DC Chocolate Festival Recap

By ESTELLE TRACY | May 20 2022 | thechocolateprofessor.com

After a three-year hiatus due to COVID, the 5th edition of the DC Chocolate Festival took place at the French Embassy in Washington on Saturday, April 30, 2022. Organized by the DC Chocolate House, the sold-out event attracted 20 exhibitors and 1,300 visitors who spent the day tasting fine chocolate and deepening their connection with the people behind it.

A quick look at the main exhibit room revealed a surprisingly diverse vendor line-up. While Harper Macaw Chocolate, Potomac Chocolate, and River-Sea Chocolates represented the DC area bean-to-bar scene, chocolatiers like Artisan Confections, Eclat Chocolate, and Mademoiselle Miel delighted palates with their beautiful, handcrafted bonbons. Read more about Mademoiselle Miel.

There was particular emphasis on chocolate made at origin, thanks to Les Chocolateries Askanya (Haiti), Argencove (Nicaragua), and a table devoted to Ecuadorian-made chocolate. Curious chocolate-lovers as well as children gravitated toward Cocoatown’s booth for a look at cacao beans and small-batch chocolate-making equipment.

Despite the long lines, attendees were enthusiastic and eager to learn. Barb Genuario, a festival goer, was impressed by the crowd.

“Warmth and curiosity were in abundant supply, not only from the chocolate makers and vendors exhibiting but also from attendees,” she says. “It was not uncommon to hear attendees chat with nearby strangers while patiently queuing for chocolate samples in long lines, comparing notes and sharing recommendations.”

While single-origin, high percentage dark chocolate was well-represented at the event, visitors were drawn to playful inclusions and flavorful products.

“Our best sellers were our gift packs [of] 4 x 70% dark chocolate 25g [bars], and our 2 new bars Pecan Pie and Caramelized White Chocolate and Almonds,” says Sally McFadyen of Argencove, a bean-to-bar company based in Nicaragua.

Rebecca Snyder, co-founder and head chocolate-maker maker at Lumineux Chocolate in South Carolina, shared a similar experience. “My number one seller was tied between our Orange & Cardamom bar and the Apricot & Bay Leaf bar,” she explains. As for Joy Zernhelt, co-founder of Triangle Roasters in Philadelphia, she reported that “whiskey bars were very popular!”

Several classes offered people a break from nibbling throughout the day. Andal Balu, President of Cocoatown, shared insights on how to make chocolate on a shoe-string budget. Ben Rasmussen, founder of Potomac Chocolate in Woodbridge, Virginia, detailed the bean-to-bar chocolate-making process, sharing pictures and anecdotes from his own facility.

Pic courtesy by thechocolateprofessor.com

As a chocolate sommelier, I hosted a talk on how to create a chocolate tasting party with friends, while introducing cacao fruit in pulp and fruit leather form to tasters. Victoria Kichuk, the founder of Cocoa Beantown in Boston, concluded the festival with a lively presentation on why chocolate provides comfort. The chocolate sommelier handed out samples of a chocolate bar by Goodnow Farms Chocolate with a savory inclusion – watch for its official release in the next few weeks.

In 2016, the attendees of the first edition of the DC Chocolate were eager in collecting (and later, eating) free chocolate samples from vendors. Today’s chocolate-lover wants more than a free sample.

“We felt that there was a good mix in the crowd of people who knew what they wanted and others who we interested to understand more about craft chocolate,” says Sally McFadyen of Argencove. “There were only a few who we had to convince that the flavor notes of the chocolate were from the [cacao] beans, not added!”

While the festival was light-hearted, two viewings of The Chocolate War by Miki Mistrati, shed the light on the reality of child labor in cacao farming in Cote D’Ivoire, the world’s largest cacao producing country. The movie follows human rights lawyer Terrence Collingsworth in his legal fight against Nestlé and Cargill. Although the issue has been making headlines for years, I was curious to know about the audience’s reaction to the topics covered in the documentary.

“The overall reaction to the film was very positive with many people expressing confidence that the graphic photos of children harvesting cocoa with machetes juxtaposed with the lawyers for Nestle and Cargill lying in court and claiming the companies did not know about child labor was a powerful message,” explains Terrence Collingsworth. “Most people did not know that the name brands of chocolate were involved, and few people knew they had been sued. Biggest questions were when it will ever end and are there LOCAL NGOs in Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire working on the problem (hardly any). [The] biggest discussion was how the child labor relates to poverty, who is responsible [for it] … and how to address [it].”

Thankfully, the DC Chocolate Festival provided plenty of chocolate products made with transparently traded cacao. Judging from the look of the booths at the end of the day, the public was receptive.

“We absolutely adored the chocolate-loving crowd,” says Joy Zernhelt of Triangle Roasters. “Meeting chocolate lovers and watching people enjoy our craft was something we’ve missed so much for the past 2 years.”

The festival was also a success for Sally McFadyen of Argencove.

“It was a really, really busy day, more than we expected, though it was our first time at the DC Chocolate Festival. Full credit to the team at the Chocolate House for organizing such an amazing event.”

Many people are already looking forward to next year’s event. Attendee Diane Griffin is one of them.

“I hope that as the festival continues to grow [so] we can get to have more chocolate-inspired cooking demonstrations and we can see more ways that chocolate is applied in the cooking landscape,” she says on her blog. “I’d love to see more chocolate cake, chocolate ice cream, chocolate wine, chocolate everything.”

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