How much do you know about chocolate? Like, really know about chocolate?
Prior to Friday, I knew I really like it. Like, a lot. And I had a good idea of a few brands that I liked better than others, but I didn’t have much knowledge beyond that.
However, after touring Fresno’s own Raphio Chocolate, an artisan chocolate micro-factory, I now know a lot more about how the purest chocolate is made, and what makes artisan chocolate different from commercially made chocolate.
Oh, and I also tasted some of the best pieces of chocolate I’ve ever had.
How Artisan Chocolate is Made
Elisia Otavi is the owner and chocolatier at Raphio Chocolate, which is named for her and husband Yohannes’ two sons, Raphael and Rio. Elisia was gracious enough to treat me to a tour of her micro-factory. Throughout the tour, she walked me through the process of making artisan chocolate, step-by-step.
I learned that artisan chocolate is made from dried cacao beans, which grow in large cacao pods only in the cacao region of the Earth (a band around the equator where the air is humid, but elevations are low). The beans are dried in the sun, and then Elisia imports them (only from regions with fair trade practices) in large sacks.
Sidenote: I asked Elisia to explain to me why some people say “cacao” and some say “cocoa” and she said both are correct, but typically cacao is the phrase used for the pods/beans before roasted, and cocoa for post-roast. Good to know!
The cacao beans are roasted in special ovens in Elisia’s factory, then they are cracked and the outer husks are removed and the “nibs” (the inner part of the bean from which chocolate is made) are retained. The nibs go into a grinder, which slowly pulverizes and warms them over the course of a few days into a rich, smooth, silky chocolate. As the nibs grind, the two components which make them – cocoa powder and cocoa butter – appear, then homogenize.
The Difference Between Artisan and Other Chocolates
I learned that cocoa powder is a much easier and less costly substance to produce and work with than the cocoa butter, so commercial chocolate makers typically buy just the cocoa powder, then add other (read: cheaper) emulsifiers to the powder to reconstitute a chocolate-like texture and substance.
Artisan chocolate contains just chocolate and cane sugar, whereas commercial chocolate contains cocoa powder, fats and oils, and soy lecithin. Soy lecithin being listed in ingredients is a sure sign of a commercial, non-artisan style chocolate. (Cue the “more you know” jingle and shooting star in your brain here.)
Depending on the purity of the batch desired, a precise amount of organic, pure cane sugar is added to the grinder and mixed into the silky, melted chocolate. (100% is pure dark chocolate; anything less, when it comes to dark chocolate, means that cane sugar has been added, and represents the other portion of the percentage.)
Finishing the Process
After the chocolate is smooth, it is allowed to solidify, and then it’s wrapped and allowed to age for several weeks for best taste. Following the aging process, the solid blocks are brought back to a liquid at a very specific temperature. This process is called tempering, and it ensures the final pieces of chocolate will be smooth and break nicely rather than be dry and crumbly.
The tempered chocolate is poured into molds (and at Raphio, Elisia uses beautiful molds that she imported from Italy, “because Italians know how to make good chocolate!” she says with a smile) and then allowed to solidify before being wrapped and packaged for sale.
Tasting the Chocolate
I had the privilege of tasting several different chocolates that Raphio makes, starting with the single-source chocolates. Single-source means the beans used in the batch are from one specific location and not mixed with other beans. The advantage to this is, nuances in the chocolate’s taste such as notes of nuttiness and fruitiness – both of which are factors of where the beans are grown, much like grapes used for wine – range from 72% to 102%. (The 102% is higher than 100% chocolate because it has pieces of nibs added back to the final chocolate bars). The higher the percent, the more bitter the taste.
Eating and cooking with pure chocolate definitely has its advantages. Pure chocolates (or chocolates of 72% or higher) offer magnesium, antioxidants (even more than berries!) and even fiber. Their rich taste makes them excellent for baking or melting into coffee drinks or making hot cocoa.
Of all the chocolates I tasted, my favorite was the 72% Nicaragua, which I bought to share with my family (my 9-year-old son and husband loved it as well, and we devoured it within minutes of us opening the bar.)
My other favorite Raphio product is one that just earned Raphio a bronze award in an international artisan chocolate competition! Elisia makes her award-winning coffee chocolate in collaboration with local coffee maker, Kuppa Joy. She combines Kuppa Joy’s coffee beans with her 72% chocolate to make a delicious coffee-infused chocolate that is the stuff dreams are made of.
Where to Buy Raphio Chocolate
You can purchase Raphio Chocolate (all products) locally at the Kaiser Farmers Market (Wednesdays from 8:30 a.m.–1 p.m.), at Kuppa Joy (coffee chocolate only), at Enzo’s Table or online through the Raphio website. You can also purchase directly from Elisia at her micro-factory. (She is her entire staff at this time, so please set an appointment for in-person purchases.)
Additionally, Elisia shared that she will be offering a small, 7-person max, private tour of the factory much like the one I (greatly!) enjoyed on April 6 for $7/person. The tour includes a bar of artisan chocolate to take home, as well. To reserve a space, click here.
Thank you Elisia, for a wonderful, delicious and educational experience!