Love on Beacon Hill
A trip to chocolate-y heaven will do a body good.
Paula Barth, founder and owner of Beacon Hill Chocolates, stands behind the counter of her shop. She is slight of frame and breathlessly sweeps hair out of her face as she discusses the chocolates before her. They are arranged like a bed of jewels.
“Chocolate is a personal addiction of mine,” she says, pointing to a brownie bite truffle. “I opened this store because I wanted chocolate at my fingertips.”
Beacon Hill Chocolates, located on Charles Street, has been open since 2006. Inside, the walls are painted in colorful stripes, chandeliers hang from the ceiling, and there is the unmistakable aroma of chocolate.
Barth, who had never worked as a chocolatier or owned her own store, calls opening the shop an “impulsive decision.”
“I’ve always had a passion for chocolate. And when I moved here I realized there weren’t any specialty shops in the area. So I made one.” she says.
The store has found incredible success in the Beacon
Hill community, where Barth says it is enjoyed by a wide assortment of customers— men and women, old and young, those who are wealthy and those on a small budget. “We get a lot of students. Sometime people just come in here and buy one piece of chocolate.” she says.
“I’ve been to Beacon Hill Chocolates just once,” says theatre studies major Hazel King ‘17, “and it was magical. But magic doesn’t come cheap.”
The delicacies do range on the pricier side— individual truffles are around $3.50, and gift boxes can easily run into double digits. Barth emphasizes that the quality of the chocolates account for their hefty price tags.
“I work with small batch artisan chocolatiers. I really want something unique. I source out very specialty chocolatiers. Our niche is stuff you can’t find anywhere else.”
Barth scouts the globe for the best ingredients and then makes them with a small team in her kitchen here on Charles Street. Her recipes vary from the classics— Viennas and toffees— to the obscure— Zinfandel- Balsamic truffles (made with red wine and balsamic vinegar).
Some other exotic offerings include Candied Bacon Caramels, Lavender truffles, and Guatemalan milk chocolate. Barth’s personal favorite is the brownie bite, an unassuming morsel of dark chocolate that sits next to the bright blue marzipan squares. It becomes clear soon after observing the goods that this is not an ordinary candy store— Paula Barth prides herself on bringing the best of the world to Boston.
Another specialty of Beacon Hill Chocolates are the decorative gift boxes you can purchase to store your chocolates. The boxes have dozens of different designs— most depicting charming vintage-inspired scenes or locations— and are mini works of art themselves.
With big business increasingly encroaching on the pristine Beacon Hill community— a Whole Foods opened down the street five years ago— Barth says fighting competition can be tough. Fortunately, as when she started, she is the only chocolatier in the area. She also cites Beacon Hill as a particularly supportive environment for a specialty store such as hers. “People here seem to know good chocolate,” she says.
While she once had plans to expand the business and open a second location in the North End, she has decided to stick with Beacon Hill. After moving to Miami three years ago, Barth has a rigorous schedule of commuting between here and Florida. She’s at the shop during major holidays and goes to Florida in the off time. While not in Boston, she can remotely view her store on camera.
Beacon Hill Chocolates continues to stay resolute in its goal to not “sell out” and provide only the highest quality to its customers. While there are a few recognizable packaged brands, all chocolates sold are made from top-notch ingredients without any artificial additives or preservatives. Most come from very small batch manufacturers. In order for a chocolate to make it into Beacon Hill Chocolates, it must first go through Paula.
“Well, I travel extensively, of course,” she says, on the quest to find the best chocolate and ingredients. “I go to all the fancy-food conventions in the United States. I go to Belgium, France, Italy…”
“Luckily for me, though,” she continues, “it’s gotten to the point where people now send me samples from all over the world; whether it’s from out in Europe or on the West Coast. I’m sampling every week.”
As February approaches, Paula receives more samples than ever. Valentine’s Day is the store’s busiest season. Red velvet hearts adorn the walls and there are bouquets of roses placed on the tables.
“You can’t even get in the door here on Valentine’s Day. It’s always those last minute men who pile in here,” she says, laughing.
According to Barth, each Valentine’s Day breaks the record for number of sales than the last. She expects no differently this year.
But are chocolates a clichéd gift?
“Are you kidding?” she says, “You can’t go wrong with chocolate. It can be so personal.”
The day I visited Paula in the store, I watched a customer make his purchase.
Mike Kuppenberg, a resident doctor at Mass General Hospital, stared into the truffle counter for a while before finally deciding on a coconut snowball. His eyes lit with delight as he was handed the delicacy in a paper bag. Immediately he placed the truffle in his mouth and smiled.
Kuppenberg says he visits the store fairly regularly after a long day at work, or just as a treat to himself.
“I think I’ll quote Charles Schulz,” he says, his mouth still dusted with white confectioners sugar, "‘All you need is love. But a little chocolate now and then doesn't hurt.’"
Selected from our February 2014 issue.