Sunday, November 7, 2010

Chocolate, Cross and Waffles

On the Waffle Front
As it turns out, running a waffle stand on the weekends is a lot of work, but it's also fun, rewarding, educational and we get to meet a lot of cool people that we probably wouldn't meet otherwise.

First of all, a big thank you goes out to all the race promoters that have helped us to be a part of their events. And secondly, thank you to all who have visited our waffle stand and walked away with a waffle. And thirdly, a special thanks to those who have gone the extra mile to support us in the online world through tweets, photos, tags, blogs and likes.

Coming up next weekend is the U.S. Gran Prix of Cyclocross in Fort Collins. As with the NACT series that passed through last weekend, this is one of the premiere events of American cyclocross. It's the first year that the USGP will pass through Fort Collins so it's hard to know what to expect in terms of spectator turn out. Our guess is that it is going to be huge! Especially since New Belgium is one of the title sponsors. We'll be setting up our waffle stand and we're working directly with the director, Rob Noble, to find the ideal placement, whether it's on the course or in the expo. Our vision is to be on course, with the fans, with the beer garden and truly part of the race experience.

Remaining Waffle Stand Schedule
  • November 13th: USGP of Cyclocross in Fort Collins, Colorado
  • November 14th: USGP of Cyclocross in Fort Collins, Colorado
  • November 20th: Alpha Cross #2 in Centennial, Colorado
  • November 21st: CycloX in Longmont/Boulder, Colorado
  • November 27th: GMSV #2- Lookout Cross in Golden, Colorado
  • November 28th: Boulder CX Series #4 in Boulder, Colorado
  • December 4th: Colorado CX Championships in Boulder, Colorado
  • December 5th: Colorado CX Championships in Boulder, Colorado
  • December 18th: (maybe) Boulder CX Series #5, Boulder, Colorado

On the Chocolate Front

As you may or may not know, the primary inspiration behind the waffle stand is to help fund our little chocolate company. I can almost guarantee that a chocolate making company has never been started with less money than what we've got to work with, but that's ok. We're making it happen. The waffle stand is going well and we've been able to pay off all of our waffle start up costs, but that's left us without much time to make chocolate.

One of the biggest obstacles for us is the ability to purchase the ideal chocolate making equipment. Fortunately, we've had some help from Boulder County and they are helping us to purchase a larger mill and a tempering machine. Between renting various commercial kitchen spaces and working with the health department, we should have some chocolate for everyone by early 2011.

Some of our most exciting news is our first large order of cacao beans. We're not ready to disclose exactly how much or where they are from yet, so you'll just have to be patient while we keep working away.

Stay Tuned
As you have probably already figured out on your own, our blog is not the best way to stay up to date with our progress, but it ain't bad either. We recommend "liking" us on Facebook and/or following us on Twitter for the most current news. Thanks for reading and remember, good things come to those who wait.

Anna and Robbie
Ritual Chocolate

Friday, October 1, 2010

Get your waffles!

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Taste of Place and Xilinx 'Cross Race

Last weekend was a good one. On Saturday we were at the cyclocross race at Xilinx selling our Belgian waffles. On Sunday, we were able to spread the good word about our chocolate at the Root Sellers’ Taste of Place. Combined, those two events were a lot of work, but it was great to meet the people we did and it was good to get some honest feedback about our goods.

The Xilinx race on Saturday, September 25th was our first attempt at the cyclocross waffle stand. Despite scrambling to put together the final touches, the feedback was good and we’ll be out for more races to come. Perhaps our biggest barrier was introducing Colorado folks to the traditional Belgian waffle. It looks a bit smaller, but it’s much more dense and has a very different texture than what we know on this side of the Atlantic. For example, we don’t make a batter, it’s a yeast-risen dough that must be kneaded. It’s also very sweet, so maple syrup isn’t the best topping to add—we recommend a little dusting of powdered sugar, Justin’s Chocolate Hazelnut Butter, or just eating it straight up.

