Would you spend $100 on a martini? How about a martini featuring "perhaps the rarest and most expensive chocolate in the world"?
These are questions you probably never thought you'd have to mull over, but one Austin cocktail bar is hoping you'll give them some serious thought. Academia, which has been schooling Austinites about the merits of well-made mixed drinks since late 2017, has a cocktail on the menu that is really priced at $100.
The reason the martini is so expensive is that aforementioned chocolate. It's To'ak Chocolate, made from the oldest known variety of cacao and so rare the tree it's harvested from was once thought to have been extinct.
Academia's co-owners include Russell Davis, formerly of TV show "Bar Rescue," and consulting partner Danny Ronen. It was their idea not just to offer a chocolate martini — a once-maligned drink now making a comeback — but one with the hard-to-find chocolate as a key ingredient. It is grated on top of the cocktail, which also features Grey Goose La Vanille Vodka, a chocolate liqueur, Davis' chocolate syrup, a whole egg, 12-year-old balsamic vinegar, edible silver that floats atop the drink and a blast of liquid nitrogen.
"Right now there is a trend to bring back cocktails popular during the dark ages of bartending, specifically the '80s, '90s and early 2000s," Davis said. "The one I decided to bring back and revolutionize was the Chocolate Martini, but I wanted it to be done perfectly and to create an experience. Fortunately and unfortunately, I couldn't create the best experience for less than $100."
Part of that experience he sought for Academia customers is "the world's rarest chocolate." Once he researched and found it, he said, the Academia team fell in love with the mission of To'ak Chocolate. To'ak sells luxury dark chocolate on its website for anywhere between $280-$375, which seems outrageous. But the company does much more than that.
"Not only has To'ak created a one-of-a-kind chocolate with an incredible story about finding the last of the original species of cacao in the rainforests of Ecuador, but they also work hard to rebuild and conserve the rainforest from which their cacao is sourced. We wanted that important aspect to be a part of that story," Davis said.
To that end, Academia will donate 10 percent of the proceeds from the chocolate martini to the conservation group Third Millennium Alliance.
The tree from which To'ak Chocolate derives is a species of cacao called Nacional. It had succumbed to disease in the early 20th century but was rediscovered in the 21st century at a much higher altitude than cacao normally grows, according to a 2011 New York Times article. Chocolate made from Nacional cacao "is intense, with a floral aroma and a persistent mellow richness. Its lack of bitterness is remarkable," according to the Times.
Now, there are about 15 remaining Nacional trees left in Ecuador, according to Academia, and the cacao is harvested from them seasonally, much as grapes are to make wine.
Academia uses liquid nitrogen to chill cocktail glasses in the Warehouse District bar. In this case, the smoke-like substance freezes the bottom of the cocktail into a gelato, Davis said, and it just might be the best dessert you've ever had. Try it for yourself — if $100 seems like a worthy splurge — at 208 W. Fourth St.