GO AHEAD AND EAT IT—or more exotically, sip it—but don’t say you weren’t warned. Because once you’ve tasted the otherworldly chocolate offerings at Cacao, there’s no going back to those emulsifier-laden bars that lurk near checkout counters.

Located in downtown’s West End, the one-year-old Cacao is owned by Aubrey Lindley (pictured) and Jesse Manis, who were living in Seattle when the idea for an artisan chocolate shop took shape. "We were inspired by the new breed of chocolate makers who were hand-selecting the beans and processing in small batches, creating products with broader, more dynamic flavors," says Lindley.

Framed by cool blue, green and (appropriately) mocha walls, the expertly curated Cacao offers a mix of decadent treats culled worldwide. The menu includes more than 150 types of bars and handmade confections, from fig-and-fennel chocolates to sea salt-tinged caramels. Behind the counter, three constantly churning machines keep Cacao’s heady drinking chocolate in a warm, liquid state. And because the very notion of a "pb & j" confection piques curiosity, sampling is encouraged. It’s a gesture that Lindley says usually brings customers back for more. "Almost everyone says that we’ve forever changed how they look at chocolate," muses Lindley, citing one fellow who tracks his sampling progress at Cacao with a spreadsheet. "We just encourage them to enjoy the journey of learning about it."