Two hundred and fifty years ago, before the Revolutionary War began, the unborn nation’s first chocolate mill opened along Dorchester’s Neponset River. The Baker Chocolate Company grew into a thriving business bringing their chocolate products across the country. Today, Harvard professor Dr. Carla Martin is hoping for a different sort of chocolate revolution.
On Saturday Oct. 13, the Fine Cacao and Chocolate Institute, founded and directed by Dr. Martin, will host its inaugural New England Chocolate Festival at the Boston Center for Adult Education. The event will gather local artisans and producers from around the world who’ve committed to ethical labor practices, transparency and making high quality chocolate.
“We’re at a lucky moment where there’s a critical mass of companies with a similar mission and values in terms of how they’re accessing the supply chain for cacao, for sugar and how they’re attempting to communicate with consumers about what’s different in their products,” Martin explains.
Owner and founder of Somerville Chocolate Eric Parkes says he’s excited to interact with consumers who don’t know much about where their chocolate comes from. Parkes himself didn’t understand the confection’s roots before traveling to Costa Rica where he stumbled upon makers who inspired him to begin making his own products.
“I was smitten by it. I didn’t realize that a mortal human being could do that,” Parkes says. “I thought you had to have a factory or plantation at your disposal and secret machinery.”
The ballroom turned “chocolate pavilion” will host 16 New England-based companies, 13 of which are women-owned. Attendees will have the opportunity to sample products and meet the chocolatiers behind them. Martin says, “Our goal is really for people to leave having had probably too much chocolate.”
The festival will also also feature a “chocolate sensorium” where attendees can interact with raw ingredients while learning about how it’s made in a deconstructed chocolate factory, cocoa producers from more than 17 countries and a chocolate-themed escape room.
Designed by Stephen Durfee and Greg D’Alesandre, “two major escape room geeks who are also chocolate professionals,” the room will challenge participants with puzzles and riddles that draw upon what they’ve learned throughout the festival, Martin says.
“What’s been really funny for us is that we’ve gotten a lot of queries about the escape room from escape room enthusiasts,” Martin says. “And we’ve had a lot of people say, ‘Why would you ever want to escape?! It’s chocolate!’”
Dr. Martin, who has devoted years to studying the chocolate industry, says she’s most excited about engaging the festival’s attendees with sensory learning.
“In our society, we prize other kinds of learning. We prize reading and writing, learning languages, learning sports, learning instruments. We don’t as much celebrate learning through taste or smell or even touch,” Martin says. “So that kind of sensory experience I think is something that everyone deserves to learn more about.”
The Fine Cacao and Chocolate Institute hosts the inaugural New England Chocolate Festival at the Boston Center for Adult Education on Oct. 13. $25 general admission. nechocolate.org.