by Lisa Talley | firstname.lastname@example.org
The door opens, and within seconds the air explodes with the intoxicating smell of chocolate. It ripples and swarms, and finds the intricate crevices of the human sensory receptors, cramming in its rich and inviting aroma. It instantly inspires a slew of pleasant childhood memories.
“It’s not exactly Willy Wonka… but welcome to our factory.” The charming, yet humble introduction by Elisia Otavi, chocolate maker and founder of Raphio Chocolate.
It may not be an expansive playground of wild colors, weird contraptions, and physics-defying candy, but there’s no question that there is a hint of magic in the air. And in all honesty, what’s the most important thing to any chocolate lover anyway? The chocolate itself, of course.
Inspired by her sons, Raphael and Rio, Elisia wanted to make a chocolate bar that she would be confident to serve them. No fillers, no preservatives, no artificial flavors, just healthy chocolate.
Seems a little like an oxymoron, but real chocolate is actually good for you.
“Doctors do recommend eating dark chocolate every day, the only rule is that the chocolate has to have at least 72% cocoa content. Meaning, the percentage amount of cocoa in the bar eaten,” Explains Otavi.
The entire Raphio collection contains a minimum of 72% with some going above and beyond to the 82%, 92% and even 102% cocoa levels. What’s more is that each batch of chocolate is made from scratch using less than five ingredients, most of which (if not all) is organic, a significant departure from the more common and commercial brand of chocolate we often find in the grocery store.
Real chocolate is made from cacao beans, which are found in cacao pods, which grow on cacao trees. Cacao beans essentially consist of cacao powder and cocoa butter – and when ground or milled over a period of time that cacao butter melts and mixes with the crushed beans developing into the smooth, melted chocolate consistency we’re all so familiar with. However, most commercial dark chocolate makers press the butter out and replace it with an oil substitute.
“Cocoa powder is what remains after the process of pressing the cocoa butter out of the ground cacao beans is complete. To make chocolate from the cocoa powder, the large commercial chocolate producers typically add the oil substitute in place of the highly-prized cocoa butter, such as soybean oil, palm oil, canola oil, or some other cheaper vegetable oil. To mix them, they add soy lecithin as an emulsifier which is a waste product… and other products to stabilize the chocolate,” Otavi further expands.
During this part of the commercial process, the chocolate tastes so bad that the chocolate producers have to add a significant amount of sugar and vanilla extract to cover up the flavor. The over processing of the bean removes the chocolate from its natural state and in doing so, eliminates any health benefits that were initially present.
Labeled ‘Single Origin Artisan Craft Dark Chocolate,’ Otavi is present through the entire process of ‘bean-to-bar’ for all of Raphio’s products. Hand-selecting the cocoa beans, the flavors are brought out through the roasting – to which Otavi will taste the beans herself. Afterwards, the beans then go through a few days of continuous grinding where the level of organic cane sugar is determined and added. Directly following is an aging period, and lastly, depending on the type of bar, the chocolate will achieve its final flavor profile before being molded in their signature Raphio shape. That’s it. No fuss, no muss.
One of the truly unique characteristics of Raphio Chocolate is that the chocolate isn’t always the same, meaning that the flavors can change from batch to batch… and it’s how Elisia Otavi prefers it.
“Just like wine and coffee, the soil, climate, rainfall, and other environmental factors do play a role in affecting the flavors of the cacao beans which are grown on the trunk of the cacao tree. The different flavor notes in my single-origin chocolate bars are pretty distinctive depending on which country and region the tree is grown,” she offers.
On the wrapping of every bar, handwritten on the back of the label, is the batch number. Because of the above factors, the chocolate can take on a myriad of complex flavors – however subtle – that change from batch to batch – much like wine. As with coffee, flavor profiles will bloom during the roasting process, allowing any natural toffee or nutty notes to come to the front. Otavi isn’t interested in deconstructing the bean to force a flavor that never existed in the first place for the sake of maintaining one flavor and one flavor only, as a craft chocolate maker she’s focused on harnessing the true characteristics of the cacao for a rich experience every time.
Visitors can also get a closer look at the chocolate making process by taking a tour of Raphio Chocolate’s factory. Bonus: there’s a tasting at the end.
The Chocolate Factory Tour
Could you blame us for taking the tour? Talking chocolate just isn’t the same if it isn’t coming from the first-hand experience. Fortunately for us, Elisia and her husband invited us to their factory to get an inside look at how their chocolate is made.
Near the corner of Barstow and First, in a quaint and unsuspecting suite, is Raphio Chocolate. You can spot them by their signature and ornate logo design displayed in the window.
Otavi takes us to the back room – a quick two room jump from the front door – where the smell of chocolate seems to be bursting at the seams. There, she walks us through her roasting process and then proceeds to hand us each a single bean.
