Yes, we can moan about Portland’s food scene: the lines, the rising prices, the sudden sameness of the menus. But, people: how many midsize markets can debate who makes the best (fill-in-the-blank food addiction)? Case in point: drinking chocolate. Portland’s swaggering contenders include the spicy tingle at Cacao chocolate shop, 180’s luscious churro companion, Alma Chocolate's inventive list, and Xico’s creamy, luxe number.
As of March 28, a new player rises: maple drinking chocolate, a potent, bittersweet beauty at the just-barely-opened Cloudforest factory and espresso bar at 1411 SE Stark St. What puts it in the conversation? Bean-to-bar Ecuadorian chocolate, from Sebastian Cisneros, the ace chocolate man behind Portland’s high-end Cocanu. His new Cloudforest drinking chocolate is made right in the shop behind a giant glass window up front. Sweetness comes only from the round angles of maple syrup. As a bonus, it’s served in adorable porcelain cups imported from L.A.
Cloudforest—an umbrella name for the new shop, the new chocolate factory, and a rebranded line of chocolate bars—is a coming-out party for Cisneros. For years, the soft-spoken 33-year-old has flown under the radar, known mostly to hardcore chocolate hounds for his Cocanu bars, launched in 2009 and inspired by his native Ecuador and a poetic sensibility (each bar is tucked into a hand-cut paper envelope stamped with wax). Says Aubrey Lindley, whose downtown shop Cacao stocks the best craft bars to be found: “Sebastian has one of the best palates I’ve seen, with an incredibly nuanced view on food and storytelling. He was among the first chocolate makers to understand chocolate as a flavor.”
Cloudforest (open daily, 8 a.m.–4 p.m.) is still getting its legs (and equipment). Cisneros hopes the two antique bean grinders will be set up by the end of this week, allowing customers to watch the process of turning beans into bars, from roasting and grinding to pouring. The bars are sold on shelves at the 13-seat café—10 flavors for now, each a little adventure, from coffee-blazing Bruno to Moonwalk, which is wrapped in a glistening white space-suit package and shot through with Pop Rocks. Meanwhile, the drinking chocolate is already flowing at the espresso bar, to pair with the house canelés.
The plan is to showcase Cloudforest chocolate in nearly everything, choco-lattes to chocolate chip cookies to croissants made for the shop by Ken’s Artisan Bakery. Coffee drinks (no pour-overs; nothing precious, says Cisneros) will be under the watch of ace veteran barista Tim Roth, who will surely double as a Portland foodie concierge (I first discovered Sweedeedee and Luc Lac on tips from Roth in his Coffeehouse Northwest days).
Other chocolates will hit you with nut chunks or foie gras winks. Cloudforest flies in a different space: concentrated, complex, not too sweet and, well, different. Just read the back of his OLO bar, made with shaved cardamom and orange-y, tea-singing bergamot: “This chocolate bar results from our friendship with OLO Fragrance and our shared joy for abstract olfactory and gustative composition.” Damn.