Craft chocolate requires great beans that are carefully grown, fermented and dried by the farmer. And then they require meticulous roasting, winnowing, grinding, conching and tempering in small batches by artisan chocolate makers. Most other crafts – beer, wine, coffee, etc. – follow a similar pattern of farmer and maker working together (and/or being the same unit).
One “critical success factor” to many of these crafts’ growth has been the emergence of shared facilities. For the farmers this sharing involves everything from shared labour at harvest to common fermentation and drying facilities. And this is true across coffee, wine, beer and cocoa.
Coffee, wine and beer have also developed shared “crafting” and production facilities. Coffee has rental roasteries. Beer has “pico” or “nano” breweries where facilities are rented by the hour or day. Wine has “co-ops” and the likes of mobile bottling units. This means they can bypass the need for major capital commitments in the early days (or indeed any stage).
To date few craft chocolate makers have followed this “shared facilities” path – perhaps because small-batch chocolate can be crafted in most kitchens with minimal investment. Roasting can be done in a normal oven. Winnowing with a hair dryer (and lots of hard graft with one’s nails) to separate nibs and shells. Tempering requires a marble table, thermometer and lots of skill. And even grinding and conching can be done for a few hundred pounds/euros/dollars with a converted lentil grinder. So all in all, the capital cost is small – although the effort and time required is considerable.
This pattern of small chocolate makers emerging from their kitchens can be seen everywhere from Brooklyn to Budapest, Copenhagen to Cleethorpes, Saigon to San Francisco and Warsaw to Woodstock. However there is one notable exception: Ecuador. In Ecuador there are a plethora of small chocolate makers who source beans and then have them “made” in shared facilities of larger factories. Combined with Ecuador’s profusion of fast growing hybrid beans that are designed more for “mass chocolate” this has led to makers focusing on “flavoured” bars which share a similar chocolate base.
However there are some exceptional Ecuadorian craft chocolate makers – and we’d like to celebrate Jenny Samaniego of Conexion as one of the pioneers. Jenny firstly works only with heirloom arriba nacional cacao sourced from small cooperatives, in particular Fortaleza Del Valle from Manabi and APOVINCES from Los Rios. Over the last few years she’s also been working with a new generation of cacao growers, aged 18 to 35, in Esmereldas, the UOPROCAE Association.
In particular, Jenny experiments with different roasting profiles. Her “virgin” (i.e. flash) roasts provide a fascinating interpretation of her beans. And her medium roasts also reveal all sorts of flavour nuances from her partners’ beans. So while she doesn’t craft her bars from her own kitchen, she keeps full control over all aspects of how her bars are “crafted” in a shared facility. For those wishing to push the boat out she has also crafted a delightfully floral, but also punchy and astringent 100% bar.
We hope you enjoy trying these unique bars from Jenny at Conexion.