Chocolate Wine Fridge

A few weeks ago, we could no longer close the plastic containers where we stored our chocolate. We realize Rubbermaid containers were no longer a viable solution for the massive amount of chocolate we produce and purchase. It was time for a new addition to our chocolate factory!

So, we found a fancy wine fridge on craigslist that the owner said no longer cooled. Perfect! We hooked it up at home and determined that it is not easily fixed, but the light still works, the door still seals, and the shelves still slide in and out. In other words, we suddenly were in possession of a beautiful and well-organized space to store our chocolate!

chocolate fridge

chocolate fridge

The only hitch in the plan was that the drawers were made for wine bottles, not chocolate. Well, a quick trip to the hardware store and some creative tubing/wiring solved that conundrum! We now have seven shelves of chocolate.

lighted chocolate fridge

Here’s the shelf just for our own chocolate (not the prettiest, but definitely the proudest!):

Bags of Root Chocolate. Packaging soon to come?!

Bags of Root Chocolate. Packaging soon to come?!

And the shelf for our friends’ chocolate (Arete, Confluence, Cocoa Logos, Endorfin, Dandelion):

Chocolate from our friends

Chocolate from our friends

Our single-origin bars from all over the world (Askinosie, Fine and Raw, Raaka, Marou, Castronovo, Manoa, Amedei, Lonohana, Lillie Belle, Vintage Plantations):

single origin chocolate bars

single origin chocolate bars

And the flavored bars (Manoa, Elbow, Antidote, Mast Brothers, Patric, La Colombe Workshop, Cocacu, and Il Morso):

flavored chocolate

flavored chocolate

Some mainstream bars and delicious truffles from our friend, Belinda:

Mainstream chocolate bars and truffles

Mainstream chocolate bars and truffles

And finally, Mexican chocolate (Taza, Guelaguetza)!

Mexican chocolate

Mexican chocolate

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Happy Saturday!

Happy Saturday, readers!

You may be asking, “Doesn’t she mean happy Valentine’s Day?”

The answer is sort of. I’m torn on the value of today’s holiday. On the one hand, what a wonderful concept – a day dedicated to reminding us of the love that surrounds us, both romantic and otherwise. On the other hand, I think every day should be a chance to show and demonstrate the love we feel for others.

The repercussions on the chocolate industry of this Hallmark holiday are clear – this is probably the busiest time of the year for many chocolate-makers and chocolatiers. And I welcome the almost institutionalized occasion for the general public to buy and appreciate chocolate. Then again, many of those Valentine’s Day chocolate gifts come in the form of Hershey’s kisses and other interesting shapes of mediocre chocolate.

So, here’s my call to action:

Sure, take today to shower your loved ones with love and if that love takes the shape of chocolate, I’m sure my fellow chocolate-makers will thank you! In addition to that, I have two requests:

  1. Don’t stop at midnight tonight. Continue to show your appreciation and love tomorrow and the next day and so on.
  2. Be intentional about your chocolate today and in the days to come. Don’t buy the prettiest package. Buy the chocolate that resonates with you – maybe from an origin that has meaning to you or your loved one, maybe a Rainforest Alliance bar, maybe a truffle with passion fruit for the implications of the name… Or even better, make chocolate an experience rather than a gift. Attend one of Dandelion’s Chocolate 101 classes or visit your local bean-to-bar chocolate shop with your partner. Let them choose their favorite bar or confection.

So, happy Saturday. Go spread the love (and the chocolate!)

Visiting Letterpress Chocolate

As we’ve mentioned, Richard and I spent MLK Jr. weekend in LA. During our trip, we had the opportunity to explore Guelaguetza and to visit our friends, Corey and David of Letterpress Chocolate.

We could smell that amazing brownie-like scent as we walked up the stairs to their apartment and as soon as they opened the door, the whirling of multiple Premier Wonder Grinders provided a pleasant white noise background. As usual, they were in the middle of making chocolate!

We first met David at a Yellow Seed gathering last summer and besides some great phone conversations, we met Corey in person during the FCIA weekend just recently. It was great to see them in their element, surrounded by beans, bars, and equipment! Like us and like David and Leslie of Arete (who we also visited in their space last year), they are a husband and wife team of chocolate-makers with different skill sets but a similar goal – to make amazing chocolate.

We learned a few useful lessons to note and had fun with what may seem silly, but is very typical for chocolate-makers: a bean tasting quiz/lesson.

Let’s start with our most useful lesson – documentation. When we walked in, David and Corey were in the middle of a roast (hence the amazing brownie-like smell), so we chatted while they finished the roast with precision. They pulled beans out of the oven every ten minutes and tasted them, jotting down flavor and texture notes religiously into a notebook. This level of detail hasn’t been our strong suite so far. In fact, we’ve kept great notes on our white board or in our blog posts, but we do not have a scientific tracking system yet. We now realize the importance of such detail for the ability to repeat a particular bar’s flavor and in order to really lean from our work. Dave Huston has an incredible documentation system which we hope to learn from as well!

For our bean tasting quiz/lesson, David pulled out sample after sample of raw beans, testing our tastebuds and informing us of the complex and detailed history of each set of beans. This is one of Richard’s favorite things to do, though I’m still learning to love the bitter, chewy nature of raw beans. David and Corey are far more experienced with cocoa beans than most chocolate-makers we know. They spend a lot of time in the producing countries, particularly Guatemala where they own cacao farm acreage. Some of my favorite beans were Oko Caribe from the Dominican Republic and Coto Brus from Costa Rica, Heirloom Cacao Preservation #6.

cocoa bean tasting quiz

cocoa bean tasting quiz

We also discussed an exciting new development. Richard and I will be taking a trip to Hawaii next month, partially for his big birthday and partially for chocolate research! Having spent a lot of time with his mentor, Dr. Nat of Madre Chocolate, David had a lot of great advice. We’re excited to visit and look forward to reporting back!

