Historic Annapolis hosts chocolate, wine tasting at William Paca House

Rich, spicy, nutty and a hint of banana?

"There's definitely an underlying banana in there. You can taste the spice. You can tell there's something else in there."

Gail Benson's hunch about banana was wrong, but chocolate made by hand using Colonial-era ingredients and tools does have a different taste and texture than today's candy bars.

Visitors got a chance to taste for themselves at a sampling event hosted by Historic Annapolis on Friday at the William Paca House. The event will be held again on Sunday.

The organization partnered with American Heritage Chocolate, a nonprofit division of Mars Inc., for the tasting and lecture. American Heritage focuses on educating chocolate connoisseurs about the history of their favorite sweet treat.

The event was a fundraiser for Historic Annapolis.

About 50 attendees sampled chocolate martinis and desserts made using only ingredients found in Colonial America.

Vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, red pepper and ground cocoa beans all made the cut. Milk, however, did not.

"The chocolate has spice to it ... it's a different idea of what chocolate should be," said Karen Coch, who owns Miss Nancy's Fancy Bakery in Annapolis. Coch created the desserts for the tasting and said she had to adjust her recipes.

"Working with it was a little challenging because it doesn't work like the chocolate we have now."

For the event, she prepared truffles, brownies, macaroons, cake pops and a ganache dip with strawberries.

"My favorite was the cake pop, (my husband's) was the truffle," Annapolis resident Julia Fine said.

She also enjoyed drinking the classic hot chocolate.

"I love it. You know when you have something that has a little whiskey in it and it warms the back of your throat? That's what this is like," Fine said.

Chocolate is so ingrained in our culture that it has been to the top and bottom of the world, and even to outer space, American Heritage presenter Tim Lyons said.

Civilizations in the Amazon Basin used chocolate as food and drink as early as 1500 B.C., he said.

In Colonial times, people served chocolate beverages the same way they would serve coffee and tea.

Chocolate makers roasted and ground the beans by hand, combining them with spices and other flavorings. The grinding produced a liquid that was chilled in a mold for days until it hardened into a block.

Then, pieces of the block were dissolved in hot water to create a thick, rich hot chocolate.

Chocolate evolved from a drink into candy in the late 1800s, with the inventions of cocoa butter and condensed milk.

About a year ago, American Heritage approached Historic Annapolis about selling its products in the HA store at 99 Main St., said Carrie Kiewitt, American Heritage's vice president of advancement.

At around the same time, the Colonial chocolatier came up with the idea of the tasting event.

Some guests were skeptical at first.

"At least there's wine if the food is no good," one woman said.

But the samples seemed to leave a sweet taste in their mouths.

"I was surprised at how thick it was. I can still taste it on my tongue," said Chelsea Mueller, who studies history at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

"But it's really good. I kind of want to go home, grab some cocoa out of the shelf, throw in some spices and see what I get."

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