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8 Commuter Bikes To Get You Back To The Office in (Eco) Style

As the world enters a new reality and many of us are returning to our offices, it’s a good moment to reinvent your commute. Whether you are on a hybrid schedule or at a desk every day, a bicycle can bring an element of joy (along with its health and environmental pluses) to getting back out into the world again.

Here we have gathered some of our favorite commuter bikes in a variety of styles and functions—folding bikes, cruisers, hybrids, gravel bikes and even some e-bikes, for those riders who would like a little help on any hills. While many of the bicycles gathered here are top-of-the-line models that will give you years of smooth rides, we have also included a few budget-friendly alternatives.

 

Best all-around e-bike: Cannondale Adventure Neo ($2700)

 

The history of e-bikes, or electric bicycles, is almost as long as the history of bicycles themselves. In the 1870s and 1880s, inventors were devising ways of connecting batteries to bicycles. Issues around batteries—above all their weight—meant that many designs remained on paper, but advances in technology especially pedal assist designs, have led to a boom for e-bikes. One source estimates that there will be 40 million e-bikes on roads around the world by 2023.

For commuters e-bikes offer some assistance when necessary. On flat stretches you can rely on pedal power while on hills or anywhere else you want a little extra help, just add a little juice. The Cannondale Adventure Neo seamlessly incorporates its battery into its lightweight step-through aluminum frame. The Bosch battery has a life of up to 65 miles and can provide 20 mph of assist. It’s ideal for both errands in the city and weekend rides.

 

 

Best budget e-bike: Propella’s Single-Speed Drivetrain ($1099)

 

E-bikes as a rule are serious investments and even the least expensive will be more expensive than conventional bicycles. Propella’s Single-Speed Drivetrain isn’t as sleek as the Cannondale Adventure Neo, and its battery’s range is more limited (between 20 and 38 miles) but it is relatively light at 35 pounds and is also easier on the wallet. It can be an ideal starter or occasional e-bike, and if you find yourself converted to the e-bike life you can splurge on a fancier model down the road.

 

 

Best gravel bike: Surly Midnight Special ($2225)

 

From the name, you might think a gravel bike is designed to be ridden on gravel paths. Thanks to their hybrid designs that combine elements of road bikes and mountain bikes, they are actually suited to all terrains. If your commute includes shortcuts through unpaved areas or along potholed roads, the wider tires and lower gearing offer stability.

Surly Bikes’ Midnight Special has an elegant old-school design while not sacrificing anything when it comes to functionality or quality. The high-volume tires allow for tire pressure to be adjusted according to the surface—let some air out for those off-road adventures and top them off when you’ll be traveling on well-paved roads. This solid and dependable bike also has flat-mount disc brakes and front and rear through axles.

 

 

Best cruiser-style bike: Marin Bikes Larkspur 2 ($1199)

 

Cruiser-style bikes let their riders sit tall in their seats, all the better to scan the road for vehicles while also being more visible to drivers. Cruiser bikes are generally built for comfort and not speed with wide handlebars and comfortable seats. If your commute is over well-paved roads, a cruiser is a good option.

Marin Bikes first made its name making mountain bikes, but their Larkspur 2 is designed with urban adventurers, and commuters, in mind. The step-through steel frame makes mounting and dismounting easy, even if you decide to add a basket or baby seat. Disc brakes and wide tires are some mountain-bike details that give the Larkspur 2 the ability to handle various terrains.

 

 

Best hybrid bike: Cannondale Quick / CX4 ($700)

 

 

Hybrid bikes, as the name implies, combine features from both mountain and road bikes. Most have flat handlebars, as is typical of mountain bikes, allowing for an upright ride that most commuters prefer. On the other hand, they have the lighter frames and thinner tires associated with road bikes. The result is an ideal commuter vehicle—it has the ability to handle a variety of terrains and a lightness that means pedaling to the office doesn’t feel like a serious workout.

The Cannondale Quick is a good option on paved roads, while the Quick CX 4 is more of an all-terrain option with suspension forks to absorb any bumps. The aluminum frame is light—the bike weighs 28 pounds—and the 24 gears assure a ride calibrated to every incline and terrain.