On the following day, Sunday, we attended The Root Sellers' Taste of Place, an indie food market for unlicensed food makers. While our waffles are made in a commercial kitchen and sold completely legally, our chocolate is still in its development phase. In fact, part of the reason that we decided to make waffles in the first place was to help lift our chocolate company off the ground. The Taste of Place was great. We were able to educate a lot of people about the chocolate making process and we met some that were already quasi-experts. For those that went home with a bar, we'd love to hear some feedback.

Of course, there is never a quiet moment these days. This week, we've been planning future 'cross races for our waffle stand and finished processing a large batch of our sun dried, Guapiles, Costa Rica batch. This batch should be even better than our last because we tried doing something a littler differently during our milling phase.

This weekend, well be at both days of the Frisco 'cross race with our waffle stand. With Fall in the air and the aspens changing color, it should be a beautiful weekend. See you there.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Taste of Place: A Boulder Artisan Food Market

When: Sunday, September 26, 2010 from 11:00am to 2:00pm.

Where: 3280 Valmont St. in Boulder

Come to the market! Get all the details on the Taste of Place page!

Do you make yummy things at home? Sign up to be a vendor on the Vendors page!

A few weeks back, a friend of ours emailed a listing she found on Craigslist about an artisanal, amateur food event in the works in Boulder. We thought it looked pretty cool and perhaps a good way to begin building a following for our chocolate, so we signed up as a vendor.

Stop by if you get a chance. We'll have our newest chocolate made with sun dried beans from Costa Rica in stock.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Oh yeah, we have a blog

Hi everybody,

You deserve an update about what's happening with Ritual Chocolate. Sorry that it has been so long! We've been slacking, hard, with the Ritual blog.

 Most importantly, we are still going to produce chocolate and we are still on our way to becoming a "real" business. In fact, we just made our first "large" purchase of beans, 1,200 pounds! Most big manufacturers would scoff at such a feeble amount, but we're not a big manufacturer.

Technically we're already a business, actually, an LLC, but we're not "in business" yet. We've got some very exciting plans for the Fall. We're not quite ready to reveal what they are but we'll make our grand announcement in the coming weeks. Hint: It involves Belgium.

Honestly, one of the biggest speed bumps in this last year has been a stubborn broken foot. Robbie's left foot, actually. He broke it in August 2009 and things were looking good for awhile, but that trip we took to Costa Rica was a major set back in the healing process. After the trip he put his big black walking boot back on and it wasn't until the end of June 2010 that it came off. During this time, getting back on our feet, literally, was the most important goal and we set the business planning aside. With no exact recovery date known, it was hard to imagine running around a factory on one leg.

Now, the foot is getting better. We're speaking with local commercial kitchens that may allow us to produce our chocolate in their facilities. We've got beans! And we've got a plan that begins at the end of this month to begin "doing business." As soon as our chocolate is ready to be sold (legally), you will be the first to know. We can't wait for you to give it a try.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

A glimpse at a day in the life of...

Doing a cut test of the beans we brought back from Panama

Robbie building a post-roast cooling screen. 

Screen for cooling beans done and done. And proud of it too.

Anna shuffles the beans around as they cool (they cool quickly when the air temperature is +-50F). Nice Converge hoodie, Anna.

Gluten-free, dairy-free, poppy seed, and cacao nib pancakes. Dreamy.

What's the most important thing in life? Breakfast. Especially gluten-free, dairy-free, poppy seed, and cacao nib pancakes.

Beans, Boulder and the Biz

As of late, we’ve often heard the question, “When will you be selling chocolate?” Big long “sigh.” If starting a business were easy, we’d have bounds of chocolate awaiting your oral pleasure, but of course, that isn’t the case.

Not only are we starting a business, but we are beginning an adventure in chocolate making. Initially it doesn’t sound too difficult, but there are many things that we need to consider before becoming an established chocolate producer. Some of these speed bumps are as follows: sourcing good beans, becoming an importer, becoming certified organic and fair trade if possible, producing a kick ass bar of chocolate, wrapper design, finding a building that is safe for food production, finding and acquiring the right equipment, writing the business plan, etc, etc, etc… Did I mention raising start-up money and coming up with a name that is worthy of who we are and the quality of chocolate that we make?

