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A Sweet Saturday in Cambridge: Harvard Square Chocolate Festival Attracts Hordes

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Harvard students and Cambridge residents flooded Harvard Square to sample free treats at the Chocolate Tasting Event Saturday, part of the weekend’s 11th Annual Taste of Chocolate Festival.

Seventeen Harvard Square and Massachusetts businesses, including Amorino Gelato, Blackbird Doughnuts, J.P. Licks, Flour Bakery, and Sweetie Ice Cream participated in the chocolate tasting. The festival was organized by the Harvard Square Business Association and sponsored by Cambridge Savings Bank and Ameriprise.

The free chocolate did not come without consequences: significant wait times. Participants and vendors alike said they were surprised by the large crowd.

“We never thought so many people would be here,” said Wholesome Fresh manager Jianan Jiang. “We prepared like twenty boxes of different kinds of chocolate, [and] so far I think we’ve gone through maybe five or ten boxes,” Jiang said ten minutes after the festival opened.

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The line snaked from the front of Felipe’s Mexican Taqueria on Brattle Street — where the vendors were located — along Massachusetts Avenue and back to Church Street. The end of the line nearly reached Brattle Street again. Chocophiles reported wait times between 20 minutes to an hour to reach the vendors’ tables.

“We got here at about 12:15, so in total we waited an hour,” said Somerville resident Kyle Farrell, a dinner-sized plate filled with chocolate goodies by his side. “We’ve been a few times in the past, and we plotted it out this time and arrived at the best time, we think.”

A drum group from Grooversity, a global drumming project, entertained sweet-toothed patrons waiting in line with percussion music combining samba and axé music with funk, rock, jazz, and hip hop.

Springfield, Mass. resident Amanda McCabe-Hernandez, a first-time festival-goer, said she has long been planning to attend the tasting.

“I found out about this event like three or four months ago, and it’s been in my calendar ever since then,” McCabe-Hernandez said.

For the owners of Sweetie Ice Cream, a low-fat ice cream company, the tasting event presented an opportunity to market their products to consumers who are often more familiar with major national brands. They performed a blind taste-test, providing attendees with bags containing a sample of Sweetie Ice Cream and a sample of national brand Halo Top’s ice cream.

“We’re going up against the number one selling ice cream in America right now, which is Halo Top...we’re trying to see if we can take down the giant, so we’re trying to get the Harvard Square opinion,” Christina Billotti, a part-owner of the company, said.

Jeffrey Joel, a representative from Saloniki Greek — which opened last fall in the Smith Campus Center — said the chocolate tasting event was a “fun” opportunity for the restaurant.

“It helps the society, and that way we get to market our cookies. We’re really good at Greek cookies,” said Joel, as he handed out double chocolate olive oil and sea salt cookies.

Denise A. Jillson, the executive director of the Harvard Square Business Association and one of the event’s organizers, said the Chocolate Festival tradition started over a decade ago.

“It came about eleven years ago, when we asked our retailers and restaurants what we could do to help them,” Jillson said. “And they said what you could really do is to give us a boost in January and February when it’s cold and people can stay home and not come to the Square quite as much as they do in the summer and the warmer months.”

As a result, the Harvard Square Business Association started its annual Winter Carnival — which spans January to March and features the Chocolate Festival as one of its attractions — eleven years ago.

For college students hoping to score some free food and gain a better sense of what Harvard Square has to offer, the Winter Carnival will continue through the next few weeks. Upcoming events include next weekend’s “Some Like It Hot” Chili Cook Off, Lovin’ the Square Valentine’s events, and a capstone Chinese New Year celebration.

— Staff writer Ellen M. Burstein can be reached at ellen.burstein@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @ellenburstein.
—Staff writer Annie C. Doris can be reached at annie.doris@thecrimson.com.

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