Foodiefile chocolateAdam Armstrong on opening Santa Cruz’s first-ever chocolate house

There was once a time, hundreds of years ago, before coffee houses, when people went to chocolate houses and enjoyed a nice hot cup of chocolate. Local hot chocolate manufacturer Mutari has recently opened Santa Cruz’s first ever chocolate house, offering a variety of artisan chocolate drinks—and they’re not all sweet. Mutari started selling their hot chocolate products in local stores about a year ago, but only opened the chocolate house on March 4. We talked to owner Adam Armstrong about the new place and all things cacao-bean-related.

GT: Why open a chocolate house?

Adam Armstrong: They were popular in Europe before coffee shops. I really wanted to do something where we brought it back to that because it’s an experience that’s completely different. I wanted to do drinking chocolates because that’s how, for 90 percent of its existence, chocolate has been consumed.

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Are all cacao beans equal?

There are more varieties and different taste profiles in cacao beans than there are in wine. Every bean from the different regions, they all have their own flavor profiles, even from year to year. We have different dark sipping chocolates. There are only two ingredients. It’s the cacao bean and a little bit of sugar. They’re all 70 percent dark. You can taste the difference in the chocolate. It’s kind of what we wanted to show people.

What’s the difference between hot chocolate and sipping chocolate?

A sipping chocolate is a more European way of serving it. It’s thicker and usually darker than hot chocolate. We really want to focus on chocolates that you can drink. When I was in the Peace Corps, I worked with cacao farmers. They never eat chocolate. They drink it every single day. I got really used to it. When I came back to the States I realized that it was kind of lost what real hot chocolate is. A lot of the hot chocolates you get are mostly just cocoa powder and sugar. I came back and went to a coffee shop and ordered a hot chocolate and I couldn’t even drink it. We have a Himalayan pink salt hot chocolate, and the pink salt really helps bring out the flavor of that particular bean from Guatemala. That’s probably people’s favorite hot chocolate here.

Do have anything that’s 100 percent cacao?

Yeah, we have a 100 percent sipping chocolate. It’s this amazing bean from Ecuador. It’s a super nutty, flavorful bean. A lot of chocolate when you get it is bittersweet or has some edge on it. This bean doesn’t, really. It’s not sweet. It’s like a really good cup of coffee. People love it. We also have something I can pretty much guarantee no one else has in town: cacao fruit. We do it as a smoothie. Cacao itself is a fruit that grows on a tree. The cacao beans are inside of it. The beans are kind of suspended in this really sweet pulp. Some people say it tastes like lychee. The fruit tastes different with the different varieties of cacao.

INFO: 1001 Center St., Santa Cruz, 687-8184, mutarichocolate.com. PHOTO: Owner Adam Armstrong at the new Mutari Chocolate House and Factory in downtown Santa Cruz. CHIP SCHEUER


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