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Theobroma Chocolatier – Albuquerque, New Mexico

Theobroma Chocolatier on Tramway and Montgomery in Albuquerque's Northeast Heights

For many men, February 14th is the most dreaded day of the year. It’s a day in which our boundless capacity for bad taste comes to the fore. Though well-intentioned, when it comes to women and romance, we’re clueless.  You might not know it, but shopping for women is the biggest cause of anxiety among American men. There’s nothing like the crushingly disappointed look on your lover’s face as she unwraps the latest bad gift to quell the ardor in a man’s heart.

Worse, our anguish has been made public thanks to the annual global dissemination of an e-mail entitled “ten worse Valentine’s Day gifts.” Most men would rather find themselves on the annual “Darwin Awards” e-mail similarly circulated worldwide than to recognize their contribution to the infamous worse Valentine’s Day gifts e-mail.  The truth is, many of us would have a better chance of completing a Rubik’s Cube in record time than picking out the perfect Valentine’s Day gift. It’s no wonder you hear so many men whining about the “obligatory” nature of gift-giving during this “commercial” holiday.

The display case at Theobroma

The display case at Theobroma

Let’s be honest. The XY chromosome pairing has better equipped us for shooting at things and watching sports than it has for buying gifts. Yeah, blame our chromosomes for the cavalcade of tacky, terrible and inappropriate Valentine’s Day gifts given by men throughout the world.  Still we persevere with our rampant, well-intentioned consumerism which accounts for most of the $100 million spent in Valentine’s Day gifts. The smart ones among us will forgo using our limited imaginations and don’t endeavor to buy something unique and creative.

Instead, we buy acres of roses and enough bling to cover an NBA star for a year. We kill entire forests so that mushy cards can be printed that express the sentiment we usually reserve for our favorite quarterback. We buy enough stuffed animals to fill entire zoos and mostly, we buy chocolate.  According to the National Retail Federation, some 36 million heart-shaped boxes of chocolate are purchased each year for Valentine’s Day. We must do that right because the day following Valentine’s Day has been declared National Cheap Chocolate Day for the tons of chocolate left on shelves.

Maybe the best chocolate turtle in the Duke City.

Maybe the best chocolate turtle in the Duke City.

Some men, being men, still manage to screw this up and will give our sweeties inappropriate chocolate–either cheap, marginally edible chocolate or worse, anatomically correct (except for the exaggerated proportions) chocolate depicting body parts not meant to be associated with chocolate.  There’s no excuse for buying bad chocolate if you live in Albuquerque. Yes, Albuquerque. As hard as it might be to believe, you can actually find very good chocolate in Albuquerque and you don’t have to import it from Europe. One of my favorite places for chocolate in New Mexico is Theobroma Chocolatier. Its chocolate is more than good enough to save Valentine’s Day for even the most Ralph Kramden-like troglodytes among us.

The name Theobroma is derived from two Greek words, “theo” and “broma” which translate to the “food of the gods.” In the polytheistic culture of the ancient Mayans, chocolate was considered a luxury reserved exclusively for gods and the ruler class. The Mayans became the world’s first chocolate aficionados, revering chocolate for its mood-enhancing, restorative properties. It became an integral part of the Mayan society.  Today, chocolate is no longer considered exclusive to a privileged class and the celebrity-worshiping modern world no longer holds the “god of chocolate” in reverence. No longer are temples built in his honor or sacrifices of chocolate made in his name.

A chocolate lovers' delight: Piñon covered dark chocolate

Instead “temples” such as Theobroma make excellent chocolate available to everybody. Located near the foothills of the Sandias, it’s not exactly within convenient driving range for most chocolate worshippers in Albuquerque, but it’s worth the drive from anywhere in the city. Men will hopefully not have to stop to ask for directions (we actually do that when women aren’t around) to find it.  Theobroma is the brainchild of Chuck and Heidi Weck, two Kansas City transplants who launched their first Duke City chocolate emporium in 1996. In making and selling the food of the gods, the Wecks are committed to perpetuating and nurturing the chocolate traditions begun by the Maya.

Only the Swiss (22.4 pounds per person per year) consume more than the 11.7 pounds of chocolate each American will consume each year. During my visits to Theobroma, it’s been tempting not to consume an entire year’s average in one day. Theobroma makes me feel like Charlie, the kid in the Willy Wonka movie who found the last golden ticket.  That’s because Theobroma has chocolate of every imaginable type and shape (more than one hundred different molded chocolates) and it’s all delicious and affordable.

Chocolate covered caramel with sea salt

Theobroma has got assortments of chocolate truffles in every flavor: hazelnut, butter pecan champagne, coffee, amaretto, mint, cappuccino, rum, raspberry, Irish cream, Tiramisu and orange. It’s got milk chocolate and dark chocolate and everything in between. It’s even got chocolate covered Oreos (the best I’ve ever had) and ChacoPop, popcorn smothered in milk chocolate (or caramel, if you prefer).  It’s got chocolate covered caramel kissed with sea salt, a delicious treat that will make macho men swoon.  It’s got piñon covered chocolate bark that you’d kill for.

