Kayoko Akabori is one of the founders of Umami Mart, an Oakland importer and retailer of Japanese food, barware, and household goods, and an online blog of food and drink. Brandon, our staff accountant, is a huge fan of the store, and he noticed that they expanded their space to include a tasting bar that can host events. He made an introduction to Leah and Christine, who happily worked with the Umami Mart team to taste chocolate after chocolate, and sake after sake, to find complimentary flavors between them. Together they hosted a sold-out event to highlight how sake and single-origin chocolate are made, and how complimentary they can be side by side. Kayoko blogged a recap of the event, and she kindly allowed us to share it here.
A few weeks ago, we hosted an event with our neighbor across the bay, Dandelion Chocolate, for a special event pairing sakes with chocolates. The event focused on chocolate and sake production, and we tasted through Dandelion’s bars made in San Francisco and Japan, paired alongside sakes that are also from the Bay Area, and Japan. It was an awesome night of discovery and our taste buds were awakened!
The event came about because as a chocolate lovers, we weren’t getting quite the right pairings with sake – but we knew there’d be a pairing out there! There is a lot of literature written about sake and chocolate. Many Japanese blogs and books suggest pairing sweeter style sakes like sparkling sakes and nigoris with chocolate. But we tried these pairings over and over again, and it wasn’t quite clicking.
It was time to bring the chocolate pros in – Dandelion Chocolate from San Francisco. Tasting through the chocolates with Christine really helped us open our eyes on how to taste chocolate and the production method of chocolate (from cacao fruit bean to bar).
The resulting pairings did not involve one sparkling sake or nigori! In fact some of the sakes we paired alongside these dark and complex chocolates were on the dry side. The only only outlier that was on the sweet side was the aged, vermouth-like Hisui red, which worked wonders for the extra dark Ecuador 85% bar we tried at the end.
Dandelion opened an outpost in Kuramae, a neighborhood in Tokyo, in 2016 where they make and sell chocolate. We were lucky enough to taste one of the bars made in Tokyo, along with three others made in San Francisco. We had worked with Christine and Leah from Dandelion to come up with these chocolate/sake pairings:
Cahabon, Guatemala 70% (made in SF) with Enter Gold Daiginjo (brewed in Aichi, Japan)
Maya Mountain, Belize 70% (SF) with Den Nama (Oakland)
Gola Rainforest, Sierra Leone 70% (Tokyo) with True Vision (Fukui)
Camino Verde, Ecuador 85% (SF) with Hisui Red Rice (Kumamoto)
Christine started off the event by cutting open a cacao pod!
The pods were slimy and tart, and when chewed, definitely tasted like a mild bean.
The tasting led to many lively discussions with our guests. I had personally never tasted sakes and chocolates alongside one another before and was astounded by how one enhanced the other. We all learned so much about sake and chocolate, and how to taste each individually, and together.
As someone who has paired lots of savory foods with sake, pairing chocolate with sake was pretty intimidating. With a little guidance and help from the pros of chocolate, exploring outside our usual pairing comfort zone was eye-opening and ultimately delicious.
Thank you to everyone who attended the event – it was our first ticketed event at the bar and we were so happy that it was a packed house. A very special thanks to Christine from Dandelion – she was so knowledgable and gracious. We hope to partner with Dandelion again in the future!