The Chocolate Conspiracy

Our new chocolate factory is now open! Just in time for the holidays.  Come have a tasty cup of hot chocolate.

Here a Kickstarter, There a Kickstarter

As I'm sure those of you who follow us know, we're doing a Kickstarter campaign. Kickstarters seem to be virtually everywhere and can cover everything these days, from parodies on South Park (which AJ and Erika love) to...some guy wanting to make potato salad

The Internet is a very strange place. 

Our Kickstarter is, actually, based on the idea that we will be doing something. Not just any something: making chocolate. Which, granted, is what we already do, but we need to streamline some of the processes. As a company, we are scaling up, which means if we're going to continue making hand-crafted, artisan chocolate, we need to be able to grow the business in a smart and financially stable way.

So why should you care about our Kickstarter? I can give you a few good reasons, just off the top of my head: 

1) Our product is unique. As anyone who visits the shop and gets an intro to our chocolate knows, it's made with high quality and fair-trade ingredients, it's raw, dairy-free, soy-free, honey sweetened; basically, it's healthy. 

2) It's basically bean-to-bar chocolate. Our dark bar is made without any extraneous flavors like vanilla, so if you're at all curious about tasting what cacao truly tastes like, this is the bar you simply must try. 

3) It is made and wrapped with a great deal of care. I can attest to this. I've wrapped quite a few bars and rolled innumerable French-style truffles during my time here at the Conspiracy; I've watched AJ make the chocolate bars time and time again at all hours of the night to make sure the consistency and gloss is right. A lot of people don't realize how much time, money, and effort it takes to make a high-quality chocolate--and to make it right. 

We want to maintain all of these things that make us who we are: Doing things "the old fashioned way", but with new production methods that allow for more efficiency, and therefore, more chocolate. 

We think that's a pretty worthy goal, and we hope you do, too.

With Love,

The Chocolate Conspirators  

In Focus: The Dark Bar

Writing about chocolate is one of those things that sounds like it should be absurdly easy, until you sit down to do it. You write yourself in knots trying to explain things like flavor and texture in ways that someone who has never had chocolate would understand and empathize with, only to discard them all and you find yourself with one sentence: Chocolate is good. Maybe better than good. Which, although accurate, is not what you’d set out to do. 

 

Luckily for me, talking about the Chocolate Conspiracy’s Dark Bar is an assignment that kind of writes itself. This is less because I’m a talented writer and more because if there wasn’t a Dark Bar, there wouldn’t be a Chocolate Conspiracy. This bar is the ground floor of the entire business. It’s where AJ started. If AJ was a chocolate-making superhero (which none of us have ruled out) making this bar would be his base power. Mentioning his business without this bar would be like mentioning Superman without his superhuman strength. 

So, the Dark Bar. What is it? What makes it so special? I sat down with AJ this week to find out. 

“The first thing you need to know about the dark bar,” AJ says, “is that it’s simple. It’s the simplest bar we make. There are only three ingredients: raw cacao from Peru, raw honey from White Lake Farms to sweeten, and raw cacao butter, as an emulsifier.”

That really is it. Check the label if you don’t believe me. In a world where I’m hard pressed to pick up food products and find a label with ingredients listed that I’m a hundred percent familiar with, the Dark Bar stands out. Not to mention the fact that all of the ingredients are actually really good for you. The Dark Bar weighs in with the most cacao content at 74%; and by not roasting that cacao, antioxidants and nutrients are preserved. Pair that with the incredible benefits of raw honey, and what you’ve got is a nutritional crime fighting team that could give Batman and Robin a run for their money. But if you’re not looking to get health benefits from your chocolate, that’s okay, because the Dark Bar is as tasty as it is fierce. If you’re curious about flavor profile (and let’s face it, we all are), the Peruvian cacao lends earthy and nutty notes; the honey lends a fruity middle note, and it finishes with a slight tang--which is not bitter, because the cacao is raw. It’s unlike any other chocolate bar I’ve had, and all the tastier for it. 

“Honey gives the chocolate a softer texture,” AJ tells me in the course of our conversation, and after a year of working for him, a light goes on in my head. It’s exactly what I’ve been trying to put my finger on that’s different about AJ’s chocolate--besides the obvious differences in flavor. Chocolate that’s been sweetened with honey is a lot denser and richer as well as softer than chocolate that’s made with dairy milk and refined sugar. And it’s incredibly versatile--the Dark Bar is the base for most of the Chocolate Conspiracy’s confections, from the barks to the coating on our hard-shelled truffles. It can even occasionally be found drizzled on coconut macaroons.