There’s a treasure trove of chocolate sure to please the love of your life. The only danger is that you might not be able to resist the temptation to “sample” some of it and if you do, none of it will make it home.

Theobroma Chocolatier
12611 Montgomery, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
505 293-6565
Web Site

LATEST VISIT: 12 February 2012
# OF VISITS: 3
RATING: 22
COST: $$
BEST BET: Chocolate Truffles, Chocolate Covered Oreos, ChacoPop popcorn, Chocolate Covered Caramels with Sea Salt

Chocolate Cartel – Albuquerque, New Mexico

The Chocolate Cartel, a chocoholic's paradise on Juan Tabo

“Strength is the capacity to break a chocolate bar into four pieces with your bare hands –
and then eat just one of the pieces.”

Judith Viorst, American Author & Journalist

“Betcha can’t eat just one.”  In the early 1960s, Lay’s Potato Chips made that slogan a household phrase, in the process increasing potato chip sales significantly and opening up new markets internationally.  Today, North Americans consume approximately 1.2 billion pounds of potato chips every year, making it the most consumed snack food in the entire continent.  There is no physiological basis, however, for Lay’s assertion that its salty snack favorite is so addictive it can’t be resisted.  The same can’t be said of chocolate

Chocolate most assuredly does have psychoactive properties.  Similar to turkey, chocolate is replete with tryptophan, amino acids in the human diet which assist in the production of serotonin, our mood-modulating neurotransmitter. It is also imbued with phenyl-ethylamine, a substance which stimulates the same bodily reaction as falling in love.

A chocolate menagerie under glass

Female humorists have often extolled the superiority of chocolate over sex, even comprising a list of twenty reasons chocolate is better than sex. Perhaps in retort, Italian researchers (mostly men) “discovered” that women who eat chocolate regularly have a better sex life than those who abstain from chocolate goodness. Women who consume chocolate frequently were shown to have higher levels of desire, arousal and satisfaction from sex than women who deny themselves chocolate.

Milton S. Hershey, John Cadbury, Frank C. Mars, Henri Nestle, Willy Wonka…all famous chocolatiers, all men.  Hmm.  Could it be they all got into the trade because they suspected chocolate could help them “get lucky?”  They wouldn’t be the first.  Mexico’s despotic emperor Montezuma drank as many as fifty goblets of chocolate (flavored with chili peppers, vanilla, wild bee honey and aromatic flowers) because he believed chocolate had stamina-enhancing properties which came in handy when “entertaining” concubines.

Dark chocolate turtles: macadamia nuts, pecan, cashews and almonds

Most men, it seems, also believe in the ability of chocolate to help us advance in the game of seduction (either that or we lack the imagination to buy our significant others anything else) because we buy some 36 million heart-shaped boxes of chocolate each year for Valentine’s Day.  If the fact that tons of chocolate are left on shelves is any indication, maybe we’re not buying enough.  Maybe the chocolate we’re buying–Brach’s, Nestle’s, Dove–isn’t having our desired effect.

Since 2009, men and women throughout the Duke City have improved the quality of their chocolate purchases, ergo perhaps the quality of our trysts.  That’s because Scott and Tim Van Rixel relocated their nationally acclaimed Xocoatl Chocolates from Taos, renaming it The Chocolate Cartel.  In their 5,500 square-foot facility on Juan Tabo, which includes a retail shop, customers have discovered the difference truly great chocolates can make.

Sea salt and caramel gelatto (left) and Mayan Spiced Chocolate Sorbet

Truly great chocolate isn’t cheap like the stuff left on shelves the day after Valentine’s Day. Assortments of chocolate truffles, available in quantities of four, six or twelve, start at eight dollars for a four piece box.  No ordinary truffles are these: Ultra Dark, Espresso, Irish Cream, Honey & Pollen, Pomegranate, Smoked Chile, Raspberry & Rose, Almond Amaretto, Cinnamon, Blueberry Port and Blood Oranges.  The flavor profiles are so absolutely amazing, your eyes might just tear up in sheer awe.  The smoked chile, in particular, warrants a salute to Montezuma, especially when the deceptively piquant chile kicks in.  New flavors are periodically introduced.

The Chocolate Cartel obtains its beans, the criollo cacao, from a Venezuelan supplier renown for its organic farming.  Criollo cacao beans produce the highest quality chocolate though its yields are low because of their susceptibility to diseases.  In the hands of certified master chocolatier Scott Van Rixel, the very best in handcrafted chocolates are created from these most rare of cacao beans.  Chocolate Cartel chocolates are both smooth and intensely flavored, rich and mellow, decadent and delicious beyond any chocolate you’ll find in Albuquerque.

