Magazine Feature / People

Chocolatier mixes it with love to make our world taste very good

You’d think that after making 10 million or so chocolate truffles, Erich Dietrich would be sick of them.

You’d think that at age 59, he’d want to hang up the candy-making apron he donned in Germany when he was 14 and swap the thick aroma of exquisite chocolate for the fresh scent of a greener pasture.

After 44 years munching dark chocolate — his favorite — you’d think Dietrich would be 350 pounds, not a trim 185. That he’d be tired of six-day weeks, hanging on as one of Denver’s last independent chocolatiers. That he’d be pure loco at the smell of cocoa, not busy sculpting bite-size candy out of chili powder or white tea.

You’d think by now he’d be a bit sour on sweets, not confecting heaven in a box-like kitchen in the back of the tiny Evans Avenue shop he’s leased for the last 11 years.

You’d think all that would be true of Erich Dietrich.

But you’d be wrong.

The man to whom 5280 magazine gave the Top Candy Store award in 2004 and the Top Breakfast award in 2005 is still hard at work proving, one piece at a time, that candy really is dandy.

“Everybody likes good chocolates,” Dietrich says. “People like to come in, look, smell and enjoy. It’s easy to sell, and the nice thing is I don’t get any returns the whole year.”

At Dietrich’s Chocolate & Espresso, 1734 E. Evans Ave., the piece de resistance is the truffle, a hand-crafted dome of chocolate with a velvet-smooth, flavored filling. Dietrich makes more than 30 varieties, flavoring his fillings with such exotics as hazelnut, rum, cinnamon-honey, apricot, mint, vanilla, pistachio, raspberry and orange. Whatever flavor seems interesting.

For Thanksgiving, he made pumpkin spice. For Christmas, he’s preparing peppermint and eggnog. For Administrative Professionals Day, he’s still thinking.

“Every year we add a new flavor,” he says. “We rotate a little bit so every time you buy a box, it’s never the same.”

That, of course, explains the selection and the taste, but not the name. To cooks, a truffle is the fruit of a European fungus, highly prized in French cooking, very rare and very expensive. Why does chocolate bear the same name?

It has to do with the filling, Dietrich explains.

“The texture of a chocolate truffle and the texture of a real truffle, that’s the relationship. The filling is very light and very smooth.”

It’s all injected or layered into chocolate vessels Dietrich fashions by first liquefying 10-pound bars of chocolate he gets from select chocolate manufacturers in Europe and the United States.

“We melt it down and add butter, whipped cream and natural flavors,” he says. “We don’t add preservatives.”

It’s the additives, he says, that distinguish bad chocolate from the best. Dark chocolate, he says, contains cocoa, cocoa butter, sugar, vanilla and a binding agent such as lecithin. That’s it.

“If you buy chocolate, the best way to judge it is to look at the ingredients list. That gives you a very clear picture. When you see 10, 12, 15 ingredients, you don’t want to buy it.”

For most people, though, the eye isn’t the arbiter; the taste buds are.

“When you eat a good chocolate, it will not leave a film on your tongue,” he explains, adding that the flavor in high quality chocolate is in the aftertaste, which “lingers on the palette.”

That’s true, he says, whether someone is sampling Dietrich’s European line of round truffles; his assorted-chocolate line of crèmes, nuts and caramels; or the single-bean line, which he says is the direction fine chocolate is heading.

“Costa Rican single-bean chocolate is probably the best piece of chocolate you can eat today,” Dietrich says. “It’s like the Rolls Royce or Mercedes. It’s the next class up in chocolates.”

The trouble is, single-bean chocolates are much more expensive than blends, putting even greater stress on customers. After more than 30 years making and selling chocolates, Dietrich sees a disturbing trend.

“We used to have a good time in the store,” he says. “[Customers] would laugh, tell jokes. That’s all faded away. The economics of life is changing people.

“The relaxed, easygoing atmosphere is gone.”

