Blog

  • Chocolate Festival, New Team Members, and Shop Update

    Hello, chocolate lovers! It’s been a particularly busy and amazing summer for us. We’ve hired more staff, built new relationships with other chocolate companies and coffee shops, and we’re starting to feel better about our communication infrastructure, both for team and production. That means we are starting to think seriously about our next growth step, whatever that might be. But first, let’s talk about fun things you can do this month.


    Upcoming Events

    Northwest Chocolate Festival

    The Northwest Chocolate Festival is just around the corner, November 12-13 at Pier 91! This is one of the biggest festivals of chocolate in the country. Every year the dynamic and culture of chocolate in America seems to change, get more interesting. This will be our 7th year in attendance, and we’ve definitely seen a shift from pioneer roots to a focus on refinement and quality. And, every year, someone brings something new that blows our minds: traditional Ecuadorian sipping chocolate, a tasting flight of an origin bean prepared in slightly different ways, chocolate that literally says “do not eat this” on the package because it’s so spicy. Come taste, learn, and enjoy with us.

    We recommend coming early, staying late, bringing a bottle of water and a salty snack, and carrying a shoulder bag for your goodies.

    Early bird discount is still available online here: www.nwchocolate.com/

    Corporate Order Alert

    If you are interested in chocolate for corporate gifting or holiday parties, it is easier on everyone to place your order during November so we can plan production cycles. We have many different solutions for you – email me if you’d like details: karl@intriguechocolate.com


    Shop Happenings

    Welcome Our New Team Members

    Matthew Harrison

    “Hey there! I'm Matt, the new retail manager at our shop in Pioneer Square. I've always loved fine foods with fascinating histories like chocolate, wine, cocktails and tea. Intrigue is a perfect place for me because I get to nerd out about food, history and science all at once! I'll be down here at the shop a lot and I'm looking forward to getting to know our regulars and exploring the neighborhood.”

    Val Nigro

    "Hi, I'm Val! I sling chocolate at our shop in Pioneer Square. I'm also a tour guide for the Seattle By Foot Coffee Crawl, and I used to be a tour guide at a chocolate factory, so clearly I love getting paid to dish out tasty samples AND interesting facts! Plus I love our awesome, ever-changing truffle flavors. What more could you want? Well I also do stand-up and sketch comedy, so who knows--you might even get a free joke with that purchase..."

    Lindsey Miller

    "Working at the shop collides both my artist and technical side, much like my photography. You know you're a science nerd when you study colorimetry for fun, and read for pleasure about optical engineering. Stop by Intrigue and talk shop with me! I'll tell you all about that z-axis focusing while you sip on some amazing hot cocoa."

    Team Social Media Support

    Social media is a hot topic for a small business because it’s frankly very hard to do well. How many pictures of the truffles do you really want to see, ya know? When it falls to one person already wearing many hats, consistent posting is difficult to maintain. So we are trying a new approach: opening up communication to the whole team.

    We are still figuring out what this looks like, but for starters our Twitter and Instagram accounts are getting frequent input from the shop staff. Here are some of the beautiful photos that have come from our team already:

     

    Our only rule so far has been to make each post worthwhile and real, not all about sales. Conversation is far more interesting and it’s a principle that guides everything we do. That also means, though, that our voice will be shared on those channels and we’ll learn what that implies as we go. When you “like” a post, know that it is influencing what we put more of into the world in the future.

    Lighting Upgrades

    Seattle gets really dark in the winter. People think that it rains here all the time. It doesn’t really, but it is nearly always grey and daylight hours are short. Lighting is key. In preparation, we added several fixtures to the back wall, and a lighting track to the front windows. We are having a flickering problem with the lights in the windows (any of you know why LED lights will flicker with more than one on the track?), so we have only the one light there at the moment. It has already made a big difference to keeping the shop feeling cozy and welcoming.


    What's Next?

    Wholesale Update

    One of our goals this year was to build our wholesale client list. At that goal we’ve had limited success; we jumped into the water, found out it was a little chilly, and climbed out. So what happened?

    I suppose the overarching issue is that we, the whole team, are not good at “pushing” a product. Our focus is on luring people into having a good time and a good experience, much more of a “pull” approach.