Thank you, David and Corey, for inviting us into your space and for teaching us about your wonderful chocolate-making practices! We look forward to more adventures in the future!

Chocolate-struck at FCIA Weekend Activities

We started the year off right with some serious chocolate schmoozing!

This past weekend, San Francisco hosted the FCIA Winter Event, the Good Food Awards and the Winter Fancy Food Show. Quick congratulations to the following chocolate companies for their big wins in the Good Food Awards:

While we did not attend any of the official events this weekend, we were present at two more intimate gatherings of chocolate makers. We feel very fortunate to be friends of Dandelion and were able to attend both an informal chocolate-makers’ meet-up on Friday night, hosted at Four Barrel Coffee, and the post-FCIA brunch Sunday morning.

At the Friday night event, I arrived a little late, but in plenty of time to hear some great tidbits from the experts. It was packed with people sitting high on bags of coffee, on the floor, and anywhere there was space. When someone asked how to work with cocoa farmers, I was excited to hear some of the panelists expand on my favorite topic! Greg from Dandelion talked about wanting the farmers to be as excited about their product as he is, and expecting to not just buy something but to also build something together. Jesse, sourcer of Cacao Vivo talked about the importance of transparency, direct trade, and feedback. In the meantime, Hugo Hermelink, a cocoa farmer from Costa Rica, spoke up about the financial troubles of running a cacao operation. I met many of the Dandelion staff members, people from Raaka, indi, and Videri, among others.

Chocolate-maker meet-up at Four Barrel

Chocolate-maker meet-up at Four Barrel

Sunday morning, with an even larger group, I was almost starstruck (chocolate-struck?) at the names of people in the room. Some had written books or articles I have poured over. Others make amazing chocolate or source beans from ethically responsible co-ops or connect chocolate-makers to beans or educate the public about the bean-to-bar industry. It was amazing to meet Steve De Vries of De Vries Chocolate, Sunita of The Chocolate Garage, Jose of Mindo Chocolate in Ecuador/Michigan and his cacao farmer friend of an Ecuadorian co-op, Clay Gordon of The Chocolate Life (see posts on our previous phone interview on “living the chocolate life” and on making chocolate at home), Brian of Northwest Chocolate Festival, Adam and Matthew of Mutari Hot Chocolate (locals in Santa Cruz!), as well as many many others.

We also got to connect with old friends – Dave and Corey of Letterpress Chocolate, Eli of Bisou, Greg of Dandelion, and Brian of Endorfin, among others. Check out Dandelion’s picture of the event in their Valencia Cafe.

It was such an adventure to learn from these experts and hear suggestions for our own chocolate activities. We’re looking forward to trying a few new experiments in the near future. Keep an eye out for more fun in the world of Root Chocolate!

Bay Area Chocolate Makers’ Meet-Up

Over the break, we had the incredible opportunity to gather with a group of Bay Area chocolate makers for the first of, we hope, many occasions to get together and share our ideas.

We were delighted to have a group of nine other chocolate makers, in addition to ourselves, gather at Dandelion Chocolate one afternoon in December. Though Richard and I had set out an agenda for the gathering, we quickly realized that the highest priority would be getting to know each other. After a brief meet and greet, Pearl of Dandelion, graciously gave us a tour of the space, including the bean room, the kitchen, and the cafe. Most of the makers present have much smaller operations than Dandelion, so it was a treat to walk through the process that we all know and love, though on a bigger scale.

chocolate-makers' meet up at Dandelion

chocolate-makers’ meet up at Dandelion

Then, we each explained whatever chocolate we had brought along with us, and conducted a tasting of a whole line-up of delicious bars.

chocolate tasting

chocolate tasting

The group has a wide range of experience and expertise, so the best part of the afternoon’s activity was simply learning about each makers’ work and focus. In particular, we learned about the techniques linked to neuroscience and sensory experience of Endorfin Chocolat from Brian Wallace. We discovered the unique business model of Cocoa Logos by Brent, sending messages through chocolate. We listened to the precise and scientific methods utilized by Leslie and David Senk of Arete, whose dedication to creating the best chocolate bar is surely starting to pay off! (It was great to see them again, after our visit last year). We tried the chain of different roasts on the same bean by Kane, who told us he was inspired by the advice that Tad Van Leer provided in this post. We shared business plan ideas with Dave of Sacramento. We met Zeina, who encouraged us to visit The Chocolate Garage again, and get to know the bars from up and coming makers available there. And we connected with Jay of Origence, who gave us new ideas about collaborating with other makers to import beans.

We hope that other makers will join us next time for focused discussions on tools, ingredients, process, and sourcing! We’re hoping to get to know Jonas of Firefly Chocolate, Dave Salowich of The Double Monkey & Bittersweet Chocolate Cafe, Steve of Sacred Chocolate, Nancy of The Oakland Chocolate Company, and Eli and Tracey of Bisou Chocolate! We have such a great group of makers in the Bay Area and we’re looking forward to regularly gathering this group for discussions in the months to come!

Are you a chocolate maker in the Bay Area? What would you like to discuss next time we meet up?