To say the Chocolate Cartel is a serious chocoholic’s paradise is an understatement.  Its offerings include chocolate covered almonds, assorted turtles, Mayan hot chocolate, dark chocolate flourless cake and chocolate bars. As popular as the chocolates are, the Cartel has earned almost as much acclaim for its gelatto and sorbet products, both of which are without peer in New Mexico.

The Mayan-spiced chocolate sorbet (cinnamon, red chile, almonds, cocoa powder) is smooth and creamy, devoid of the graininess found in inferior sorbet.   Unlike ice cream, sorbet isn’t made from cream, milk or egg yolks, but there’s absolutely no skimping on the rich chocolate goodness of this one.  It’s an adult chocolate kids of all ages can appreciate.

I was first introduced to what may be the Van Rixel’s magnus opus at Nicky V’s Neighborhood Pizzeria where the sea salt and caramel gelatto (local milk, agave, no corn syrup, gluten-free) stands out as Albuquerque’s best gelatto by far.  Made with a lower butterfat content than ice cream, but with many of the same ingredients, it is the essence of the best sea salt caramel candies in a frozen treat.

At the Chocolate Cartel, you definitely can’t eat just one.  This is the best chocolate in Albuquerque!

Chocolate Cartel
315 Juan Tabo Blvd, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
(505 797-1193
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 4 June 2011
# OF VISITS: 3
RATING: 23
COST: $ – $$
BEST BET: Sea Salt and Caramel Gelatto, Mayan Spiced Chocolate Sorbet, Pecan Chocolate Turtle

The Chocolate Cartel on Urbanspoon

Kakawa Chocolate House – Santa Fe, New Mexico

Kakawa Chocolate House in Santa Fe

Kakawa Chocolate House in Santa Fe

In a 1995 episode of Seinfeld, Kramer attempted to deduce George’s ATM code: “You’re a portly fellow, a bit long in the waistband.  So what’s your pleasure?  Is it the salty snacks you crave?  No, no, no, yours is a sweet tooth.  Oh you may stray, but you’ll always return to your dark master, the cocoa bean.”

America is, like George Costanza, a nation of chocolohics.  The Chocolate Manufacturers Association estimates that the per capita consumption of chocolate among Americans is about 11 pounds per person per year.  That translates to 27,000 calories, 1530 grams of fat, 1130 milligrams of cholesterol, 4400 milligrams of sodium, 3150 grams of carbohydrates and 350 grams of protein.  In 2001 Americans consumed 3 billion pounds of chocolate at a cost of some $13.1 billion.

More than half the consumption of chocolate occurs between meals and nearly a quarter of that (22 percent) takes place between 8PM and midnight.  More chocolate is consumed in winter than in any other season and increased consumption of chocolate is known to have a direct correlation to stressful events.  In the aftermath of 9-11, consumption of chocolate rose dramatically.

The World Atlas of Chocolate reports that milk chocolate is America’s favorite variety of chocolate.   Because it is made with a lower proportion of cocoa solids and contains milk, chocolate snobs like me dismiss milk chocolate as a sweet indulgence, the type of tooth-decaying chocolate we ate as children when we didn’t know better.  Our pedantic affections have been ensnared by ebony, bittersweet bars with adult levels of cacao, the darker and more bittersweet the better.  We like our chocolate the way we like our coffee–as black as night and as potent as hemlock.

Paradise under glass

Paradise under glass

As if we needed another reason to indulge in the addictively strong, cocoa-rich flavor of dark chocolate, recent research indicates eating a small 1.6-ounce dark chocolate bar is very good for you.  Attribute that to a metabolite called epicatechin, a flavonoid which keeps cholesterol from gathering in blood vessels, reduces the risk of blood clots and slows down immune responses that lead to clogged arteries.  German researchers have also found another health benefit derived from dark chocolate–the lowering of  blood pressure.  Alas, moderation is prescribed since even dark chocolate is calorie-laden.

The Olmec culture preceded the Mayans and Aztecs in  domesticating the cacao tree and unleashing the salubrious qualities and deliciousness of chocolate.  Though the  Meso-American cultures may not have known all the chemical reasons for the healthful benefits of chocolate, they did recognize they had something special.  Warriors consumed cacao wafers, believing the cacao gave them strength for battle.  Chocolate beverages were also believed to have stamina enhancing properties which came in handy when “entertaining” concubines.