    We are changing our strategy to align more with what we are good at. We are going to double down on our other goal this year: creating good content we can share with you all. If you are in a place or position where you want to use our cocoa mix to make mochas at your coffee shop, or serve chocolate at your winery or event, you can contact us when you’re ready. We’ll work to make that process as easy as possible.

    Chocolate Bars

    This is the really exciting news and a completely pre-mature announcement. We’ve made some headway and are moving on these. We’re looking forward to sharing all our thoughts on this topic soon!

  • Italian Sodas, Chocolate Milk, and Broken Windows

    Spring time at the chocolate shop is always a bit weird. Everyone starts to relax a bit and get back to a normal pace after the holidays, but at the same time the shadow of all those yearly goal projects set to the back burner starts to loom over the team. “You mean its March and we haven’t even started on that yet?!”. Nope. But we are starting now, so don’t get too comfortable.

    Mother’s Day Alert - Mother’s Day is on the Sunday the 8th of May this year. That means you have about 3 weeks to figure out what you want to do. If chocolate is a consideration, feel free to put an order in online and ask that we wait to ship it until closer to the day of. That’s no problem for us.

    New Products

    Sugars - Sugars have made their way onto our shelves and into the online shopping cart. We are often asked what to do with flavored sugar. Well, what do you normally do with sugar?! The flavors are all natural ingredients that have been stone-mill ground into a cane sugar, the same way we prepare them for our cocoa mixes. You can sprinkle them over whipped cream, stir them into coffees or teas, or even bake with them for a little extra flavor.

    Italian Sodas & Chocolate Milk – Hot cocoas are dandy, but often people want something icy cold and refreshing during the summer. We’ve increased the size of the Italian sodas and now offer them To Go. These are made with the infused simple syrups Aaron created. These sodas are seriously delicious, and seem to advertise themselves. After a customer buys one and carries it out of the shop in hand, we always have another couple of people come in afterward to ask about them. Stop on by and try for yourself!

    Shop Happenings

    Break In - Unfortunately we had our first large scale theft happen early morning on on Sunday the 10th. Someone broke through our side window and stole all our electronics – shop ipad (where we kept notes for making cocoas and sodas, and inventory lists), the phone, and the kindle provided to us by amazon for delivery orders. Fortunately the culprit was not able to figure out the register to open it or carry it away, leaving it behind intact, which felt like a small victory.

    Aaron and I spent the better part of that Sunday talking to the police, preparing a list of stolen goods for the insurance company, and boarding up the windows. A sad day, but we are grateful it wasn’t any worse. The weirdo never went near the chocolate, if you can believe that.

    Flavors on Website - One of the most common questions we receive is “What flavors do you have right now?”. Because our inventory is perishable and rotates quickly it has not been an easy question to answer, especially online! Now we have a solution.

    Each morning the staff person at the shop will post to twitter the flavors of which we have full inventories (to make it likely we still have those flavors by the end of the day if ordered online). That twitter feed now automatically feeds into our website. So, if you would like order truffle bars of, say, bourbon and vanilla bean, head to our Truffle Bar page on our website to see if they're currently in stock.

    What’s next

    Wholesale Outreach - We’ve always had a strong offering for wine bars with the truffles and pairings, but with the addition of the syrups to go with our cocoa mixes we’ve found a nice complement with coffee shops. We’d like to grow our list of business clients. So, if you know of good coffee shops, wine bars, cocktail lounges, and /or neighborhood markets that might benefit by offering our specialty goods, let us know and we’ll reach out to them!

  • Shop Update, New Items, and Valentines Day

    Hello family and friends!

    There’s so much to share this post. It is amazing to think that only a couple months ago we were sprinting through the holiday season, packing up crazy amounts of chocolate to ship all over the country, and having the pleasure of seeing so many of your familiar faces in the shop.

    Valentine’s Day Alert: if your chocolate needs shipping, please place your order no later than Wednesday, February 10th.

    New Products

    Someone once told me it takes two years before you really feel completely cozy in a new space. That’s certainly true for us. Slowly but surely we add new items to the shelf, add signage, move lighting to bust shadows, etc. Part of settling in is finally offering those products we've been talking about for ages.

    We spent about six months with Jason Grube, one of the designers for our previous box packaging, discussing a more macro-level design framework to handle new, not specifically chocolate, products to the shelf. The colors, shapes, and materials all need to work together to be beautiful, appetizing, and clear. Jason did a stand up job, as always.

