Some chocolatiers have a European bent, with an affinity for blended milk chocolates and ganache-filled pralines. Others are purists, relying on single-origin beans from cacao’s native Latin America for bars and barks and hand-whisked beverages.
For good insight into which type of chocolatier Romeo Garcia is, look no further than the hot drinks menu at Romeo Chocolates, a brick-and-mortar from the homegrown confectioner that opened on Pine Avenue this summer. There, you won’t find powdered hot cocoa or too-sweet Starbucks flavor pumps, but instead three distinct kinds of “sipping chocolates,” each labeled with their country or region of origin.
The first is Mexican-style, with cinnamon and cayenne like a spicy café de olla. The European-style one has the same thickness and milk content as his frosting-like bon bon centers. Lastly, Garcia is one of the only chocolatiers in the country offering Filipino tableya tsokolate, the country’s earthy, traditional take on hot chocolate that even with cane sugar tastes more like a Cuban coffee than any hot cocoa you probably remember drinking as a kid.
Garcia is Filipino himself and an avid world traveler, lending his chocolates a global perspective not often found in the hipster-clichéd bean-to-bar trend. Yet, it’s one that makes perfect sense here in the International City.
A former counselor and community college dean, Garcia turned to the culinary arts as a way to relax from his high-stress job. After taking a sabbatical to explore the creation and culture of chocolate across Europe and the South Pacific, he eventually graduated from Ecole Chocolat, completing its Master Chocolatier Program in Belgium.
Two years of running pop-ups and catering gigs off a cottage license, a Kickstarter campaign finally helped make the Romeo Chocolates storefront a reality. Now, beyond sipping chocolates, the shop and small-batch chocolate factory churns out single-origin bars, fruit-and-nut topped white chocolate squares and no less than 20 kinds of glossy truffles, bon bons and pralines every day (an amount that’s only increased as the holidays approach).
Ingredients like calamansi, macadamia nut, matcha, rose water, bing cherries and fair-trade Honduran cacao speak to the diversity of Garcia’s palate. Weekly wine pairing parties, chocolate brownie flights, tempered-chocolate fondue specials, and ‘90s hip-hop DJ nights speak to the diversity of outreach necessary to build his growing clientele.
Part coffee shop (on nitro or pour-over), part wine bar (small but solid selection), part community center (busy open mic nights), Garcia’s goal with all this doesn’t seem to be so much about getting you to treat yourself to a $15 box of molded truffles (though his “You Deserve Chocolate” slogan helps), but more about spreading the art of artisanal chocolate to a community that has never before considered such a thing.
Garcia proves this by remaining fiercely loyal to the city that helped nurture and support his one-time passion project, often teaming up with other local producers like The Pie Bar, Long Beach Creamery, Black Ring Coffee and more for seasonal collaborations and one-off dishes (try the chocogato!). Hotel Maya recently tapped him to create custom chocolate bars with edible prints on them for the gift shop. And his team can be found in the international food court at the Queen Mary’s Chill ice adventure park this winter.
Whether you want to warm up with a Filipino-style sipping chocolate or load up on gift sets filled with delicately detailed (and carefully sourced) milk chocolate truffles, it’s clear that Romeo Chocolates is an entirely new breed of chocolatier — one with respect for the ancient craft, skills for its contemporary creation and a vision for what confectioners treats can be in the future.
460 Pine Ave., Long Beach; (562) 500-5097; www.romeochocolates.net
Sarah Bennett is a freelance journalist who has spent nearly a decade covering food, music, craft beer, arts, culture and all sorts of bizarro things that interest her for local, regional and national publications.