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Dark cravings

Artisan chocolate shops offer tastings, classes and more

You might think three artisan chocolate shops in downtown Palo Alto is at least one too many. Think again. Alegio Chocolaté, the Chocolate Garage and Timothy Adams Chocolates offer a wide variety of products and experiences.

In other good news for chocolate lovers, scientists recently boosted the belief that dark chocolate may be a health food. They found that memory skills among older individuals were 25 percent higher for those who drank a mixture high in cocoa flavanols, which have antioxidant qualities.

The happy finding comes just in time for the holiday shopping season. Here is a primer on where to go based on the kind of chocolate available, the ambiance and the price.

For the most cinematic, biodynamic, plantation-to-bar storyline, go to Alegio Chocolaté on Bryant Street. This is the second Alegio shop. Panos Panagos, from the broadcasting world, and Robbin Everson, from high tech, started this business in Berkeley.

They get their chocolate from Claudio Corallo, who moved his family from Tuscany to São Tomé and Príncipe, an island nation off the coast of West Africa that is one of the poorest countries in the world. A tropical agronomist, Corallo previously ran a coffee plantation in Zaire, now known as the Democratic Republic of Congo. He left Zaire in the grim 1990s, and bought an abandoned plantation in the island rainforest. Today he has several hundred employees there, sustainably tending the heirloom cacao trees (descended from seeds brought from Brazil in 1819) and producing some of the purest chocolate in the world.

News outlets from National Geographic to the BBC have featured Corallo.

Alegio is a shrine to Corallo, with photos and stories, but also a tasting experience for up to 28 people. They've had team-building and family events nestled around a marble tabletop in the warmly painted Palo Alto store.

The chocolate comes in a few varieties, but only cane sugar is added. It can be bought in bars and boxes. For the holidays, Alegio will also feature chocolate truffles. Prices for the bars start at $12.50. The truffles will be $34.50 for nine, $49.50 for 18.

Tasting notes: This is like tasting wine. First you notice the aroma. Let the chocolate melt on your tongue, and it gives off different flavors, from savory to nutty. It is never bitter, waxy nor too sweet.

Alegio Chocolaté

522 Bryant St., Palo Alto

650-324-4500

Hours: Tuesday-Saturday, noon-8 p.m.

alegio.com/home

The Chocolate Garage is a convivial, closet-size tasting room with couches and a coffee table. Out front are picnic tables provided by the neighboring nonprofit collective, UnaMesa. It is open only Wednesday evenings and Saturday mornings.

Sunita de Tourreil credits her parents with instilling a need to know where food comes from, and how much the farmer gets paid. She grew up near Montreal, though her father is from Switzerland and her mother is from India. She has a master's degree in molecular biology and human genetics.

The Chocolate Garage stocks more than 175 chocolate bars from artisan makers all over the world. The brands include Askinosie, Åkesson, Bar au Chocolat, Bonnat, Dandelion, Dick Taylor, Domori, Francois Pralus, Fresco, Fruition, Grenada, Madre, Momotombo, Pacari, Patric and Rogue.

Besides offering the widest selection, the Chocolate Garage's distinguishing feature is the Future Chocolate account. Buying into this fund gets you a discount and invitations to new-release parties.

Tasting notes: On a recent Saturday, the free tasting included three flavored chocolate bars. One featured fleur de sel, one licorice and one coffee. A wall-mounted world map showed where each originated. I bought a 2-ounce bar of Dandelion's Ambanja, Madagascar 2013 Harvest for $11. It starts out tasting a little lemony, then mellows into very slight nuttiness. Dandelion (origin: San Francisco) sells it for $8.

The Chocolate Garage

654 Gilman St., Palo Alto

650-603-0824

Hours: Wednesdays, 5-9 p.m.; Saturdays, 8 a.m.-1 p.m.

thechocolategarage.com

Taking the place of Monique's Chocolates on Bryant Street, forming a chocolate power center with Alegio, is Timothy Adams Chocolates. Don't try scoring a freebie by saying you're a friend of Timothy Adams. The name is a mashup of co-owners Timothy Woods and Adams Holland, who live in Sausalito and had been selling their homemade chocolate at farmers markets.

An interior designer, Holland remade the shop in bright sky-blue, pink and white. Jewel-toned candy boxes line the walls like Pop art. There are tables for two, and tables for six.

Timothy Adams offers classes in hands-on chocolate making as well as tasting parties.

All truffles ($2.25 each) are made by hand every day. Each looks a little different. There are about 20 varieties at any one time. Some are seasonal, such as the fall-flavored poached quince and apple, covered in dark chocolate and dusted with pistachio. Milk chocolate crème fraîche is a perennial favorite, as is salted caramel. Not to mention mint.

Timothy Adams also has dairy-free and gluten-free chocolate candies called mendicants, and will stock candy bars for the holidays.

Befitting its seating arrangements, Timothy Adams also serves coffee and tea. Rusty's Hawaiian coffee comes in medium roast ($3.50) and dark roast ($4.50). The decaf ($3.50) comes from Chromatic Coffee. Tea Forte supplies Earl Grey, chamomile citron and two other teas ($2.50).

Have-it-your-way hot chocolate is a special treat, with five choices in the milk department, six varieties of Guittard chocolate, and marshmallows made in-house.

Tasting notes: My in-house hot chocolate fanatic fell into a swoon over his sipping chocolate ($4.50). He chose 2 percent milk and the Coucher du Soleil chocolate. I also recommend the crème fraîche truffle.

Timothy Adams Chocolates

539 Bryant St. , Palo Alto

650-323-8282

Hours: Monday-Wednesday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m.; Thursday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-10 p.m.

timothyadamschocolates.com

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