 

 

Best single speed bike: Ribble Urban 725s ($688)

 

Single-speed bikes are an ideal option especially if you live in a city with good-enough roads and without any hills. If you don’t have to face inclines and you will typically be riding along at a leisurely pace, skip the extra weight of derailleurs and gears. By foregoing all those extra parts, single speeds are also easier to maintain—there are fewer parts to get clogged with dirt and grease. Another advantage of these pared down bicycles is they are generally cheaper, so you can get a first-class model for the same price you might pay for an average road bike.

The Ribble Urban 725s is a marriage of simplicity and quality. There aren’t many components—a large part of the appeal of single-speed bikes—but those it does have are all top of the line. The solid steel frame is well-suited to the stresses of urban commuting. The bicycle can also be easily switched to a fixed gear one, if you want a taste of fixie life.

 

 

Best folding bike: Tern Bicycles BYB S11 ($2499)

 

Much like e-bikes, folding bikes have a much longer history than many people realize. In the late 19thcentury a number of inventors filed for patents for foldable bikes (though in reality many of them were less foldable than easily disassembled). In the 1960s there was another spike of interest with bicycle manufacturers in Europe and North America producing many foldable bikes and then later, in the early 1980s, models from Brompton and Dahon became popular.

The folding bike has some obvious advantages for the urban commuter—it doesn’t take up space in small apartments and rather than leave it on the street outside your office, it’s easy to break them down and bring them inside. Among the best folding bikes is Tern Bicycles’ BYB S11. It’s 30 percent smaller than other folding bikes, has 11 gears (Shimano), and Kinetix Pro X wheels.

 

 

Best budget folding bike: Zizzo Folding Bike Urbano ($430)

 

If Tern’s BYB S11 is more than you want to spend on a folding bike, there are some lower-cost options. Among our favorites is Zizzo’s Folding Bike Urbano. It has eight gears (Shimano) and weighs in at a light 24 pounds thanks to its LX aluminum frame. Depsite its modest price, it’s a bike capable of handling most terrains and folds up to a size small enough that it’s easy to throw into your trunk for a weekend away, as well as sliding into a corner of your office during the workweek.

 

 

 

A Magnificent Merlot

After being one of the most popular kids at the party in the 90’s, Napa Valley Merlot took a hit to its reputation in the 2000’s. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly the reason as the quality did not suffer. If anything it got better.

 

The 2004 movie Sideways certainly did not help. In perhaps its most famous scene, the main character Miles, who adores Pinot Noir and seemingly loathes Merlot declares before a double date evening with his best friend Jack, “I’m not drinking any f—ing Merlot.” After that Pinot Noir sales went up and Merlot went down in the US and that remained the trend for many years. Yet in reality Merlot was already stumbling. I know because I spent many a Saturday or Sunday in Napa during this time and could see with my own eyes that the interest in Merlot among the wine tasting crowd was waning.

 

Some will point to the fact that California Merlots used to be too one dimensional, intended for blending or for making a very quaffable wine that appealed to a wide range of people albeit in a simplistic if not monolithic fashion. My personal theory is that Merlot took a back seat to Cabernet from a perception standpoint during the late 90’s and early 2000’s—a unique period in US history when a lot of money was being made (and later lost) and people based their opinions more on what they read or heard versus what they actually experienced or tasted. From expensive technology stocks to expensive wine, perception played a big role during these hifalutin times. Commanding higher prices and receiving higher scores from the critics (namely Robert Parker and Wine Spectator), Cabernet was king in California.

 

This superficial period also happened to conveniently coincide with some stellar Cabernet vintages coming out of Napa and Sonoma, thanks in part to favorable weather and a mini winemaking renaissance of sorts which further helped solidify Napa Valley on the worldwide stage—along with its most high profile varietal—Cabernet. Combine these factors with the advent of the Internet—which allowed wine geeks like me to keep tabs on exactly which wines were getting the top scores—and it’s no surprise that Napa Cabernet, the most expensive and highest scoring in California, took off in popularity.

 

But Napa Valley Merlot—which has been thriving in the valley for as long as Cabernet—never faltered in quality during this time. In fact, while not a lot of people were paying attention it just better. And people are starting to take notice. At least I am.

 

I recently tried a Merlot from Sullivan Winery in Rutherford (Napa) and it blew me away. I can easily say it is one of the best wines I have had from Napa, of any varietal. It’s important to also point out that I tried this wine without knowing the price. No matter how unbiased a wine writer or critic attempts to be, it is inherently impossible not to have the knowledge of price effect our thinking or judging. In this case I was not surprised to find out after I had relished in a glass for twenty minutes that it commanded a hefty price. It’s justified in my humble opinion.

