30 March 2011

Penn "Chocolate" Festival

"Next semester, I will be more involved in social groups at school."
That's what I said last semester when I realised that I was pretty much in two clubs.
Then I realised that if I joined another two, I'd have no time to do my homework, study, go to the lab, run, and eat food.
This is in addition to the fact that I'm already managing my time better than I was last semester.

So, I didn't join any extra clubs, but I do get emails from the Penn Gastronomy Club (which I should officially join, actually). Recently, I got an email about the Penn Chocolate Festival, and there were going to be "some of the city's best chocolatiers" and free samples present!
At the Hall of Flags in Houston Hall, the Penn Chocolate Festival took flight. Breezy. Short. Among the tumbleweed. It was too timid to be anything like other food events (e.g. Campus "Free" For All), which was good because it meant that each member of the audience had extremely personalised attention from the vendors, which included just two chocolatiers (Really).
Despite obtaining a lot of information from the vendors, I didn't get many samples, which was a bit of a let-down considering the blatant advertising in the email. Then again, the email claimed that there were going to be many chocolate vendors, which wasn't the case.
The sweet, thick and creamy tea (which didn't taste much like tea) with mini tapioca balls in the above image came from Boba Brothers. I loved the fact that the tapioca balls are tiny! (~2mm in diameter; it makes them drinkable via a standard straw, and it is quite a twist). Actually, I wonder how bubble tea would be like with various sized tapioca balls in the tea...
Although the liquid was super sweet, clean/not artificially-flavoured-ish, there was no "chocolate" in it at all.
My second stop was John&Kira's chocolate. The fact that they use local ingredients and have beautiful packaging and are a home business (I talked to Kira) means that their prices are jacked up, of course. For $6.50, I can get Chipotle, instead of a bar of chocolate. However, John&Kira's also have everything that Chipotle, and Godiva, and Lindt don't have; they own the company, they can allow me to make my own flavour, and they use ingredients from around here. The mint in the mint chocolate came from University City's Urban Garden! I have no idea where that is, but it's within a 3 mile radius, probably. According to the brochure, the honey comes from Millerton PA, while the berries come from Meadow Gap PA. I'm not sure why they're advertising that the coffee whiskey comes from Mexico or that the bergamot comes from Sri-Lanka, because those aren't "local", but perhaps the overall message is that these ingredients come from known sources, and we're supposed associate that with fair labour or something.
My first impression was that the ladybugs and the bees were super shiny. They were as shiny as marbles, although more pearlescent. Apparently, there is a really high cocoa butter content in them, since the're some sort of caramel (bees) or ganache (ladybug).
Kira gave me a pretty big sample of dark mint chocolate to taste. The mint was definitely true mint; it isn't the sweet stuff that I'm accustomed to in commercial mint ice cream or mint chocolate; it was legitimate mint-right-off-the-plant. Although I do like the peppermint/conventional mint better, this one was light and delicious too. The chocolate part was... normal, I would say.

I then went to the table promoting Sazon restaurant. The guy who was at the table was a real businessman; he talked non-stop about how his chocolate was real, untempered, pure, made straight from crushed beans from Venezuela (the "original/pure/clean/unadulterated" location of cacao, apparently). He explaining his experimentation with making truffles in his kitchen, and he talked about testing all his truffles on his friends. At one point, he gave someone in the audience a whole truffle. He didn't give any truffles to me though, even though I talked to him for a good 10 minutes about his truffles and cocoa. He walked me through the truffles; coconut ones, jalapeno ones, rum infused ones, berry-filled - "I don't care about rule of 3 flavours - you know, of chocolate, and two others. I just dump them all in together and you can taste them all!", he proclaimed. He pointed out that the ones in the middle compartment were vegan, and the coconut covered ones on the right were raw and made with a ton of coconut butter. "Nothing goes above 105 degrees. I just use a blender and a thermometer; my raw vegan friend is really anal about this," he boasts. Then, he listed the ingredients in these vegan truffles, and I kinda blanked out until him mentioned the word honey.
Honey. From bees.
I'm not vegan, but vegans do not eat honey.
Naturally, I responded, "Hey wait! Vegans don't eat honey!"
The guy (I'm sorry I do not know his name but on the website, he's the Chocolate Alchemist) looked at me in this really exasperated way (and perhaps with a hint of scorn - he's not a vegetarian or vegan), and said "Well, it's just some honey; we don't know if agave is a good idea because it might have corn syrup or other things added, and honey is pure. And, our honey is local. Besides, you know that there are different definitions of vegan and a lot of vegans eat honey."

He didn't say those exact words, but that was his position on the issue. Call me biased, amnesiatic, or downright silly, but if there is honey in those truffles, those truffles are NOT vegan. His (sorta pompous) attitude, coupled with the fact that he selectively gave out truffles for sampling, meant that I didn't have a good impression of his business. I know he's allowed to boast about his truffles and his super-awesome hot chocolate since they do taste delicious (the hot chocolates did, at least), but I felt like he was stepping the line by sticking honey in a "vegan" treat.

So, the hot chocolates were amazing. I tried the Clasico and the Cuaimia. The Clasico was thick hot chocolate that had no watery taste at all; it was literally like drinking flavourful, textured, melted chocolate. The Cuaimia had a hint of chili (although not too much; I think I would prefer more) and was less chocolatey. Neither had sugar, yet they were so flavourful that sugar wasn't needed to counteract the bitter taste of the ground cocoa (not that it tasted that bitter, in comparison to cocoa powder).
Another local vendor was the Kitchen at Penn. They gave out banana pudding, brownie, and and a plastic cup. No spoon. The food tasted ordinary, but I suppose that's the point, because the Kitchen at Penn is supposed to emulate homemade food for college students missing home.
Although the next few pictures depict vacuous, gilded and bland cupcakes, I'm still posting them because they are indeed prettily decorated. Buttercream Cupcakes (a cupcake truck, not to be confused with Call Me Cupcake, another cupcake truck) offers sundry cupcakes, including the best-seller, red velvet.
I tried 1/4 of a chocolate cupcake with peanut butter icing and purple sugar. The peanut butter icing tasted legitimately like peanut butter smothered in cream and sugar. The cake was kinda dry actually.

So wait a minute, two legit chocolatiers out of 5, at a "chocolate" festival?

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