Gabe Davidson remembers the very first bean-to-bar chocolate he ever tried. It was made by San Francisco based chocolatiers, Dandelion Chocolate. “I could not believe their single-origin Madagascar bar had only two ingredients (just cacao beans and a little sugar) – it tasted like they had snuck some raspberry flavouring in there!” From that moment, he was completely hooked.
The Dandelion experience inspired Gabe to explore cacao plantations in Peru and craft chocolate factories in the US before returning home to NZ after 13 years running coffee and chocolate businesses in Melbourne. He teamed up with Rochelle Harrison, a top Wellington pastry chef who was experimenting with this new concept of making chocolate from scratch on a small scale. Together they formed Wellington Chocolate Factory. They now have a team of 25, including chocolatiers, chocolate makers, tour guides and people you may see handing out samples of chocolate and sharing the Wellington Chocolate Factory story in retailers like Farro, around NZ.
Their vision: “To introduce craft bean-to-bar chocolate to New Zealanders and share with people how, like wine and coffee, chocolate can be more than just one flavour, depending on which type of tree it’s picked from and where it’s grown,” Gabe says. “We wanted to do this while ensuring every step of the chain is a force for good. Our vision is to make the best-tasting chocolate possible, without compromise, while adhering to strict ethical values.”
The Factory is in the old Hannah’s shoe factory in the heart of Wellington. It’s open seven days, and people are welcome to come in any time to grab a hot chocolate and see the whole chocolate making process take shape. WCF share a little laneway with Fix & Fogg peanut butter, a craft beer brewery, a bakery and a couple of other hidden foodie gems. Many chocolate makers in New Zealand will buy chocolate from Belgium that is already made then melt it down to make bars. At WCF they love the transparency of having their whole process open to the public and the challenge of focusing on making great tasting chocolate with only two ingredients, cocoa beans and a little sugar. There’s not a slab of imported bulk coverture chocolate in sight.
The team at WCF are passionate about making a difference to the lives of cacao farmers and making better-tasting chocolate without any nasty additives. Better for the growers, better for us, better for the planet. They work with Trade Aid and also have some direct trade with farmers in the Pacific and Melanesia. They currently source from a mix of larger cooperatives and smallholder farmers. They have sourced from Peru, the Dominican Republic, Trinidad and Tobago, Madagascar, Samoa, Bougainville and Vanuatu. The more recent partnerships in the Pacific have been very exciting, Gabe says, and include the Malile plantation on Malekula Island and Santo in Vanuatu (see our exciting competition this month to win a trip there).
WCF are also proud to be the first and only bean-to-bar chocolate Factory in New Zealand to be Biogro-certified organic. They also either buy directly from farmers or use Fairtrade-certified beans. This keeps more of the money in-country and helps smallholder farmers and their families.
“Most cacao beans are sourced from West Africa by a handful of multinationals. They are commonly the cheaper Forastero variety. These beans are then typically processed in Europe then sold as couverture to factories to be processed into confectionery chocolate.
“These beans are usually roasted darker to flatten out the flavour, then vanilla and other additives are mixed in to make the chocolate more palatable. There are also some ongoing bad labour practices occurring in these regions,” Gabe says.
“I like to think about where the beans came from while tasting great chocolate: the long process from growing the tree, picking the ripe cacao pods, scooping out the beans and pulp and the fermenting and drying the beans before they are shipped to us in 60-kilogram sacks.”
Even the WCF packaging is thoughtfully considered. These bars are beautifully wrapped and that’s to the creative credit of Inject Design, an agency in Wellington, that works with a selection of unique NZ artists. WCF calls on them when they dream up a new chocolate concept. Some of the artwork on the packaging hints at which flavours may be hiding inside the wrapper, through colour, a subtle element or illustration.
The team at Wellington Chocolate Factory want to be a force for good. “What we love about what we do is that we have an opportunity to create an organisation without any weak links, from paying a fair price to the cacao farmers, to looking after our passionate staff, educating people about what we do and creating a product which is better for your health and the health of the planet. Plus, chocolate simply makes people happy.
“We like the idea of creating a better-tasting world through making great chocolate.”
WHAT MAKES AMAZING CRAFT CHOCOLATE?
“If we find great beans, we can make great chocolate. Craft chocolate makers tend to look for Trinitario or Criollo bean varietals, rarer than the Forestero beans. Great-quality beans are often sourced from Central and South America, but more recently we are looking closer to home among our Pacific neighbours and have had some great finds.
“We prefer a lighter roast. This preserves more of the natural acidity, which adds to the fruitiness and keeps the subtle, interesting flavour characteristics intact. We then age the chocolate for one month before tempering and moulding into bars. “We hand-sort every sack of beans before roasting, a painstaking process, that ensures only the best beans make the cut!”