What does rap, chocolate tours, dancing, running a business, teaching chocolate classes, and the Portland Chocoholics Meetup all have in common? Kara Hayes founder of Chocolate Pursuit, which offers craft chocolate tastings in tours in and around Portland. Grab some craft chocolate, put your feet up and read on to, as Kara would say, “melt into the experience”.
Kara Hayes of Chocolate Pursuit
Victoria Cooksey (VC): What was your turning point from eating chocolate/candy bars to trying and exploring craft chocolate?
Kara Hayes (KH): My love for good chocolate started with confections. I began with making truffles, having a blast creating flavor combinations and inclusions that were quite pleasant. This gave me an appreciation for the chocolate making process, both the technical and creative aspects. And then I discovered that there was a rich chocolate scene in Portland, starting with Missionary Chocolates, Portland’s vegan truffles, followed by the bean-to-bar chocolate makers. It was the dynamic forms and flavors, meeting the faces behind the bars and knowing where the beans were sourced, and knowing the exact ingredients in the bar that brought out the complex and unique flavors of the cacao, that really locked me into the craft world of chocolate. Now that I know some important criteria of what good chocolate is, I cannot take steps back. I will only discover and taste more quality chocolate and share that experience with others.
VC: How did you start leading chocolate tours?
KH: Believe it or not, I have always had a thing for tours, having led tours in my previous jobs, including school tours for a contemporary children’s museum, bus tours through the city of San Francisco and tours to prospective college students in Portland. Naturally, I knew from the start that Chocolate Pursuit would include both tastings and tours. I believe 100% in getting to know your city or exploring new cities when visiting. Because I had organized over a dozen chocolate crawls for my chocolate Meetup group, the Portland Chocoholics, it set a foundation for the type of experience and itinerary I would want Chocolate Pursuit tour participants to receive. And I am obsessed with walking and being active (Fun Fact: I have not owned a car since 2009!).
VC: When folks attend your tours how do their perceptions of chocolate change?
KH: What I love about this business and leading chocolate tours is that all types of curious chocolate consumers can attend – some may only be familiar with large scale commodity chocolate like Hershey’s, others have been exposed to more quality chocolate, or are chocolate connoisseurs. Before taking the tour, many people have no idea that bean-to-bar shops and similar places exist in an urban city! I enjoy seeing the perceptions of people who attend my tours at each location; from sampling different forms of chocolate to learning how chocolate is made by an expert change, they can’t help but be engaged. Everyone walks away with more knowledge than they had initially, and let’s not forget their sensory perceptions change on the move, as they are tasting and experiencing chocolate. Bonus is the chocolate euphoria everyone gets throughout the tour.
VC: What has been your greatest pleasure and your greatest difficulty in starting and running a chocolate business?
KH: Starting a business has been so rewarding! I think the greatest benefit thus far has been that, as an entrepreneur, I get to explore and implement ideas and have creative control of the direction I want to take. I have learned and grown so much with each new project I take on. The greatest challenge has been having the time and resources to develop and execute my creative ideas and the pits and shortfall related to making a profit. I am optimistic that the time and effort I do spend nurturing the business will lead to sustainability and success.
VC: From being around several bean-to-bar chocolate makers what has been the most surprising or unexpected thing you have discovered from them?
KH: One of the most unexpected things I have noticed consistently among chocolate makers I meet is how incredibly humble they are. As someone who initially put chocolate makers in the same boat as celebrities, I have found that nearly everyone is approachable – when I visit a shop in a new city, connect regarding a potential partnership, or have general questions, it’s refreshing to know that these incredibly talented entrepreneurs and makers are willing to take time to teach others, and, moreover, talk to each other. There is not as much competition as I expected, perhaps because each craft chocolate is so dynamic!
Brian Wallace of Endorfin Foods and Kara Hayes of Chocolate Pursuit
VC: What style of music do you associate with or listen to when eating white, milk and dark chocolate? Does each chocolate inspire a different music style (or type of dance)?
KH: Music and dance plays a prominent role in my life, so often exploring and tasting chocolate go hand-in-hand. I like to think of white and milk chocolates as being more of a pop and bubbly style of music, which can cross genres. I imagine that dark chocolate, which breeds complexity and strength can translate to getting funky, spicy with soul or world music, or multi-layered and complex jazz or classical. I could probably pair music with every chocolate.
