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Welcome to the online blog for traveler/writer/photographer Steven Barber. Come in. Relax. Take off your shoes and socks -- or any other article of clothing, this is the internet. Have a look around. I hope to intrigue, amuse, entertain, and maybe provoke you just a little. I love to find adventure. All I need is a change of clothes, my Nikon, an open mind and a strong cup of coffee.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Riding the Chocolate Trail

“Nine out of ten people like chocolate. The tenth is lying.” 
                                (Graffiti scrawled on a wall )

The best part of any journey is the discovery of the unexpected. The good unexpected, to be specific. (I had a momentary image of a flat tire on Route 666 on a hot August day some fifteen miles out in the desert with no tow trucks in sight...unexpected, and certainly not the best part of the journey.)

Often times, our travels take on a culinary edge. The local flavors and ingredients can deepen your relationship with a destination as almost nothing else can do.

C.G. Higgins
Southwestern cuisine, with its exotic herbs, chiles and spices, is a wonderful mix of Mexican, American and Native American combinations. A wonderful taste of a regional wine, unexpectedly flavorful and worthy of standing beside its Napa cousins. A nip of a pickled cactus. The best nachos this side of Laredo. The discovery of sopapillas and the incredible taste they have with a drizzle of honey as their only condiment. These are the sorts of things which are true and enduring pleasures of what, at its best, can be called "New Mexican" cooking.

But that was to be expected in many ways. New Mexican foods are well known in the restaurant world, and are often calling cards in and of themselves.

And, as I started out this column I noted that it was the unexpected which can be the greatest reward for a traveler with an open mind. Or palate. Or both.

The Chocolate Smith
When I say "chocolate tourism", a large number of destinations come to mind. Chocolatiers from numerous places around the globe often lay claim to producing the best, the richest, the most sensual confections known to man or woman. Zurich, Switzerland. Brussels, Belgium. Paris, of course. (In fact, the argument -- for there is no discussion -- of whether it is the Swiss, Belgian or French chocolates that are the best has raged and will continue to rage for centuries.) Germany. Britain. Our own Hershey, Pennsylvania -- love or hate American chocolate, it's a destination. South and Central America, home of the cacao bean itself.

So when I say "chocolate" chances are remote you would respond with "Santa Fe, New Mexico". And you'd be wrong.

Todos Santos
Santa Fe, perhaps more than any equitably-sized city, can honestly lay claim to some of the finest boutique chocolate houses in the U.S. So much so that one of the most highly recommended activities -- perhaps spanning a couple of days to avoid the risk of a tummy ache -- is the locally created and presented "Chocolate Trail" which features the work of four distinct and terrific chocolatiers. Each of them approaches the subject from a different perspective and philosophy, allowing the casual visitor to taste classic, historic and innovative flavors without wandering more than a mile from one end to the other (use a car, however. Santa Fe is imminently walkable, but you will want a way to transport all of your hard-won treasures before they melt).

And true to the region, each of the four chocolatiers emphasizes local ingredients and flavors in their concoctions, enabling them to present truly unique treats for the casual chocoholic and connoisseur alike.

C.G. Higgins Confections – "Welcome to C.G. Higgins, a boutique chocolatier, candymaker, and the home of Chuck's Nuts Originals. We hand-make fine chocolate truffles, caramel corn, and many types of nut brittle, most recently featured on the Food Network's "Road Tasted" with the Neelys. Also known for our specialty fudge, C.G Higgins incorporates local flavors of the New Mexico including red and green chiles." 
The two-part tasting room and cafe is warm and inviting, as are the staff and Chuck Higgins himself. He took the time to explain the history of his company, his love of the confection business, and a bit of background on the whole Chocolate Trail idea. Chuck got into the business through the sale of his homemade fudge,  classic truffles, and caramel corn -- which remain a staple of his business along with a large assortment of delicious brittles. He mixes local ingredients to create such flavors as chile peanut brittle and lavender pecan brittle, lavender caramel corn, and a completely natural fudge that is creamy and tastier than most varieties -- the flavors are more subtle and textured rather than the one-note fudge you may be used to eating..
CG Higgins is easily visible from highway 285 (St Francis Drive) just north of Cerillos. 
847 Ninita St. (at St. Francis) 505-820-1315.  www.cghiggins.com

