Chocolate from Scratch: Bean-to-Bar in the NW


IN THE NORTHWEST, CHOCOLATE IS BECOMING THE NEW COFFEE. Scores of artisanal chocolate makers are opening, and beanto-bar companies―once a rarity―are on the rise. Unlike chocolatiers, who adapt premade chocolate to suit their vision, chocolate makers start with raw beans and perform every necessary step to transform them into utter deliciousness.

Theo, Seattle
Smells of chocolate and rain hang in the air around the Theo factory. North America’s first certified organic and fair-trade, bean-to-bar chocolate maker offers daily tours which include lots of delicious samples. Tours start in a chocolate classroom, where participants are schooled on chocolate origins, terroir, the dark side of the chocolate industry and why certifications like “fair for life” matter. Next, guests don hairnets―and sometimes beard nets―to tour the factory floor, where they learn about winnowers, stone mills, conches and the other machinery of chocolate making. Tours end in the factory store, the only place to get Theo’s more complicated confections, such as chocolates flavored with basil, lavender, ghost chilies and other unusual ingredients.

Woodblock, Portland
In 2011, when Charley and Jessica Wheelock realized that only a handful of U.S. companies were making chocolate from raw beans, they pounced. “We were all in,” says Charley Wheelock. Hoping to see chocolate go the same artisanal direction as coffee, beer and wine, the couple studied their new trade online and took classes at UC Davis. Woodblock was the first in Portland’s now booming bean-to-bar scene. Combine your love of chocolate with good works by buying one of Woodblock’s Trinidad Fundare bars; funds raised benefit the International Cocoa Genebank in Trinidad, which protects the future of the world’s chocolate supply. Woodblock has been in the news lately for partnering with Serra Modern Druggist on a new high-end cannabis edibles line.

East Van Roasters,Vancouver, B.C.
East Van Roastersis an ambitious project in a socioeconomically disadvantaged Vancouver neighborhood. Director and chocolate maker Shelley Bolton worked with PHS Social Services Society to start a chocolate factory and coffee roaster that would provide job opportunities for women struggling with addiction. In just a few years the project went from a semi-farfetched idea to a community success story. Bolton is especially excited about the direct trade she’s worked out with cacao growers in Peru. Top sellers include Aloha Crunch (toffee and black Hawaiian sea salt in 70 percent dark chocolate), seasonal truffles and Mayan spiced drinking chocolate. East Van’s biggest problem is building
capacity fast enough to keep up with orders.

Sirene, Victoria, B.C.
Toronto-born Taylor Kennedy left his job as a National Geographic photographer to become a full-time chocolate maker. Long a chocolate hobbyist, he devised his business plan and got his first bars into the stores in January 2014. Since he immediately began winning awards―most recently, four gold medals and a bronze in the 2017 International Chocolate Awards, and a silver and bronze from the Academy of Chocolate―both his and his farmers’
sales have soared. “All the way along it’s benefiting people in a positive way,” he says of the bean-to-bar chocolate industry. Kennedy is a purist who uses only two ingredients: cacao beans and sugar. “You shouldn’t get a whole list of other chemicals hidden behind the
word ‘chocolate.’” Kennedy is too busy in his chocolate lab to run a retail store, but he sells bars online at

Burnt Fork Bend,Stevensville,Montana
Burnt Fork Bend owner Jennifer Wicks began experimenting with home chocolate making in 2007. Four years later, she turned it into a business. “I love the look on peoples’ faces as they taste the differences between several different single origin bars,” she says. “It’s satisfying to teach them something new about chocolate.” Her top seller is the Blue Heron Bar, a 72-percent dark, single origin bar. If you’re driving through Montana, stop by Wicks’ commercial kitchen. Molded chocolate bison, wolves and bears make delicious Montana gifts for folks back home.