At 9 a.m. on a recent Tuesday, an elderly couple stared hard at a bowl of lumpy unshelled beans sitting on the edge of a counter. Were they nuts? Chipmunk scat? Were they being punked? Bellowed one of the pair, to nobody in particular: “Do we eat these?”
At that, Charley Wheelock sprang into action. They were now under his spell, in his world—a chocolate world devoted to pure tastes of other places evoked through the cocoa beans they grow, barely touched with sugar or (heaven forbid) nuts or flavorings.
Woodblock Chocolate Manufactory opened in June, eight years in the dreaming. Wheelock and his wife built this place off of NE Broadway, all 4,500 square feet of it, nail by nail, counters to bathroom art, bean-to-bar factory to drinking chocolate café. “Do you eat them? Do you eat this?” Wheelock says to the couple, pointing at his popular Woodblock Chocolate bars, while flashing his signature dog-ate-the-brownie grin. “This is what chocolate’s made of, the cacao nibs. Eat ’em!” He chortles, cracking one open, and then leans in with a secret tip: “Man, they’re good on anything. Try ’em fried, on top of peanut butter.”
If this is not clear yet, let me lay it out: No one is more excited about chocolate than Charley and Jessica Wheelock. In 2010, the nascent bean-to-bar chocolate movement found avatars in Portland when the couple launched Woodblock Chocolate in their home. While their bars are now a fixture in local shops, the new café (and R&D kitchen) allows them to stretch their vocabulary with drinks, bonbons, and pastries, all showcasing the house chocolate made just behind a glass wall. (Yes, this is the second of two bean-to-bar factory-cum-cafés to open in town this year; Sebastian Cisneros’s Cloudforest is also a worthy pilgrimage.)
High points so far: the house drinking chocolate, which, like all things Woodblock, sports a rugged chocolate intensity. Or a glass of Italian bicerine, which beautifully layers that drinking chocolate with espresso and soft whipped cream. The chocolate–olive oil truffles will make your eyes roll in the back of your head. And what can be bad about a chocolate chip cookie that positively screams single-origin chocolate?
With seven tables and counter stools offering a peek into the bean-roasting action, the café is just cranking up, with plans for eventual nighttime hours, flamenco dancing (another story, another time), and collaborative events. But mostly, Wheelock has one goal: “to get chocolate into mouths as soon as possible.” Noble.