 

2018 J.O. Sullivan Founder’s Reserve Merlot ($250)

 

Consisting of 80% Merlot, 12% Cabernet Sauvignon and 8% Petit Verdot, the 2018 J.O. Sullivan Founder’s Reserve Merlot is actually more of a “right bank” Bordeaux style than a straight up merlot. And I love that. Aromatically, this wine has distinguished earthy qualities rooted in the typical notes synonymous with “Rutherford Dust” leading with notes of graphite, tobacco leaf and cocoa, along with an unforgettable fruitful essence that emerges from the glass. On the palate, the seriousness of the wine becomes apparent. Broad, structured and coating, the wine maintains an old-world finesse, with freshness and bright acidity. Layered, nuanced and complex, flavors of raspberries, rhubarb, crushed herbs and wet stone minerality meld together seamlessly, leaving a prolonged and satisfying finish. The polished, yet complex tannin structure gives the wine an invitation to cellar.

 

 

Escape to Crested Butte’s Scarp Ridge Lodge

I toured Eleven Experience’s flagship property, Scarp Ridge Lodge—in the heart of downtown Crested Butte, CO—this past summer and loved it! I can only imagine how comforting it must be to stay here after a long day of skiing in the winter. Perhaps even “snowcat skiing” via their partnership with Irwin Guides (more on that).

A former Croatian saloon, with its Western façade still in tac, this European ski chalet-meets-Rocky Mountain lodge makes for an ideal place to stay for private groups and families.

Eleven Experiences

You may be wondering, what is Eleven Experience? Eleven Experience is an exclusive accommodation and experiential travel brand which seeks out unique and authentic places and properties around the globe. They tend to be off the beaten track, and are mostly all-inclusive, full buy-out type properties. Think 5-star accommodations, but in the comfort of a private home. In addition to seeking out these special properties, Eleven Experience also provides customized experiences with private guides.

 

Scarp Ridge Lodge in Crested Butte, COPin this image on Pinterest

 

The bar at Scarp Ridge Lodge in Crested Butte ColoradoPin this image on Pinterest

Eleven Experience has a few properties in Crested Butte, Scarp Ridge Lodge being its lead property. I visited the lodge this summer, when I was in Crested Butte, and had a wonderful tour. The property is fabulous.

 

Scarp Ridge Lodge in Crested ButtePin this image on Pinterest

 

Scarp Ridge Lodge—The Flagship

Scarp Ridge Lodge, with its 5 King bedrooms and bunk room with 7 beds (including a nanny’s room), functions as a retreat for private groups during the winter, and as an upscale B&B during the summer. During winter, Crested Butte is known for its excellent skiing, as well as a plethora of other outdoor winter sports. Think Cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, backcountry skiing, snowmobiling, fat biking (extra fat tires to allow you to bike on the snow), and cat skiing.

 

Scarp Ridge Lodge living roomPin this image on Pinterest

The lodge has its own, custom snowcat that comes each morning and takes guests to exclusive ski terrain in nearby Irwin. This is part of the “experience” Eleven Experience offers its guests here. Along with a private snowcat, private guides, amazing terrain, and two mountain cabins for eating and apres skiing, guests of the lodge can enjoy a completely unique and plush experience.

 

Rooftop hot tub at Scarp Ridge LodgePin this image on Pinterest

 

Indoor pool at Scarp Ridge Lodge in Crested Butte, COPin this image on Pinterest
Relax and Unwind

After a long day on the mountain, Scarp Ridge Lodge itself is the perfect place to relax and unwind. With a rooftop hot tub, indoor hot tub, indoor salt water pool, sauna and steam room, gym, and media room, there’s not much the lodge doesn’t have. It even has its own oxygen-enriched air system for those who are having a hard time to adjusting to the high altitude. There is a bar for post-skiing drinks, and an open kitchen with fully stocked fridge accessible 24/7. And no worries about cooking – a private chef will do that all for you. Though I must say – the restaurants in Crested Butte are pretty great! You can dine out too.