In Montezuma’s great city of Tenochtitlan (which the Spaniards later renamed Mexico City), chocolate was considered a luxury drink reserved exclusively for gods and the ruler class. It is believed that Montezuma’s daily constitution included up to 50 goblets of a finely ground, foamy red dyed chocolate flavored with chili peppers, vanilla, wild bee honey and aromatic flowers.

kakawa03

Very few people know or appreciate the origin of chocolate as much as the folks at Santa Fe’s extraordinary Kakawa (an ancient Olmec word for chocolate and the cacao tree) Chocolate House.  Kakawa is passionate about authentic and historic drinking chocolate elixirs spanning the time period 1000 B.C. to the mid 1900s A.D.  That passion translates to outstanding chocolate experiences for connoisseurs.

All of Kakawa’s chocolate creations are hand-made in small batches using the best cacao beans in the world, a process which can’t be rushed.  Utmost care is taken to ensure not only the finest quality and freshness, but historical authenticity.  Although there are no existing Meso-American chocolate recipes per se, Kakawa’s founder Mark Sciscenti (no longer with the shop) pored over archaeological evidence to discern ingredients and proportion.  That  attention to detail is a hallmark of every scintillating scintilla of chocolate.

Elixirs (drinking chocolates) are divided into two categories: Meso-American drinking chocolate and Historic European, Jeffersonian American and Oaxacan drinking chocolate.  The charming artisanal shop is redolent with their intoxicating aromas.

A truffle of Chaya, Mesquite, Prickly Pear Fruit Nectar and Oaxacan Chile Pasilla

A truffle of Chaya, Mesquite, Prickly Pear Fruit Nectar and Oaxacan Chile Pasilla

In the tradition of the Meso-American chocolate pioneers, most of Kakawa’s chocolate drinks are made with water.  A few contain restrained amounts of milk, rice milk or almond milk.  This allows the purity of cacao to shine through while preserving its healthful qualities in ways that are lost when milk is added.  Parsimonious amounts of traditional agave nectar or honey are used to impart a bittersweet quality to the chocolate.  There is some evidence that both honey and agave nectar were sparsely used by the Meso-American cultures because of their high value.  They were also considered to be flavoring agents and not sweeteners as we view them today.

From among the Pre-Columbian Meso-American/Mayan chocolate elixirs, one that will cure whatever ails you is the Acuyo made from the Mexican pepper leaf (sometimes called the root beer plant).  In its plant form, acuyo has a very pleasing fragrance somewhat reminiscent of anise, nutmet and black pepper.  Those qualities translate well in a cup of chocolate elixir sweetened with honey and spiced with a mild chili.

Chilis of several types and degrees of piquancy are used on several elixirs just as Montezuma’s personal chef may have crafted them in the 15th century.  Mild chili is also used on the blue corn atole, an elixir made from roasted corn flour sweetened with honey.  Growing up in northern New Mexico, every time I was sick I was subjected by my grandmothers to blue corn atole, a gruel-like substance I found repulsive.  Abuelitas still love their blue corn atole in northern New Mexico where it is often served like cream of wheat.   Over time I’ve also grown to appreciate its unique qualities.

Brownies extraordinaire

Brownies extraordinaire

In an episode of the Food Network’s “Heat Seekers,” hosts Aaron Sanchez and Roger Mooking tested their masochistic mettle by sampling some of the city’s most piquant plates.  Kakawa’s caramel and chocolate dipped arbol chilis watered their eyes and left them coughing and sputtering in delicious agony.

Practically contemporary in comparison to the millenniums-old style of indigenous Meso-American chocolate is an English chocolate elixir, circa 1680.  This rich, complex semi-sweet chocolate is made with milk, egg yolks, cinnamon, sherry and orange blossoms.  Like all chocolate drinks, it is served in three-ounce cups.  You’ll rue your next cup of Swiss Miss.

Kakawa’s amazing menu also features chocolate truffles, brownies, cookies, tortes, cakes and other desserts made with a unique blend of flavorful top quality chocolate ameliorated with the highest quality spices and natural flavor extracts in creative combinations to delight the body and soul–combinations such as a truffle crafted from chaya (known sometimes as tree spinach), mesquite and Oaxacan pasilla chili sweetened with prickly pear fruit nectar.  This is a truffle to savor slowly, a rare indulgence of chocolate heightened to its peak of flavor with disparate ingredients only a chocolate master would dare.

The Mexican brownie, made with cinnamon, pecans and chile with floral waters is decadent and delicious, a rich and moist brownie with pecans in every bite.  It is a perfect counterpoint to the chocolate decadence brownie, resplendent with chocolate chunks.  Neither is cloying like out-of-the-box brownie mixes tend to be and both are absolutely delicious.

If you’re besotted with the coco bean and in particular its dark children, there may be no better place in New Mexico for that love to be requited.

Kakawa Chocolate House
1050 Paseo de Peralta
Santa Fe, New Mexico
(505) 982-0388
Web Site
LATEST VISIT: 28 February 2009
# OF VISITS: 1
RATING: 24
COST: $$
BEST BET:  Chocolate Elixirs, Brownies, Truffles