On the day before Candycopia opened in Oak Park’s Medical Arts building, 717 Lake St., I stopped by to chat with Patrick Mason, who owns the bright new store with wife Alycia. One of the first things Mason said to me was, hand to heart, “I am passionate about caramel.” I believed him, and I went back recently to talk with him about the caramelized confections he carries…and he carries a lot of them.

Candycopia bills itself as “A World of Sweet Discovery,” and to facilitate this journey of discovery, Mason has developed a “tasting menu” of three of his favorite caramels; here are some tasting notes for each.

Sea Salt Caramel, Dallas Caramel Company. “These caramels from Dallas Caramel Company,” Mason explained as one melted in his mouth, “have really taken off in our store. For me, it’s my personal favorite caramel, very buttery and super soft. With other caramels, I sometimes feel like I’m fighting to get them out of my teeth; it’s not pleasant. Dallas Company’s caramels don’t stick to the teeth; they kind of just release and melt, and that’s a lot of what I enjoy about this caramel’s texture, the silky pull.”

Chocolate Sea Salt, Mouth Party Caramel. “What’s exciting about Chocolate Sea Salt from Mouth Party,” says Mason, “is that it looks like a caramel, it chews like a caramel, but the presence of bittersweet chocolate provides cocoa characteristics. These chocolate notes come across without *shouting down* the flavor of the caramel as happens with some candy bars: you get the candy bar flavor, and then the caramel pokes its head up every now and then kind of says ‘I’m here, I’m here!’ To me, having two flavors in harmony overwhelms me in the best way.”

Raspberry Lavender, Katherine Anne Confections. Like many other candy makers represented at Candycopia, Katherine Anne Confections are local, small batch and female/minority-owned. “With the Dallas and Mouth Party caramels, we went down a salty path,” Mason tells us. “These well-balanced caramels from Katherine Anne add raspberry and lavender, so it’s not as savory and a little sweeter with added honey and agave syrup; she never uses corn syrup! The tartness from the raspberry and lavender really comes through, and the occasional crunch of sea salt keeps the flavor moving and balanced.”

All these caramels and others we tasted have multiple dimensions of flavor. Eating them – with salt and sweetness, raspberry, chocolate, and other flavors – you may experience what has been called “hedonic escalation.” The Journal of Consumer Research explains that hedonic escalation is characterized by “the increased liking of each additional bite of a palatable food. Hedonic escalation is more likely to occur when (1) a palatable food consists of a complex combination of flavors, and (2) a person is motivated to taste additional flavors on each successive bite.”

Patrick Mason, owner of Candycopia, discusses his passion for caramel. Photo by David Hammond

Tasting the caramels at Candycopia, Mason and I had moments of silence as we each worked to suss out the flavors of the caramels. There was a lot of dimension in the caramels we tasted, and we kept discovering new angles on the flavors… and discovery is what Candycopia is all about.

For more about Candycopia, check out Melissa Elsmo’s Enjoy the Sweet Side of Life at Candycopia.

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David Hammond

David Hammond, a corporate communications consultant and food journalist living in Oak Park, Illinois, is a founder and moderator of LTHForum.com, the 8,500 member Chicago-based culinary chat site. David...