From cocoa fields in Ghana to posh factories in Britain, she spent seven years researching the chocolate trade to earn a Ph.D. from the University of Washington.
That's right, seven years immersed in the economic and anthropological impact of chocolate, and what everybody wants to know from Kristy Leissle is:
"What's your favorite candy bar?"
Hmmm, that's a tough question.
"There's too much chocolate in my life for me to pick," said Leissle, a global studies teacher at UW's Bothell campus. "I like whatever chocolate I am eating. Milk, dark, salted, flavored. I'm not overly particular."
She eats chocolate at breakfast, between meals and before bed. No matter where she is.
She ate chocolate at sunset with penguins in Antarctica. "I've eaten chocolate on all seven continents," she said.
She eats chocolate in class. She teaches a course that unwraps the role of chocolate in history, politics, film and advertising.
Not only students look forward to her lectures.
"I've noticed a staff member or two hanging around hoping she's bringing in her tasty treats," said Gray Kochhar-Lindgren, UW Bothell associate vice chancellor for undergraduate learning.
"It's not every day that somebody can study chocolate and get a Ph.D.," he said.
Leissle claims she's the first.
If you Google "Dr. Chocolate," her blog is at the top of the search engine. Then comes Dr. Chocolate's Chocolate Chateau in Minnesota; a bunch of medical doctors espousing the benefits of chocolate; and a party band named Doctor Chocolate in South Wales.
Leissle, 38, cut her teeth on Hershey bars.
"My grandpa used to babysit me when I was little, and he would feed me chocolate to keep me happy," she said.
It was her gateway drug.
"My brother once found me in the basement watching TV and eating Nestle's Quik powder with a spoon."
She still guzzles chocolate syrup from a bottle, "if that's all there is in the house," she said.
That doesn't happen often. She has a "chocolate closet" at her Ballard home, with bins and boxes filled with chocolate, from artisan to fun-sized.
The curly-haired Oxford University graduate moved from New York to Seattle in 2000 with the dream to be Dr. Chocolate someday.
At UW, Leissle won a scholarship to study the global aspects of the cocoa trade. "One full year was research and travel," she said. "I had to examine everything about chocolate."
She finished her doctoral dissertation in 2008 and dedicated it to her grandpa.
"People started calling me Dr. Chocolate, and it sort of stuck," she said.
Outside the classroom, she serves as education director of Seattle's annual Northwest Chocolate Festival.
She spreads the joy of chocolate wherever she goes, even with the person sitting next to her on a plane.
"It's one of the only foods our bodies respond to on many levels. All the things our bodies want, chocolate has," she said. "It gives happiness and pleasure. It makes us feel good."
You don't have to wait until Valentine's Day.
"Every day is a good day to eat chocolate," she said.
Andrea Brown; 425-339-3443; firstname.lastname@example.org
Dr. Chocolate's Top 10
10. As ice cream, on a chocolate brownie, covered with hot fudge and chocolate sprinkles or crunchies.
9. In one of Autumn Martin's boozy milkshakes at Hotcakes Molten Chocolate Cakery in Ballard.
8. A drink of very dark chocolate, melted with heavy cream and sprinkled with sea salt crystals, in one of my nice china teacups.
7. Mixed into cold, whole milk after a long run.
6. With whoever is sitting next to me on an airplane during takeoff.
5. In chunks on whole wheat toast, on top of a layer of peanut butter and drizzled with honey.
4. In handfuls, straight from the collection in my chocolate closet, at my desk while working at home.
3. In Aaron Barthel's Saint Basil truffle from Intrigue Chocolates in Seattle.
2. Melted into my steel-cut oats at breakfast.
1. In my best dreams, where rivers of molten chocolate run all for me.
-- Kristy Leissle,
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