Santa Fe is celebrated for its world-famous chile, but if you’re a chocolate lover, this city is paradise. Not everyone who has a sweet tooth likes chocolate. And it’s yours to explore on the Santa Fe Chocolate Trail, which traverses the city’s trove of locally owned chocolate shops brimming with bars, barks, clusters, caramels and other tantalizing treats, all handcrafted by artisanal chocolatiers.
The world’s most popular sweet treat has ancient ties to New Mexico. Archaeologists discovered the first traces of chocolate consumption in North America on pottery shards some 1,000 years old in Chaco Canyon, built by ancestral Puebloans in northwestern New Mexico. In the late-sixteenth century, chocolate elixirs became a fashionable drink in the Northern New Mexico Spanish frontier, especially among the wealthy. But you don’t need big bucks today to enjoy sumptuous elixirs and decadent chocolate. A pair of comfortable walking shoes and a big appetite are all that’s required to indulge in a Santa Fe chocolate odyssey.
The ChocolateSmith makes a perfect starting point on the Santa Fe Chocolate Trail. In the Railyard District, at 851 Cerrillos Road, this sweet chocolate boutique creates incredible edible art that’s almost too pretty to eat. But you’ll want to taste everything, from buttery dark chocolate hand-dipped in caramel and sprinkled with sea salt to the divine Don Juan Pecan Caramels. Jeff and Kari Lampro Keenan handcraft their sublime gourmet chocolate using local organic ingredients. Bestsellers here include craft chocolate bark in a feast of flavors — lemon poppy seed with cranberry, green-chile pistachio, and my favorite, white chocolate lemon lavender. Try the chocolate drops made with cacao nibs, rosemary Marcona almonds, spicy cinnamon, and other combinations. The ChocolateSmith’s famous chocolate paté, a dark chocolate ganache hand-dipped in Dutch cheese wax, is sturdy enough to travel in your backpack for a mountain hike or a cross-country ski trek.
Discover more chocolate next door at The ChocolateSmith’s sister shop, Whoo’s Donuts, where tantalizing donuts made from scratch every day feature local organic ingredients. Who could turn down a maple bacon donut with dark chocolate glaze and chile-brown sugar, or a pistachio donut with white chocolate lemon ganache? Oh, and don’t forget the luscious chocolate Long Johns (long rectangular doughnuts).
Next stop, the Kakawa Chocolate House, a sweet adobe building at 1050 Paseo de Peralta. Celebrated for its historic and contemporary drinking chocolate, Kakawa has chocolate’s rich history covered, from pre-Columbian, Mayan and Aztec eras to seventeenth-century Europe, Colonial American and Mexican periods. Inspired by authentic recipes, these delectable beverages will warm your heart and spirit. Order the Chili Chocolate Elixir for a bracing blast of bittersweet chocolate brightened by chile fruit overtones, agave nectar, vanilla and the sweet, slow burn of ancho chile. Kakawa, an Olmec word that means cacao, also produces alluring mendicants — nut-and-dried-fruit-studded chocolate disks — caramels, bars and more. Before leaving, treat yourself to one of Kakawa’s handcrafted truffles in adventurous flavors. The most recent invention — the Green Chile Margarita Truffle — is topped with gold luster dust imported from France, which gives a glowing shine.
Kakawa’s sinfully good chocolate has won the hearts of visitors from far and wide, prompting owners Tony and Bonnie Bennett to open a second Santa Fe location at 1300 Rufina Circle #A4, near Meow Wolf, and a third location, in Salem, Mass.
In the heart of downtown, you’ll find Señor Murphy Candymaker in La Fonda on the Plaza, at 100 East San Francisco Street. Founded by Neil Murphy in 1971, Señor Murphy is the elder statesman of Santa Fe’s chocolate scene. These handcrafted Southwestern sweets are famous, especially the signature bolitas, irresistible rounds of chocolate fudge that are hand dipped in dark chocolate and rolled in finely ground almonds. Legend has it that these sweet treats bring happiness, and after you taste one, it’s hard to argue with that. Gazing at the array of tempting treats could make you dizzy — dark chocolate chile pistachio clusters, dark chocolate sea-salt caramels, chile pistachio bark and so many other confections. The fun lies in the choosing. And don’t worry about whatever you don’t try on your first visit: Señor Murphy has two other locations to lure you back — one in the DeVargas Center, at 177A Paseo de Peralta, and another southside in the Santa Fe Place Mall.
The Art of Chocolate
If Willy Wonka’s fabulous chocolate factory comes to mind when you step inside Art of Chocolate/Cacao Santa Fe, there’s a good reason. The 3,000-square-foot building housing Santa Fe’s only “bean-to-bar” chocolate maker includes a retail shop, coffee bar, chocolate-making operation and an area devoted to workshops, classes and chocolate tastings. At 3201 Richards Lane in the innovative Siler Arts District, this chocolate emporium, owned by chocolatier Melanie Boudar and roastmaster Derek Lanter, offers an enticing array of chocolate. The beautifully boxed Chaco Pottery Shard Collection pays tribute to those ancient Pueblo chocolate consumers, with truffles made of fine cacao and local and wild-sourced nuts, berries, fruits and spices, handcrafted in geometric black and white designs. Cacao’s specialty craft bars, made from some of the world’s best beans, include dark milk chocolate with prickly pear, lime and hibiscus, and dark milk chocolate with caramelized piñon nut, cacao nib, red chile and coffee, which is another specialty here. The cafe serves fresh roasted pour-overs and espresso drinks featuring its own small-batch gourmet coffee, and elixirs based on historic drinking chocolate recipes. Ready to roll up your sleeves? Cacao offers chocolate culinary classes, workshops and tastings, including the highly popular Food of the Gods immersion workshop.
The End of the Trail
Sweet Santa Fe is aptly named, as owners Cindy Smiles and Diana Kelley are expert artisan chocolatiers. They worked alongside legendary Santa Fe chocolate maker CG “Chuck” Higgins, of the CG Higgins Confections, and they use some of his award-winning recipes, including his wildly popular Piñon Nut Roll. They also make their own fabulous chocolate creations, such as blackberry balsamic truffles, green-chile fudge and chipotle-chile drinking chocolate. And don’t forget the chocolate-dipped bacon with New Mexico red and green chile. It’s out of this world. In the Fashion Outlets of Santa Fe on the south end of Cerrillos Road, this stop marks the end of the trail, and it’s well worth the trip.
Lynn Cline is the author of The Maverick Cookbook: Iconic Recipes & Tales from New Mexico. She has written for The New York Times, Bon Appétít and numerous other publications. She also hosts Cline’s Corner, a weekly radio show on KSFR 101.1 FM.