A café where you can discover the art
of hot chocolate opens in Santa Cruz
Photography by Patrick Tregenza
Long before coffee houses dotted the landscape, chocolate houses began opening in 17th century Europe as a way for the upper class to indulge in a new liquid delicacy— what we now know as hot chocolate. Meanwhile, people in the southern latitudes, where cacao beans grow, have made hot chocolate a revered part of their daily lives for even longer.
Now, appreciation of the finer points of making and drinking hot chocolate is sweeping America’s more forward-thinking foodie enclaves, and the Monterey Bay area won’t be left out: If all goes to plan, by the time this magazine issue comes out in March, local brothers Adam and Matthew Armstrong will have just opened a hot chocolate house within the new Food Lounge at 1001 Center St. in Santa Cruz. At the café, customers will get to enjoy and learn about the bean-to-cup, stoneground, organic hot chocolate that the brothers have been making and selling in mix form since starting their business, Mutari Chocolate, last year.
Adam discovered the importance of “sipping chocolate” during a stint with the Peace Corps in Panama. He says that the people in his community “drank hot chocolate three times a day and sometimes while working. “It is a great energy booster, plentiful, and customary,” Adam adds.
It was his work helping indigenous cacao farmers that made him want to start Mutari when he returned home.
“I realized that almost all of the traditional inhabitants of Central and South America still only drink chocolate instead of eating it, which is how chocolate has been consumed for over 90% of its history. I really wanted to bring that back to the States as it’s the complete opposite here, and you can get so many different flavors and feelings from a drinking chocolate as opposed to a chocolate bar,” Adam says.
In less than a year, after raising almost double the capital that they set out to with a Kickstarter campaign in March 2014, the Armstrongs have successfully gained a following for their traditional liquid chocolates.
Adam says the cacao beans Mutari uses are sourced according to what he believes are the highest ethical and ecological standards by Dandelion Chocolate in San Francisco, an ethical cacao bean broker and bean-to-bar chocolate maker, as well as Yellow Seed, a nonprofit that also promotes ethical trade with farmers. Ultimately, Adam hopes to directly source beans himself, building upon the relationships he has fostered in Panama and beyond.
Adam’s brother Matt became interested in cacao beans when he visited Adam during his Peace Corps years. Matt spent three years in Hawaii teaching gardening to troubled youth, and during that time, he sought out opportunities to learn about cacao farming.
The brothers’ shared interest in chocolate and their complementary gifts brought them together when Matt came back to the mainland to be Mutari’s co-founder and production director.
For now, Adam says he hopes to grow the business slowly, focusing next on educating people at Mutari’s new chocolate house at Food Lounge.
Mutari is one of a handful of small artisanal food businesses there, which founder Andrea Mollenaur intends to be a place where they can support and learn from each other as well as share kitchen space.
Mutari began in Mollenauer’s previous enterprise, Front Street Kitchen, so the Armstrongs have been on board since hearing the very first whisper about Food Lounge and have secured what Adam calls “the perfect spot,” with its own separate entrance from the street. Mutari’s menu is an alluring and diverse selection of dark chocolate offerings only, meaning that roasted cacao is the first and most prominent ingredient.
As of press time, all were expected to be available by the cup or in a flight.
For Adam, one of the most special of the drinks is made from beans grown by a friend from the community in which he worked for the Peace Corps in Panama.
The Armstrongs were also planning to offer cacao tea, frozen hot chocolate and cacao fruit smoothies, ensuring a challenge for even the most dedicated chocolate enthusiast to learn a bit more about the ancient, beloved cacao bean.
Amber Turpin writes and homesteads in Ben Lomond.
Food Lounge • 1001 Center St., Santa Cruz
Amber Turpin is a food writer and baker who homesteads in Ben Lomond.