Happy Valentine’s Day! At my age, every vice is fattening and on this day my thoughts turn to chocolate and my favourite chocolate store, Soma which is in the distillery district of Toronto and makes the best chocolate items in the city. Roger’s chocolates in Victoria, B.C. is also pretty good but I like the ambience of this store for which I hope you can get an appreciation from the photos.
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You can see the entrance at 55 Mill Street with the sign hanging above in the center of the picture below. It was voted best chocolate store by Toronto Life and Now magazines.
They make small batches of chocolate directly from fairtrade, organic and flavour grade, single estate cocoa beans which come from a variety of countries around the world using the grinder below. The first chocolate machine was made in Barcelona and the first book about chocolate was in Spanish, "Libro en el cual se trata del chocolate.``
They have all kinds of chocolate including such exotic ones as an 8 Year Old Balsamic Vinegar Truffle. The owners are David Castellan and spouse Cynthia Leung who is also an architect. You can also buy Spanish ensaïmadas if you`re looking for something other than chocolate to enjoy with your Mayan hot chocolate drink. The building was orginally the whisky keg storage facility for the distillery.
SOMA became one of a few fortunate chocolate makers in 2002 when his cacao bean supplier purchased 630 hectares of woodlands with 400 of them, wild, pre-Columbian cacao forest growing on raised islands of pottery shards, planted 600 years ago by indigenous peoples near the north-eastern Bolivian town of Baures. An original, non-hybridized bean which is smaller than its selectively-bred cousins and genetically different from all other known cacaos is produced on the land and has a unique flavour.
There is an article in Scientific American this month about problems with chocolate supply due to increased consumer demand, pests, fungal infections, climate change and lack of access to fertilizers by the local farmers. The solution seems to be selective breeding, pest-management and farmer education.
A U.S. government-backed report estimated that more than 1.8 million children in West Africa are involved in growing cocoa. The widespread use of children in cocoa production is controversial not only because of the usual concerns about child labor and exploitation, but also because up to 12,000 of the 200,000 children working in Ivory Coast, the world's biggest producer of cocoa, may be victims of human trafficking or slavery, Most attention on this subject has focused on West Africa, which collectively supplies 69% of the world's cocoa, and Côte d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast) in particular, which supplies 35% of the world's cocoa. Thirty percent of children under age 15 in sub-Saharan Africa are child laborers, mostly in agricultural activities including cocoa farming. The major chocolate producers such as Nestle buy cocoa at commodities exchanges where Ivorian cocoa is mixed with other cocoa. (Wikipedia)Fortunately Soma has no trade with these folks.
I spent about sixty dollars when I was in the store. Not cheap but well worth the cost.
The cacoa pods are harvested and split open to remove the beans which are then fermented for two to eight days in baskets. After fermentation, the beans are dried in sunlight and then shipped to the chocolate makers who roast the beans and remove the shells to leave the "nibs" that contain the cocoa solids and cocoa butter. These nibs are ground to make a paste called a cocoa presscake.
Valentine’s Day is a Christianized version of the pagan Roman festival of Lupercalia without the random couplings of men and women by means of drawing women’s names from an urn. The first person to match chocolates with the day was Cadbury in the 1860s who promoted the idea to increase sales of his candies – good old capitalist marketing and a Victorian predilection for romantic love.
And here`s an infographic on chocolate which compares a number of high quality chocolate makers in the world from which you can purchase.