When you think of chocolate, do you also think of green tea, pineapple juice, tequila, basil, roses, curry, chipotle chili or potato chips? If not, you haven't experienced the exotic world of Tropical Chocolate.
Until they moved to the Central Coast in July 2008, owners Roger and Pam Marshall were San Diego residents looking for "something to do with the second half of our lives." On Jan. 20, that something became a premium chocolate shop on Broad Street featuring a raft of fresh, handmade temptations that celebrate the tastes of the islands.
Like a lot of second careers, this one got its start as a hobby when Pam began making chocolates as gifts for family, friends and clients of the Marshalls' construction company. It wasn't long until people began asking how they could order more chocolates, and more, and eventually it reached the point where the couple found themselves renting a small commercial kitchen in San Diego.
Pam is the first to admit that she doesn't have "the culinary pedigree" of most of the premium chocolatiers she studies and admires, but she certainly feels at home in the world of such rarified matters as high-end chocolates.
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"I was born and raised in Beverly Hills. I was a Beverly Hills debutante, so I do know about the finer things in life," she acknowledged, quickly adding, "but I rebelled, and I'm so glad I did!" That rebellion led her to the ocean, and she spent more than a dozen years in the Santa Barbara area hitting the beach and becoming something they don't teach in charm school -- a top-ranked competitive windsurfer.
You can set sail on your own Tropical Chocolate voyage with "Island Mint Breeze" or "Lilikoi Passionfruit," "Wahine Rose Caramel" or "Lanai Lemon Basil," "Garden Isle Green Tea Ginger" or even "Mai Tai."
Other creations include "Pele's Fire" with chili and cinnamon in a Hawaiian dark chocolate ganache; "Blue Lagoon Berry" with blueberries in a dark Madagascar chocolate ganache; "Lava Rocks" with chocolate and crumbled Hawaiian-style potato chips; and "Blended with Salt" with--what else -- tequila, lime juice, lime zest and salt in a Colombian dark chocolate.
Some of the flavors drift through the chocolate like a warm island breeze, while others crash onto your taste buds like a pipeline wave.
Either way you'll get a hit of the tropical essence, and all of the flavorings "are natural, not artificial, and most are organic," Pam said. "We use fresh-frozen passion fruit and mango puree, fresh lemon and basil, and we infuse the green tea right into the chocolate," she explained, with Roger adding that "we want to be serious about our chocolate, but -- as you can tell from the names and the flavors--we also want it to be fun."
Pam noted that "most of our chocolate comes from Hawaii, which really sets us apart," especially that from the Waialua Estate on the north shore of Oahu. Grown in volcanic soil, this coveted, earthy chocolate is duly showcased in the "Single Origin Flower," a 70 percent chocolate delight dabbed with a decadent dot of 23-karat gold.
Though they don't all sport gold, each of the chocolates is individualized with a distinctive shape and/or representative artwork on the top. Usually, the latter is a colored edible ink, a touch which not only makes it easy to identify the chocolates but also makes it easy to customize them for weddings and the like.
There's even a printed menu available with photos and descriptions, but Pam is constantly thinking up new creations, like a mojitoinspired one, "just because I like mojitos," or the Easter hula bunnies which will be sporting little hula skirts made of raffia.