Jasmine Chida didn’t dream of opening a gelato shop. In fact, she had never tasted gelato before her honeymoon trip to Italy in 2010.
But SweetCup, her self-owned and -operated gelato shop tucked next to Woodbar on Montrose, seems like a natural segue when Chida talks about her passion for ice cream growing up.
“It was a passion that my dad helped instill in me; we had a bowl every night. It was our way of bonding," says Chida, who grew up on flavors like Pecan Pralines 'n Cream and Homemade Vanilla from Blue Bell, Marble Slab Creamery and Baskin-Robbins.
But straight-up vanilla couldn't be further from what she serves up at SweetCup. Offerings span hand-crafted gelato, sorbets and frozen yogurt: There's a Pineapple Lychee Riesling sorbet, a floral, refreshing hit of fruit that's perfect for the heat of summer, or a tangy cheesecake frozen yogurt. Pomegranate Rosewater is a slightly tart, beautifully vibrant sorbet that evokes childhood nostalgia for Chida. Seasonal flavors like Beets and Honey, Roasted Garlic and Black Salt and Apple Cinnamon sorbet rotate into the lineup as the weather turns colder. For those who must stick to their beloved bowls of white, Vanilla Bean Tres Leches is Chida's way of skirting the plain-Jane vanilla in favor of a dreamily dense gelato that captures all the complexity of the three-milk cake in frozen form.
Life changed for Chida once she went to Rome and tasted gelato. The foreign flavors and richness inspired her to experiment with gelato recipes upon her return, and she soon started studying dairy science in her free time and documenting experimentations in a notebook. In 2011, she returned to Italy for advanced training in gelato at Gelato University in Bologna. From then on, she began populating a roster of her own recipes before quitting her day job in PR to open SweetCup in 2012.
“They don’t give you recipes, just techniques, so I started developing my own,” says Chida. Today, Chida has an arsenal of more than 200 gelato recipes. She develops at least two new recipes a month, often incorporating flavors or ideas requested by customers or based on her husband’s Indian heritage, her own mixture of Greek and Persian heritage, or her own whims. Texan Kulfi, for example, is a flavor inspired by a popular frozen Indian dessert that often incorporates spices like cardamom, fennel, saffron and various nuts.
"Gelato has less butterfat and air compared to ice cream, which means you get an intense flavor hitting your palate right away," says Chida. "Gelato should never be faint, light or icy. There's also less sugar because you don't need as much sugar to give it flavor."
Potency of flavor is utterly apparent in staples such as the salted caramel, the rich golden hue of which perfectly belies the deeply toasted and salted nuances of the gelato, or the classic Italian bacio, a chocolate hazelnut gelato that captures all the luscious creaminess of Nutella in gelato form (which would be an excellent choice to crown an order of gelato brioche — your choice of gelato on a custom-baked round of brioche from Croissant Brioche).
For the first few months after opening SweetCup, Chida did nearly everything herself: production, working the front, scooping gelato — and, most important, getting to know her customers.
"My favorite part is connecting with customers, especially when they say, 'This reminds me of something when I was little.' Creating new flavors is my passion."
H-Town Blue Moon, for example, is a flavor that was born out of customer requests to replicate a flavor popular in the Midwest — a Smurf-blue ice cream with fruity, cereal undertones. Chida's take on the flavor is a speckled, natural purplish hue (she eschews food coloring) and is made of blueberries, raspberries, lemon, cream and marshmallows.
Ultimately, Chida aims to make gelato more approachable for her customers and to evoke an experience. Part of what sets SweetCup apart in this respect is the customization of flavors. "If I make strawberry gelato, I don't just use the same recipe. If one batch of strawberries is really sweet, I'll use less sugar. A lot of passion goes into everything we make."
Passion goes right down to the crispy and buttery complimentary waffle chip stuck into every cup of gelato (waffle cones are made fresh in-house daily).
SweetCup gelato is also available at Whole Foods, Central Market, Cocoa and Cardamom and selected Marriotts.
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