 

Bedroom at Scarp Ridge Lodge in Crested Butte, ColoradoPin this image on Pinterest
Playing in the bunk room at Scarp Ridge Lodge in Crested ButtePin this image on Pinterest
Bedrooms

Each of the 5 bedrooms has its own en-suite bathroom and is uniquely decorated, with rustic touches in a contemporary setting. We were able to see a bunch of them, all cozy and inviting. The lodge really does feel like a home. The bunkroom, with its 7 beds, is awesome – it had my kids grinning from ear to ear. Based on the board game Chutes & Ladders, it’s adventurous and fun, and just plain cool. There is a loft you can climb up to, and if the kids are young and need some watching after, no worries – there is a nanny’s room right next to it. My kids have been begging to go back. I keep telling them, we will.

 

Hanging out in the media room at Scarp Ridge LodgePin this image on Pinterest
The kitchen at Scarp Ridge Lodge in Crested Butte Colorado

 

As I mentioned, we toured Scarp Ridge Lodge during the summer, when it is a B&B. Not only a ski town, Crested Butte is amazing to visit during the summer. Known for its mountain biking, hiking, flower festival, a happening downtown, and gorgeous scenery, Crested Butte is a special place to visit any time of the year. The lodge is conveniently located in downtown, making it a very easy and accessible home away from home.

—Corey Cook, Luxury Travel Advisor at Elli Travel Group and founder of Fifi+Hop Travel Blog

 

See also: Rocky Mountain Resort Towns

 

Fall Into Barcelona

Autumn can be a tricky season in Barcelona. The phrase “the rains in Spain fall gently on the plain” isn’t a misnomer and sometimes “gently” is a vast understatement. The weather tends to fluctuate between heavy rains and periods of sun that make Barcelona glow like a mythical lost city of gold. Usually by September, thunderstorms begin to drift in off the Mediterranean Sea, pounding the pavement along La Rambla.

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3 Hip Hotels in Palm Springs

Whether you’re headed to a festival or simply craving the warm desert comforts of Palm Springs, consider these 3 spots

Thanks to new hotels, restaurants and festivals, Palm Springs is experiencing a cyclical renaissances of sorts. Similar to swings in the stock market, Palm Springs has a way of falling out of grace for years at a time only to roar back into vogue.

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Distilling in NYC

Manhattan‘s first and only legal whiskey distillery since prohibition has opened. 

 

 

 

Great Jones Distilling Co. opened to the public on August 21st, 2021 in the downtown NoHo area of New York City. With 28,000 square feet set over four floors in a distinctive building that was built during the prohibition era, the stunning distillery offers guests the chance to explore a working distillery.

 

 

 

The massive venue encompasses a fully functioning distillery, educational tour and tasting bar experiences, and numerous thoughtfully designed drinking and dining venues including an underground speakeasy and full restaurant debuting this fall. 

 

 

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Try out the Great Jones Distilling Co. 100% New York three signature whiskeys – Great Jones Straight Bourbon Whiskey, Great Jones Four Grain Bourbon, and Great Jones Rye Whiskey.  With special attention to ingredients, the grain is sourced from the Black Dirt region in Warwick Valley, NY where the air, climate, and rich soil impart a distinctive flavor profile.

 

 

For more information or to book, greatjonesdistillingco.com.

TRENDING

Yucatan Three Ways

As we dip our toes back into travel after a year of social distancing, it may feel hard to decide where to go and what to do first. Does a beach vacation sound most appealing or would you prefer an urban getaway focused on shopping, dining, and culture? Perhaps an escape to the country and days of waking to birdsong, dining on farm fresh meals, and exploring small towns is the trip you are dreaming of.

 

Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula makes the process of picking a destination easier, as you can choose from all three of these holiday options in one place. It also offers the convenience of flying into and out of Cancun, with flights from more than a dozen American hubs. After you land, you just have to decide whether to drive south, to the beaches along the Riviera Maya; west, to the lively and charming capital of the state of Yucatan, Mérida; or into the countryside, for a stay at a sprawling hacienda reborn as a luxury hotel.

 

Escape to the Seashore

With its dramatic Maya ruins sitting atop a bluff overlooking the Caribbean and its small resorts strung along the sea, it’s not surprising that Tulum has become a favorite of those travelers looking for beach time in the winter but who aren’t interested in the mega-resorts of Cancun.

