Meanwhile, by the time Hershey Co. bought Scharffen Berger in 2005 and then Portland, Ore.-based Dagoba the following year, the gap left by industry consolidation was ready to be filled. In 2006, Joseph Whinney founded Seattle-based Theo, the first roaster of organic and fair-trade cocoa beans in the U.S., according to its website.
"I was curious," DeVries says. "How could it be that I could grind this stuff in my kitchen and have more complex chocolate than any I'd ever had before?
"We have so much upside now. If the French bought all their grapes in shiploads from Africa, how good would the wine be? That's about where we are with chocolate."
Back in the factory lab, Childs points to photos of neatly boxed fermenting cocoa beans (as opposed to beans fermenting in large piles). Tcho plans to implement "infield improvements and models for fermentation and drying," Childs says. "That's the first order to improving quality and flavor. I'm looking at this not just from bean to bar but from pod to palate. Pod to bean is the most crucial step in the process."
Caring for the beans
DEVRIES oversees his own drying method. "For me to make chocolate, I need to go there, be involved in the harvest and be involved in the drying," he says. "I'd heard about the drying of beans in Chuao [Venezuela, where prized beans are from], went down and learned how they made the stuff. A lot of it was the way it was dried. I started doing experiments in Costa Rica and dried them very slowly. I got fantastic chocolate -- dried fruit tones that just knocked people out."
Transforming the beans to bars takes machinery, lots of it. It's the myriad fascinating, sometimes-obscure and hard-to-find, oft-modified machines that charm the Wonkas -- small grinders originally used for making Indian batters such as for dosas (rice-flour pancakes), melangeurs (grinders) tracked down in Spain, a conch from the Suchard factory in Switzerland, or a winnower salvaged from Scharffen Berger's parking lot.
"It's not all easy to find. Machine shop skills come in handy," says Amano's Pollard, a search engine developer who had his first chocolate epiphany 11 years ago during his honeymoon after eating a Belgian chocolate truffle. "I decided to design and build my own refiner and conch from scratch. I think one of the great things about doing it the hard way instead of buying machinery is that you really learn why things are the way they are."
The level of attention that the bean-to-bar guys pay to each part of the process is sort of captivating. During winnowing, much of which Patric's McClure does by hand, he removes a large proportion of the germ because, he says, it's hard and bitter. Rogue's Gasko, who "started fooling around with machines in the basement," says he's working on equipment that he hopes will get the remaining hulls down to one-tenth of a percent with only 2% loss of the nib and at the same time remove all of the germ. "It requires a bit of engineering," he says.
As for ingredients, some of the new chocolate makers have little interest in anything but the cocoa beans and sugar.
"My philosophy is if you have to add any flavor to the chocolate in order to make it taste good," McClure says, "then the cacao that you're using is not good enough to be used."
The only two ingredients you'll see listed on the packaging of DeVries' chocolate is cocoa beans and cane sugar, but he doesn't describe himself as a purist. For now, "I'm still trying to figure out what's going on with the cocoa bean."