an American fish in & out of Estonian waters

Tallinn’s Finest Chocolate

 

Theobroma – the Food of the Gods. While we mortals know the manna made from Theobroma cacao as chocolate, eating great Theobroma can help you touch the infinite. Or maybe that’s just the chocolate fanatic in me speaking ….

Although I was a young convert to chocolate, it took me some years to zero in on my exact favorite type: dark chocolate with 55-65% cacao solids, mixed with roasted nuts (ideally almonds or hazelnuts although others will do), and served with a sprinkling of sea salt to keep resetting my taste buds. Give me a choice of chocolate makers and I’ll go with the Belgians every time. So, blesséd be Colorado’s Chocolove as they must have tapped right into my taste buds to make my perfect chocolate bar: their “Almonds & Sea Salt in 55% Dark Belgian Chocolate” accompanied by XOXOX (three kisses and two hugs) on the outside wrapper as well as a nice love poem on the inside one. Guess I’m not the only one who believes in this particular concoction as it also happens to be Chocolove’s best seller. And I swear – I’m not their only buyer.

While I find most chocolate with 70% or more cacao solids to be far too bitter for my palette, Åkesson’s in London makes such smooth, perfectly roasted chocolate that they helped me expand my chocolate horizons. They make their delicious 75% single-estate bars from their own cacao beans harvested in Brazil or Madagascar. And they also make the only 100% chocolate bar that I’ve ever been able to eat and enjoy. While Åkesson’s is the master of pure chocolate, I must confess that I’m more of a classic Belgian praline loyalist. As a result, Rococo was my go-to London chocolatier and they became purveyors to the flatfish. Although, truth be told, whenever I visit Brussels in the holy land of great chocolate, I’ll head straight to Neuhaus’ flagship store at the Galerie de la Reine where the praline itself was born.

And so, it should come as no surprise that I’ve watched a few chocolate stores come and go in Tallinn over the years.  And I don’t miss any of them. I’m hoping, however, that Chocolala will stick around for many years to come. Although I’m a usually a strict praline purist, I must confess that Chocolala has expanded my chocolate ideology to embrace new forms. For example, although I never liked to mix fruits with my chocolate – and I gave up the white chocolate passion of my youth, Chocolala has forced me to rethink my “dark chocolate with nuts” orthodoxy.

When I first visited Chocolala at their old location, I must admit that I was a bit skeptical. At first sight, I doubted that I would even like their chocolate. After all, far too many of their bonbons were fruit-filled. Yes, you can find them with the traditional raspberry or marmalade fillings – as well as with other more local fruits including blueberries or black currants. But then Chocolala goes all intense Nordic on you by offering bonbons filled with such non-traditional fillings as sea buckthorn, spruce sprout, birch juice caramel, and gin with juniper juice. And if you want to go all the way to the extreme, you can give their foraged reindeer moss covered in dark chocolate a try. After all that, their bonbon filled with Estonia’s Vana Tallinn liquor and coffee seems almost mainstream. But it is their unique selection of Nordic flavors that has won them multiple International Chocolate Awards over the last few years.

And if you don’t want to go all Nordic exotic, that’s OK too. You can go Old School Original Mexican instead and try their chocolates filled with chili or vanilla.  Don’t forget to taste their UK-friendly salted caramel as well. As you might expect, I often retreat and re-embrace my well-worn chocolate faith and order my three favorite pralines: their crispy cookie (speculoos) in the shape of a Buddha, their rounded caramelized walnut, or their rectangular peanut butter. Oh, and don’t forget to ask them if they have any of their caramel-walnut turtles!

However, the one breakthrough chocolate you need to try is their white chocolate, freeze-dried berries, and kama bar. Kama is about Estonian as you can get and is made from a mixture of dry roasted rye, barley, oat, and pea (yes, pea) flour. Many Estonians love to put kama into just about any milk product you might imagine and eat it for breakfast or desert along with some fresh forest berries. You are going to have to trust me on this one but kama with white chocolate and freeze-dried berries is a definite chocolate winner. I wouldn’t have believed it myself a year ago. And yet, instead of giving flowers to my Estonian friends these days, I’ve started giving them Chocolala’s special kama bars and I haven’t heard a complaint yet.

While you might spot some of Chocolala’s chocolates for sale at different stores around Tallinn, you really need to go to the Chocolala HQ at Suur-Karja 20 to see their full selection, safely housed in a former bank building. But that’s not the only reason to go. While you’ve probably seen various cheesy chocolate fountains before, have you ever seen a real chocolate waterfall – outside of the film Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory I mean? Chocolala has a lovely dark chocolate waterfall flowing down one wall which makes their small café – where you can also order hot chocolate or coffee – smell heavenly. When I noticed a Heathrow chocolate shop with a fan blowing over some melted chocolate trying to ensnare chocolate addicts from far away, I thought it was a cheap trick. However, you should be all on board with Chocolala’s chocolate waterfall as you’ve already made the choice to enter their store before you ever see it – or smell it. Do make sure to look around the shop while you’re there as you can watch the chocolate makers at work behind the glass wall that runs behind the main counter.

Chocolala’s chocolate makers make all kinds of interesting things out of chocolate from soccer balls and tools to high-heeled shoes and champagne bottles. While I’m not quite sure for whom all of these sculptures are intended, their chocolate fish are probably intended for flatfish like me. My favorite 3D creation, however, is their dark chocolate map of Old Town Tallinn as it allows yourself to eat your way through town. And even though I’ve never loved milk chocolate, the other Chocolala gift I often buy for my friends is their Tallinn Chocolate Sardine Can as it serves as a kind of an inside Soviet joke from the time when gifts of local canned fish were something you would bring your friends beyond Tallinn. In other words, the store has something for every chocolate lover.

And, as a kind of couverture on their chocolate, Chocolala offers you two additional options: if you want to learn how to make chocolate yourself, you can book one of their two-hour long workshops with your friends. Or, if you want to learn how chocolate is made – and the history of chocolate in Estonia – you can go downstairs to their growing Museum of Chocolate and find out. Don’t forget to check out the old bank vault down there where owner and chocolatier Kristi stores her most valuable possession: her bars of Fair Trade chocolate. Everything comes full circle as the Mayans and Aztecs once used cacao beans as currency.

 

You will find Chocolala at Suur-Karja 20. They are open seven days a week from 11 AM to 7 PM. And no, I haven’t been paid – not even in chocolate! – for writing this piece. I’m just happy I can find great chocolate in Tallinn without having to go all the way to Brussels or London. Just don’t forget to tell them that flatfish sent you.

Image: The tin of Chocolola’s sardines that I keep on my kitchen table beside an icon of the Last Supper. As I don’t eat milk chocolate, the sardines serve as decoration – although guests have been known to eat one from time to time.

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