Human beings have been consuming chocolate for thousands of years, and the earliest known method of delivery—drinking it hot with added sugar and spices—still provides a primal sense of satisfaction. Local shop
Kakawa Chocolate House has carved a niche for itself in providing an array of drinking chocolates designed to scratch that ancient itch—and then, three weeks ago, it opened a new location just off Rufina Street, adding 1,800 square feet of space to showcase its formidable lineup of cacao-based delights. With the lower Siler District arts community infusing the neighborhood with plenty of foot traffic, hopefully Kakawa continues to blossom.
The new location is spacious and brightly lit, a far cry from the cozy adobe cottage which serves as the business' downtown point of origin on Paseo de Peralta. There's a modern, minimalist eating area replete with wooden tables and cheerfully colored chalkboards
delineating the day's freshly made lineup of drinks, baked goods and organic ice cream, and a rotating selection of daily drinks and elixirs based on historic
European, Central and South American recipes. Kakawa also boasts a glass case full of jewel-like truffles with ingredients ranging from the conventional such as raspberry and lavender to outliers like piñon and goat cheese.
From the beginning, Kakawa was always focused on high-quality, artisanal treats from pastry chef/original owner Mark Sciscenti, who sold the business to Tony and Bonnie Bennett in 2011. The Bennetts expanded the selection beyond drinking chocolate to include truffles, cookies and caramels, not to mention pre-made elixir packages and merchandise bearing the unique,
With the new space, Kakawa has solidified its brand identity, offering the same selection of items as its downtown iteration. The elixirs come served in tiny Oaxacan blue and white ceramic cups, a neatly appropriate delivery system for recipes such as the Zapoteca, a 100 percent fruity and nutty blend of single origin chocolates with no sugar or flavorings added, and the chili, which features coconut sugar and the warm, sweet heat of local red chile (all elixirs are $3.75 for 3 ounces and $6.50 for 6 ounces).
Cacao consumption in Oaxaca is tantamount to living a good life, as part of a daily diet and a symbol of important events. Cacao played a central part in the Spanish discovery and dissemination of chocolate's importance back home in Europe, and Kakawa's choice of ceramics is a subtle homage to the primacy of Mexican chocolate and culinary tradition, the wisdom of Indigenous chocolate consumption as important as its later wild and elaborate European incarnations. Like that of wine and coffee, the pleasure of chocolate is intimately connected to its containers; it is meant to be drunk out of clay and licked off fingers.
I sampled the chili elixir and it was thick and rich, with a consistency almost like the crema atop well-made espresso, but with subtle nutty and fruity flavors inherent in the chocolate that have nothing to do with added spice. I followed it up with a sweetly smoky mezcal-infused dark chocolate truffle ($3), which had a satisfyingly thick texture and earthy finish. It was a far cry from Hershey's, with a hint of sweetness balanced by a deep depth of flavor and rich mouthfeel.
Kakawa sources two premium, luxury-grade chocolate bases. Valrhona, a French company based in Tain-l'Hermitage, near the famous wine region Hermitage, provides the raw material for the 70 percent chocolate elixirs. Felchlin, meanwhile, a producer of premium Swiss chocolate, is more suited to the 100 percent chocolate recipes. These have a particularly satisfying and silky texture.
Part of what makes Kakawa's chocolates so special are historic references inherent in its offerings, the heavily floral and spiced sweetness of the American and the Jeffersonian representing the influence of European tastes on an Old-World foodstuff, while the darker, more bitter and earthy Mesoamerican elixirs paint a picture of an even older method of consumption.
Kakawa's new space is infused with the smell of chocolate tempering in an upstairs loft, or baking in a downstairs kitchen that is easily twice the size of the downtown location's. The elixirs are still made in the original location, but production of everything else is now localized at Rufina Circle. The Bennetts intend to expand their purview beyond Santa Fe, as well, with plans to open a third location in Salem, Massachusetts, in a brownstone owned by the Peabody Essex Museum, later this month. The new shop aims to bring the flavor of New Mexican red chile, mezcal and piñon delights to the East Coast. Not for nothing, the gospel of chocolate continues to be heard, and Kakawa continues to be one of its most ardent apostles.
1300 Rufina Circle, Suite A4,
10 am-6 pm Monday-Saturday