People think twice about how much they’re going to spend now that good chocolate is about $20 per pound. It’s the reason, he says, that Christmas is eroding as his most important holiday season.

“The sad thing is that more and more people will not be able to afford the quality. They’ll go to Target, to K-Mart, to Wal-Mart and buy chocolates that are $5 a pound.

“So what do you get for $5 a pound?” he says. “Read the ingredients.”

Terms to Know

Chocolate: Derived from the Aztec word chocolatl, meaning bitter water. The Aztecs cultivated cocoa beans, used them as currency and created a hot beverage used as a stimulant. Aztec Emperor Montezuma introduced the beverage to conquistador Hernando Cortes, who took it to Spain. The water used in the Aztec beverage was extremely hot, eliciting the phrase still used today, like water for chocolate.

Cacao: The tree whose pods yield beans used to produce chocolate.

Cocoa: A misspelling of cacao by 18th century English traders.

Cocoa butter: The fat content of the cacao bean that is pressed out in the manufacture of cocoa powder. Cocoa butter melts at 98.6 degrees and is often used in cosmetics.

How chocolate is made

Pods of the cacao tree are harvested and their seeds removed. The seeds are fermented, dried, then ground. The heat from the grinding causes much of the fat content, about 55 percent, to separate into a liquid called chocolate liquor. The liquor is further subjected to pressure, which produces cocoa butter and cocoa powder.

Manufacturers combine the chocolate liquor with additional cocoa butter, sugar, vanilla and an emulsifier, such as lecithin, to form dark chocolate, which contains more than 50 percent cocoa. The chocolate is further mixed, heated, aerated, melted and cooled to obtain the desired flavor and texture.

Dark chocolate is sweet, semi-sweet, bittersweet or unsweetened, depending on the percentage of cocoa powder and cocoa butter. When dark chocolate is further mixed with milk, cream or condensed milk, the result is milk chocolate, which contains less than 30 percent cocoa.

White chocolate is cocoa butter, milk solids, milk fat and sugar or high-fructose corn syrup, but contains no chocolate liquor.

Nutritional tips

A 3.5 (100g) ounce bar of dark chocolate contains 1.1 ounce (32g) of fat and 1.7 ounces (48g) of sugar, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. However, only about one-third of the fat content affects cholesterol levels.

Dark chocolate is rich in flavonoids, which contain antioxidants. However, adding milk to chocolate or drinking milk with chocolate prevents the body from absorbing the antioxidants, according to a 2003 study published in Naturemagazine.

More about chocolate

Annual consumption of chocolate in the U.S. is about 11. 6 pounds per person. The first chocolate bar was made in Switzerland in 1819.

Milton Hershey is known as the “Henry Ford of chocolate” for mass producing chocolate bars at an affordable price. Hershey introduced the “kiss” in 1907 and today the company manufactures more than 80 million daily. There are 99 kisses to a pound.

Milk chocolate was invented in Switzerland in 1879 by Henri Nestle and Daniel Peter. The Milky Way was launched in 1923 by Frank Mars.

Alfred Hitchcock used chocolate syrup to simulate blood in the famous shower scene of his 1960 black-and-white filmPsycho.

The phrase “baking chocolate” comes from Baker’s Chocolate, a Dorchester, Mass., company formed in 1765 by John Hannon and Dr. James Baker. The two men ground cacao into hard cakes that were mixed with boiling water to form a sweetened chocolate drink. Popularity took off after the Boston Tea Party of 1773 when patriots refused to drink tea.

Standard rations during the Revolutionary War included six pounds of chocolate per company per week. Colonial era chocolate was believed to be an effective treatment for asthma, cholera, dysentery, smallpox, typhus and yellow fever.

The first box of chocolate candies was marketed in England in 1868 by the sons of chocolatier John Cadbury.

Worldwide, retail sales of chocolate top $50 billion.

Sources: Godiva; and

This article originally appeared in The Source, December 2006.

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