Despite the many speed bumps, hurdles and steeplechases, we’ve made a lot of progress. We’ve found several bean growers that we are very, very, very excited about. We’re becoming more and more confident with our chocolate making skills with every new batch and we’re learning that experience is the best teacher. Finally, we have a great circle of support and we wouldn’t want to start making chocolate in any other city than Boulder.

Everyday is a learning experience and we love every minute of it. Making (good) chocolate is very challenging, which is actually part of the reason we chose to make chocolate. As in most aspects of life, the biggest challenges are the most rewarding, and this is proving to be the most difficult task that we have encountered. On the bright side, if we’re ever in doubt, all we have to do is taste some of our chocolate and we’ll remember why we decided to do this in the first place.

I just wanted to give a quick update about what we are up to and that we still plan to be Boulder’s first bean to bar chocolate company. Today I roasted two test batches of beans from a farm in Costa Rica. They are not as fruity as our last batch but I think they should produce a very good, well-rounded chocolate. But first, we’re going to make a batch of white chocolate tomorrow for Anna’s sister’s birthday (she’s a fan of white chocolate).

We have five single origin bars currently: Panama, Southern Costa Rica, Central Costa Rica, Northern Costa Rica and Sambirano Valley, Madagascar. Let us know if you’d like a taste.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Organic vs. Conventional Bananas... ORGANIC!

While we were down in Costa Rica searching for beans, we learned dozens of lessons, one of them was about conventional banana farming practices. What we learned is that conventional banana farming is a bad thing. Buy organic.

If you'd like to know more about why, check out our article at the Elephant Journal.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Taking a break while hot on the trail of good beans

Prepare to be cheesified...

During our time down in Costa Rica we took a couple days to cool off... or should I say... heat up at the hot springs around the Arenal Volcano. I don't want to ruin the surprise, so check out the ultra-homemade video below:

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

We're back from Costa Rica!

Our three weeks in Costa Rica and Panama proved to be a very good learning experience. There's at least a couple stories for every day we were there. I think I shot upwards of a 1000 photos and almost an hour of video footage and I can't wait to share it with you all soon.

For now I'd just like to share a few photos from the trip.

One of the indigenous farmers we visited required taking a canoe up the river. This also means that for them to deliver their beans, they have to go the same route.

After the canoe ride up the river we had to ride in the back of a cattle truck on dirt roads to reach the farm.

 This is a Capuchin monkey. He was very angry with us for walking through his territory.

A coffee shop in Puerto Viejo was serving chocolate shots, similar to an espresso shot without sugar, using beans from a nearby cooperative.

At this cacao farm we enjoyed a few coconut refrescos.

A farmer drops off some of his organic beans at this cooperative in Panama.

This is what a well maintained cacao grove looks like.

Unlike most fruits, the cacao pod can grow directly from the trunk of the tree. (However, these might not be Theobroma Cacao... I think they are some other Theobroma species)

We found an entire river that was hot right next to a hot spring business that was charging $100 per person.

I know this photo is obscene, but it's the closest shot I got of a howler monkey. 

This tree was filled with a family of howler monkeys but they were quite far away.

Try finding some of these books at your local library... We didn't.

Caribbean postcard shot. Cahuita.

While at one of the indigenous farms we found a poison arrow frog—they are only poisonous if they get into your bloodstream.

We were told that this snake has enough venom to kill five adults.

We needed a photo posing next to a cacao tree right?

It's harder to catch waves on a bike.

We spent a morning snorkling off the coast of Cahuita—we mostly saw schools of fish and sting rays.

This very large spider was on the balcony of one of our hotels.

The mucilage around a cacao seed is very enjoyable.

We saw this three-toed sloth just as it was climbing down a large tree to take his tri-weekly poop, which apparently is a rare thing to witness.

