In 2005, Sarah started playing with chocolate recipes, creating iconic molds and hand-gilding them in edible gold leaf. She perfected these treats the hard way, through trial and error. When she discovered that Alma -- her grandmother's name -- meant soul in Spanish and nourish in Latin, she knew she had one divinely edible concept. Wanting to take it to the next level, she found an instructor to come to her home; Ian Titterton taught Sarah what he knew about chocolate. When Sarah’s kitchen became too small to keep up with orders, she began selling at the Farmer’s Market, where she still keeps a booth on Saturdays.
In 2006 Alma chocolate opened a retail storefront and quickly garnished waves of media attention, critical accolades and a devoted fan following. In 2008, Hart was named “The Rising Star” in The Next Generation Chocolatier Awards (the James Beard awards of the chocolate industry). She staged at Valrhona in France and kept growing the chocolate line and the shop’s offerings. She now manages a small staff of talented chocolatiers, bakers and barristas who have helped grow Alma’s offerings to include small batch ice-creams, chocolatey drinks, espressos and choco-centric baked goods.
Woodblock Chocolate was Portland's first bean-to-bar company. Since their humble beginnings as a husband and wife duo, Charlie and Jessica Wheelock, they have partnered with other food creators, such as Salt and Straw, and produce chocolate in the SE Portland Manufactory.
From their website, "Woodblock Chocolate is the fortunate result of years of rigorous, artistic endeavors executed by wife and husband team Jessica and Charley Wheelock. For us, making chocolate from the bean is like realizing a dream that we did not even know we had!
The more we learn about chocolate, the more we understand how everything we have previously done has led to this. We are wildly excited to be able to share what we have learned with you in the form of face meltingly delicious chocolate made from two ingredients: cacao and pure cane sugar."
"Dustin and I have always been fascinated with hand crafting things," says Adam Dick. Adam and Dustin Taylor own and operate Dick Taylor chocolate in Arcata, a small city in northern California.
The first thing that will strike you about Dick Taylor is the packaging. Each wrapper is printed, two at a time with an AB Dick 350 duplicator offset press for the front image and an old Chandler and Price 10x15 that letterpresses the logo and bar origin. "We are real suckers for old machinery (all of our woodworking machines are also vintage) so it was almost an excuse to buy some cool old iron." The picture on the front of each bar, a lovely sketch of a boat skeleton in a shipyard, was done by Dustin's brother. And the bars themselves are so intricately molded that you'll almost feel bad eating them. Almost.
To Say Nothing of the Boat
Adam and Dustin began working together in an area that sounds completely foreign to chocolate making: boat building. "There is something primal about working with cacao, which is not unlike working with wood," explains Adam. "I guess for us it was a natural progression."
"We do see chocolate making in a similar light. Boats in my mind elevate woodworking to a level of functional sculpture. While a boat is utilitarian, it also has an artistic element to it. Many early boats were built using the builders eye alone to determine the shape of the hull. As a chocolate maker we take raw beans and transform them into silky smooth chocolate bars, relying for the most part on our personal taste. I want our chocolate bars to have our fingerprint on them, though hopefully not literally. I want them to be distinctly ours, respecting our taste and style. Our style of chocolate making is equally as hands-on as working wood into a boat hull. We constantly shape, mold and coax our raw material. The transition for us between the two couldn't have been more natural in our eyes."
Dick Taylor produces bars with beans from around the world. "We try select beans that are unique and varied," says Adam. "If we get a sample that is similar to something we already use, we may pass or if it is better we can modify our product line. We tend toward chocolates with a present bitterness. Some very mild cacao does not do it for us. We also tend toward beans with an almost candy like quality to them. We also use organic cane sugar which lends toward an almost caramel flavor/aroma in our chocolate."
Dick Taylor and the New American Chocolate Revolution
Dick Taylor is part of a quiet revolution in American chocolate making that has taken hold in the past decade. "One thing that is great about the American renaissance in chocolate making is you have so many makers with their own tastes," said Adam. "The chocolate they make is an extension of who they are and that flavors they like. Olive and Sinclair, Potomac Chocolate, Dandelion Chocolate, Mast Brothers, and Rogue Chocolatier, to name a few. I really like the idea of making chocolate to respect a regional flair like Olive and Sinclair does."
Like many of the other new American chocolate makers, Dick Taylor eschews adding vanilla or other flavorings to their single-origin dark chocolates, made with only cocoa and sugar. When additional flavors are used, it's a last-minute addition instead of a critical element to the chocolate flavor. Dick Taylor makes three flavored bars – Black Fig, Maple Coconut, and Feur de Sel.
"We are constantly faced with the challenge of scaling production without sacrificing quality. We also seem to have some type of mechanical problem with at least one of the machines at any given time. And tempering bars to our satisfaction is always a challenge. Despite all this, I think it is the challenges that make the work fun. To overcome some new hurdle makes the work interesting and rewarding."
Cacao was first introduced to Vietnam by the French in the 19th century. Fast forward many years later and two Frenchmen, Vincent and Samuel start Marou as Vietnam's first and only bean-to-bar chocolate maker in the country. Prior to their existence, Vietnam's cacao beans were largely undiscovered. They have shown the world the potential of Vietnam's different regions within their chocolate line. Each different color wrapping chocolate bar has a different province and percentage. Marou works closely with farmers from the various regions. Once the beans are fermented, they are sent to their chocolate factory in Saigon, where they are roasted, winnowed, ground, conched, tempered and moulded.
David Briggs started Xocolatl de Davíd informally, and unintentionally, in 2005 while just “playing around with chocolate.” Over the next four years he honed his skills in chocolate and confections pairing savory and sweet elements with the varying flavor profiles of the chocolates he sources from South and Central America. His single origin chocolate comes from sustainable and fair trade sources and Briggs prefers to use only bittersweet varieties no lower than 68%. Briggs works with local farmers as well as specialty producers from around the world to attain the highest quality ingredients for each product he creates.