics:

White sands and warm water make it easy to dream and scheme. It was on a beach in Phuket in 2006 that Clive and I hatched the plan for The Xocolate Bar. Inspired by Buddhist imagery and tropical fruits, we went home and made Tamarind-Mango Buddhas. It was the first flavor we ever made and is still one of our most popular.

Bali: Balinese Vanilla Bean; Balinese Cacao; Sea Salt from Amed.

Wild cacao in Bali

Denpasar market was where Clive haggled mercilessly for a kilo of vanilla beans. The earthy, fragrant pods have worked their way into our truffles, bars, bottles of whisky, and jars of sugar.

Bali is one of the most magical places I know, with a truly reverent culture of artisans and rich, volcanic soil that overflows with life. Imagine trees dripping with avocados, lush rice paddies, more exotic fruits than you can name; and villages that specialize in handicrafts ranging from bone-carving and batik to silversmithing and glass fusing.

different cacao varieties
on the same land

Cacao trees grow wild on the Balinese hills alongside coffee and cloves, apparently left from when the Dutch planted them.  It was here that I first tasted raw cacao, which tastes nothing like chocolate. The fruit within the cacao pods is white and mildly flavored, like a cross between lychees and honeydew melon. The beans themselves are flavorless until fermented, dried and roasted.

On a recent trip to Bali, Clive and I met with a high powered cacao dealer, whose home was a slice of paradise (think: koi pond and maid). He specialized in high-end, fragrant beans and got our imaginations flowing with the possibility of bean-to-bar production. The bean-to-bar manufacturing process turned out to be a bigger can of worms than we anticipated, but the nibs are still lovely by themselves or sprinkled into E. Guittard.

On a road trip through eastern Bali, we stopped off at the salt flats of Amed. Villagers followed us with bags of hand-harvested crystals that resembled French Fleur de Sel. We couldn't resist bringing some back to sprinkle onto our caramels and into our chocolate bars.

Once the Eat, Pray, Love hype dies down, I highly recommend going to Bali. You can even get Clive to give you a "Chocolate and Volcano" tour in April. Just email cliveeta[at]yahoo[dot]com for details.

Dominican Republic: Brandy Alexander, Dominican Rum Truffle.

Family farm in Dominican Republic

This trip was partly a "cacao research" expedition and partly a much needed holiday. Clive and I spent a lot of time sipping endless Brandy Alexanders (Brandy with milk and cinnamon) at a beach resort in Punta Cana, mentally planning how to we would translate them into chocolate upon our return.

The highlight was an excursion with Bavaro Runners which entailed climbing aboard an off-road truck with a jolly tour guide who freely passed around Dominican rum as we bounced and dipped to the sugar cane fields. The guide was proud of his country's rum, and I had to admit it was more caramelly and easier to drink than any other rum I'd had.


After the sugar cane fields we visited a family cacao farm where once again I tasted the fruit in its freshly picked state. I also tasted hot chocolate made from freshly roasted beans. There's nothing quite like it.


  1. Fun!!! I can't wait for the second installment of Places and Tastes. :)

    If you printed up some of this info w/the pics you could post it on the walls of the shop (if there's room). I know I'm always interested in the backstory behind things I buy and eat :)

  2. Glad you enjoyed it, sweetie! Will post part 2 soon.