Utah and Salt Lake City are known for a lot of things, but fine chocolate isn’t often one of the first things that comes to mind.
Stansbury Park residents Liz and Ryan Struthwolf are trying to change that with their chocolate-tasting classes. The mother-and-son duo has been bringing Utah chocolate to the forefront with their monthly classes at the Marmalade Branch of the Salt Lake City Library, and held a chocolate-tasting tournament Monday evening at the Millpond Spa and Retreat in Stansbury Park in an effort to bring that knowledge to Tooele County.
“Utah is a burgeoning spot for chocolate, but nobody really knows that, it seems like,” Ryan Struthwolf said. “We’re just kind of spreading the knowledge of it since we know a lot of the chocolate makers through our coffee shop. We’re just tying to promote it.”
Ryan and Liz are co-owners of Moka Gourmet Coffee and Chocolate in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Salt Lake City, with Ryan serving as primary owner — he also owns the shaved ice shack in Stansbury Park.
“[Customers] give her compliments, and then they give me compliments on how sweet my mom is,” Ryan said.
“I hear how wonderful that tall, young man I hired is,” Liz teased.
When Liz, who had previously worked as a systems analyst in the medical and dental fields, went to barista school in Portland, Oregon, to prepare for the coffee shop’s opening, she learned about Utah’s burgeoning chocolate industry and connected with Matt Caputo of Tony Caputo’s Deli in Salt Lake City.
Caputo is considered the top chocolate educator in the country, and his shop is known for having a vast array of world-renowned chocolate. He helped inspire the Struthwolfs to begin hosting small coffee and chocolate classes at Moka. The classes are held the first Thursday of each month, with coffee and tea being the focus from 6-7 p.m. and chocolate from 7:30-8:30 p.m.
The classes started off small, but have since exploded in popularity.
“We started these cute little classes with like 30 people in the library,” Liz said. “Then people started finding out about what we were doing and it jumped to 100 people coming, and now we’ve got 150 people coming.”
Ryan and Liz both said the success was totally unexpected. The classes have grown to include other library branches, as well as corporate team-building gatherings and classes for children. The Struthwolfs hope that growth will continue to include not only Tooele County, but the rest of the Salt Lake City metropolitan area as well.
“Coffee and chocolate are so correlated … it’s a perfect match,” Ryan said. “We’re just sharing the love, essentially — letting people know what’s being made in Salt Lake and that we’re not just a dead, stagnant area.”
Monday’s tasting tournament in Stansbury Park introduced the eight winners of last year’s international chocolate tasting tournament to Tooele County palates. The chocolate offered at the tournament contains between 70 and 75 percent pure chocolate content — either cocoa bean or cocoa butter — while an average candy bar contains only three percent by comparison.
Ryan said most people aren’t aware of the difference between a regular bar and high-quality chocolate. Customers will come into his coffee shop and comment they could buy 10 candy bars for what it costs to buy one bar of the fine chocolate he sells. Others will say they ate an entire bar of fine chocolate in one sitting and were overwhelmed by how rich it was, he said.
“You’re essentially comparing a Honda to a Ferrari,” Ryan said. “It’s pretty cool that that level of stuff is coming out of Salt Lake.”
Monday’s event came one day before Valentine’s Day, making for a perfect opportunity to introduce high-quality chocolate to Tooele County. Liz said when Moka’s classes in Salt Lake City have coincided with holidays such as Christmas, sales of items such as Franck’s truffles have gone through the roof.
Liz is now the president of the Marmalade Coffee and Chocolate Society, a branch of the Utah Chocolate Society — one of only two chocolate societies in the United States, along with one in the Brooklyn area of New York City. The classes’ increasing popularity has helped to not only draw attention to the quality chocolate being produced in Utah, but it also has encouraged other eateries to get involved.
“Now, cheese makers are jumping on board with our classes, and local restaurants are wanting to supply food,” Liz said.