Raise the bar: Chocolate shops put the ‘ATL’ in ‘Xocolatl’

This story originally appeared in the January 2017 edition of Living Intown Magazine.

Chocolate adds flavor throughout the calendar year, whether in fun-sized wrappers at Halloween, hot steaming mugs during the holidays or heart-shaped boxes on Valentine’s Day. Yet even the most ardent chocoholics may not appreciate its rich history or the craft behind its creation.

"I think most people don't know where chocolate comes from, how it's made or that chocolate can be different [depending on] the different varieties of cacao," says Matt Weyandt, who co-founded Xocolatl with his wife, Elaine Read.

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Their Krog Street Market shop takes its name from “xocolatl,” or “drink of the gods,” as the Mayans and Aztecs called it. Pronounced “chock-oh-la-tul,” “xocol” stands for bitter and “atl” for water. Aztec emperor Montezuma was said to consume as much as 40 cups of it a day.

The drink caught on in France around 1615, and soon the rest of Europe had an insatiable sweet tooth. Already a form of currency in early Latin America, cacao beans became even more valuable as a global commodity.

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Centuries later, cacao still holds secrets, including health benefits. Several Atlanta chocolate shops create confections by, in effect, going back to the roots of the cacao bean. Xocolatl and Cacao Atlanta Chocolate Co. purchase beans from specific cacao farmers to craft specialized flavors in their "bean-to-bar" products.

Cacao Atlanta visionary Kristen Hard has cultivated the city’s small-craft chocolate movement, while Xocolatl has made education a centerpiece of its operation.

“We essentially have our shop set up so that you can see the whole process,” Weyandt says. “People are starting to learn the different flavors that come from the different beans that we work with. That’s an exciting part of the process for us, to open up a new world for folks in terms of flavors and chocolate.”

Xocolatl Small Batch Chocolate Micro-Factory

Located across from Craft Izakaya at Krog Street Market, Xocolatl makes everything bean-to-bar. Its products are vegan (coconut milk has pride of place), and free of both soy and gluten. Popular flavors include Kissed Mermaids (60 percent cacao, organic cane sugar, organic coconut milk, vanilla-infused sea salt and cacao nibs) and Oh Nuts! (68 percent Cacao, organic cane sugar, dry-roasted almonds, vanilla-infused sea salt). As supporters of the craft chocolate movement, Xocolatl also sells the creations of artisanal innovators like Atlanta-based Nicobella, as well as bars from Tanzania and Madagascar.

99 Krog St. 404-604-9642. xocolatlchocolate.com

Insider tip

Book Xocolatl’s micro-factory tour and tasting to enjoy an educational look at single origin chocolates paired with wine.

Twigg & Co.

Inman Quarter’s relatively new addition to the Cacao Atlanta chain offers customers the unique option to build their own candy bar. Make selections from the ample topping options — including rum raisins, smoked sea salt, pistachio, cherries, dry goji berries and rainbow sprinkles — then watch them blend with the melted chocolate, then placed in a mold and refrigerated to set. With a 70 percent dark chocolate base, this treat is a healthier choice than many other indulgences. Select pre-made bars are also available for purchase. Twigg & Co.’s “Buy a bar, plant a tree” initiative has a mission is to donate a Theobroma cacao tree seedling to a farmer for every chocolate bar or frozen chocolate banana purchase.

299 N. Highland Ave. 404-565-0412. cacaoatlanta.com

Cacao Buckhead

Cacao Buckhead, nestled between Shake Shack and Tom Ford at the Shops Buckhead, lives up to the expectations of a high-end chocolate shop. The elegantly appointed art lends the quaint space an air of sophistication, further enhanced by the marble and glass bar showcasing the premium chocolate selections. Specialties include hand-painted and infused chocolate, as well as gummy chocolate bears. A cozy wine room is available to rent for parties of eight to 10 people.

3035 Peachtree Road., A150. 404-228-4023. cacaoatlanta.com