Yes, I realize that it is not about coffee, but there is a connection. Kent Bakke (shown left) is a co-owner of La Marzocco…. and also happens to be one of the nicest and most respected fellows in the business.

From The Seattle Times

One of the biggest names in Seattle coffee has opened a chocolate shop in Ballard.

Kent Bakke is the espresso-equipment whiz who bought much of La Marzocco’s manufacturing plant in Florence, Italy, in 1994 and made La Marzocco espresso machines in Ballard for the next 10 years. After Starbucks switched to automated espresso machines, the Ballard factory closed.

Bakke continues to co-own La Marzocco’s plant in Florence, but he now spends about a third of his time on a new venture: Claudio Corallo Chocolate.

Corallo is a friend from the coffee world who fled his plantations in Zaire because of political upheaval. Now he lives, farms cocoa beans and makes chocolate bars on the island nation of São Tomé and Príncipe in the Gulf of Guinea off the west coast of Africa.

Bakke visited Corallo there in 2002. He became a business partner on the cocoa plantation, and almost two years ago began selling Corallo’s chocolate in the U.S. with James Clark, another longtime coffee man.

The chocolate has a clean flavor without the bitterness that often accompanies dark chocolate. Bakke credits the high quality of Corallo’s cocoa beans, which come from heirloom-style plants that have not been genetically altered since they arrived from Brazil in the 1820s. Corallo also does not conch, an aeration process meant to reduce acidity and bitterness.

“Claudio says those flavors shouldn’t be there in the first place,” Bakke said.

Claudio Corallo Chocolate is sold in specialty stores in Europe and the U.S., including Caffé Vita in Olympia, the new Chocopolis on Queen Anne and DeLaurenti Specialty Food & Wine in Pike Place Market.

U.S. sales have moved slowly and remain below $100,000 a year.

Corallo hopes to boost sales with two new retail stores, one run by his wife, Bettina, in Lisbon, Portugal, and the Ballard shop opened last week.

Bakke and Clark went for a low-key approach in Ballard with no picture windows, no big sign out front and nobody serving chocolate on silver trays with white gloves. The shop feels more like an office-reception area than a retail store.

“It’s almost hidden in the sense that you need to discover it,” Bakke explained.

Clark adds that the store’s concept fits with Corallo’s simple, down-to-earth style.

It may be spare, but the store has everything for enjoying chocolate, from tables and stools to photographs of Corallo’s plantation to bags of chocolate bars that run $12 to $14 for 3.52 ounces.

“We want to hold up a mirror to what happens on the plantation itself, and do as little as possible to get in the way,” Clark said.