In recent years, Boulder has become a haven for startup companies and locally crafted products. One typically mass-produced item, chocolate, has blossomed in Boulder’s local craft market. Working with small batches and quality ingredients, local chocolate crafters make products that look and taste completely different from the typical Hershey’s bar.
Two new artisans have joined a local scene that already boasts the likes of Chocolove, Robin Chocolates, Concertos in Chocolate, Desiderio Chocolates, Truffles in Paradise and Piece, Love & Chocolate.
Around 2009, Anna Davies and Robbie Stout decided they were unhappy with the chocolate bars on the market, and decided to venture into the world of chocolate making and startup companies. They launched Ritual Chocolates last July.
“We recognized the potential for chocolate to be on par with wine, beer, cheese and coffee as a fine food,” Stout says. “But all the chocolate that was being sold as fine food was terrible, and that’s what really kicked us off. The combination of learning and understanding what the potential could be, and not finding what we wanted.”
Stout and Davies traveled to Costa Rica to find the perfect cacao beans to use in their chocolate. Now, they distinguish themselves from other chocolate makers by the process through which they craft their products.
The entire process, from sorting the beans to aging the chocolate, is slow and labor-intensive, and Davies and Stout do it all on their own.
In the refining stages, they use 100-year-old equipment designed specifically for chocolate. Many bigger chocolate manufacturers use modern processing equipment built for speed rather than for texture and taste, and they are usually just “modified curry mixers,” Stout says.
Stout also cites bean quality as a factor in the taste of their bars.
“Most of the mass manufacturers are using beans from the Ivory Coast or Ghana, where not only are the labor conditions really ugly, but the beans don’t have good flavor,” Stout says. “On the other hand, our Costa Rican beans taste a bit like wine. They have a lot of blackberry notes and woodiness. Our Madagascar beans have dried fruit and apricot, strawberry jam flavors. They are so much richer.”
Another local chocolate business, Life Openings Chocolate, also began due to the owner’s dissatisfaction with mass-produced chocolate.
“I actually disliked chocolate all my life, so it’s rather ironic that I have a chocolate company,” says Barbara Yeagar, owner of Life Openings. “But then when I tried a pure cacao bean, I actually liked it. It made me realize that whatever had been presented to us all these years as chocolate had been, for lack of a better word, bastardized, filled with sugar and chemicals.”
The line of 12 chocolates that Yeagar produces includes flavors like chili and salt, coconut cream, tart cherry chocolate and mint cream.
The chocolates are raw, meaning they are never cooked above 115 degrees, and “live,” meaning the beans are soaked and allowed to germinate. Similar to nuts, when the beans germinate they become a vegetable instead of a bean, Yeager says, which classifies them as “living.”
One of the biggest complaints that Yeagar has against mass-produced chocolate is that most is treated with alkalizing agents, used to decrease the beans’ natural bitterness.
“I always thought, ‘What about how the chocolate makes you feel?’” Yeagar says. “Cacao beans have incredibly high levels of antioxidants –– higher than blueberries, acaí berries, goji berries –– but the alkali kills all of those antioxidants.”
Without those chemicals, the natural flavors and health benefits of the cacao beans are allowed to shine through, Yeager says.
Being such a widely loved product, it is hardly surprising that chocolate often spells success for these small companies.
The same could be said for a number of products. With the enormous number of mass-produced foods on the market today, quality is often sacrificed for quantity.
Hopefully, Boulder’s craft food manufacturers will continue fighting that trend, and their small companies will be baby steps toward better products.