At this farm the workers use a series of cable lines to bring large amounts of cacao back to the processing center in one trip. This guy is carrying about 700-800 pounds...

This cacao farm is the home of about 40 to 50 wild two-toed sloths.

We had dinner two nights in a row at this restaurant because the view of the Arenal volcano was so breathtaking.

We weren't 100% sure that we'd be able to bring beans back for testing, but we successfully brought back over 60 pounds.

And yes, we started a batch our first morning back. We were very excited to put all of our new knowledge to use. 

Robbie and Anna

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Radio Silence March 6-28

If you’re reading this, chances are Anna or I gave a you a sample of our latest Panama batch, which has our web address right above “Made in Boulder, Colorado.” You might even have a few questions you’d like to ask. Let me breakdown any questions you might have about us as briefly as I can (it’s past my bedtime and I know that it’s a sin to ask for more than 2 minutes of attention for a single webpage).

Who: Anna and Robbie. At the moment the name of our brand is Chocolate Baar, which is an acronym for “By Anna And Robbie.” We have other titles that we are seriously considering but this will do for now.

What: We make chocolate from the bean to the bar, which is different than simply being a chocolatier—we are chocolate makers. We source our beans from around the world with a focus on Central and South America as well as the Caribbean.

Where: Currently, we are just experimenting on small-scale equipment with the chocolate making process at home in Boulder, Colorado.

When: Making chocolate has been a dream of ours since about June 2009. From March 6th to March 28th we will be in Costa Rica with the goal of securing a few good cacao sources. If everything goes as planned, we hope to be in full production by June, exactly a year since chocolate making was just a dream.

If you have tried our chocolate, we’d like to know what you think. If you have any questions (how to get some, about us, what we’re listening to right now), please feel free to write. While we’re in Costa Rica we’ll be away from our phones and computers, so don’t expect to hear from us until about April 1st.

Yours truly,

Anna and Robbie

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Seductive Chocolate for a Mindful Valentine’s Day

The basic ingredients for a romantic Valentine’s Day celebration are fairly simple: flowers, wine and chocolate.

In years past, chances are you’ve bought poor-tasting chocolate for your Valentine from a big business that could give a hoot about the environment…and your health. Don’t do that this year—take a moment to familiarize yourself with some of our favorite eco-friendly, high-quality chocolate makers below....

Click here to read more about Askinosie, Taza, Seth Ellis, Alter Eco and Theo.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Costa Rica Bound in March

It’s official. Anna and I have booked our airline reservations to Costa Rica. We’ll be arriving at the San Jose Juan Santamaria International airport on March 6th and we won’t be coming back until three weeks later. We have many goals while we are there, including finding farmers that we can work with in the future and mostly learning about what it takes to produce good quality cacao.

Our first week will be spent with Steve DeVries and Pam Williams in the Ecole Chocolat educational setting. It will be vastly helpful for us to work with people that know their way in and out of the bean-to-bar business and know the cacao growing hot spots in Costa Rica. Our original itinerary called for just one week down South, but we were able to work things out for us to stay an extra two weeks. This will give us a chance to explore and deepen our understanding of sourcing cacao from Central America.

The majority of our time will be spent in Costa Rica but we would love to visit some of the cooperatives in Panama and hopefully discover some organic growers in Nicaragua. Developing positive relationships with the farmers and cooperatives will be an essential step toward gaining momentum for Chocolate Baar. The better we prepare for our travels in Costa Rica—the better our short trip will be spent.

As March approaches, we’ll keep you up to date on some of our travel plans. In the mean time, we have beans from Panama and Madagascar on the way and they should be arriving by late next week. Can't wait to taste the finished product! Thanks for reading.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

First Batch

It’s been a longtime coming but we finally made our first batch of chocolate—doing the whole process, from the bean to the bar. Considering we ran into a few speed bumps, I think we did a pretty good job. Half expecting the end product to be downright inedible, we were surprised discover that our first batch was actually pretty good.