 

God of Winds Temple, Tulum, Mexico (Shutterstock)

 

The plus of Tulum’s emergence as a destination has been the opening of new hotels and restaurants that have transformed what was once a sleepy backpacker destination into a decidedly stylish one.

 

Getting There: From Cancun it’s a straight shot south on a well-maintained highway. If you are driving, expect the journey to take between 90 minutes to two hours. There are also buses and shuttles, though renting a vehicle will give you the freedom to explore some nearby sites like the Sian Ka’an Biosphere and the Maya ruins at Coba, a much larger complex than the one in Tulum.

 

Where to Stay: Olas Tulum is a small B&B that has a very Tulum-like boho-chic atmosphere and attitude. A plus is that it is to the south of most of Tulum’s hotels—you can enjoy the quiet of the location for naps on the sand in the afternoon but when cocktail hour comes around it’s a short walk to Tulum’s other bars and restaurants.

 

Don’t Miss: Make sure to have at least one meal at Hartwood Tulum which helped lead Tulum’s transition from modest beach town to jet-setter destination. Chefs and owners Eric Werner and Mya Henry opened the restaurant in 2010 and it has made its way on to many “best-restaurant” lists thanks to dishes featuring farm-fresh produce from the Yucatan and seafood straight from the Caribbean in simple preparations that let the ingredients shine.

 

Country Living

Much of the Yucatan peninsula is dotted with haciendas that used to produce henequen (a fiber that is, in English, more commonly called sisal, after the port of Sisal where much of it was exported from). Sisal was essential to rope-making and huge fortunes were made growing the crop. The Mexican Revolution and, more importantly, the invention of nylon led to the bust of that boom though today many haciendas are enjoying second lives having been reborn as luxury hotels where you can spend days lounging by pools or visiting off-the-beaten path villages, convents, and Maya sites. You’ll fall asleep each night to the captivating sounds of the jungle wildlife at night.

Getting there: There are haciendas throughout the peninsula, though there tend to be more of them in the states of Yucatan and Campeche (on the northern and western sides of the peninsula—Quintana Roo, where Cancun is located, runs along its eastern side). You’ll want to rent a car if you intend to spend your days exploring the backroads, but most haciendas will happily arrange for transfers to their properties if you intend to spend your days relaxing on the grounds.

Chablé, Yucatan

 

Chablé Yucatan

Where to Stay: Chablé Yucatan is the most luxurious of the reborn haciendas, though most accommodations there are in newly built free-standing casitas while the historic buildings house common areas, lounges, and restaurants. Hacienda Petac is an appealing smaller hacienda that is rented exclusively to one group at a time and can accommodate up to 14 guests. Marriott’s Luxury Collection includes five beautifully restored haciendas.

 

Don’t Miss: The Maya sites of Chichen Itza and Coba are world-famous, and the crowds at them are evidence of that. An advantage of a stay at a hacienda, however, is that it’s easier to visit some of the less-popular Maya sites. Uxmal, which is just over an hour south of Mérida, is one of the most magical of them. It is built in the so-called Puuc style which is known for being more decorative than other Maya styles with intricate carved geometric patterns and designs.

 

Uxmal Pyramid

 

A City Escape

Mérida, the capital of the state of Yucatan (and the largest city on the Yucatan peninsula) has emerged in recent years as one of the most exciting cities in Mexico. It has long been known for its laidback pace and impressive collection of historic buildings spanning the 16th to 19th centuries (within Mexico, only Mexico City has a larger historic district). Now the city can also boast about its lively dining and shopping scene, supported by both a growing expat community and travelers who have discovered Mérida’s appeals.

 

Getting There: Mérida is roughly 3.5 hours from Cancun on a toll road. The colonial town of Valladolid and the Maya ruins at Chichen Itza are appealing stops en route. (It is also possible to fly to Mérida directly.)

Guilermina Restaurant, Merida

Where to Stay: Mérida has an abundance of rental properties in historic homes that have been lovingly restored and you will want to check out the options on AirBnB and VRBO. If you prefer a hotel, the recently opened Wayam has a cool, contemporary style and also one of Mérida’s best new restaurants, Cuna, which serves delicious updated takes on Yucatecan cooking.

Cuna Restaurant at Wayam (Photo: Orbitz)

Don’t Miss: Mérida is not only a state capital but a culinary one too. It’s a place to sample both street food like the simple tacos served at stands at the Santiago Market (a small neighborhood market that is less intimidating than the central one) to the innovative Mexican cuisine of Picheta which overlooks Mérida’s cathedral and central square.