AJ’s been making this bar the longest, and it’s his favorite. “I’m not really fond of fruit or nuts or other flavors in my chocolate,” he says, popping a piece in his mouth. “I like my chocolate straightforward. That’s my jam.

“I can taste other flavors of my chocolate and enjoy them, but the dark bar is always the one that I come back to. I never get tired of it.” 

I would agree with him. It’s impossible to get tired of the Mary Poppins of chocolate bars. 

You know. 

Practically perfect in every way. 

 

 

Ch-ch-ch-changes

Hello, my fellow chocolate-lovers! ShopGirl here. AJ has tasked me with letting the internet world know that some new, exciting things will be happening with this chocolate business we all know and love. I'm going to enumerate them, because I like lists. 

1). We're moving production to a new facility. This is what those with acumen would call a "savvy business move." Basically we're going to be amping things up, getting our product into more stores, and our tiny, beloved little space is not really somewhere we can do this. 

I know what you're thinking. With production moving to a new space, what are you going to do with the storefront? I'm so glad you asked. Read on! 

2). We're going to be closing the storefront starting May 31st--and before you panic, we will be reopening so take a few deep breaths. 

Everyone calm? Good. Let's continue. We are closing for some super-awesome renovations May 31st and reopening June 10th. If you can't live without our chocolates, look at the rest of the places that sell our chocolate under the locations tab. Or follow this convenient hyperlink

Exciting, right? It's good news. The newly renovated space will be the kind of place where you can chill and enjoy chocolate fudge. Or bars. Or smoothies. Chocolate of any kind, really. 

One last thing. When our shop re-opens June 10, we will be discontinuing shipping of bars and other similarly heat-perishable products for the summer. Shipping will start back up when the weather cools down. 

 

So that's the plan! I hope you are all as excited as I am for these new developments! Stay posted. Eat chocolate. Be happy. 

 

Peace out, 

Hilary

 

22 is a good number.

Hey guys! Are you chocolovers in Utah so ready for actual warm-not-deceptively-sunny-and-freezing weather? 

I feel you. 

So this coming Saturday, March 22, there are all kinds of --in the words of AJ--"rad" chocolate things coming up. At the Utah Natural History Museum's Chocolate Exhibit, they are having. . . drum roll, please. . .

*THE ULTIMATE CHOCOLATE FESTIVAL*

Sounds cool, right? Because it is. It's super cool. Here is a convenient hyperlink, for those of you who are curious and would like to read more about it: 

http://nhmu.utah.edu/ultimatechocolatefestival

Second cool thing: We'll be at the Winter Farmer's Market as usual, at the Rio Grande building. And we'll be having a sneak preview of our delicious summer chocolate beverage. . .

It's little but it's bold.  Really. I can't even tell you how stoked I am for this. It's THE BEST THING. 

It's little but it's bold. 

Really. I can't even tell you how stoked I am for this. It's THE BEST THING. 


As someone who works the market, I can say that if you haven't been to the Winter Market, you're missing out. There are so many amazing vendors at the market. So come. 

The Bliss Molecule (or the ShopGirl's account of what it's like working for AJ Wentworth)

But I don't want to go among mad people," Alice remarked.

"Oh, you can't help that," said the Cat: "we're all mad here. I'm mad. You're mad."

"How do you know I'm mad?" said Alice.

"You must be," said the Cat, "or you wouldn't have come here.” 

-Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland


Learning about chocolate is something that AJ Wentworth calls “going down the rabbit hole.” The metaphor is more apt than I can explain, since starting to work in his chocolate shop felt like I was stumbling into a Wonderland of sorts, where all the conceptions I had about chocolate got shattered; everything from the smell and taste to the process of making the stuff. It’s magical, and I’m still not convinced we don’t have a shop Oompa-Loompa hiding in the broom closet--but I’m mixing my metaphors. 

    AJ, as I am sure most of you know, went down the rabbit hole himself, when he was attending the Institute for Integrative Nutrition in New York to become a health councilor. The absolutely full story of how he got into making chocolate is one that the customers don’t usually hear. AJ usually just tells them the part about how he wanted to open a healthy dessert shop and eventually just got fixated on chocolate, because it overshadowed everything else with its health properties and superior flavor. The full story includes a familial tie: AJ wanted to make a healthy chocolate bar that his mom would eat. 

