Forget everything you think Willy Wonka taught you about a chocolate factory. Zak’s Chocolate in Scottsdale gives visitors the opportunity to tour a real working craft chocolate factory, learn about and taste small batch, craft, single-origin chocolates and learn about the bean-to-boutique process that makes each bite of chocolate better than the last.
Owners and husband and wife team Jim and Maureen Elitzak just celebrated their first delicious year in Scottsdale. When a nearly decade long hobby of making chocolate in their home became an increasing passion, The Elitzaks decided to bring the art of craft chocolate creation to the world. Jim is a chocolate maker and Maureen is a chocolatier. The difference between the two? Jim specializes in the lengthy process of making chocolate from cocoa beans and Maureen’s specialty is taking that chocolate, casting her magical spell and making it beautiful.
I had no idea what a process it was to make craft chocolate until I toured the Zak’s Chocolate factory and store. I was mesmerized and transformed by the educational experience and left with a whole new appreciation of chocolate and the natural science, care and love that goes into creating such delectable treats. I started off my tour in a group tour and tasting room seated with about 20 other guests. This is one of the best culinary tours in the Valley and the $10 price tag is worth it. I also personally recommend this tour for anyone that is 10 or older. It truly gives an appreciation of what chocolate is and the process it goes through before hitting the retail market. If you are a fan of the hit show, “How It’s Made,” you will simply adore this engaging and insightful tour.
During the initial part of the tour in the tasting room, we watched an insightful video that showed how cacao pods are grown, nurtured and harvested and then how the beans are dried through a very lengthy process, eventually become “nibs” from which the chocolate is made. Most interestingly, cacao beans don’t taste like chocolate as we know it. Rather, those beans have to go through many processes and months of attention to become the chocolate we know.
It is important to note that chocolates from Zak’s Chocolate are not at all like supermarket candy bars, Godiva or See’s. Rather Zak’s Chocolate creates organic chocolate that is made from 70 percent organic nibs and 30 percent organic sugar. These confections definitely fall under the umbrella of “dark chocolate.” Although one might immediately think that these craft chocolates might be bitter or bland, I found that through the educational experience and tasting each sample, entirely unique flavor profiles emerge to reveal the nature and nurture beans undergo in the chocolate making process.
Zak’s Chocolate provided several chocolate samples originating from cacao beans from different geographic areas. The samples we tried were from beans from Belize, Madagascar, Papau New Guinea and Peru. Most interestingly, each chocolate had an entirely unique flavor. The chocolate from the Maya Mountain region in Belize featured a dark fruity flavor with a sweet honey finish. The longer the chocolate sat in my mouth, the sweeter it became with a smooth, honey-like finish on the back end. Of particular note is how you should eat a chocolate in order to properly savor it. Instead of biting into a piece of chocolate and chewing it, the better way to discover the flavor profile is to breathe through your nose while sucking slowly on the confection.
The net sample was a chocolate made from beans from the volcanic soils of the Sambirano Region of Madagascar. The chocolate is best described as having a cherry-like tartness. The third sample was from the Papau New Guinea region and imparted smoky and earthy qualities. As we discovered from Jim, cacao beans from that region are dried over fire, hence the smoky flavor. Next, was a sample from the San Martin region of Peru. This chocolate boasted a cinnamon-like spice with a smooth and creamy finish. Finally, we sampled a test chocolate with beans originating from Guatemala that revealed a sweet, citrus flavor.
After the educational experience in the tasting room, Jim and Maureen took us over to the factory area where we got to see the burlap bags in which the beans are shipped and received in Scottsdale, various separators, mixers and a tempering machine. In the factory, we also sampled a Zak’s Chocolate milk chocolate, which still falls in the realm of dark chocolate, but is slightly lighter in color, a bit sweeter and creamier in texture.
The retail store at Zak’s Chocolate is cuter than a button and features a variety of truffles, chocolates, chocolate bars, coffee drinks and even souvenir cacao pods. It is evident that Jim and Maureen are both devoted to the art of making chocolate, in addition to running the business.
Zak’s Chocolate will be offering a free public event 4-8 p.m. Friday, May 6 and 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday, May 7. Guests are invited to stop in and sample chocolates from 12 new beans and will have the chance to leave feedback on which beans Zak’s should buy in the future. This is your chance to discover the magic of Zak’s Chocolate and no reservations are necessary.
For a regularly scheduled factory tour with tasting ($10), call for a current schedule and to make your reservation. If you like what you taste, you can also partake in chocolate making classes ($75 per person) where you can make your own chocolate and take hone a batch. The hands-on three hour class takes each participant through the bean-to-chocolate bar experience and includes a factory tour and more. Talk about a fun and unique experience – this is one gift you could give that would be truly sweet and unforgettable! Call Zak’s Chocolate for class availability.
Zak’s Chocolate is located at 6990 E. Shea Blvd., “Sweet” 116, Scottsdale. Visit www.zakschocolate.com or call (480) 607-6581 for a list of tour times and available chocolate making classes.