What have these to do with Venezuelan chocolate, you may ask.
One evening not too long ago, Amara Chocolate & Coffee‘s co-owner Amara Barroeta was eating at a sushi restaurant and became absorbed and intrigued by the many flavors. She then began to consider how these tastes could blend with her 100% Venezuelan cacao, et voilá (or y aqui), Little Tokyo was born—a creation of chocolate, lychee, wasabi, and sesame.
The Strawberry Mojito petite dessert is strawberry marmalade infused with spearment topped with 70% dark chocolate and crunchy nonpareils. It was very delicious, a bit dangerously goopy (recommendation: hold a napkin underneath when taking a bite), but with the ability to wonderfully linger.
Acropolis has a bottom layer of goat cheese, honey, and dark chocolate ganache. It’s an interesting combination—the dark chocolate with the sour of goat cheese—though we couldn’t really taste the honey.
There are a half a dozen truffles on display; the guava, coconut and white chocolate, and then the passionfruit (a traditional South American fruit) that are patron favorites.
All of the chocolates are made by hand and in small batches so that they are always fresh, which also allows Amara the leeway to experiment and create something new every week. She explains how Venezuelan cacao criollo is considered the best in the world. Supposedly, the flavors and aromas are unique, but the beans are hard to grow. Historically, the advanced machinery necessary to process the beans into the end product (chocolate!) is very expensive, enabling the more financially flush countries of France, Belgium and Switzerland to establish their long-held chocolate reputations. But now, with the popularity of the fair trade concept and some Europeans emigrating, Venezuelans are learning the A-Z of becoming chocolatiers.
Sit with Amara for a few minutes and your knowledge of chocolate will increase a thousand fold. For example, when cocao beans are processed they produce three things: a “liqueur,” powder, and “butter.” The reason 70% dark chocolate is considered healthier is because 70% is the cacao solids, while only 30% is sugar. Milk chocolate has more about 30% cacao, its creaminess coming from milk powder and butter—and a whole lot more sugar.
Authentic churros are also on the menu, as well as an inverse chocolate fondue and various pastries and sandwiches. Their most popular drink is cocao latte, a true mocha where melted chocolate (a melter bowl is immersed right into the back counter) is mixed with milk and coffee.
If the night is chilly, try the thick, smooth, and distinctive Venezuelan hot chocolate. The “Amara & Jones” is Venezuelan hot chocolate mixed with a shot of espresso (all the coffee is from Jones Coffee Roasters, a partnership about which Amara is extremely happy). You could also add a half moon of dark chocolate with Blue Ginger (galanga), which has a stronger flavor than common ginger. Or, maybe swirl in a Mexican half moon of dark chocolate, chile pasilla, and cinnamon. Some of these are not advertised, so make sure to ask Amara what she has on her shelf.
Amara and her husband moved to Pasadena two years ago. She took some courses in the business program at UCLA and the professors have been incredibly informative and supportive as they’ve maneuvered through the start-up process. It took Amara a year and a half to find the store’s location. She knew she wanted to be in Old Town, but contends that only the chain stores can afford the rents on Colorado Blvd. She loves the location she found on Raymond Avenue near the corner of Green Street, and she’s proud to be among the independent store owners whose shops branch off along the side streets.
She’s even more excited to offer a creative, exciting, ever-changing chocolate experience.
Amara Chocolate & Coffee
55 S. Raymond Ave., Pasadena 91105
Tuesday-Thursday, 8:30 a.m.-7 p.m.
Friday & Saturday, 8:30 a.m.-10 p.m.
Sunday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m.