    Sticking closely with the goal of flavor discovery, here’s what we’ve released so far:

     

    Hot Cocoas Added to the In-Store Menu: This is not really a new update, but worth mentioning since it hasn’t been mentioned already in the blog. We are making hot cocoas in the shop. They are delicious. They are popular. Aaron makes a homemade cardamom whipped cream for on top that is remarkable. Come in and ask for a cup!

     

    Nibs, Hulls, and Beans: Beans have been for sale on our shelf for a while, but now we offer nibs and hulls as well. You might already be familiar with nibs; you may see them coupled with super foods in stores already. But if you’re unfamiliar, nibs can be used like pine nuts on salads, or even baked into cookies like walnuts. The hulls make for a delicious tea (just error on the side of a light tea, and steep it for 10min, a little longer than normal).

     

    Tea Blends: Some of these blends are also truffle flavors, but some of them are new creations from Aaron. The Honey Red Lemon, a mix of honeybush, lemongrass, and rooibos, has quickly become a staff favorite and one we serve in the shop sometimes.

     

    Flavored Syrups: Syrups are a long time in the making. Last year we started making them seriously by request of a local coffee shop, Convoy Coffee, as a fresher and tastier alternative than corn syrup based flavors. With Convoy's help we found some successful blends that we started serving in the shop as Italian sodas, mixing into the whipped cream, etc. Now you can take the syrup home, too! Add a little cardamom sryup to make a Turkish coffee, or a little lavender syrup to a screwdriver to remind you that spring is on the way.

     

    Bean-to-bar-Chocolate: We really want to release a chocolate bar someday. That effort takes capital, equipment, and knowledge we don’t have currently. But customers that come to our shop are sometimes looking for a product that is not perishable, does not contain dairy, or maybe something “plain”. These bean-to-bar makers are doing something special and we recommend them. They are not available on the website (you can find them online other places), but we do want to give you the option if you’re in the shop.

    Kitchen expansion

    We ran out of space! What used to be our kitchen, office, and retail location was bursting a the seams. Too much square footage we built-out to make chocolate became cluttered with storage.

    So we expanded. The office space next to us was previously rented by the crews working on the big tunneling project. They didn't renew the lease, so we jumped on it. It’s the same size and cost as our kitchen space, about 800 sq ft. Unfortunately that's more footprint than we planned to buy at this time, but we figured it was worth the cost to claim it in preparation for the next couple years.

    new storage space


    new office space (not finished!)

    This expansion allows us to move our office and storage, reclaim our current kitchen space which is all certified food production space, and to take advantage of an extended lease offered to us by the landlord in exchange. We now have both spaces through December of 2017, an extension of a year total on the kitchen space, giving us two more holiday seasons at least. This building, which is right on the water and the gateway building for a large park and beach planned by the city, will most likely become condos when the viaduct comes down. Change is inevitable.

    What’s Next

    Flavored Sugars: This is the last product in the expansion, and we hope to have them on the shelf in the next week or two. Flavors will be: cardamom, lavender & loomi, hibiscus & rose, vanilla bean, and lavender. If you are in Pioneer Square this Thursday, Aaron will be sampling the hibiscus & rose petal sugar at our Valentine’s Day after hours event from 6pm – 8pm. Come on by!

     

  • Signage Installation: A Picture Book

    Our signs are complete! This was one of the most cumbersome tasks required to open the shop, but they are now up and looking beautiful.

    Both the main window sign and the awning are hand painted. Being hand lettered means the edges are ever so slightly imperfect, which gives the work a sense of personality and depth. Work was completed by Sean Barton who also did the signs for Bar Sajor, London Plane, and E Smith Mercantile in the neighborhood.

    One of the coolest features of the new signage is the gold leaf outlines on the letters and logo. This added significant cost, but it was a area Aaron and I decided was appropriate to spend a little extra. Gold leaf creates a mirror effect that gives the sign movement when you pass by, as well as a classic, timeless character.

     

    Gold leaf is carefully placed across the entire letter, and an adhesive of water and gelatin is brushed over the gold which helps it stick to the glass and then dry flat.

    Each letter is then cut out leaving a lot of gold scraps! Sean said in the old days the scraps would be collected and sold back to the "gold man", but there is no "gold man" anymore. He still keeps them in a small Grey Poupon jar to use in a different way on other projects.

