Two vices: cafe au lait and chocolate at Cups Coffee and Tea, in Roanoke.
The first of the three major chocolate seasons is over – or the third, I guess, depending on how you measure your year in chocolate, but I prefer to think of Christmas and its accompanying delicacies as just the beginning: hot cocoa, the Lindt chocolate deer from my mother (milk for me, dark for my less decadent husband), the Toblerone chocolate bar my sister always wraps up in my stocking (knowing full well the triangular box will give it away anyway).
Because after Christmas comes Valentine's Day, and I have a little secret longing for those red heart-shaped boxes – not a big one, just a little red one with Russell Stover inside.
And there's Easter, which is the best of the chocolate holidays, because that's when Cadbury appears (when it comes to mass market chocolate, Cadbury is my weakness... I had to exercise considerable restraint during my college semester abroad in London, when just about every Underground platform had a coin-operated Cadbury machine, it seemed. And then there was that little Belgian chocolate shop about a 20-minute walk from our student house.).
So I must express deep appreciation to my editor in chief, who assigned me this topic from a list of story ideas I gave him. Tough research, I tell you, just grueling – interviewing chocolatiers about their creations – and having to try out samples of their stuff.
Jan Scibor sent me an entire basket of bark and chocolate-covered pretzels and marshmallows from Gray, Tenn., where she owns the business Chocolate Elegance. She sends her baskets to others more deserving: soldiers serving in war zones and patients dealing with cancer. For her, chocolate, besides being creative, is about community, comfort, healing.
My story on regional chocolatiers is here – it also includes the elegant Gearhart's, in Charlottesville (first introduced to me by my friends Carter and Anita Ruff); the Chocolate Spike in Blacksburg (I always look for their booth at FloydFest); and Chocolate Fetish in Asheville, N.C. (an interesting come-here story too).
I've developed my own sources – for chocolate – over the years. My most recent is the newly opened Cups (one of my favorite coffee shops in Roanoke) in Roanoke's Grandin Village, launched by Michelle Bennett, who I knew from her years at Mill Mountain Theatre and Center in the Square. She stocks Nancy's Candy chocolate-covered graham crackers and pretzels, which she tells me are hand-delivered by Nancy herself, who runs a chocolate-making business in Meadows of Dan, Va. She has a shop in Floyd, Va. just off the Blue Ridge Parkway between Meadows of Dan and Roanoke, and the truffles are many, varied, delicious and not overpriced.
A couple more great regional chocolatiers:
Cocoa Mill, in Lexington, Va. – I visited here some years ago for the first time to do a radio story – for an arts show – making the case that chocolate is art. They'd recently been mentioned in the Wall Street Journal and said their phone had started ringing off the hook. They've recently switched locations in Lexington and I haven't been to the new place yet.
Holl's Swiss Chocolatier, in Charleston, W.Va. – the good folks at West Virginia Tourism took me to one of their shops when I was in the state capital a few years ago.
Got any favorites of your own? I'll keep adding to this list– check back for more!