Visiting local chocolate makers

Last weekend, Richard and I had the privilege of visiting a local chocolate maker’s small-batch space. In the true spirit of Clay Gordon’s philosophy on mentoring, David and Leslie showed us around their space, explained their chocolate-making flow, and shared a taste of their favorite in-production bars. They’ve been transparent in their start up process through an extremely useful thread on The Chocolate Life called “Shared Journey,” which I highly recommend other potential chocolate-makers take a look at.

Granted, Arete is not quite in full scale production mode yet, but their deliberate research and development phase is well underway. Their goal – produce an excellent bean-to-bar product! We learned a lot from our visit and are looking forward to staying in touch with our fellow chocolate-making couple, as both of our operations grow!

First of all, they recommended we join the FCIA or Fine Chocolate Industry Association. This is an organization of people involved in the fine chocolate industry “from blossom to bonbon to bar,” as their website states. Its mission is the following:

The Fine Chocolate Industry Association is the professional non-profit organization supporting the development and innovation of the fine chocolate industry and best practices through: Identifying industry standards for cacao growing, bar and confection production, and the use of quality ingredients. Communicating with consumers, the media, and legislators regarding issues in growing, production and consumption of fine chocolate. Educating chocolate professionals on fine chocolate best practices, ingredients and techniques.

Excellent recommendation!

Secondly, they told us the story of taking the online Ecole Chocolate-Making Course. They were surprised when so much of the course involved buying and tasting other makers’ chocolates. Now, they understand the incredible value of building out one’s taste in order to understand what kind of chocolate they wanted to make. We’ve heard this before – eat lots of chocolate – and we’re not going to argue!

When we asked how they work together as a couple, they laughed. Leslie is full time while David continues his full-time job and helps out on evenings and weekends. It turns out Leslie focuses on tempering while David focuses on the roasting. And overall, they just seem to have that excellent vibe of partners. That magic factor that we’ve read about in other partner-pairs like Mish and Rob of Making it Anywhere and Jill and Josh of Screw the Nine to Five. The bottom line – divide the labor and respect each other. Seems pretty logical, doesn’t it?!

Finally, we learned about their flow from one part of the process to the next: from their bean room where they store and sort the beans, to their beautiful oven for roasting. From a rapid cooling device to the cracker and winnower. From there to the sieve, separating out the nibs of appropriate size. Then back to the oven, where the nibs and Premier Wonder Grinders are heated at a low temperature to soften the initial refining process. (Yep, we were delighted to see a few of our very own Premier Wonder Grinders lined up in their shop!) Next, into the whirling melangers which work continuously for days at a time. They often add heat lamps at certain points in the process to increase the temperature as well. Finally, out to a small temper machine or to the large granite table where Leslie tempers the chocolate by hand, and into their almost finalized molds.

Many parts of their flow are hand-designed or modified from the original use of their machines or devices. We’ve noted that in the industry of small batch chocolate-makers, there are few tools made especially for batches of 2-3 kilos. And as a result, there are many creative engineers and artists in the business who rig up their own tools, including Richard and David, among others!

We look forward to staying in touch with David and Leslie and to meeting other chocolate makers, near and far, as we learn more about the industry and how Root Chocolate fits!

Advertisements

Clay Gordon on making chocolate at home

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!

Clay Gordon on living the chocolate life

“You never know when a small decision will have a profound impact on your life.” – Clay Gordon, the world’s first international chocolate critic

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.

Clay’s philosophy is to do what you love, keep it light, and support your family while doing it. With this guiding principle, he went from a corporate lifestyle to becoming a full-time chocolate consultant, critic, and machinery designer and salesperson. And he made this change not in the past decade when Tim Ferris of The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich (Expanded and Updated) and other lifestyle proponents have popularized this notion, but back in the 90s. Clay’s chocolate expertise goes back more than 20 years. It is clear, when discussing the ins and outs of chocolate, that he knows what he’s talking about.

Yes, I had the opportunity to chat with Clay about his life, chocolate, and advice. In this two-part series, I’ll start by expounding on his entry into the world of chocolate and the community he’s organized and inspired. Then in the next segment, I’ll dive into his advice both for making chocolate at home and for starting a chocolate business.

The quote at the start of this post is Clay’s introduction for how he got into the chocolate business. Concluding a business trip to Cannes in 1994, Clay found himself with a few hours to spare and some extra francs to spend before heading to the airport. As he wandered around, he found a small gourmet chocolate shop and bought 6 Bonnat chocolate bars. Upon returning home, he held a dinner party and pulled these out for dessert. Everyone had a different favorite for a different reason, similar to our recent tasting party. Little did he know, this was the first of many single-origin chocolate tasting parties he’d hold in the next few years.

In a flash of marketing genius (which was his area of expertise), he realized that while there were professional critics for almost everything, there were none for chocolate. He delved into research at local libraries, took on an apprenticeship with Michel Cluizel, found a mentor in Gary Guittard, and finally started chocophile.com in 2001, which was a professional review board for fine flavor chocolate. Having found chocolate in a function of entrepreneurship rather than initial passion for chocolate, Clay quickly realized his luck.

Chocolate is an amazing career! The industry is full of happy people who know how to have fun, and his place in it all allows him the lifestyle he was hoping for. He told me, “If you’re working with chocolate and not having fun, you’re doing it wrong. There are very few real jerks in the chocolate business, which I think is fabulous.” He believes that the true health value of chocolate is when people eat it, they sit down, relax, and destress for a few minutes. Plus, this career is “something I want to do until I’m not able to get out of bed. I need to be able to support myself and my family and I want to have fun doing it.”

This leads us to the next chapter in Clay’s contributions to the chocolate industry: TheChocolateLife.com. Its original purpose was to get enough people together, so between all of them, they would know all the answers that people want to know about chocolate.

From my own experience, TheChocolateLife.com has been an incredible resource. I’ve posted questions and received answers from experts all over the world. I’ve read the details of other people starting to work on their own “home brew” chocolate and of people making moves on starting their own company. I’ve even been contacted by farmers and organizers in cacao-producing countries to discuss building a relationship longer term. I’ve connected with bean-to-bar producers here in the Bay Area and even toured a factory. And my overwhelming response is to agree with Clay – there are very few jerks in the chocolate industry. It’s an incredibly welcoming environment where people share “open source” ideas and suggestions. I can’t recommend it highly enough for those serious about chocolate!

The title of TheChocolateLife.com was inspired by Ricky Martin’s Living La Vida Loca, which evolved into La Vida Cocoa, which translates to the chocolate life. The philosophy behind the chocolate life is that the ability to “connect to people with passion will inspire others to connect with theirs, regardless of whether that passion is chocolate or not.” His new goal is to help other people succeed. He gave an example of international pastry contests, where the chefs are some of the best in the world, but they are not there just to win. Instead, most of them get to a point in their life when they’re professionally accomplished. And the next step of what they’re doing, the way they ensure their legacy, is about how many people they’ve mentored.

Clay is taking on the international pastry chef mentorship equivalent in the chocolate industry. He provides consulting services to chocolate start ups, manages TheChocolateLife.com where chocolate-makers and chocolate-loves share their passion, and serves as a mentor and motivational speaker. He’s living the chocolate life!

Check out our next post on Clay’s advice for making chocolate at home and starting your own chocolate business.