    So he started experimenting with chocolate, feeding what he produced to both his mom and his peers at school. Both his mom and his students told him he needed to sell it, so about four years ago, when he finished school and moved back here to Utah to be close to his family, he did. AJ began producing chocolate from the kitchen in his condo. A year ago, he moved to doing what he thought would be just producing at the 265 South 900 East storefront. But about a year ago, the production facility was opened to do retail, and that brings me to where I come in. 

    I happened upon the job by chance; or rather, my father did. My father is something of a chocolate fanatic, and, no surprise, the chocolate fixation is genetic. He had stopped in at AJ’s shop and offered to volunteer. AJ told him they were actually hiring for the weekends, and my dad told him I was job-searching, and put me in touch with him. I came in to the chocolate shop knowing not much more than chocolate is my favorite food on the planet. Obviously, in order to work in a specialty chocolate shop, I had to know a little bit more, so when I got the job, one of the first things AJ did was send me home with one of each of his chocolate bars and two books about chocolate. He referred to it as my “homework.” To this day, it’s still the best homework I’ve ever had.

    Chocolate bar in hand, I did what I do best: I buried my nose in those books so I could be fully educated on the subject. But I still had an infinite amount of questions, so by the second weekend I went to work in the shop, I had more questions than answered. So I dragged him over to the sitting area in the chocolate shop during a lull in business and started picking his brain about chocolate. 

    “So, I got that there were three types of cacao. I didn’t really understand the differences.”

    AJ has this way of giving you his full attention in a way that no question sounds stupid. “So there are three types. Criollo, which is the rarest, and a lot of people feel it’s the best. Forestero, which literally means ‘foreign,’ is the most common variety, and it makes up about 80% of the chocolate produced globally. A lot of people feel like forestero is an inferior variety. Then there is Trinitario, which is a kind of a mix of the two.”

    After this clarification, I went home and re-read the book about the varieties of chocolate, and that was when it struck me. Chocolate is one of the oddest ideas humans ever had, in terms of how. Every once in a while, some modern convenience just strikes me as the oddest thing, and learning about chocolate struck me in that same way. How did some bygone person see pods morphing out of a tree’s trunk, looking something like giant alien footballs, and think, “Betcha I can eat that.” And from there, how did some other bygone person actually decide that the bitter nuts would be worth grinding up and combining with hot water, and from there down through the centuries until it became a sweet mixed with sugar and emulsifiers sold in your local grocery store? 

See? Giant. Alien. Footballs. And can we talk about how tiny those stems are?  Image: medicaster (public domain)

See? Giant. Alien. Footballs. And can we talk about how tiny those stems are? 

Image: medicaster (public domain)


    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. 


-The ShopGirl


Spring is upon us!

Hello, and welcome to the Chocolate Conspiracy's brand-new blog! I'm Hilary, the Weekend Shop Girl and general Social Networking guru.  I'll be your host, tour guide, and general all-around Oompa-Loompa in the wonderful, creative world of AJ Wentworth, who we all know is actually just Willy Wonka in disguise. Don't tell him I told you. 

So spring! Winter is finally over, and we've got all kinds of deliciously exciting things coming up in our chocolate world. Let's get right to business.

I have good news. And I have bad news. I'll give you the bad news first.

Bad news is that March is the last month for our delectable hot chocolate and truffles until the winter comes back. And you thought you wouldn't miss winter. That's the bad news. I'm sorry. It was quite a blow. 

Right. So now the good news. Instead of hot chocolate, we will be offering our AMAZING chocolate smoothie during the summer months! That's awesome, right? So you don't need to feel too down. And if you're still feeling down even after that good news, just come get a smoothie. I promise. It'll cheer you right up.

Good News, Item #2 is that our specialty bar for the spring (Lavender Dark Chocolate) is going to be on our shelves soon! Right? I'm so excited. It's going to be amazingly delightful. 

Third and final piece of good news is that we have two fine chocolate classes coming up this month. It's $30 per spot, and it's totally worth it to learn all about chocolate. For more information, here's a convenient hyperlink: http://www.eatchocolateconspiracy.com/classes

Thanks for reading! Come by and get some wonderful chocolate! 

-ShopGirl 

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