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Sugar Rush:

July 31, 2011

Cacao Queen

Hard chocolate reigns at Kristen Hard’s new Cacao boutique in Buckhead.

By Nancy Staab

  • Photos by Colby Blount

The confections at Cacao Buckhead will not only melt in your mouth, but the Belle Epoque-styled chocolate salon will also melt your heart with its modern-day romance and serious chocolate alchemy.

When Kristen Hard opened her first chocolate apothecary, Cacao, in Inman Park in 2004, national (and international) chocolate cognoscenti went crazy for her bold and sometimes arcane, award-winning combinations: Pink Peppercorn and Rosewater, Blackberry and Beet, Coffee Cardamom, Laphroaig (a ten-year's-old scotch) and ginger, etc. She is partly a precise scientist-- a petite blonde in a white lab coat who tempers her chocolate into submission and understands the botany of each cocoa bean. The other part of her is romantic in her vintage sheath dress amid the crystal light fixtures and white marble counters of her Old European chocolate shop, Hard’s venture clearly appeals to the left and right brain preoccupations of foodies. At the same time, visitors to her chocolate shop can engage in brainy discussions with her about the origin, scientific technique and ethics of free-trade-sourced and single-origin chocolate. She is also happy to delve into the emotional, primal, romantic properties of this mystery ingredient. Chocolate has been attributed with healthful, aphrodisiac and magical qualities since the Aztecs. (Actually one of her bestsellers is the dusky, spicy Aztec Aphrodesia--made with a secret blend of six different chiles and spices.) Conversely, you can do like us, and just marvel at these gem-like bonbons proffered on tiny silver trays and savor their intense, bitter-sweet, sensual complexity one bite at a time.

“What we are doing with chocolate is so revolutionary. It’s never been done before—the way we look at it. There’s a lot of science behind it,” says Hard. At the moment she is “deeply entrenched in understanding the fermentation process, which is 50% of chocolate-making.”

 “But we also love the elegance of the European feel of chocolate,” she adds.

Recently Hard opened a second outpost Cacao Buckhead, opposite the Peachtree Farmer’s Market and next to La Fonda/Fellini’s (with a third Cacao is coming to Virginia-Highland in August). At her new Buckhead confectionary she offers an ever-changing array of her small-batch chocolates based on a bean-to-bar method that qualifies her as  an "artisanal chocolate maker" rather than just a "chocolatier." Hard was actually the first woman to attain this distinction, which has only been granted to approximately 20 chocolate makers in the US. This means that she literally develops her chocolate from bean to bar, even foraging through cacao farms in Tobago and Trinidad, for example, to harvest and gather her pods. She then roasts, sorts, winnows, grinds into a paste and refines this raw material into chocolate. Hard has even been researching the genetic profile of the first Ur-cacao bean from the over 2,000 varieties of heirloon cacao seeds in the genetic banks. As her company literature professes, in verbiage that resembles the complexities of winemaking, “Cacao Atlanta Chocolate captures in flavor both the history of the tree that produced it and the terroir where it was grown…Here lies the incomparable beauty and delight of the earth in a romantic and edible form.”

Hard first caught the chocolate bug when she was serving as the culinary director on a private sailboat and noticed the batons of cacao that the woman were selling in the local markets in Martinique. She was transported and soon Hard went from batons to bon-bons.

In addition to exquisite chocolate truffles, Hard’s boutique also offers tins of sipping chocolate, preciously packaged 75% Chocolate Love Bars (surely the modern day equivalent of Wonka Bars), fleur de sal caramels, chocolate marshmallows in vintage glass pharmacy jars, ginger pear and other pate de fruit, chocolate-dipped citrus peels,  cocoa nib peanut brittle, custom fruit and nut barks, adorable fat-belly dark chocolate buddhas, Saturday morning special chocolate croissants, and playful Salami di Ciocciolato  with textured crumbles of amaretto biscotti embedded in the chocolate log, which is wrapped in traditional white sausage netting.  All of these clever confections are hand-made by Hard in her “chocolate laboratoire.” Our favorites:  the intensely flavored, Georgia-inflected Peach Amaretto, the Aztec Aphrodesia, and the equally intense Fig Preserve and Balsamio with Madagascar vanilla, fig and 15-year-old balsamic jam. We recommend buying at least a half dozen different flavors and sharing them with your sweet-tooth sweetie. These edgy chocolate elixirs are romance personified. As Cacao’s shop motto succinctly sums it up, “Give Love. Give Chocolate.”


Cacao Buckhead, 2817 Peachtree Rd. NE,