Story by Alicia Kennedy
Alicia is an impassioned food & travel writer based in Brooklyn and loves sharing everything from recipes to fascinating conversations from interesting people. To learn more, check out her blog, and follow her on Facebook, and Instagram.
Chocolate has been building to its coffee moment.
Remember when we thought coffee came in a can at the supermarket, and then Starbucks came along to get us hooked on something a little better? When the next century rolled around, we were also into Intelligentsia, Stumptown, Blue Bottle and small, regional roasters. These coffee waves have proven it’s possible to get people interested in where their coffee beans come from and how they’re roasted. Everyone of a certain stripe and income bracket is now a connoisseur, with opinions on French press versus Chemex.
Craft chocolate makers want you to feel the same way about cacao beans now. Chocolate can be far more complex than typical milk chocolate. Consider touring some of our favorite chocolate producers.
Based in the Red Hook neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York, Raaka’s unroasted-cacao chocolate bars are specifically made to show off the flavors of their origins. From Belize to Madagascar to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the cacao’s terroir — the natural environment in which it’s grown — is crucial. It's what gives life to the floral, fruity and smoky notes that aren’t as noticeable in bars made with roasted cacao beans. Those notes are flavored with complementary ingredients for a robust experience (the Dominican Republic bar made with coconut milk is a favorite.) At the factory, you can either take a tour or a class where you’ll learn how to make a bar from the raw bean.
At Lonohana Estate on the island of Oahu, they’re doing something different from most chocolate makers: growing and harvesting the cacao beans that go into their bars. They planted their first trees in 2009 and now make their bars with Hawaiian cane sugar. It’s a true seed-to-bar operation that allows for a full taste of Hawaii.
French Broad in Asheville, North Carolina, has more than chocolate bars. Cake, brownies and truffles also are served in their Chocolate Lounge — but the bars that they’re making from Costa Rican cacao shouldn’t be missed, either. Their Factory & Tasting Room gives tours on Saturdays, allowing visitors to see what goes into small-batch, single-origin craft chocolate.
Yes, there’s another chocolate factory to visit in the Red Hook neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York. This one has a bonus distillery, though, so you can also try out Widow Jane’s fabulous whiskeys. Cacao Prieto’s bars are made with 100 percent Dominican Republic cacao. The founder, Daniel Prieto Preston, comes from a Dominican family that’s been farming organic cacao and sugar cane on the island for over 100 years, and you can taste the experience. Visit to see how it all happens.
TCHO in Berkeley, California, isn’t a craft chocolate maker, but it takes sourcing, flavor and presentation of its product seriously. The company works closely with farmers in their growing regions to get the best flavor, using the most sustainable practices. To help people appreciate chocolate, TCHO introduced a “flavor wheel” that highlights various notes chocolate can contain — fruity, bright, nutty, earthy, floral or chocolatey.