Chocolate Rain.

Over the weekend, we had an interesting issue arise. We ran out of chocolate. Our chocolate is something we took a lot of time to develop when we opened our store. It’s actually a gnache made by breaking down bars of Scharffenberger chocolate and mixing it with heated heavy cream and agave nectar. The initial recipe was created by Nick Griffith, and it’s been amazing ever since. Our mochas and hot chocolates are phenomenal, so much so, that even I, on my anti-milk campaign, have to sit down every so often and drink a hot chocolate.

The issue we ran into was that we ran out of the Scharffenberger bars. This happened on Black Friday… the beginning of a weekend we knew would be filled with hot chocolate and chai. Normally, the bars show up direct from the factory, so we knew it could be a couple of days. To fix the problem, we decided to run out and grab some chocolate from a local grocer.

In the end, we were left with a very different gnache. It was less ply-able and harder to blend with our espresso… slowing down a busy line. The really frustrating thing was that it wasn’t our gnache. We had hundreds of customers pouring in from all over the country, coming in for what may be there one and only experience at our store, we had to give them something different.

I started to wonder what is worse… To not have a mocha or a hot chocolate on the menu or to have it there, but not to be serving our version. To me, it’s a balancing act. We aren’t just a neighborhood coffee shop that is trying to get by. We’ve made it very clear that we want to offer the finest and the best of everything we do. Yet, we also want to be approachable and have a non-elitist mentality. Did we do the right thing? I’m interested in hearing others perspectives…

Personally, I think we could have handled it better. We handle every other issue by not telling our customers what they can’t have, but by telling them what they can have… Want an espresso to go? I’d recommend a small americano with less water… Iced espresso? How about iced coffee… it has more caffeine! I think we could have gotten by without chocolate. Our chai is also pretty damn good…

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7 thoughts on “Chocolate Rain.

  1. Your customers came in looking for one thing, but were given another. Best just to take the item off the menu for a short while, rather than give the customers a sub-par experience.

  2. Scharffenberger was bought out by Hershey’s several years ago; from what I’ve heard, all of the talent that made Scharffenberger great has long fled the company. With so many bean-to-bar, direct-trade model chocolate companies now on the scene, it’s seems rather counter to what you are trying to achieve to stick with them. If I could make a suggestion, Intelli needs to dump its relationship with Vosges for the Black Cat Bar and seek out a chocolate company more in-line with what you do with coffee for both your in-house recipes and your bars. Tcho in San Francisco. Askinosie in Springfield, MO. Escazu in Raleigh, NC. Taza in MA. We work with all of these companies, and they would be a perfect fit for Intelligentsia– and the quality of your chocolate would go through the roof. We use Askinosie for both our sauces and custom, in-house blended hot chocolates, and they stand up to any drinks or sauces that I’ve had, anywhere.

  3. The thing to remember is we’re talking about our mocha. It’s one of those drinks you just expect to find when you wander in off the street into a new coffee place. The fact that ours happens to be exceptional is kind of a bonus.

  4. Yeah, that’s what I’m talking about as well. We started with M’lissa’s tweaked mocha sauce recipe and then worked with Askinosie on sourcing bulk chocolate that we use for our mocha sauce and two of our hot chocolates. We make a 3 oz/$4 drinking chocolate with one iteration that includes Askinosie single origin cocoa powder as well as 70% dark direct trade Ecuadorian chocolate from a single farmer in San Jose Del Tambo. Believe me, the difference between Scharffenberger and Askinosie is at least as great as the distance from Peets to Intelligentsia. We buy the chocolates in lots of 10 kilo broken bars, so it’s super easy to prep into sauces and drinks. Let me know if you all are interested; I’ll send contact info for who you need to talk to at Askinosie.

  5. I think which chocolate you are using is a completely different issue. Valid point, but different issue.

    I just like the idea that big shops have some of the same challenges we (little shops) do. I agree with Billy. Think of the publicity you would get, INTELLIGENTSIA OUT OF CHOCOLATE! omg. You could have a big party and announce that CHOCOLATE IS BACK!

    also, did you charge the same amount for the substitute chocolate sauce? . . . just curious

  6. I’d remove the hot chocolate and mocha from the menu. I don’t think anyone would ague that you couldn’t afford to. And I have to agree with True on using Scharffenberger chocolate. Yeah, it sounds fancy and perhaps better than Ghiradelli or Torani, but still nowhere close to being in line with your coffee or tea programs. Why not take it seriously? In Portland we are fortunate to have Holy Kakow producing organic Peruvian chocolate sauce for our more affordable chocolate drinks, and naturally we use a single origin chocolate from Venezuela for our classier chocolate drinks. Just sayin’…

  7. I appreciate the thinking on this. Although I don’t typically order mochas, it’s the kind of anomalies I dread when I visit a cafe out of town – is something sub-par a fluke or par for the course. Hopefully not too many people minded or were blogging about hot chocolate that weekend.

    I partly have to agree with True in that there are likely to be better quality chocolates out there to work with. Then again, if Scharffenberger tastes better, in a head to head (which it may, especially considering when combining it with espresso), then go for it. That said, you should be able to get Scharffenberger at any major grocery store – whole foods typically carries it in bulk even. I guess it could have been a pricing or a time issue, but someone certainly could have gotten hold of some Scharffenberger in a pinch.

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