—John Newton, Founder, Signal Custom Content. (John previously worked as an editor at AFAR, Condé Nast Traveler, and Travel+Leisure and has written travel stories for many other publications and websites.)

Dining Departures

The Best U.S. Airport Terminals To Be Stuck At

Delays at airports are not as woeful as they used to be. That is, if you are lucky enough to be stranded in a choice terminal replete with the type of trendy dining and watering-hole options that rival our very cities. If you find yourself in an airport for an extended period of time this coming holiday season—or any time for that matter—hopefully it’s at one of these terminals.

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The Best of Bond

No Time to Die, featuring Daniel Craig as James Bond, and the 25th Bond film produced by Eon Productions, goes live in Theaters Oct. 8

The first James Bond film, Dr. No, was released 59 years ago this month. It was mocked by many critics following its debut on October 5th, 1962 at the London Pavilion. Time Magazine described Sean Connery as “a great, big, hairy marshmallow.” Then the Vatican decried its sexual content and the Kremlin declared 007 the embodiment of capitalist evil. Continue reading

Fall Into Barcelona

Autumn can be a tricky season in Barcelona. The phrase “the rains in Spain fall gently on the plain” isn’t a misnomer and sometimes “gently” is a vast understatement. The weather tends to fluctuate between heavy rains and periods of sun that make Barcelona glow like a mythical lost city of gold. Usually by September, thunderstorms begin to drift in off the Mediterranean Sea, pounding the pavement along La Rambla.

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The Beekman Hotel

An architectural gem hailed for its iconic nine-story atrium and pyramidal skylight, The Beekman unites some of the world’s greatest talent, including the sophisticated design of Martin Brudnizki and the culinary cachet of restaurateur and chef Tom Colicchio. Continue reading

MOST POPULAR

The Sleepy Hollow Cocktail

Don’t be fooled (and don’t, for gosh sakes, lose your head over it) by the fact that the first two items in this ingredient list are fresh products and not spirited liquids, or by the fact that the ingredient directly following them is a sweetening device. The hefty helping of gin in this drink does indeed give it quite a kick. Continue reading

Nomad Hotel Library Bar

Best Library Bars

Ah, the library bar. An urban oasis steeped in history (quite literally). Vintage, deep-seated armchairs, mahogany shelves and leather bound books ease the soul, while a single malt scotch calms the nerves after a long day of work. Ron Burgundy’s kind of place. My kind of place. Continue reading

Best Hotels for Active Travelers

While relaxing vacations certainly have their virtues—think pina coladas on a white sand beach, or a deep tissue massage at a desert spa—many people prefer a daily dose of action and adventure on their vacations. No, I’m not talking about golf, or tennis or long walks on the beach. I’m talking about real activities and adventure—perhaps even a little danger.

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OPINION & VARIETY

Tales From a Chocolatier

Located high in Utah’s Wasatch Mountain range in the heart of the Rockies resides a small chocolate company—with huge arms —that produces some of world’s best chocolate.  Meaning “by hand” and “they love” in Italian, Amano prides itself on sourcing only the world’s very best cacao beans and ingredients.

Their beans, of course, are not sourced in Utah but rather the lush rainforests and tropical regions of the world. In fact, all cacao beans are sourced between 20 degrees north and south of the equator. Amano visits plantations in these regions, buying from the growers, and when necessary working with them to improve their skill in properly growing, fermenting and drying the cacao beans to meet their exacting standards.

Through working with small, carefully controlled batches and lots of love and attention, Amano seeks not to be the largest chocolate company, but simply the best—and their myriad awards over the past decade reflect this commitment. So do the many Michelin-starred restaurants that use their chocolate—usually in melted form from discus shaped melting wafers—in their deserts.

 

 

I recently met with Amano’s founder and CEO Art Pollard and talked about chocolate and the many adventures that come with this trade. Here is what he had to say.

GLR: How did you get in the chocolate business?

Art: I grew up a die hard foodie and with a background in the hard sciences bouncing back and forth between Los Alamos, N.M. and Seattle. Both New Mexico and the Seattle area are great homes for food. When I was attending my university I worked for the physics department. One day while eating a German chocolate bar, I made an off-hand comment that it would be fun to make my own chocolate. My co-workers (who were working on space shuttle projects and particle accelerators) all said it was too hard. I thought that if it was that hard, it had to be insanely interesting. I love things that are hard and interesting.

