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Cocoa beans have been a treasured treat dating back to the Mayan and Aztec civilizations. And, boosted by some old-fashioned marketing, chocolate is easily the sweetest part of the trifecta of Valentine’s Day gifts that best say, “I love you.” Flowers? Cards? They don’t stand a chance to a box of delectable chocolate.

MC alumna Sarah Dwyer ’06, a chocolatier and lifelong chocolate lover herself, makes customized sweets to help her clients take the messages one step further. Dwyer’s creations “tell stories and show affection” through chocolate-covered caramels.

Sarah Dwyer, MC alumna, and owner of Chouquette

Chouquette, the Gaithersburg-based chocolate shop she opened in 2010, offers personalized designs, made from cocoa butter, on top of each morsel. Along with her team of 14, which includes MC alumni, Dwyer makes a set she calls “love potion” specifically for Valentine’s Day. The love potion chocolates feature designs such as #LOVE, Crazy 4 U, and Melt My Heart.  They also mix up the flavors with exotic spices, honey, and blood orange.

“All the things that have [historically] gone into aphrodisiacs throughout time, those spices would be added to love potions… and in all cultures. Anything they thought promoted love, we put into our love potions. It makes it fun,” Dwyer says.

Dwyer says clients are looking for custom designs, adventurous combinations, ethically sourced and real ingredients, as well as timely and relevant designs.

Because the DMV area is foodie-driven, she says, people love to try different flavors, and Dwyer is happy to provide endless choices. Offerings vary from lavender, rosemary, and raspberry, to maple bacon and peanut butter. Because Marylanders also love anything local, she says, the Old Bay caramel flavor has become a popular option. Dwyer says she gets orders from as far as Wisconsin for the crabby creations.

Keeping with the local theme, Dwyer says the Maryland flag chocolate is a crowd-pleaser as is the fan appreciation set with designs supporting the Washington Nationals.

All the things that have [historically] gone into aphrodisiacs throughout time (…) anything they thought promoted love, we put into our love potions. It makes it fun

In the nation’s capital, designs that are timely and political are also popular.

“We have a set of phenomenal women chocolates. RBG [Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg], one of the women featured, became so popular that she got her own spin-off set,” Dwyer says.

Staffers at the Supreme Court who saw the RBG set of chocolates at an event bought a box from Chouquette. They sent the treats to the Justice as a get-well gift when she was in the hospital, as Dwyer later found out.

“People are looking to tell a story, as opposed to having all the same chocolates in a box,” Dwyer says. “It’s not uncommon to get requests for a proposal and have the client ask for a mix of favorites of his (or her) spouse-to-be, from special flavors to designs that help tell the couple’s unique story.”

Dwyer is attuned to her clientele’s preferences for ethical sources and honest ingredients. For those concerned about where their food comes from, she uses fair trade and rainforest alliance certified chocolate. Instead of soy, her recipes use sunflower. She also avoids all GMOs and artificial colorants.

“If we use red, it comes from beet root powder. When we use yellow, it comes from goldenrod flowers,” she says. “That’s one of the things that we realized early on, that people want a cute design on top of their chocolate but they don’t want artificial colorants. That’s when we switched to use natural-based ones.”

Their chocolates are available in local stores like Dawson’s Market in Rockville, the Takoma Park Co-op, and in about 175 stores across the United States. People can also order online ahead of time. On the eve of Valentine’s Day, she and a couple employees usually stay late for those last-minute purchases.

“An UberPool will not take your chocolates for you but an UberBlack will deliver them, so we can always put them in one for you. It’s about $60, but on Valentine ’s Day, it might save you,” she says. The drivers usually think it’s hilarious and have taken the sweet treats to hotels and restaurants.

For the most part, Dwyer says, “you can’t go wrong giving someone chocolates. In moderation, everything that makes you happy is good for your heart, inside and out.”

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