It’s difficult to name a more iconic duo than coffee and chocolate. This December, Revelator teamed up with Atlanta-based small-batch chocolatier, Xocolatl, to present an epicurean’s dream: their Love & Happiness blood orange and raspberry infused dark chocolate, and our Gatare single origin with notes of blackberry jam, hibiscus and brown sugar.
Revelator Coffee’s Eden Marie Abramowicz met with Elaine Read and Matt Weyandt, the husband and wife team behind Xocolatl, to talk about process, development, and the many commonalities between specialty coffee and chocolate.
Much like Revelator’s coffee, sourcing the right cacao for their confectionary begins with a tightly-woven community of dedicated farmers. “We work directly with farmers and farmer co-ops who hold themselves to environmental and social impact standards,” Read says, while sorting through a pile of cacao beans ready for roasting.
“We’re looking for quality. We look for beans that have very unique and fine flavors about them, and we pay careful attention to the growing processes, like shade-grown as opposed to plantation-grown.”
As with coffee, the cocoa bean is more a seed than anything else. “Coffee comes from the stone of the fruit, whereas cacao comes from the seeds of the cocoa pods,” Read says. “The pods come in a variety of colors depending on their ripeness. They begin as a light green color and develop into shades of aquamarine, purple and bright yellow when fully ripe.” The brightly colored wrappers used for their chocolate bars are based on the color palettes of the pods.
“It’s similar to cracking open a cantaloupe, only the cocoa pods generally contain 40-50 seeds at a time.” When dealing with raw cacao seeds, smaller is definitely better. Most of the decadent flavors we find with chocolate come from the smaller seeds, Read explains.
Much like in the coffee trade, farmers can choose to sell the smaller beans at origin for various prices, or they can get more creative with how they use them if they’re not selected for chocolate-making. “In many cases, the farmers get paid by the total weight of their harvest, so you can’t really blame them for tossing the little ones, but we always set those aside during the sorting process.”
The sorting process can be very soothing, says Read. “Once we’ve imported the beans, we sort through them to pick out anything that’s not cacao. Sometimes we even find seashells in the mix if we’re handling beans from Tanzania!” It’s common to find little treasures in the batch; friendly reminders that you are dealing with authentic fruits of the Earth. “Sometimes we may come across tiny pebbles from the farm or something like that, but of course we don’t want to include these pieces in the final product, so we sift them out,” Read says. “We also pick out the beans that have been stuck together during the fermentation process, because those will not roast properly.“
“This is where the ‘TLC’ comes in!” Abramowicz remarks.
“With more industrial chocolate, the process isn’t as meticulous. We pay attention to the details.”
The fermentation process for cocoa beans takes a bit longer than that of coffee beans, and the drying development is even longer in some cases. “The sun-drying process can take up to a month with some of the more tropical environments,” Read says. “These places are consistently wet and covered by the shade of the jungle. It really depends on the location.”
Additionally, when sorting through a fresh batch of seeds, the husk of the seed is just as vital to the finished product. “The husk of the seed contains all of the famous health benefits that you hear about cacao. It’s loaded with nitrogen, and while we don’t want those for our chocolate due to their intense bitterness, we like to add the husks from Nicaragua to our herbal cacao tea because it brings out a nice earthy flavor,” Read says. “Any leftover husks from the sorting process we give to French Market Flowers, a local flower farmer who uses the husks for mulch.”
The roasting process is where the flavors are born. Different beans come with different roasting profiles. A lighter roast yields a more fruity, acidic and bright persona, whereas darker roasts ignite a more mellow, caramel flavor.
“I remember the first time we visited Revelator in Birmingham, I saw that we share very similar roasting practices,” Read says. Elaine motions to a pile of beans from the Pangoa farming cooperative in Peru. “We’ve been using Pangoa beans for about two years now, they’re phenomenal,” she said. “I love their coffee too, and I’m excited that Revelator has started working with them as well.”
Following the roasting process, the beans are laid out to cool and then to crack. The broken cacao pieces, called “nibs”, are then pressed through the grinders. Matt Weyandt, co-founder of Xocolatl, is posted by one of the machines overseeing the production space.
“We use stone grinders, very similar to the classic European-style machines,” Weyandt says. “You’ve got two big stone wheels in each grinder with a marble slab underneath. These grind for about 3-4 days straight, non-stop.”
The team takes pride in using only whole ingredients with their artisan treats – no added butters or flavoring. The nibs are crushed and heated through a natural grinding process, which eventually liquifies them into liquid chocolate. When it comes to building their flavored chocolate bars, the ingredients are simple.
“When we make the mint bars, we simply toss in whole mint leaves with the chocolate,” Weyandt says. “The Love and Happiness Bar gets freeze-dried raspberries, and that’s it!”
“We’ve always wanted to do a raspberry bar,” she says. “it’s been in the works for more than three years now.” Concocting a fresh new flavored bar is like conducting a science experiment, with a handful of different variables to account for. “We never mess with refinement until the very end,” Read says. “We focus on what flavors work well together and how different roasting profiles affect the end result just as much as the tempering process.”
She explains that the Madagascar beans tend to be more acidic and fruity, and if need be they can adjust the grinding process to influence the flavor accordingly. “The raspberry bar is essentially all fiber, so it’s going to have a very dry texture to it. We knew we needed to add some kind of fat back into the bar to combat the texture of the raspberries, so we stumbled across this incredible Blood Orange olive oil by local purveyor Strippaggio. The tart, citrusy burst from both fruits mixed with the olive oil mitigates the dryness, making a very creamy bar.”
For the Love and Happiness Bar, they chose to work with the Pangoa beans for their higher-fat percentage. “The level of cocoa butter with each bean varies depending on how far away from the Equator the beans are grown,” Read notes, “it’s such a nerdy fun fact to follow!”
Matt and Elaine are true magicians of their micro-factory, carefully polishing each step in the process before stocking the shelves. “Of course, if we had a full-time team dedicated to experimenting with different flavors for bars, the process would run a lot faster,” Weyandt says. “Everything began in our apartment. We had a smaller, table-top version of these machines which usually grind up to 90 pounds of chocolate at a time, whereas we were doing 8 pounds at a time.”
Going from farmer’s markets to operating Atlanta’s premiere chocolate factory, the duo agreed years ago that quality, small-batch chocolate was a true craft.
“After having our second child we realized there’s never going to be a ‘good’ time to get things going, so we took to the jungles of Costa Rica for several months, came back home with a duffle bag full of beans and started making chocolate at home.”
From start to finish, the road to a completed batch of chocolate can take up to a week, with side stops in between dedicated to tastings, experiments, and simple revelry in the process. For Mark and Elaine, another day at the office is another day for creation.
“We’re never married to an idea, it just sort of takes on its own persona,” Read says.
Be it a classic pour-over, delicate tea, or artisanal chocolate, Revelator and Xocolatl uncover the magic in the process.Shop The Perfect Pair in Revelator's online shop, or at retail locations, while supplies last.