    Once the gold is dry and the letters filled in, the gold outline really pops. This is what catches the eye when folks walk by. Pictures really don't do it justice.

    The awning had a previous tenant's lettering shadowing in the black fabric. Instead of replacing the awning entirely, Sean was able to sand down the fabric so the shadow is significantly less visible, and really only from very specific angles.

    A beautiful finished product after 3 days. Well done Sean!

  • New Shop: 3 Months Later

    Every day since opening the new shop 3 months ago we’ve been asked the question: “How is everything going in the new shop?” Things are fantastic. Our new-shop problems are awesome.

    We initially planned to see around half as many people through our doors as have actually visited. That estimate felt like a safe bet. Maybe those expectations were too conservative. Since opening our doors, we’ve come very close to selling out of chocolate at least three times, we’ve had to hire up multiple superhero part time employees, and the total hours has nearly tripled. This is awesome! But it does present its own set of problems to solve.

    New Bar Menu

    Below is a rough mock up of what we are considering for the area next to the bar / fire door. The font is bold and we think it looks pretty cool. A light will go above the menu to give it more prominence. What do you think?

    The menu will have drinking chocolate options. It was clear early on that people want their chocolate beverages! Summer was a hot one this year, so we started with a few cold options first. With more production in the kitchen comes more opportunity to experiment, which led us to offer a couple new things currently on the menu:

    Cold-Brew Coffee Nitrous Shot: The cold brew is something we’ve sold for a while, but Aaron had the idea to send it through the commercial whipped cream dispenser under the same nitrous gas that the whipped cream requires. The result? A cup of pure coffee foam goodness, much like a proper Guinness pour. Many folks who order this mention seeing something similar at a few coffee shops. Come try ours, let us know what you think.

    Italian Sodas: Aaron’s been making simple syrups with the leftover ingredients from the truffle making process, such as cilantro & jalapeno, cardamom, vanilla bean, and Tasmanian pepperberries. These simple syrups make delicious Italian sodas with just a bit of carbonated water. We’ve been pleased to see people just as happy to explore flavor this way as through the chocolate, however we have no intention of competing with Dry Soda just a couple blocks away. [chuckle]

    Homemade Whipped Cream: Eventually hot cocoa and sipping chocolates will make their way onto our bar menu. A delicious whipped cream was an important step in that project. Aaron’s been mixing in ingredients like cacao nibs and cardamom to make some decadent and wonderful whipped creams that will eventually complete an unforgettable cup of cocoa.

    Art Wall

    The art wall is thriving and full! It’s not uncommon for people to stop into the shop just to check out all of your cool photos that make it onto the wall. On average right now, we see about 80 or so blocks leave the shop on a weekly basis. If you pass by the shop on a Wednesday or Thursday morning you might see me making more. It’s a lot of work, but so fulfilling to see people enjoy.

    You can still participate if you wish. Email me (karl@intriguechocolate.com) your Instagram handle to let me know it’s ok to pull photos from your feed and I’ll pick a few that are appropriate.

    Signage

    We are still waiting on our shop signs to go up. It’s been a constant uphill battle between getting approved by the city and finding a sign maker that can get the job done. We hope to complete that project in the next couple of weeks, both the hand-painted large logo in our main window and the lettering on the awning. Then we’ll tackle the smaller items like shop hours in the door windows.

    What’s Next?

    Hot Cocoa and Sipping Chocolate: The weather is getting cooler and many of you are starting to request sipping chocolate. We are working on the logistics of making these in the shop, and as soon as the process produces stellar results, we’ll share with you.

    Honeys, Tempered Chocolate Bars, Nibs, and Tea Blends: These have always been a dream of ours to offer. There are so many wonderful flavors in this world! Chocolate isn’t the only medium by which to explore them. We are working with our designers to create labels and selecting packages that will be both shelf sturdy and attractive.

    Current Flavors on Website: A common request. Inventory turns over so quickly it is difficult to conceptualize a way to post exactly what flavors are available at what time. Part of the appeal of our shop is that there is always something new and delicious available! But that also means that flavors sell out mid day, or faster than expected. We are working on a way to do this, however. Maybe we’ll tweet a list each day? Maybe. So far, the best way to find out what is in the box is to drop by or call the shop.

    Thank you for all the feedback and support!

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