Welcome to the Friends Making Art Series, Part 2 with Ritual Chocolate. This is a monthly series focusing on local artists and crafts people who are making some seriously inspiring work. I have been working on the interview and photo shoot with Ritual for the last month and I must say they are a pretty rad pair.
Owners Robbie and Anna have been working on starting this business over the last year, after hours, with three other jobs to make ends meet. These two are passionate lovers of chocolate and the craft of making it by hand. I just recently heard that they have acquired 8 new shops to sell out of and will be expanding at an astronomical rate. Let’s dive right into their chocolately goodness and see what drives this couple to create:
Mr. Lentz: People probably think you started a chocolate business because…well…then you could eat more chocolate. Tell us really what made two young entrepreneurial minds go the way of the Cacao Bean.
Ritual: We wanted to start a business together that we were passionate about and that we could put our values into. We would sit and discuss our ideas for the perfect business while eating copious amounts of chocolate. Eventually the obvious hit us and we haven’t looked back since. Of course, the initial interest was there from our pure enjoyment of chocolate, but once we researched the process, the history, and the source of chocolate, our passion and interest grew. Now we’re just plain obsessed! Not only did we want to make chocolate, we wanted to make it in the way that we make it now. There was something attractive to us about the idea of honing a unique and challenging craft.
Mr. Lentz: You two are somewhat unique in the chocolate industry, tell us a bit about how you control your quality of tastiness.
Ritual: We are unique in that we do the whole process from “bean to bar”, which means that we roast, winnow (remove the shell), mill, age, temper, and finally mold our chocolate. There are very few companies that actually do the chocolate making. Having control over the whole process allows us to refine each step to get the best flavor from the cacao beans. One of our efforts that guides us from day to day is to see just how well we can make chocolate. And following this guidance we’re constantly experimenting with new methods along each step of the process to find out if we can continue to improve our chocolate.
^^The image above is a glimpse at the many different types of crystals that can form in chocolate. Ritual Chocolate perfects their unique taste by only allowing one specific type of crystal to form.
Mr. Lentz: Tell us one thing we probably don’t know about chocolate.
Ritual: Chocolate was originally made as a drink and often used in ritualistic ceremonies by the Mayans, Aztecs, and Olmecs. Cocoa beans were also used as a currency and as a way of paying tribute to the Aztec ruler. Solid eating chocolate wasn’t made until 1847 in England by Joseph Fry. Cacao originated in the Americas and coffee originated in Africa. Now they are both grown on either continents in disproportionate amounts. Nowadays, about 70% of the worlds cocoa supply is from Africa and about 75% of the worlds chocolate is produced by just four companies. Those are just a few facts, but the world of chocolate is highly complex and fascinating and we find ourselves learning something new everyday. So in short, there’s a lot to learn and we’re still learning.
Mr. Lentz: Is there anything in the process of making chocolate that can…. kill you?
Ritual: Remember in Willy Wonka when the fat kid falls into the river of chocolate? Well there you have it… But yes, if one of our heads were to fall onto or into one of our grinders, we’d be stone ground dead. Our roll mill refiner is also capable of pulling all the skin off of your hand and flattening it to 1/15th the thickness of a sheet of normal paper.
Mr. Lentz: If you only had, say… $50 Trillion dollars right now, what would you do with your chocolate?
Ritual: We would move to an idyllic valley in the mountains and renovate a pre-existing building to house our chocolate factory that would be right next to a babbling brook. We’d then build a traditional watermill to power our conches (chocolate refiners) and use solar to power the rest of the factory. Because we were in the mountains where it’s nice and cold, we wouldn’t have to rely on air conditioning to keep our chocolate cool. Then we’d invite our closest friends to come live and work at our chocolate monastery/commune. Where we’d all live a monkish life devoted to the art and craft of chocolate. Living in peace and harmony with mother nature and one another. Anna would also build an animal sanctuary for pot bellied pigs, llamas and whatever other cute, furry creature was in need of loving.
Mr. Lentz: What does a day in the life of a chocolatier look like?
Ritual: We have several types of days…
A Day: We like to roast in the morning when our sense of taste and smell are at their best. After lunch it’s hard to accurately gauge the roast of the cocoa beans. Then we spend the next 6 hours taking our chocolate through the milling phases. Then after what has already turned into an 8-10 hour day, we’re then able to pour our refined chocolate into the conche, where it will continue to splash around for several more days. Then we clean the machines, sweep, mop and clean utensils until we’re ready to fall down from fatigue.
B Day: Temper, mold, and wrap bars until we want to cry. And that’s on a good day, when we nail our temper on the first try.
C Day: Ride our bikes all around Boulder delivering chocolate and reaching out to new stores.
D Day: Pay bills. Deposit checks. Take care of the past week of accounting. Talk to our printer and paper maker. Talk to the government about food. Pay the government to sell food. Repeat.
You get the idea?
Mr. Lentz: Are you following any specific chocolatiers that inspire your work?
Ritual: Steve DeVries has been our primary inspiration to make the best chocolate. We’re inspired by his approach to chocolate making, in that he is always perfecting his methods and trying new ways to produce a better chocolate.
Mr. Lentz: What inspires you each day to make chocolate?
Ritual: Between batches we often go days, and sometimes weeks without eating our own chocolate. And sometimes when we begin to despair at the end of a long day, when the floors still need mopping, or rent checks need writing, all it takes is a taste of our chocolate to remember why we do this all in the first place. Perhaps what inspires us most is to constantly visualize our dream factory in the mountains. Reaching that goal would fill us with joy beyond words.
Mr. Lentz: In one sentence each, give the best advice you can to those interested in becoming chocolate makers.
Anna: Make sure that chocolate is your true passion, because to be truly successful and to stand out in this industry you need to eat, drink, breathe chocolate every moment of the day.
Robbie: Learn Spanish
Mr. Lentz: Where can we and will we be able to buy your fantastic bars?
Ritual: We are currently selling our bars in Boulder at Cured and Piece, Love and Chocolate. Our taster size pieces are available at Saxy’s Cafe, Alfalfa’s, Caffe Sole, and Atlas Purveyors. For an updated store locator, go here: http://www.ritualchocolate.com/buy/buylocal/
Many thanks to Anna and Robbie for taking the time to teach me about their chocolate business and pose for some wicked shots (they are both natural models which made it all the easier).
Ritual Chocolate is a local Boulder/Denver company owned and operated by this magnificent duo. You can find their current products events and more here: RitualChocolate.com