OK, you guys, I’m just going to say it: I hate Valentine’s Day. Maybe it’s the rebel in me who doesn’t want to do what “they” tell me I should, but mostly I’m just lazy. I’m supposed to make reservations months in advance for dinner on a Thursday night? Spend money on love notes and skimpy red dresses? Phhhh, no thanks; you’ll find me at home, watching TV while chowing down on tacos in my pajamas like a normal human being, thank you very much.
There is one part of the holiday that I don’t despise, and that’s the chocolate. Not that these tasty treats were always part of V-Day; it was mostly roses and poems until the mid-1800s, when Europe’s Cadbury turned drinking chocolates into “eating chocolates.” He popped ’em into elaborately designed, keepsake heart-shaped boxes and chocolate became entrenched in Valentine’s history.
I don’t actually need an excuse to buy chocolate, but I’ll take it. It tastes good, smells good and makes me feel good. There’s a reason that the Aztecs used the beans as currency and Marie Antoinette had a personal chocolatier. And is it a coincidence that Miracle Max used it to bring Wesley back from the dead in “The Princess Bride?” I think not.
But, like most things these days, regular old chocolate simply isn’t enough for me. I don’t want mass-produced, sugar-laden chocolate the same way I don’t want a cup of Folgers coffee or a tomato that’s grown a thousand miles away. Nope, I want the good stuff – the real deal – and the more I learn about bean-to-bar chocolate, the more I dig it.
I mean, talk about a real-life love story: a lonely cacao bean, living in a pod with its 30 to 40 siblings until, one day, a long pole comes bounding up from the ground, severing the pod from the tree in one swift stroke. After a few hits with a machete, the beans are freed from their home, excited to mingle with their friends in a large fermentation box. Chemical changes began to happen inside our little bean, and before you know it, she’s a changed woman. Drying in the sun, she looks around for her star-crossed lover but simply doesn’t feel the sting of Cupid’s arrow. If only she had Tinder, eh?
It isn’t until she’s selected by a chocolate producer – like Animas Chocolate and Coffee Co. – that she meets her one true love: organic pure sugar cane. Sure, sugar gets a bad rap, and she wasn’t trying to pick a bad boy, but it just really knows her, bringing out her essential flavors like no one else can. And, isn’t that what we’re all looking for – someone who can allow our true selves to shine?
It takes seven days – seven days – for Animas Chocolate to transform cacao beans into a ready-to-sell bar. Their Highline Bars feature single-location beans from Guatemala, Bolivia, or Belize. I tried all three side-by-side, and it’s totally crazy how different they taste. The Bolivia was pleasantly bitter yet sweet with a deep chocolate flavor, while the Guatemala was intensely fruity with almost no bitterness at all. The Belize tasted so much like cherries, I had to double check the ingredients to be sure that cherry extract wasn’t added. Forget wine tastings; chocolate tasting is definitely my new jam!
Who was the magician who brought these flavors to life? Carley Snider, who owns the Main Avenue shop with her husband, Marc. She found an old chocolate recipe book while working at Tall Timber Resort north of Durango and never looked back. They named the company after the Animas River, and their tagline, “Lose your soul to chocolate,” is a tribute to the El Rio de las Animas Perdidas (the River of Lost Souls). As if their story isn’t steeped in enough Durango history, their location used to be at Richey Confectionery, Durango’s original candy shop in the late 1800s.
The store is filled with homemade treats as far as the eye can see. Browse and eat chocolate until your heart’s content, or settle down at the beautiful marble-top bar or ultra-comfy couches with a Desert Sun coffee drink or a creamy drinking chocolate. Better yet, turn an oatmeal cookie into a s’more by adding house-made marshmallows and melted chocolate. And don’t worry if you’re not ready to spend $7 on a chocolate bar or shell out $2.50 for a handcrafted truffle. I mean, they’re totally worth it and it’ll be the best bite of your life, but they also have affordable options like couverture bars, lollipops and hot chocolate mix.
I also picked up a bag of chocolate-covered potato chips and a set of edible chocolate shot glasses. Because, while I might observe the “holiday” in my aforementioned pajamas, why not do it with chocolate? If there is one thing worth celebrating, it’s a local company absolutely doing it right. They’re open until 7 p.m. on Valentine’s Day, too, so don’t be afraid to do a little last-minute shopping (and pick up a chocolate-covered strawberry while you’re at it).