For those of you just joining us, we’re now diving into part two of a feature on Clay Gordon. Clay is the author of Discover Chocolate: The Ultimate Guide to Buying, Tasting, and Enjoying Fine Chocolate, and founder of TheChocolateLife.com, the largest community focusing solely on chocolate in the world. The Chocolate Life is probably the most valuable resource I’ve used as I make my foray into the world of chocolate making.
Yes, I had the opportunity to chat with Clay about his life, chocolate, and advice. For the first part of this series, visit Living the chocolate life, where I introduce Clay and his contributions to the chocolate industry. Here, we’ll look into his advice both for making chocolate at home and for starting a chocolate business.
Making Chocolate at Home
I’ve already provided a recipe and some ideas for making chocolate at home, and Clay adds his spin. First of all, he reminds us to have fun with it. This is one of his favorite themes. And secondly, he recommends you taste other chocolate to develop your personal preference and sharpen your tastebuds.
Clay doesn’t have to tell me twice! I’ll write about my visit to The Chocolate Garage in another post, but just know that you can taste and buy some absolutely delicious chocolate if you happen to be passing through Palo Alto on a Wednesday evening or Saturday morning.
Starting a Chocolate Business
For those interested in starting a chocolate business, he has a few valuable nuggets of advice as well. To start, follow the advice for those making chocolate at home. Shouldn’t be too hard!
Second, start being scientific. He says, “Your best friend is your notebook, write down everything.” Clay appreciated the documentation and experimental process Richard and I have cited in our chocolate-making process so far. Check out our posts on roasting, sugar, and different origins to see the many variables we have played with so far.
He also recommends taking time to develop your craft. In other words, practice, practice, practice. Developing the skills to be able to repeat the same chocolate within a harvest will show that you truly understand and can implement the chocolate-making process with integrity. (Caveat: The next harvest is a completely different story and should not necessarily produce exactly the same chocolate as the previous one) And at the same time, know what you like and decide what your point of view is as an artist.
As far as actual process, he has one overarching recommendation: don’t pigeon-hole yourself. That applies to ingredients, roast times, conch times, origins, blends, final products etc. Starting with four ingredients – cocoa beans, sugar, cocoa butter, and lecithin – is actually easier than starting with just two. Once you dominate making chocolate with four, try removing lecithin, then eventually remove the cocoa butter. This is something we clearly need to work on. Additionally, there’s no “right” roast time or conch time. Try many options and settle with the one you like best. Don’t limit yourself to one origin or even just single-origin chocolate. Try blending roasts, origins, conch times, etc. And finally, go beyond the bar. There’s no reason to only create chocolate bars. What about kisses, bark, balls, bonbons, etc.? Trial and error in the process will lead to your signature chocolate.
And finally, with regard to business practices, Clay recommends operating like a craft brewery. Start marketing and sales within a one-hour-drive radius. Once you build up a customer base and a positive cash flow, expand to your state, then national, then international, etc. He warns against thinking that Whole Foods is the holy grail. Start with local markets and move up slowly.
Harking back to his philosophy on TheChocolateLife.com, Clay requests those of us making chocolate at home and those of us considering opening a chocolate business, to share our journey. He asks that we open our recipe and financial books and be mentors to those around us. That is definitely the philosophy we adhere to here at www.RootChocolate.com and we encourage you to do the same!
Thank you, Clay, for your incredible contribution to Root Chocolate and to the chocolate industry as a whole!