Profile: Habitual Chocolate – from bean to bar

in Buying Coffee, Coffee and You, Make a Good Cafe Mocha

   There is something truly unique being made in London, Canada’s Western Fair Farmer’s Market.  Owner David Cook not only also owns the Fire Roasted Coffee Company that is a regular stop of mine when in the area, but also a cacao-roasting operation called Habitual Chocolate.

Read my blog posts on Fire Roasted Coffee Company.

David travels the coffee-growing regions of the world so that he can stay close to the source of his coffee, and interact directly with the coffee farmers.  On such a trip to Guatemala, David was introduced to cacao and its similarities to coffee.  After meeting with cacao farmers and doing independent research on roasting chocolate, a new company was born.  London, Ontario now has something it’s never had before, professionally-roasted single-estate or blended chocolate.  These aren’t Mars bars, this is real chocolate.

On a recent trip to Canada, I was given a guide tour of the business of roasting chocolate, by David and his chocolate roaster Daniel.  Follow along, and you’ll never look at chocolate the same way again.  It gave me an immediate sense for the similarities between coffee and chocolate.

Step 1: Roasting
David is a strong believer in staying close to the source, so that much of the cacao that he roasts comes from farmers that he has met personally.  I was privy to this experience on a recent origin trip to Kona, Hawaii with David.

Read: His Name was Sharkman

Just like the operation at Fire Roasted Coffee, everything at Habitual Chocolate is out in the open so that you can take in the experience that leads to a perfect finished product, rather than only buying it without an appreciation for the care that goes into making it.  And it starts with the cacao beans themslves.

The beans are roasted on a perforated pan in an oven so that there is airflow.  This ensures that they are roasted throughout. 

Step 2: Grinding
Next, the roasted beans are ground, and then shell is separated from nib.  The shell is a protective casing, but will not be a part of the final product so has to be separated.  The nib is the cocoa matter that will go into the final bar.  The contraption that separates the two isn’t a commercially-available product, but something that Habitual had to build themselves for the job.  Further testament to how unique their product, that they have to engineer their own process.

Step 3: Spinning
Next, the roasted ground cocoa is mixed to recipe with cocoa butter and sugar, and spun for thirty straight hours before it resembles the creamy chocolate that we all know.  It is only following this step that I started to see something I recognized as chocolate.  If you’ve ever seen craft chocolate, you’ve seen a number associated with it that is lower than 100.  This number corresponds to the percentage of the chocolate that is pure cocoa.  The remainder is generally cocoa butter and/or sugar.  The commercial milk chocolate that we are used to is generally 50% cocoa.

Both butter and sugar are standard components of a finished bar, but David introduced me to chocolate that has no butter in it at all, only sugar for sweetening.  The purpose of the cocoa butter is to give the chocolate a creamier mouthfeel – it doesn’t actually have any flavor on its own.  On our trip to Hawaii, fellow chocolate roaster Sharkman introduced David to the idea of leaving it out of the finished bar.

Step 4: Forming
The finished creamy chocolate is poured into trays to set into the bar form that we all know.  Habitual uses a standard mold design so that all of their bars have the same look.

What did I get?  David suggested I could cover a good range with:
70% Intenso Five-Bean Blend: Again, the percentage corresponds to the proportion of pure cocoa in the bar.  The five beans that were blended together into this bar are the first five beans that Habitual ever roasted.
74% Peru with no cocoa butter: Slightly more bitter, so you have to like chocolate to enjoy it.  And without cocoa butter, less creamy so that in both respects, much different from the commercial chocolate bar.

I got to enjoy some with David while I was there.  He was right about the range, as each bar was an entirely unique experience, and together, gave me a better appreciation for what chocolate is supposed to take like.  I’ve inhaled many Twix bars in my life, but this was something different.  This was a fine thing to enjoy.  The next time you try real chocolate like this, I’ll pass on one suggestion David made that stayed with me.  Don’t chew it immediately.  Keep the chocolate in your mouth and let it heat to your mouth’s temperature first.  The unique flavor of any chocolate comes out at that temperature.  You’re enjoying it before you even take your first bite into it.

As David is learning, when you introduce people to something new, there is some education involved.  The open concept helps.  In addition, Habitual makes an entirely “fun” offering of chocolate with toppings that are great complements to chocolate and familiar to us, like candy, granola, and fruit.  David’s hope is that if a craft bar is too much at once for a person who has never enjoyed real chocolate, that there is an opportunity to ease them into it.  Reminds me of putting cream and sugar in coffee before learning to appreciate it pure.

I can attest to the uniqueness of what Habitual is doing.  ChocolateFest 2012 was recently held in Portland, OR – a city that prides itself on craft food and drink – and there was only one exhibitor there offering what Habitual is offering.  While everybody was focused on the fun of chocolate and tailoring it for special events, only one chocolatier focused on the craft of sourcing cacao from different parts of the world and introducing their unique chocolate flavors.

Read: ChocolateFest 2012

Visit Habitual Chocolate online.

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