VC: Where do you find all your cool dresses?
KH: Thank you! I find many of my dresses at vintage shops. I also have been a fan of Modcloth; or any dresses with pockets and bold colors. I aspire to have a dress in every color.
VC: Any favorite chocolate pairings with coffee, wine, cheese, etc? If so, what do you recommend?
KH: I have hosted many pairings for chocolate tasting events, and I am a big fan of chocolate with whiskey and bourbon. The oaky, caramel, nutty flavor notes of craft whiskey and bourbon can truly complement the complex notes of craft chocolate and confections. In fact, one of the stops on my Friday tours is a whiskey and truffle pairing not to be missed! Imagine a cardamom and caramel truffle paired with a single malt whiskey. Wine, including Port, Sake , and Sherry also pair quite nicely, but you have to do the work to find the right bar, for each spirit and chocolate is different. I enjoy trying to pair Dandelion bars with full-bodied red wines (Malbec!).
VC: What are your 3 top tips to follow when tasting chocolate?
KH: When tasting chocolate, my top recommendation would be to melt into the experience (my tagline). Melting the chocolate on the tongue, and not biting it, allows for the exploration of all the flavors from start to finish. I would also recommend cleansing your palate between tasting (bubbled water is preferred) and going into the experience with an open mind, knowing that you may experience flavors different from someone else, and that you may be surprised by the flavors that you do taste (part of the fun!).
Chocolate Pursuit at Ranger Chocolate
VC: You clearly have a lot of chocolate projects going on. Do you still run the Portland Chocoholics Meetup group? How can people join? What inspired your chocolate rap song?
KH: My projects: Currently I am offering chocolate tastings for public and private events and planning some fun upcoming collaborations with wineries and other venues. I will be teaching chocolate classes again this Fall at Portland Community College, and I also recently launched my chocolate tours (available to book on my website and Airbnb Experiences), one on the East side that focuses on exploring chocolate in different forms, highlighting the dynamic Portland chocolate scene, and the other a West side tour that focuses on tasting and pairing chocolate. I am constantly meeting with chocolate makers and relevant business owners to collaborate on events and ideas, of which I have so many to explore! I cannot wait to implement some of these in the future, on of which involves partnership with a local TV show to create media segments (tastings, interviews) for their weekly episodes. Others I will keep a mystery for now! In addition, I will continue to organize and host fun crawls and events for the Portland Chocoholics Meetup group. And I will be working on the Original Chocolate Rap music video, anticipated release before the end of the year. I am looking forward to connecting with chocolate makers and other chocoholics at Seattle’s Northwest Chocolatefest in November. I am also planning a couple of fun one-time Halloween events (10/28 & 10/31) in Portland featuring several Portland chocolate shops that are not to be missed! Maintaining my website, newsletters, and social media presence is ongoing work!
VC: Do you have a favorite historical chocolate fact? If so, what is it?
KH: I love that cacao has such a rich, deep history, so I am always learning something new. I think my favorite discovery of late was one I made before booking my trip to Spain. I recently learned that there is a monastery in Spain, also deemed a national monument in 1983, that was the birthplace of chocolate tasting in Europe. Chocolate was brought to the monks at the Monasterio de las Piedra in Zaragoza in the 16th century!
Kara Hayes of Chocolate Pursuit
VC: What does chocolate mean to you?
KH: Chocolate is a holistic experience that connects mind, body, and spirit. When I taste chocolate, my senses awaken, engaging sight, sound, taste, touch, and smell. I feel happy and idealistic. It is appreciation. It is community. As corny as it may sound, it is passion and life.
Thank you so much for this interview Kara Hayes!
Photo credits: Kara Hayes, Alex Hessler, Megan Miller and Daria Elizabeth.
Kara Hayes Chocolate Pursuit:
Chocolate tastings: www.chocolatepursuit.com/exper iences
Chocolate tours: www.chocolatepursuit.com/tours
Portland Community College: https://www.pcc.edu/s chedule/default.cfm?fa=dspTopi cDetails&thisTerm=201803&topic id=COO&type=Non-Credit
Portland Chocoholics: https://www.meetu p.com/Portland-Chocoholics/
YouTube Chocolate Rap Live Performance: https://www.youtu be.com/watch?v=5rktLO4itVs
Video link to recent Portland Chocolate Interview: https://www.youtube .com/watch?v=2t4dQgy9a0Y