Elizabeth Montes opened her tiny Portland chocolate shop on June 30, 2005, naming it for Fray Bernardino de Sahagun, a Spanish Jesuit missionary who communed with chocolate loving Aztecs in the 16th Century. In a short span of time, Montes has built a national reputation for her single origin chocolates, and based on our visit, it’s well deserved.
According to the Sahagún website, Montes was a Manhattan artist who stumbled upon the 1998 Chocolate Show. Inspired, she soon found work at Maison du Chocolat and Neuhaus. She started Sahugun in 1999, relocated to Portland in 2001, and began selling her chocolates at the Portland Farmer’s Market, which is where she sourced most of her non-chocolate ingredients.
According to the site, “She has come to rely on real spices, seasonal herbs and fresh fruit flavors (not flavorings) to create pure tastes, usually limiting flavor ingredients to one or two in order to avoid obliterating chocolate’s intrinsic flavor.” For ganache, she uses hormone-free Oregon cream. The difference was noticeable at first bite.
Montes wasn’t on-site when we arrived, but we spoke with protégée Miranda Rake. Rake approached Montes one-and-a-half years ago and offered to work for free, since she was so passionate about Sahagún. Montes wouldn’t hear of it; instead, she offered Rake a paying gig. They’ve been making all the chocolates in back ever since.
Hot Chocolate ($5) is available with a shot of Stumptown Hair Bender espresso, which would no doubt lead to a devastating mocha, but the hot chocolate was magical enough, rich without being cloying, with shaved chocolate and silky crema. Montes prides herself on making the hot chocolate with melted single-origin chocolate (in this case 75% Tanzania) and hormone free half-and-half and milk.
The glass-fronted display case hosted a wealth of tempting options. We bought four chocolates. Figalicious combined Calmyrna fig, Marcona almond, chestnut honey and a whisper of cardamom on a Venezuelan chocolate disc. Mendiant ($1.25) was a bittersweet chocolate disc topped with dried and candied fruit “sprinkles” – a single pistachio, a fig disc, a candied orange peel and a dried cherry. The hand-dipped lavender truffle ($2.25) incorporated 65% Venezuelan chocolate and hormone-free cream. There was also a hand-dipped Chile truffle ($2.25), made with 71% chocolate. Each chocolate had a distinct flavor profile.
There were also skeletal chocolates that Montes originally introduced for the Day of the Dead. The skulls, heads, brides and grooms were absolutely lustrous.
Montes has created a truly special chocolate experience.