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There’s never a dull moment when you have chocolate in your mouth, and cocoa beans on the brain!
Our lives are full of love and excitement. New adventures and new collaborations abound. Most notably among our adventures: our vision of a sustainable, bean-to-bar, Dan & Jael-style chocolate factory has been realized. In September 2011, we leased a 4000 square foot warehouse, secured an SBA-backed small business loan from our bank, and transformed the warehouse into a beautiful, well-lit factory space. Please check out our photo journal of the construction progress, to really gain appreciation for all the work that went into the transformation.
On June 29 of 2012, we hosted our grand opening replete with tours and tastings, including chocolate-infused beers specially made by our gracious neighbors at Green Man Brewing, with roasted nibs from our Peruvian importation. (At time of writing, we are nearing our first anniversary! Not sure if we will pull off but a small celebration, but keep an eye out…)
Of special note is our rooftop solar production deck. That’s right, it’s a deck, on the roof, for solar roasting. When we opened the factory, we had our first prototype in operation. A small, very hands-on device was designed to roast 5 kilo batches with no power but that supplied by the sun. It included a direct-wired gearmotor for tumbling the roasting tube, and a thermostatically controlled fan for cooling the beans if the sun got too hot. Its primary mode of operation involves mirrored parabolic trough arrays which reflect and concentrate solar radiation directly onto a heat-absorbent surface. We’ve been developing our second prototype solar cocoa bean roaster, which will be installed on the deck and placed into production in the coming months. Read more details about the project here.
In the mean time, our most notable collaboration: we set out to import a container of organic, fair trade cacao from Peru. In the process, we are bucking a firmly-entrenched industry tradition to covet one’s origins for one’s own benefit. The idea is simple: small producers, working together as a guild, can gain access to better raw materials than they could working alone. To maximize the costs of an importation, the container (in this case, a 20 ft. box with a capacity of 13 metric tons) should be packed to capacity.
There is no way we could have raised the capital to purchase 13 tons of cacao ourselves, even with the confidence of our lenders. And even if we could, there is important work to be done in building relationships and removing barriers to cooperation among our industry peers. So we put out feelers and found two colleagues willing to trust us and invest with us in a future of collaboration.
Elemental Chocolate, and its founder Paul Mosca, were the first to sign on. We approached Paul to source together a few years ago, when he was trying to import a shipment of cocoa beans from Esmeraldas, Ecuador. With our small purchase, his buying power was augmented, and shipping charges spread over greater quantities. He took the primary risk at the time, being the negotiator and consignee of the shipment. We saw our Peruvian purchase as an opportunity to return the favor. Paul is purchasing one metric ton of cocoa beans from the Tumbis cooperative in Tumbes, the tropical region on the northwest tip of Peru. He’s already sent out a good article about the origin: read here. Elemental has always been a logical partner, as our businesses barely overlap. He makes delicious chocolate-coated whole cocoa beans. We’re hoping to work together on a collaborative product, in which he’ll make his chocolate-coated Tumbes beans with bean-to-bar Tumbes chocolate from our new factory!
Cacao Atlanta Chocolate Company is our other major collaborator. Kristen Hard, founder and chocolate maker, has in a short time become a respected expert chocolate maker and cacao taster. Among her accomplishments is membership in Cocoa of Excellence, an international board of tasters of the world’s best cocoa bean origins. She has been doing wonderful work identifying farms with notable post-harvest processes and cultivars, towards the betterment of cocoa bean sources the world over. Buy Cacao Atlanta here. Kristen does a lot of her own sourcing, especially in Trinidad and Venezuela. When I approached her with an interest in cooperatively purchasing from Peru, she was very helpful in encouraging me and pointing out potential pitfalls (of which there are many). Cacao Atlanta is purchasing 3 metric tons of cacao from Tumbes, as well as 2.5 metric tons of cacao from Chulucanas. I’ll mention Chulucanas in more detail below. We’re very happy to collaborate with Kristen and her crew. While our businesses could be viewed as direct competitors for artisan chocolate buyers, we choose to take the perspective that high tides raises all ships. Moreover, working cooperatively can hopefully provide an example of what can be possible when you operate from a place of trust.
As for French Broad Chocolates, our share of the maiden shipment breaks down as follows: 2 metric tons of Tumbes; 2 metric tons of Chulucanas cacao; 1.5 metric tons of Morropon cacao, which is just southeast of Chulucanas. Chulucanas is the origin that holds the most meaning for us. We visited Chulucanas last June when we embarked on our first South American sourcing expedition. We visited the farm of Juan de la Cruz, in the village of Palo Blanco. It is from the Palo Blanco processing center that this specific lot of cacao is coming! Oh…last but not least: we filled the last 1000 kilos of container space with a pallet of organic Panela, which is a delicious whole, unrefined brown sugar collected and processed by the same organization that is selling us the cacao, called Cepicafe. We made some more historyby creating a chocolate bar using cacao and sugar all produced in the province of Piura, Peru! See the Chulucanas 81% here.
A little about Cepicafe: Central Piurana de Cafetaleros is an awesome example of an uber-cooperative, which pools the resources of smaller farmer coops to be extremely effective in marketing, distribution, and technical assistance to farmer members. We’re so happy to have been able to work with them on our first ever importation.
We are now beginning to use our second importation from Cepicafe, in which we bought 10 metric tons for ourselves and three for a couple other great partners: Santosha Chocolate (a raw chocolate maker here in Asheville) and Escazu Artisan Chocolate, a great operation out of Raleigh.
You should really taste what we’ve been creating with our Peruvian beans. Go here to check out our current offering of bars.
Our chocolate will, of course, gradually supplant the chocolate we currently use at French Broad Chocolate Lounge for truffles, pastries, and drinks. You can currently taste it in our Pure Dark, Buddha, Canela Picante, Xocolatl and Oaxaca sipping chocolates. I’m probably forgetting some others…
But the real game-changer is that our artisan chocolate bars will be made available for sale at fine retailers near you. And this is where we need your help. Please assist us in identifying the ideal shops to represent us well. Anywhere in the continental US is fair game, so please help us get our product out there! When a retailer you refer contacts us and places their first order, we’ll contact you for shipping info to send you a complimentary sample pack of our new line of artisan chocolate bars! Be sure to claim your referral by emailing us with the places you contact. First referral per retailer gets the booty.
We’ll leave it there for now. So much to do!
As always, we’re deeply appreciative of your continued support and encouragement. Keep up the good works, and so will we!
Dan & Jael