SOMA is a small unpretentious chocolate shop and mini chocolate factory located in the Distillery District in Toronto, Canada. Behind the green doors, a high-ceilinged room with exposed brick walls offers everything the chocoholic heart might desire. When I walked in, the room was hopping with visitors. An eclectic blend of classical, jazz and world music alternated in the background. I could see why SOMA had outgrown its previous digs two buildings to the west. The six tables, and the bar, were all occupied.
At times, you can see the chocolate being made through the large windows. In the chocolate-making room, cocoa beans from Venezuela, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Madagascar, or Tanzania are roasted, de-husked, and then crushed in a special grinding machine (the mélangeur) to make a rich brown paste called cocoa liquor. Some sugar and dairy products are then added into the mix. SOMA’s products contain no preservatives or artificial ingredients. Next door, in the chocolate laboratory, orange peel, candied ginger, coffee beans, nuts and other treats are tumbled in a metallic spherical vessel until they are evenly coated with the chocolate mixture. A pipe blows cool air through the front opening to dry the melted chocolate. Packed in small ribboned bags of 65-100 grams, they make ideal gifts ranging from $6 to $8 (*).
At the far end of the store, freshly made pralines and truffles line the display cases. Unusual flavours include bergamot, Spanish olive oil and Douglas fir. Try some of the favourites, such as the 8-year balsamic vinegar dark chocolate truffle, or the caramel feuilletine ($2 each, or available in a box set). Other handmade treats include Italian cookies, micro batch bars, and freshly churned gelato made in the gelato laboratory.
If you’re feeling more adventurous, how about 100% pure dark chocolate? The Arcana bar (45 grams – $5.50) is made from five single origin beans (Peru, Papua New Guinea, Madagascar, Haiti, and Java) with no sugar, preservatives or flavouring added. The label warns: “The wild raw taste of this 100% chocolate may bring about an unexpected change of consciousness”. In other words, it will blow your mind. However, most dark chocolate bars contain a more normal 66% to 82% cocoa (75-100 grams – $6-$11). If you haven’t yet graduated from milk chocolate bars, not to worry; you can find those as well (80 grams – $6). Mini-bars with inclusions of dry fruits or nuts are perfect for small budgets at $4.50 for 65 grams.
SOMA’s most popular creation is without a doubt their signature Mayan Hot Chocolate. If you’ve been disappointed by the offerings at some coffee shops (which, let’s admit it, all taste like they came from powdered mixes), this version will surprise you. Made from dark Venezuelan chocolate, it is spiced with cinnamon, Australian ginger, orange peel, Madagascar vanilla, chilli peppers, and SOMA’s secret blend of spices. Nicknamed the “Drink of the Gods”, the concoction is not too sweet, and the chillies pleasantly warm the back of the throat. Take your time and savour a full cup at the bar (prepared with steamed milk or hot water, $3.99) or for a quick pick-me-up, try a short intense shot served in an espresso-size cup ($3.33).
Despite the fact that Canada is not a country known for its chocolate, SOMA makes some of the best chocolate I’ve tasted anywhere. Make sure to check it out if you’re visiting Toronto.
(*) Prices do not include the 13% tax.
If you go:
SOMA now has two locations:
- 32 Tank House Lane (Distillery District, corner of Mill Street and Trinity) Tel: 416-815-7662
- 443 King St. West. Tel: 416-599-7662
Open 7 days a week. Consult web site somachocolate.com for hours.