A while ago I received an invitation to visit Lolli & Pops, a boutique candy shop in the Galleria. I figured I’d do the same as I did with Stieber’s Sweet Shoppe, which was pop in really quick, buy some truffles, snap a picture or two and head out (and I had mentioned as much in my reply). I don’t really have that much of a sweet tooth. Don’t get me wrong, I love desserts, but stand alone candy is not something I get into all that much. Once in a great while (like months) I might get a Kit Kat, but that’s about it. I stopped by the Galleria last Sunday, grabbed a bite in the food court and then walked over to Lolli & Pops, located by JC Penny on the 2nd level.
The moment I stepped inside I was greeted by one of the employees who was offering gummy bear samples. He asked me which of the three flavors I would like to try and then ended up just giving me all three. The floor was fairly busy with people. Further back I saw another worker who I soon met as I made my way further in. This was Chris Ruzic, the Chief Purveyor and the one that had originally invited me. We hadn’t worked out a specific time and my arrival was unannounced, but he was happy to see me and offered to give me the tour and tastings as his original invitation entailed. I explained my lack of candy knowledge to him and mentioned, if anything, I supposed I enjoy chocolate the most. I had no idea what I was in for.
I was shown into the chocolate room. Yes, the chocolate room. In here I found the walls loaded with bars and bulk chocolates. I recognized zero labels. This was my introduction to the world of craft chocolates. Chris began telling me about all the different chocolate makers / chocolatiers as we went through the room. He told me where each one was from and a bit of background such as with TCHO, a Silicon Valley start-up with a very tech-oriented style. Many of the brands proudly display what country their fair-trade cacao beans are sourced from, including apparently unlikely places such as Vietnam. He briefly went into some of the methods that the chocolatiers used in making their products and the differences they create in taste and texture. As he was telling me all this he had samples of many of the bars for me to try and experience the differences myself. They were vast. One bar had pop rocks embedded in it, another toasted bread crumbs. One of his favorites was from a maker in Nashville that stone grinds the beans giving it a very interesting, slightly coarser texture, and included cinnamon and chili which made it taste like a Mexican hot chocolate. One brand from San Francisco focused on small batch releases. Each bar was labeled with the country of origin and the year of harvest for the beans that were used in the making of that particular bar, and on the back was a hand initial. As small batch implies, they only make a limited number of these and when they’re gone they’re gone. The next batch won’t be the same.
With some instruction from Chris I was able to get a lot out of a very small sample of these bars. Letting the pieces melt a bit on the tip of the tongue before biting into it released so much flavor. Many of these flavors changed as you bit into them, revealing either subtle or even intense, in one or two I would go as far as saying sharp, changes with fruity or nutty notes. This was all a far cry from the usual Hersey, Nestle or even Lindt and Ghirardelli (when I am feeling particularly fancy) chocolates that I was familiar with.
I never knew this scene/industry even existed. This feels like when I was introduced to craft beer by my friend, Justin, or when I stumbled into boutique cigars of my own accord. The variety and huge cross section in styles, flavors, textures and the entire culture behind each of these movements is staggering. The limits are only as far as the brewer’s, master blender’s or, in this case, chocolatier’s imagination can take them. I’m certain wine is the same although it’s something I never got that into.
I ended up picking out 4 bars in addition to the 4 truffles that I intended on buying in the first place. I have only just opened the TCHO which is insanely silky and full of deep, rich milk chocolate flavor. I’ll be nibbling on these bars for several weeks. They are not the type of casual snack where you might devour the entire thing in a sitting, at least not for me. The prices you can see on the back of these bars should prove that. They are not ordinary chocolates and should not be treated as such. I suspect I will be returning with some regularity for a little indulgence into this fascinating, newfound world of chocolate now and then.
Of course, Lolli & Pops is not all chocolate. They have a bit of everything, including entire rooms dedicated to gummys, sours and gum balls. Chris even had me try a specialty marshmallow, insanely light and fluffy, infused with bourbon. —Drool—. Chris and his staff were all very friendly and extremely knowledgeable beyond anything I would have imagined. They are generous with samples so you can try before you buy. It’s worth stopping in and checking the place out, especially if you’re already in the mall.