“Vegan-Curious”

Ingrid Ma on Vegan Wine and Chocolate at Artifact Coffee

I’m not a vegan. In fact, up until recently, I found veganism quite baffling.

Artifact Coffee hosted a vegan wine and chocolate pairings event organized by B-more Vegan Drinks on Thursday, February 12, 2015. For $30, attendees received a vegan wine flight—Yalumba Patchwork Shiraz (Australia 2011), Albet i Noya Xarel-lo (Penedes, Spain 2013), and Byron Pinot Noir, (Santa Maria Valley, California 2013), along with a hand-made vegan chocolate flight provided by local chocolatier, Pure Chocolate by Jinji.

Initially, the concept of “vegan wine” didn’t make much sense to me. With my limited knowledge of wine’s ingredients, I could not find a way to factor animal products into the mix. Turns out: animal products actually play a major role at the end of the traditional winemaking process in a step called fining. Essentially, this is a filtering step and is usually done through a variety of animal products—bull’s blood, fish bladder, shellfish grindings, and even gelatin. Vegan wines bypass this procedure, attesting to their higher base quality.

The final wine selections involved a close collaboration between Artifact’s wine connoisseurs and Jinji, the artisan behind the eponymous chocolate. Each wine was handpicked from online vegan wine guide, http://www.barnivore.com, to produce a sublime synergy with Jinji’s chocolates creations.

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At the event, Jinji stood behind the restaurant’s exposed kitchen counter, alongside Artifact’s resident chef, crafting her chocolate creations on the spot and having them delivered to customers within seconds of being prepared. I had the pleasure of speaking to her for a little bit as she worked. Her approach to chocolate is health-conscious, given her background as a nutrition counselor. For this reason, her chocolates are made under raw, organic, vegan, gluten-free conditions; a practice she’s been honing over the past four years at her permanent store at Belvedere Square Market. Jinji’s features on Thursday evening’s were all single-bean, Ecuadorian, fair-trade chocolates.

When approaching dark chocolate, and even more specifically—dark chocolate that’s prepared raw—as Jinji’s are, the important point is to treat it as something with it’s own unique taste, rather than trying to compare it to your typical Hershey’s bar. While I want to avoid the word, bitter, in my description, it’s impossible. The bitterness, or in some cases, sourness, is the sole reason why people are turned off by raw dark chocolate. I would argue though, that this kind of chocolate is at the crux of chocolate-lover sophistication. Instead of being overwhelmed with artificial sweeteners (as is the trend with much of mainstream chocolate), the cacao bean’s natural taste is given a stake in the flavor composition. When balanced well with citrus or chili or pralines, the result can be absolutely sensational.

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My favorite of the wine and chocolate pairings was the one with the Shiraz. The Shiraz was the boldest of the three wines; a full-bodied red, with hints of dark cherry, dried herbs, licorice and dark chocolate. It was paired with Jinji’s Triple Dark Chocolate Praline, a chocolate I found too intense, until I balanced it with a sip of the Shiraz. The result was a complex flavor explosion. I found myself thrilled by the zestful dance of the wine’s dark fruits and strong puckering tannins, and the chocolate’s spicy ginger crisp and velvety filling, happening in my mouth.

Behind the planning of this event at Artifact was B-more Vegan Drinks, a community organization that’s part of a larger national network of Vegan Drinks groups. When I spoke with one of the coordinators, Rissa Miller, who co-runs B-more Vegan drinks with her husband, Nathaniel, and friend, Nicole, she expressed a grim reality that faces many vegans. That is, that often times, being vegan is socially isolating. There are a million and one reasons why someone should become vegan, and yet surprisingly little recourse after that choice made. Therefore, a staple for this group in Baltimore is to eliminate this notion through economic activism. B-more Vegan Drinks plans vegan events at small businesses around the city, introduces vegan dishes and practices to their kitchens, and demonstrates that vegan options can do well; a win-win for everyone.

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http://bmorevegan.com/

When they began these monthly events, they couldn’t get enough people to come, and now, their problem is that too many people want to come. Their events draw a whole host of vegans, vegetarians, and veg-curiouses, like myself. As I enjoyed my wine and chocolate, talking to vegans, I discovered that many of the stigmas associated with veganism are glaringly inaccurate. The ridiculous image I’d conjured in my mind was of a 20-something-year-old yuppie in Lululemon leggings, coming from Soul Cycle class with a wheatgrass shot in one hand, and a canvas tote in the other.

Remarkably, what I found was that the movement, at least in Baltimore, is actually highly political, partially because many animal rights groups have home bases in the DC and Baltimore area. But not only are there animal rights activists pushing for veganism, there are also people coming from many other angles—environmentalists, and more recently, even health professionals. Not long ago, healthcare company, Kaiser Permanenete, released an article encouraging plant-based diets, citing research that shows how this simple lifestyle change can decrease risk of certain heart and diet-based diseases. I encourage any veg-curiouses to attend events like this. It’s about becoming educated about the corporations behind our food, supporting businesses with sustainable practices, and also contemplating an alternative future for human diet.

The next B-more Vegan Drinks event will be on March 5th at Jukai Juice.

Ingrid Ma is a biology geek, film junkie, undisciplined coin-collector and admirer of tiny absurdities.

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