Somewhat like a walnut, the bean cracks under the pressure of our fingers. A light shell fragment away from the more substantial pieces of the bean and we’re told to eat one of the more solid parts. It was almost like eating a chocolate covered coffee bean – chocolate notes were present, but a prominent bitterness immediately overtook the sweetness. This – in its near unaltered state – was the authentic taste of chocolate in its purest form.
Otavi takes us through the separation process where the beans are crushed, then separated into cacao nibs (the inside of the bean) and cacao husk – the outer shell of the bean which is not thrown out. Instead, it’s used to create a sort of loose leaf tea – this helps to ensure that Raphio Chocolate’s process is virtually waste-free.
The next room – moving closer to the front – holds the grinders. Want to know where all that explosion of chocolatey goodness in the air is coming from? Here. The room with the grinders. *tip – try not to drool.
This is the stage where Otavi decides the percentage of cacao by adding the organic cane sugar to the mix. However, if it’s the 102% cacao, no sugar is added, and the ‘chocolate-making’ ends here.
The next step was what I found the most surprising – I assumed that after the mixing, the chocolate would be molded, chilled, and packaged, however, it wasn’t. The chocolate first goes through an aging process. Again, the comparison to wine deepens.
Chocolate, as Otavi explains it, will continue to develop specific flavors and change profiles during an aging process that is anywhere from 2 – 4 weeks. Huge blocks of chocolate line the shelves of their grinding room, patiently waiting to be plucked from the stack and molded for public enjoyment.
Once a block of chocolate is ready, it’s taken through a tempering process to achieve that beautiful, glossy finish with a crisp, familiar snap when broken.
And now we’re on to the tasting.
(the only bar in the Raphio line with 72%, 82%, 92%, and 102% cacao)
We start with a sample of the 72% cacao. It is reminiscent of most craft dark chocolate I’ve tasted, but the Ecuador carries a nuttiness that pushes back the bitter bite of the cacao.
Next up, the 82% cacao. As a dark chocolate lover, this hit the sweet spot (figuratively) on the spectrum of punchy cacao with a full body of flavor that teeters on the edge of being coffee-esque.
*tip – rinse with water between each tasting
We’re on to the 92% cacao, and we’re getting closer to that real original flavor. The punch hardened on the taste buds and stayed on my pallet long after the chocolate has melted. Definitely a great way to pack a lot of flavor into smaller portions.
102% – this is not for the faint of heart. No sugar, no sweetness, just pure cacao. If you like your whiskey neat and your beer sour, this is for you.
Coming back down to the 72% line was a near shock in terms of the difference. For me, it almost widened my pallet – jolting it awake if you will – to the depth of flavors present in the other bars.
The Peru line held a sweetness closer to that of brown sugar mixed with a little bit of fruit, complimenting the cacao by using its bitterness to give the bar its full breadth of flavor.
At the time of my writing this, this bar was out of stock on the Raphio website. The Nicaragua steps closer to the brown sugar with a more profound range, without any fruity notes to combat the cacao.
A personal favorite. Where the other bars stayed true to the round, full-bodied flavor of the cacao, the Tanzania bar shared the spotlight equally with its different characteristics.
*tip – do not chew the chocolate, but let it melt on the tongue
The cacao hits the taste buds, but almost immediately backs off, what replaces it is something akin to honey. The melting chocolate coats the mouth with a roughly similar consistency, but as quickly as it arrived, it disappears, and the honey has transformed into an unfamiliar fruit. By the time I think I’ve figured it out, the cacao reappears and finishes the experience.
Peppermint, Coffee, and Clementine Olive Oil
New to the Raphio line is the inclusion bars utilizing additional flavors. Peppermint – using organic candy canes – is here just in time for the holiday season. Coffee – featuring coffee flavors from locals Kuppa Joy Coffee and Clementine Olive Oil, another collaboration with the local company, Enzo Olive Oil Company.
The Clementine was a pleasant surprise, hearing the words ‘olive oil’ doesn’t inspire a clear direction of how this flavor is going to fit with the dark chocolate, but one taste explains it all. The bright citrus cuts through the cacao and a symphony of orange flavor bursts in the mouth.
It’s clear how this bar won Gold in the International Chocolate Salon as well as Gold in the Best Chocolate Bar category. Their Coffee bar also took home a Bronze.
But of course, each person’s pallet is going to be different, and you’ll have to do a little bit of tasting on your own to find your perfect dark chocolate adventure.
Raphio Chocolate, the locally owned and operated artisan craft dark chocolate company, invites you to take a tour, partake in a tasting, and experience a time-honored treat in a delicious yet healthy way.
Follow them on Facebook and Instagram @Raphio.Chocolate to stay up to date on tours, news, and giveaways. A full location of where to find their bars and cacao products for purchase can be found on their website www.RaphioChocolate.com.