It’s baffling. And yet, it’s delicious.
AJ challenges the routine in chocolate. It’s one of the things I admire most about him. His chocolate is raw, which means the beans are not roasted and the pourable product is not heated beyond a certain point. It’s gluten free, dairy free, soy free, and refined sugar free. Many people think the “raw” concept is an unusual choice, but really, in conjunction with chocolate, it makes perfect sense.
“The healthiest way to eat chocolate is in its raw form,” AJ tells me. “When you roast and ferment the beans, it gets rid of the antioxidants and other nutritional value that is found naturally in the bean. By the way, do you know what an antioxidant is?”
I nod my head in assent. “It’s what we eat so that we don’t turn into little brown puckered apples.”
“Yes,” he says, laughing. “Actually, it’s pretty simple. Antioxidant means color. And when you roast the chocolate, color gets lost. Incidentally, that’s also why we don’t add dairy. Dairy inhibits the body from absorbing the antioxidant value of chocolate.”
I think about all the times I’ve bitten in to one of the freeze-dried beans from Costa Rica, and how the center is a lovely deep purple color, and how--if you look closely--the bar that we make from those beans is still a little bit purple.
AJ continues: “Chocolate as a food source has the highest amount of magnesium, chromium, and iron, which are incidentally America’s top three nutritional deficiencies. It also produces those, what do you call them--feel good neurotransmitters in the brain, like anandamide. So eating chocolate actually makes us loving and nice people.”
Knowing AJ, I definitely believe it. He’s an incredibly laid back person, one who doesn’t really “believe in” competition from other chocolatiers. When I ask him about it, he just shrugs and says “all chocolates are different, and everyone has different taste-buds.”
This principle was exemplified when I breezed in for my shift one Friday. I was greeted by the usual olfactory bouquet--the uniquely rich scent of chocolate with a tiny waft of the tangy smell of kombucha. The tiny kitchen, however, was a little more crowded than normal. AJ was there, and someone else was there as well.
“Brian,” the stranger says, when I ask his name and stick out my hand for him to shake. “We met the other night at the open house.”
Brian. I paged through the faces in my head of the people I met that night. “Ah, right! You’re the head of the Chocolate Society.”
“That’s right!” He said. “Want to try some chocolate?”
“That’s a silly question,” I responded.
He dropped a small brown sliver into my hand, and almost immediately it starts to leave little glossy smudges on my palm. Once it was in my mouth, I discovered that I could tell the difference between the product that AJ makes, and the way this chocolate tasted. I couldn’t quite put my finger on what the difference was at the time. The aftertaste lingered in my mouth like a puff of smoke.
“Weird, isn’t it?” Brian grinned as I chased the flavor with my tongue. “I think it tastes like a turf-fire.” He was clearly pleased with his product.
I started my opening routine: sweeping the floor, wiping down the couch in the sitting area, putting out the patio furniture, readying the cash register and the till, and putting out the display case. I pop a pumpkin spice truffle in my mouth and let it melt on my tongue, saying the words cinnamon, allspice, cloves, and nutmeg in my head like a mantra as I detect each one.
AJ and Brian didn’t say much to me while I worked. They were too busy pouring out Brian’s melted chocolate into molds. I bent my face over one of the trays and inhaled. I can pick up different notes: fruity, nutty, slightly tannic. It never fails to surprise me just how different chocolate tastes. Depending on where it’s from, it can taste more fruity, more nutty, or more tannic (sometimes, the smell of the more tannic varieties reminds me of the bitter-sour smell of green olives).
I wasn’t surprised at all by AJ’s decision to share the space and the equipment with his friend. It’s absolutely just his nature to be giving and accepting no matter who your are, or if your chocolate is raw or roasted.
Whether AJ is Willy Wonka or the Cheshire Cat, there’s no doubt in my mind that the chocolate business is mad. It’s not straightforward. There are so many details and flavors and smells and ideas that I can scarcely keep track, and just when I think I’ve started to understand the paradigm shifts just a little. I wouldn’t be surprised if AJ told me there was a cacao bean that made you grow, or a cacao bean that made you shrink. It’s that incredible. And the best part is, you can experience it yourself by stepping through the doors of our shop. It’s like stepping through the Looking Glass and finding out that the portal is always open (Tuesday through Saturday, noon to seven), and never closes. Well, except on Sundays and Mondays.
I do hope you’ll join us.