Kakawa Chocolate House – Kakawa isn't your usual chocolate shop either. They are dedicated to preserving the true historic flavors of chocolate drinks and creations such as chile chocolate ice cream and dark chocolate candies. 
We are a specialty chocolate company located in the beautiful high desert town of Santa Fe, New Mexico. Our passion is authentic and historic drinking chocolates. Historic drinking chocolates include traditional Pre-Columbian Mesoamerican Mayan Aztec drinking chocolates; 1600's European drinking chocolates, Colonial American and Colonial Mexican drinking chocolates. Kakawa Chocolate House drinking chocolates are representative of these historic recipes and span the time period 1000 BC to the mid-1900s AD.
Relax and indulge
The flavors are truly unique, and some of them will surprise you with their flavors -- this is not for the Hershey's crowd, this is for the adventurous palate delving into the crafted original tastes and sensations of hundreds of years before factory production created instant hot chocolate. The tasting is part of the fun of visiting Kakawa, and you will find the people behind the counter helpful and well-versed in the subject. As with CG Higgins, there is a small cafe area in which you can sit down with your choice and sip to your heart's content.
1050 Paseo de Peralta  505-982-0388.  www.kakawachocolates.com.  

The Chocolate Smith – The Chocolate Smith is perhaps the most traditional of chocolatiers on the Chocolate Trail, but don't let the appearance fool you. The flavors and creations here are as authentically Santa Fe as as any of the other three houses. Dark chocolate flavors, some with a healthy red or green chili kick, greet you as you enter the store. Take a moment to peruse the room and see all of the various products and services they offer, then wander the few feet to the main counter and check out the options.
Gourmet dark chocolate by The Chocolate Smith is made by hand using a bittersweet blend of dark chocolate and premium, fresh, local, and organic ingredients. Indulge in timeless chocolate classics or explore contemporary twists and regional flairs. Whichever your preference, be ready for an over-the-top chocolate experience.
They specialize in barks (the dark chocolate chili bark is amazing and genuinely spicy), caramels, bon bons and candy-covered nuts.
851-A Cerillos Road.  505-473-2111.  www.chocolatesmith.com.

Todos Santos Chocolates and Confections - Todos Santos is perhaps the most eclectic of the group, with a variety of candies that range from marshmallow sticks through to delicious hand-crafted chocolate treats. They cater to a higher-end clientele and seem to do a brisk business in candy catering.
Todos Santos carries housemade creations including truffles, toffee and gold or silver leaf covered chocolate milagros as well as eclectic confections from around the world.
Choices, choices...
Todos Santos
The flavors are as fabulous as those at the other establishments, with a premium presentation and approach. The shop is small, but packed with a variety of treats, many centered around the Dia De Los Muertos theme common to the Southwest and Mexico. A bit difficult to track down compared to the other three, but certainly worth a visit. Within an easy walk to the Basilica St Francis ad the famous Plaza Santa Fe.
Todos Santos is hidden away In the Sena Plaza Courtyard at 125 E. Palace #31 in Santa Fe.  505-982-3855. (Unfortunately no website available for ordering)

The Santa Fe Chocolate Trail. Expect the unexpected and Happy hunting!!!

Dreaming of Sweets the Santa Fe Chocolate Trail style!


  1. The newest chocolate maker in Santa Fe, NM is Cacao Santa Fe (cacaosantafe.com). Cacao Santa Fe is a true bean-to-bar chocolate maker and the first in NM to import and create chocolate from the beans. The owners, Derek Lanter and Melanie Boudar, have over 35 years combined experience in both growing cacao in the islands of Hawaii and making chocolate and confections from scratch. The finished chocolate bars and truffles are both beautiful to look at and luscious in flavor! Cacao Santa Fe also serves chocolate elixirs, some of which have been put together by Mark Sciscenti — the original owner of Kakawa downtown and who is an old friend of Melanie Boudar and Derek Lanter — Mark is involved with the new business.

  2. A great update, James. Thank you! Good to know the "Trail" isn't resting on its laurels and is continuing to grow in new ways. Looking forward to my next time in Santa Fe when I'll make sure to visit Cacao Santa Fe!