As if the world of chocolate wasn't magical just for being chocolate, there's a shop in Vancouver that really takes chocolate in all its purest and best forms, to the next level.
From single-origin unprocessed bars to artisanal chocolates the dozens of wildly inventive hot chocolate flavours they are most known for, Kitsilano's Koko Monk has been making chocolate dreams come true since 2013. And thing just keep getting better.
Owner and chocolatier Paul Dincer is one of chocolate's finest minds. Melding his love of literature with the science of chocolate into one sweet passion, Dincer creates an array of beautiful flavour combinations and works with a deep respect for his ingredients--namely the chocolate itself.
There's no sugar for sugar's sake here. Dincer, who says its his company's credo to talk to and feed his customers, has bags of raw cacao pods in his shop that he can crack open and crush for you to taste.
"Crunch it three or four times, then just let it sit on your tongue," he urges. He waits, knowing that the flavours will unfold in waves on the palate. It's the magic of pure chocolate. But it's also the often-abandoned skill of teaching yourself how to really taste, and eat. Slowly. It's got to be slowly. The good stuff, real food with minimal interference from humans, will satisfy.
Dincer works with raw unprocessed cacao, and uses no refined white sugars. For dark chocolate fans, anything that is over 75% chocolate will feature natural sweeteners (things like maple, goji berry, or monk fruit, for example). Everything under 75% uses raw cane sugar.
This focus on the ingredients means that, yes, this is a healthier chocolate experience. Dincer calls his chocolate a whole food, not a candy. But that doesn't mean Koko Monk isn't fun. Oh, man, is it fun. Just one glance through their impressive "booklet" of hot chocolate flavours and you know this is definitely a prime spot for chocolate indulgence.
In fact, it's probably hot chocolate that most Vancouverites, and many a visitor, have come to know Koko Monk for. Each year their out-do themselves with creativity for the Hot Chocolate Festival, coming up with creations with names as eye-popping as the ingredient list. Take this one for example: A Non-Conformist’s Plea for an Imaginary Summer is a tomato hot chocolate with rose and raspberry.
Because Dincer is so passionate about ingredients, he is also willing and able to adapt most of his hot chocolate flavours for those who are vegan or prefer to avoid dairy. Several of the chocolate bars and artisanal chocolates are also naturally vegan, too--and you won't miss a thing.
Of course, you do have to head to Koko Monk's small 1st Avenue shop to enjoy their hot chocolates...for now. Dincer has launched a Kickstarter campaign to support his addition of a second location planned for Broadway at MacDonald, and not only will the second shop feature a hot chocolate counter, but also his crowdfunding backers can opt to get his new at-home hot chocolate "cubes" as a reward.
The cubes are made with organic single origin cacao and raw, unrefined cane sugar, and come in three flavours: Authentic Hot Chocolate, Turkish Mocha, and Matcha Tea White Hot Chocolate. Of the three flavours, only the Matcha is non-vegan (it contains milk solids) but the suggested milk for making the Matcha happens to be coconut milk. The result of making it with coconut milk, by the way, is a crazy flavour mind meld of matcha that may in fact remind you of eating seafood in the most weird and wonderful--and sweet!--way.
Using the cubes at home is really easy. Two cubes make one cup of hot chocolate, and require the use of six ounces of your milk of choice heated to a boil (but not left boiling). The cubes are only available to Koko Monk's Kickstarter supporters, but you can also support Koko Monk by making a visit to the shop to pick up some chocolates or enjoy hot chocolate--available weekends by the flight, too.
Truly, there isn't much of anything better for chocolate-lovers than to spend some time at Koko Monk talking with Dincer, whose literary mind and love for all the myriad of ways there are to enjoy chocolate is absolutely inspiring. Oh, and it's chocolate. That's pretty awesome.
Koko Monk is located at 1849 West 1st Avenue in Vancouver. Find their Kickstarter campaign here.