Artisan chocolate makers, Richard Foley and Wade Pugh may not exactly agree with fellow Vancouverite, singer Sarah McLachlan’s lyrics that “love is better than chocolate.” The entrepreneurial duo have collaborated to open ChocXO Chocolatier and Café in Richmond, B.C. and Southern California, based on their love for making chocolate and the artisan approach to small batch production.
Pugh’s love affair with chocolate actually began in 1984 when his idea to market an edible chocolate shot glass called ‘chewters’ resulted in the formation of Chewter’s Chocolates in Richmond, B.C. Thirty years later he formed a partnership with ChocXO Chocolatier to use the exclusive facility to launch their new brand in Canada. Foley, born and raised in Vancouver, is the founder and CEO of ChocXO Chocolatier, overseeing the only chocolate factory of its kind in Southern California. In 1982 he founded Qzina Specialty Foods in the basement of his family home and within 20 years, was the largest importer/distributor of fine chocolate in North America.
“I sold most of the best chocolate in the world – Vosges, Valrhona, Callebaut – to top chefs, hotels and restaurants as well as sourcing and building relationships with the small family cocoa-producing farms, but I always had a dream to make my own chocolate. I like to say I was called to the bean,” laughs Foley.
Marrying sophisticated technology with the world’s top 15 percent of the finest fair-trade organic cacao beans from small farm owners in Central and South America, the chocolate is roasted in their factory in Irvine, California, producing 1 ton a day. It’s then shipped to the Richmond Bean- to -Bar Lab to be transformed into bars, discs and truffles.
Kosher Treats: ChocXO Chocolatier has a separate kitchen in their Richmond factory in which they make kosher chocolate for a kosher bakery. A rabbi visits every 2 weeks to oversee production and they are in the process of obtaining paperwork to expand kosher selections to the public.
All of us don white coats, then Pugh and Foley take media on a tour of their Richmond ‘Chocolate Lab’ and some sampling (well someone has to do the hard work!) They impart some fascinating chocolate facts that give a deeper appreciation for the artistry involved and the advantages to the consumer:
The cocoa tree bears pod-like fruit with about 40 seeds (beans) inside each pod. It takes one tree 4-5 years to produce fruit; life-span of 1 tree is 20 years
- 85% of the world’s chocolate consumption comes from lower quality farms in West Africa and Indonesia
- Central & South America, Madagascar, Jamaica and Trinidad produce the top 15% of cocoa beans and costs 4 times more (only used by ChocXO)
- Beans are picked by hand and placed in covered boxes to ferment – critical for flavor to develop- for up to 8 days. That also produces a lot of humidity that can cause bacteria in shell crevices so beans need to be turned constantly
- Beans are sorted & dried in the sun then packed into burlap bags and transported to ChocXO Chocolatier in California
- ChocXO Chocolatier sorts, cleans then roasts in small batches. Roasting releases acids that developed during fermentation, reduces tannins and caramelizes naturally occurring sugars in beansBeans are removed from shells & broken into ‘nibs.’ Some companies now make tea from the shells!
- The cocoa liquour (non-alcoholic) is extracted, mixed with sugar, placed in a refiner and flattened into a delicious powder called ‘flakes’
- The final step is the ‘conching machine’ that homogenizes every particle of chocolate, cocoa butter and sugar into each other and takes 24 hours to develop the flavor balance and texture we prefer on the tongue of luxurious chocolate
- ChocXO Chocolatier liquid chocolate is sent to the Richmond factory to be molded into the finished products and packaged. Fancy, colourful designs are made from cocoa butter transfer sheets, heat-sealed onto chocolates
Stretch pants advisory: Chocoholics will also love the elaborate drinks ChocXO Chocolatier concocts combining craft-roasted coffee with their bean-to-bar salted caramel, milk and dark chocolates.