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Discovering Chocolate: From the Sweet to the Bitter

Before I learned there was such a thing as chocolate, I had thought hard and milk candies were the two most delicious forms of sweets in the world. I was little then and loved candies more than anything else.

I couldn’t wait for Chinese New Year when my mother handed me and my three sisters each a handful of them and patted us on the head. “Sweets for my sweeties. Happy New Year,” she would say to us. I was ecstatic, staring at my windfall pile of differently shaped candies dressed in their colorful, festive wrappings. I hid them under my pillow and dreamed about tasting their sweetness.

Born during the Great Chinese Famine and growing up during the Cultural Revolution, food was always scarce. Grown-ups had barely enough to keep us alive from day to day. Any kind of treat was considered a luxury.

It was not until I was about six or seven when, one day, my longtime next-door neighbor handed me a small object wrapped in bright red foil. “Chocolate,” she explained to me, not that I had any clue about what it was. I peeled it open carefully and discovered a smooth square with an unexpected light brown color. I popped it into my mouth, and I was in heaven.

It would be many more years before I got to taste it again. When that happened, it was like running into a long-lost best friend, and I never wanted to let go of that friend again.

Chocolate kept me company throughout the 1980s when economic growth and prosperity finally replaced revolution in China. But, it was only after arriving in America, that I discovered how chocolate can come in many shapes, sizes and flavors, from large bars to candy-sized balls, in tastes ranging from sweet to bitter. It can also be drizzled onto cookies or hidden inside a tasty pastry. Its versatile personality makes me love it even more.

As I grow older, I seem to enjoy bitter chocolate more and more. I love to add dark, bitter cocoa powder to my morning coffee and savor the complex notes in it. My life is so perfect now, I don’t need to add sugar to make it sweeter. On the contrary, the bitter taste often reminds me of my family’s past struggles and how we have endured them.

On this Valentine’s Day, perhaps you will explore your own journey with chocolate – when you were first introduced to it, how your taste for it has evolved over time, and which kinds have become your favorites. You may be surprised how biting into a single chocolate can inspire a gush of sweet memories.

Reflections of The East Column

By Qin Sun Stubis

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