I arrived early and settled into my booth at the food show- to my right a table filled with spice rubs and barbecue sauce, to my left a table covered in… chocolate. Eerily quiet on the trade floor, I watched as Michelle filled her trays with chocolate sure to lure the buyers to her booth. It was a little too early for barbecue sauce, but I thought I would treat myself to some breakfast chocolate. When I approached Michelle Holland, I knew immediately I would like her. Why? She talked about chocolate the way I talk about olive oil: eyes aglow and face flushed. In under a minute, I knew she loved what she did. And, of course she loves what she does. She, together with her oh-so-laid-back partner Scott Moore, sources cacao beans from all over the world and turns it into chocolate- Tejas Chocolate.
There is a new chocolate in town folks and it’s called “bean to bar.” So what exactly is bean to bar? Scott and Michelle formed relationships with cacao growers in Papua New Guinea, Madagascar, Brazil and the Dominican Republic and now source the cacao directly from them. And, using nothing other than those cacao beans and pure cane sugar, they make the best chocolate you will ever taste.
The cacao trees grow in tropical rain forests within 20 degrees of the equator. Once the fruit of the tree is harvested it is transported to a processing center. The fruit of the cacao is then fermented in wooden boxes. The pulp of the fruit surrounding the seeds comes in contact with yeast that naturally occurs in air and fermentation begins. Eventually this sugary pulp melts away leaving just the cacao bean. Like a fine wine, the cacao bean produces chocolate with “terroir”. The chocolate should taste specific to the earth and the air and the sun that produced the cacao fruit. The beans used to make Tejas’ DR (Dominican Republic) 62 taste completely different than those used to make the Capistrano from Madagascar.
Once the beans are sun dried, they are ready for export. Michelle and Scott sort each cacao bean by hand. Once they are cleaned, they are fire roasted in a clay brick oven Scott built by hand. Like most food worthy of the gods, Tejas’ beans are roasted “low and slow” lending a flavor unique to Tejas chocolate.
The attention to detail at Tejas Chocolate is unparalleled. Each hand wrapped chocolate bar is presented with tasting notes. Have you ever tasted “grilled honeycomb, brandied cherries” or “malt” and “berry” in a Hershey bar? I didn’t think so. I actually felt bad tearing off the wrapper so beautifully printed with an illustration of the Texas mission, Capistrano. My personal favorite is the PNG (Papua New Guinea) 64. And, I really do taste the honey.
The only “bean to bar” chocolate makers in Texas, Michelle and Scott have made something truly good-something worth buying and supporting. Michelle likes to say, “I like you, you just get it!” when someone understands how cool the whole process is. I like to say, “What’s not to get?” Good people who support small farmers and make a product with a lot of love-now that’s chocolate. Tejas Chocolate.
Ashley Tarver is the founder of Copper Pot Kitchen, a line of gourmet infused olive oils made in the South. Often referred to as a “young female version of Anthony Bourdain,” Ashley has traveled the globe look for interesting ways to use olive oil. From the beaches of Malaysia to the Pintxo bars of Spain to the labyrinth-like homes of Morocco, she has eaten with the locals and worked with some of the best chefs in the world including jobs in three Michelin starred restaurants. For more information, visit: www.copperpotkitchen.com