I first heard about Chocotenango when I went to the Fairfax Chocolate Festival in Vienna, VA, in 2016. During that festival, I remember seeing so many kid-friendly chocolates being sold. The only stall that really grabbed my attention and that I gravitated to was by Ismael, the founder and chocolate maker behind Chocotenango. He was very friendly and I walked away with several of his bonbons. This happened around the time when I first started writing Time To Eat Chocolate, and I’m very glad that I get to add Chocotenango to the list of local Washington, D.C., chocolate makers!
It wasn’t until a few months ago that I learned Ismael also made chocolate bars. While making an online order so I could send Trish of Eating the Chocolate Alphabet a bar to try, I got for myself the El Puro bar. It was hard not to choose just one bar since all of them were made using cacao from the Dominican Republic, which is my favorite for its fruity notes.
Ismael was very kind to answer some questions so I could learn more about the history of Chocotenango and why he chose to work specifically with cacao from the Dominican Republic.
Why was Washington, D.C., chosen as the city to base Chocotenango out of?
Chocotenango was originally born in Guatemala, where my wife and I lived for many years. My wife then found job in DC, so I followed her here. When I first came, I worked for a few years at the Four Seasons Hotel, but it was always my dream to reopen Chocotenango, which I did in 2013.
What inspired Ismael to pursue chocolate after studying and working in other aspects of being a chef?
Originally from Algeria, where our kitchen always was filled with interesting flavors, I moved to Boston with my wife and then on to Guatemala when my wife found a job in public health there. Having been a chef all of my adult life, and having studied both pastry arts and recieving my professional chef degree, I was seeking something to do in my new environment. When we moved to the touristy town of Antigua, I noticed that there were no chocolate shops despite the fact that cacao is grown in Guatemala. With my background in pastry, I decided to go for it, teaching myself how to make chocolate. Since then, I have studied under some of the best chocolatiers and have really honed my craft. But it all started on a whim.
Where did the name Chocotenango come from?
Chocotenango has its origins in Guatemala, where it first started. Tenango is a common ending for names of towns there, deriving from the Mayan language. It means the place of. So, Chocotenango is short for the place of chocolate.
The bonbons have unique, bright colors to them that are eye catching. Where does Ismael get inspiration for the molds and colors to use for the bonbons? On a related note, where does Ismael get inspiration for the chocolate bar flavors?
I’m lucky to have worked both as a savory and as a pastry chef. So, I have a wide variety of experiences when it comes to food. I always say, I don’t look for ingredients, they find me. If I am in a market and I see wasabi, for example, I will start thinking about how to make it into a delicious chocolate. I think about which other ingredients would compliment the flavor. For example, with wasabi, which is used mostly in Japanese cuisine, I would add something like yuzu, ginger and so on.
When it comes to colors and shapes for my chocolate, I like to get creative. I want my chocolates to look as they taste, vibrant, creative, bursting with flavor and texture.
Is it a blend or single origin cacao that is used for making the bonbons?
I use single origin chocolate from the Dominican Republic. I buy my organic cocoa beans from a farmer’s cooperative that pools beans from many small farms in the area. I visited the farm a year ago and loved meeting the farmers and seeing where my cacao comes from.
On Chocotenango’s website it looks like all of the chocolate bars are made with cacao from Dominican Republic. Is there a reason why only Dominican Republic cacao is being used so far?
I tried a wide variety of other beans from all over the world, but I personally like the beans from the Dominican Republic for a couple of reasons. First, they are great value for money – organic, tasty, yet affordable. Second, the flavor of the beans is fruity, a taste I personally like. And last, having visited the farms and met the farmers, I feel dedicated to supporting them.
Are there any new products or news coming up for Chocotenango?
I’m always experimenting with new products and while I always keep my range of flavors, I often come out with limited release bars or other products for sale for a limited time. As for news, I love seeing how my chocolate stacks up against the best chocolate in the world. So, I am once again entering the International Chocolate Awards competition. I have won 5 awards in the past two years, both bronze and silver, & World bronze but this year I am aiming for a gold!
Best of luck to Ismael when he enters the International Chocolate Awards competition and I will keeping an eye out for more limited release bars and new products by him!
As expected, this bar smelled fruity and immediately tasted fruity, almost like a bright tropical fruitiness. There was also a touch of nuttiness or smokiness in the bar that I didn’t expect, but it wasn’t bad. My bite maintained that fruitiness with smoky/nuttiness all through way through into the aftertaste. I shared this bar with coworkers who all really enjoyed this chocolate. One of them, whose palate is much better than mine at detecting minute flavors, said this bar in their opinion was very balanced.
This bar did not last long whatsoever once I shared it with others. Ismael, you have not just mine, but also my coworkers’ approval for this bar! When my coworkers enjoy a chocolate I bring in, it’s even more amazing since they would not otherwise get craft chocolate for themselves and they mostly consume mass produced chocolate. What a way to help introduce them to craft chocolate than through the products of local chocolate makers!
Chocotenango: Made in Washington, D.C.
These are my personal thoughts and experiences. I did not receive pay or any compensation for reviewing any products. Website links to articles, companies and other sources of information directly related to the topic written within the posts were included during the time of writing and the writer will not be held responsible for future changes on such website links. All images are original and the property of Time To Eat Chocolate unless specifically stated otherwise.