A few years later, while on my honeymoon in Hawaii, I found an outlet for what, I thought at the time, was a truly spectacular chocolate. It was then that I realized that chocolate could be so much more than “chocolate”. Immediately upon our return, I started experimenting and designing and building my own machinery. Little did I know what sorts of adventures it would set in motion. It turns out that making a world class chocolate is indeed insanely difficult; in the end, my co-workers were right. However, by the time I discovered that my co-workers were fundamentally correct, I already had a factory.

GLR: Your chocolate has won many awards including gold, silver and bronze medals at the “Olympics of Chocolate.” What makes Amano so high quality and good?

Art: Fundamentally, like all world class products, it is about attention to detail.  Even before we started Amano, I experimented for over ten years on different manufacturing techniques and how they affected flavor. Much of this was on machines that I designed and built. I credit my failures during this experimentation phase for teaching me many of the techniques that we now use today. Your successes never teach you the “whys” but your failures do.  Even today, I am constantly experimenting with different ways of processing ingredients.

Like all food, it is only as good as the ingredients that go into it. To make a world class chocolate, it takes world class cocoa. Everything fights against it. The weather can interfere with the fermenting. Cocoa farmers often aren’t skilled at fermenting, after all, they don’t use the cocoa they produce. Genetics; the large chocolate companies encourage the planting of high productivity strains of cocoa with no regard to flavor. Plant diseases; the cocoa trees are particularly susceptible to. Never mind the problems caused the political unstableity of many cocoa growing countries. Given all this, I have found that having really strong relationships with the farmers is immensely helpful. When needed, we help train them to increase the quality of their cocoa. It is good for them and it helps us get the quality we need.  And hopefully, we can instill the same sense of pride in their cocoa as we have for our chocolate. When people care about what they do, when they truly care, amazing things can happen.

GLR: Where are some of the most exotic places you have traveled, looking for cocoa beans?

Art: We currently purchase beans from: Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Papua New Guinea, Ecuador, and Madagascar. I try to work with all the farmers from whom we buy our cocoa. I’ve also traveled extensively through Central and South America, especially Peru and Honduras looking for cocoa. But one of my favorite places was visiting the tinyisland of Guanaja off the coast of Honduras.  I was lucky enough to go with a group of some of the world’s finest chocolate makers.  Guanaja was where Christopher Columbus first tasted cocoa. It was on his fourth voyage to the New World. Off the coast, he encountered a Mayan canoe laden with cocoa. He couldn’t figure out what it was for and ordered the cocoa dumped out. He couldn’t figure out why the Mayans were so upset.  Now we know and I believe, we treasure cocoa just as highly as the Mayans. It was an amazing experience to be in such an important place in the European history of cocoa. And it was on Guanaja that we discussed how we can work together to ensure that the farmers that we work with could earn enough through their cocoa that they could have a livelihood. We dedicated ourselves to working together to ensure that cocoa would remain a sustainable crop and not stoop to using factory farming and to focus on flavor rather than stooping to high-productivity varieties as the large companies do. It was truly an amazing experience.

GLR: Some of the countries you have to visit to source cocoa beans are not exactly stable. Have you ever felt in danger while traveling the world for work?

Art: Yes, it is quite frequent that I end up in situations where if I were not with locals, it could have ended up in a very bad way. Many times the locals that I’m with are armed. I think we often forget that much of the world isn’t in a position to call law enforcement every time they are in trouble.

One time, I laugh about, was during a trip to Venezuela. We pulled into a small town where our hotel was. The entire town was deserted. It was like a scene from a Western movie. We became concerned that perhaps the town was run by drug lords. Right before our hotel, there was an enormous mob which we had to drive through. The mob parted slowly as we drove through. We found out later that yes, the entire town was run by the drug lords and it was the drug lords that were keeping us safe. The last thing they wanted was the Federales to be coming around. What a strange world we live in.

GLR: You don’t just sell chocolate “bars” but also chocolate wafers (discus form used for melting) that restaurant clients melt and use ON or as the primary ingredient IN desserts. What are some of the restaurants using your chocolate for their desserts?

