Cacao beans being cooled after roasting at Five Mile Chocolate.
Photography by Teresa Rafidi
Take a small sample into your mouth. Wait as the flavor begins to blossom. There may be a hint of berries or floral notes. Perhaps a lingering trace of pepper.
Single-source bean-to-bar chocolate may look plain, but the flavor is extraordinary.
Fine chocolate, like fine wine, has its own unique taste. Wine varies with the grapes. Where they’re grown—the terrain and the climate, when they’re harvested and the skill of the winemaker.
“Chocolate is just like that,” says Troy Easton, who grinds and blends at Sublime Chocolate in Allen. Cacao (cocoa) beans, the main ingredient of chocolate, are plucked from pod-like fruit that grows on cacao trees. Like grapes, the beans vary in taste depending on the country, the region, and even the farm, where they’re grown. The source of the beans is often displayed on the wrapper of each bar.
Easton is one of three local chocolate-makers exploring singlesource bean-to-bar chocolate, overseeing the process from bean selection to roasting, grinding, blending and packaging. The majority of Easton’s beans come from Central and South America.
Another veteran chocolate-maker, Andrea Pedraza at CocoAndré in Oak Cliff, uses beans from the Soconusco region in the Mexican state of Chiapas to create four varieties of bars, one embellished with guajillo chiles and pepitas (pumpkin seeds).
Just around the corner from her is Five Mile Chocolate, where Jessica Beeman and Shannon Neffendorf make their bars inside Oak Cliff Coffee Roasters. They source their beans globally—primarily from Latin America, but also India and Africa.
Each of these entrepreneurs is enamored with the process and the final product. Each came to the craft differently.
Easton’s interest was in environmental law. He became a cook between his bachelor’s and master’s degrees and began making chocolate desserts. His wife saw his passion as he was preparing chocolates for a dinner party and said, “Why aren’t you doing that?” So he became a chocolatier, opening his shop in 2008. More than half of his small shop is devoted to truffles, other candy and “sipping chocolate”—hot chocolate that’s almost pure chocolate. But while creating his confections, he grew more and more interested in how the actual chocolate was made. He studied, read and began making his own.
Beans are roasted and cooled in a machine shared by Five Mile Chocolate and Oak Cliff Coffee Roasters.
Chocolate liquor is poured into molds after,being tempered.
Pedraza was a young mother working as a seamstress when she happened upon chocolate in 1985. She needed a more flexible job, and a friend recommended a new chocolate company, Morgen Chocolate. Part-time quickly turned to full-time and managing the company.
More than 20 years later when the company was sold, Pedraza and her daughter Cindy Pedraza Puente decided to open their own shop. The store quickly turned a profit, selling fashionable chocolates molded into high heels and Western boots. Looking to take the next step, Pedraza has plunged into making chocolate straight from the beans.
Neffendorf, who’s been roasting responsibly sourced co ee since 2008, saw the similarities with producing bean-to-bar chocolate and launched the Five Mile brand in September 2017, applying the same ethical principles. Beeman says she was “sneakily” nudged into it. She went to Oak Cli Co ee Roasters to roast co ee. Ne endorf showed her how the chocolate was made, she grew more and more interested and, gradually, became the chief chocolate-maker.
The interest in cra chocolate, like other artisanal foods, has grown. Sander Wolf, founder of the Dallas Chocolate Festival, says when he started the event nine years ago he searched out two of the ve makers in the country to speak. ere were 14 vendors and 400 people attended. At this year’s event in September, 2,500 attended to sample the wares of 70 vendors, 15 bean-to-bar makers. It’s not clear how many artisan chocolate-makers there are nationally, but most estimate it’s still in the dozens, Wolf says.
Each of these entrepreneurs is
enamored with the process and the
final product. Each came to the craft
Shannon Neffendorf persuaded Jessica Beeman to become his Five Mile chocolate-maker.
Daughter-mother team Cindy Pedraza Puente and Andrea Pedraza built on their success with molded chocolates at CocoAndré.
Troy Easton adding cacao beans to his conching machine at Sublime Chocolate in Allen.
Neffendorf expects the demand to continue to grow, mostly because craft chocolate is so good.
Bars typically have two primary ingredients—cocoa and sugar. Some add some cocoa butter.
This produces deep, concentrated flavors, some sweet, some a little bitter. The flavor is so rich that a 1-inch square is enough. Neffendorf says one year he offered his children one Five Mile chocolate bar in exchange for their whole bucket of Halloween candy. They took the trade without hesitation.
The first step is finding the right beans. Chocolate-makers travel to develop relationships with farmers and sniff out the right beans, which come from pods of cacao trees that only grow within 20° latitude, north and south, of the equator. The pods are harvested, and the beans and pulp scooped out. That mixture is fermented for several days, then the beans are separated and dried.
This is where the chocolate-maker takes over. The beans are roasted, much like coffee, then cracked and separated from the husks. What remains is called a nib. The nibs are ground—for as long as three days—by a special machine called a melanger.
This gritty mixture is called chocolate liquor, even though it may not be liquid. There is more grinding with fine sugar, followed by mixing and polishing, called conching. Sometimes cocoa butter, made by pressing cocoa beans, is added. Finally, there is heating, molding and the bar is ready to eat. Or it can be used by chefs and chocolatiers.
“It takes five days to make chocolate,” Beeman says.
You can make bean-to-bar chocolate at home, but obviously, it’s laborious. Wolf says workshops have been offered at the festival each year and have been well attended. “I hear people talking about making chocolate in their laundry room,” he says. There is some special equipment needed. It’s hard to find a DIY melanger to grind the nibs. But beans can be roasted in the oven and the husks blown away with a hair dryer.
Neffendorf believes that craft chocolate will become a significant part of the market, both locally and nationally, as consumers learn to appreciate the flavor nuances and origin of each bar. The story is more than following a recipe and ending with a showy product. This is chocolate in its purest form—elevated quality that begins with the beans.
CACAO OR COCOA
The two are often used interchangeably. The beans come from the cacao tree, so some believe that is always the correct name. Others come down on the side of cocoa because it’s more familiar. In the bean-to-bar world, it’s usually cacao until the bean has been fermented and dried. After that it’s cocoa, according to Megan Giller in Bean to Bar Chocolate.