Here’s how it happened
First of all, we happened to get a sample of some criollo beans from Haiti through a local coffee shop that was interested in importing coffee beans. We received the beans a few weeks before some of our essential equipment was delivered, so we had some time to get familiar with the roasting process.

I’ll tell you now that our first attempt to roast a small amount of these beans was a total disaster. Using a conventional oven without a confection fan we successfully cooked them into a burned cinder. Yup, there was no chance of salvaging those little beans… and to think, they had come so far only to be botched.

After about seven or eight roasting attempts we finally found a technique to stabilize the temperature in the oven. Then we set our detailed notes aside and waited for our Spectra 10 melanger to be delivered.

Going for it
I was still at work when it first arrived and Anna was on the scene to unpack the 40 pound wet grinder that arrived at our doorstep. It was only a matter of hours before we began concocting our first batch.

The first thing we had to do was roast the rest of the beans. This time around we were successful in giving the beans a reasonably good roast without cooking out all the flavor and without burning them to a crisp. Fortunately that evening it was only about 0-degrees Fahrenheit outside so cooling the beans was a cinch.

Next, with the aid of a potato masher, a duck-shaped hair dryer and a large glass bowl, we took to winnowing our freshly roasted beans. This took a little longer than expected but after about five minutes we had a good amount of nibs in the bowl with a kitchen-floor full of husks.

Not wanting to overload our out-of-the-box concher, we ground all of the nibs into a fine powder in our handheld coffee grinder. We also did this with the sugar, resulting in a fine powdery substance. In addition, we threw the conch bowl into the oven at about 120-degrees along with our powdered nibs and sugar. This step helped to get everything up to temperature as a way of inducing the liquefying process.

As a way of making our first batch a little bit more manageable, we knew we would need additional cocoa butter. Impatient to get started we headed down to Whole Foods to find out if it was possible to buy cocoa butter. To our dismay the answer was no… at least, not food-grade cocoa butter. But we did find some 1oz. tubes in the Whole Body section of organic cocoa butter. Not having any other options, we went ahead and bought a few ounces at about two-and-a-half dollars each.

Once everything appeared to be nice and warm we started up the conch and began adding the ingredients slowly. This is another step that I didn’t expect to take as long as it did. We had to add the ingredients very slowly and keep the hot hair dryer pointed at the mixture for almost an hour before we were comfortable with the state of the cocoa liquor.

Now all we had to do was wait. This proved to be a difficult task—not because we are that impatient but because we live in a studio carriage house, which meant that we had to listen to this noisy little contraption at full volume all night. With the combination of excitement and the noise of the conch I probably slept two to three hours that night.

6:00am rolled around and Anna was up getting ready to teach her 7:00am yoga class at Alaya. I couldn’t sleep anyway so I popped up and decided that the liquor was done being processed. I didn’t have to be to an eye exam until 10am so I decided to temper and mold the chocolate that morning. After failing to temper the chocolate for a solid hour and a half because it was too thick to work with I had to give up and bike over to my appointment.

That night we bought one more ounce of cocoa butter and tossed it into the mixture to be conched again. The next day we invited a friend over to show him our creation in the making and he took a turn at mixing the liquor while we were remelting it in the double boiler to temper. With his overly strong arms he broke our rubber spatula that doubled as a thermometer. After making sure that no broken fragments made it into the chocolate we set it aside once again to temper another day.

Finally, on January 10, 2010 we set out to temper our chocolate for the third time with a new thermospatula. The chocolate was nice and flowing and we had no problem reaching our high and low temperatures. We had enough chocolate liquor to make about 70 bite-sized chocolate bars. They cooled quickly sitting by the sliding glass door and when they were ready they exhibited the loud snap of a well tempered bar.

After running over to Office Depot to buy more ink for the printer, we printed off labels to wrap around each of our little bars, which read: “Operation: Chocolate, Single Origin: Haiti, Bean Type: Criollo, Batch #1 Jan. 10, 2010, Bean to Bar – Organic, Boulder, CO”

And there you have it. The longwinded story of our first Chocolate Baar creation.