Art: We have been blessed to have some of the world’s finest restaurants using our chocolate. Of course, every chef brings their own interpretation to their creations. But we are particularly proud to be working with Chez Panisse. We have had a long standing relationship with this legendary restaurant. Chez Panisse is the creation of Alice Waters who pioneered America’s fresh food prepared simply movement. Alice Waters and Chez Panisse have had an enormous impact on the way we eat in the United States whether we recognize it or not. Our chocolate Dos Rios (that naturally tastes like burgamot orange and lavender) has historically been a favorite among the chefs at the Fat Duck. Located just outside of London, the Fat Duck has been rated as high as the number two restaurant in the world. (And having eaten there, it deserves its amazing reputation.) The chefs we work with love the fact that our chocolates have such a wide range of flavors and it allows them to pair foods with chocolate in ways that they never were able to before.

GLR: I gather you are foodie. What other foods do you love besides chocolate?

Art: I like simple foods done well. I’m a big fan of steak and I cook a really mean steak.  What I find fascinating is all steaks start with a simple piece of meat. The finished steak can be magic or not – all depending on what you do with it. Same with a good crème brule. It’s amazing how beautiful such a simple dish can be. I’ve had the wonderful opportunity to eat at some of the world’s finest restaurants and while I’ve had some amazing meals where a lot of work goes into them, the most stunning are the ones where simple foods are prepared exceptionally well. It takes a masterful chef to take something simple and turn it into something world class. Along those lines, Thomas Keller has said the way you can judge a chef’s skill is to order the roast chicken. Even so, the true king in my book is an exceptional chocolate. Chocolate after all is the “food of the gods”.

GLR: Have you ever traded your chocolate for other goods?

Art: Yes, one of my favorite trades was for a camera backpack from F-Stop. When I was in college, I worked through the photography program (even though it wasn’t my major) under an amazing photographer and professor John Telford. As I travel the world visiting our farmers, looking for cocoa and working with great chefs, I get to practice my photography. It helps me to always see the world with fresh eyes and appreciate the moment. It is hard to find a good camera bag. One day I found F-Stop to absolutely amazing reviews. I called and the sales person discovered I run Amano Chocolate. It turns out that they were regularly giving our chocolate to their suppliers as gifts. I proposed a trade and their response was: “Done.” I have been absolutely thrilled with my F-Stop camera bag and have taken it all over the world and on many adventures.

GLR: What is the most satisfying part of your job?

Art: I believe that chocolate touches us in ways that few other foods do. It is there for births, deaths, weddings, birthdays and our day to day lives. When people taste chocolate that is truly extraordinary, it touches them in a way that is often surprising. It isn’t like regular store bought mass market chocolate, it is sooooo much better. I love being able to see the expression on people’s faces when they try our chocolate. I especially love taking the finished chocolate back to the farmers we work with. It is rare for farmers to be able to taste chocolate made with their very own beans. The expressions on their faces of pure joy when they taste chocolate made with their own beans is priceless. Then when they learn that their cocoa has been turned into chocolate that has received some of the world’s highest awards, you can see their sense of pride grow in their eyes. Nothing is more special than that.

GLR: How was chocolate first invented?

Art: The cocoa beans in the cocoa pod are covered by a sweet white pulp. It tastes like a flowery lemon-aid. It is delicious. Animals will often burrow into the pods to eat this beautiful pulp. The cocoa beans on the other hand are bitter and tannic. They are literally spitting bad which is of course how the tree propagates when the animals spit the beans onto the ground. The current state of research seems to indicate that the first cocoa was harvested for the sweet pulp not to eat but to ferment into alcohol. Or as I like to say: “Never underestimate people’s ability to find a new way to get plastered.” When the cocoa beans are fermented with their pulp, they change. The fermenting breaks down the tannic and bitter components and the flavor of the beans change into something beautiful and wonderful to eat. It is hard to find farmers that ferment cocoa well, but when cocoa is, it is amazing. From the roasted cocoa we had drinks for a few thousand years. Some Catholic nuns in Oxwere the first to sweeten it with sugar and honey in the late 1500’s. By the late 1600’s the prelude to what we now recognize as chocolate bars was beginning to be sold in Europe. Chocolate has a truly amazing history. And like history, it has its demons and heroes and every time we eat a chocolate bar, we become part of that amazing journey that is chocolate.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=1&v=JhErfS8LF0I