There are only around 20 craft chocolate makers in the United States, and Austin is lucky enough to claim one of them: Kiskadee Chocolates. Craft chocolate makers, like brewers of craft beer, carry out every step of the process personally, using time-honored methods to make small batches of superior product. To be called craft chocolate, the maker must start with the raw cacao beans and take them all the way to the finished product; craft chocolate is often marketed under the names "single-source" or "bean-to-bar." The difference between a bar of craft chocolate and a Hershey's bar is just as striking and undeniable as the difference between a can of Coors Light and a pint of Fireman's 4.
Kiskadee's chocolate is made from La Red cacao beans grown in the Dominican Republic. The La Red bean has solid chocolate flavor, with notes of tamarind, caramel, and soft citrus. From your first bite or taste of a Kiskadee product, those La Red nuances are upfront – and delightful. The complexity of the layered chocolate flavors aren't fragile whiffs to strain after; they are immediate, palate-forward, and frankly swoon-worthy. Laura Atlas, the maker of Kiskadee Chocolates, figured out quickly that her best marketing campaign was to simply let people try her chocolate.
Her first product was a European-style drinking chocolate, made simply from cacao nibs and organic sugar. European-style drinking chocolate has more chocolate and less sugar than typical American hot chocolate, and has a less watery texture. Kiskadee's Drinking Chocolate ($10) was an immediate hit with shoppers at the Mueller Farmers' Market, selling out nearly every Sunday. Atlas then branched out into Brewing Cacao ($10), a chocolate drink that is brewed like coffee, and finally into chocolate bars ($8).
Kiskadee makes six different kinds of chocolate bar: Dark + Creamy (60% cacao); Dark + Bold (85% cacao); Fruity + Nutty (with pistachio and dried cherry); Salty + Nutty (sea salt and almond); Rich + Nibby (with cacao nibs); and Hot + Spicy (with cinnamon and cayenne). As might be expected, chocolate bars are the most popular form of chocolate, and sales really took off after Atlas introduced them. Her two newest products are single-source, organic hot fudge sauce and a Nutella-like hazelnut and chocolate spread.
The steps involved in making Kiskadee's craft chocolate are numerous. Atlas first picks through the fermented cacao beans, discarding any shriveled or discolored ones. Then the beans are roasted, which is done in a modified coffee roaster. The manner of roasting is a key part of the chocolate's flavor profile, and it requires experience and skill to attain the perfect duration and temperature for any particular type of cacao bean. The beans are then cracked and winnowed, with the cacao husks being left behind or repurposed, and the cacao nibs taken on to the next step – grinding.
Because cacao nibs are 50-60% cocoa butter, when they are ground properly in a high-pressure grinder, they become a liquid called chocolate liquor. It takes two to three hours of grinding to bring the nibs to this state, and once that is done, the liquor must rest. When it has rested long enough, superfine organic sugar is added, and the mixture is ground again, this time for at least 24 hours. When there is absolutely no grittiness left in its texture, the chocolate is ready for conching.
Conching is a process that lets some air into the mixture, which dramatically improves taste. When the conching process is over, the chocolate must rest again, this time for a few days. During this time, it becomes lighter and more crumbly. Then it is tempered, a process wherein the chocolate is heated, cooled, and heated again within very specific parameters. The tempering process is what gives finished chocolate its smooth, silky appearance and mouthfeel. It is then ready to be molded into Kiskadee's bars and other products.
Atlas manages to do every one of these processes on improvised and repurposed equipment, by herself, in her home kitchen. Sales have been so robust, however, that she is currently seeking a commercial kitchen to allow her to expand: "It's gotten to the point now that I can't make it fast enough!"
All Kiskadee products are organic and Fair Trade. The full line of Kiskadee Chocolates can be bought at the Cedar Park Farmers' Market on Saturdays, and the Mueller Farmers' Market on Sundays. Kiskadee chocolate bars are available at Froyoyo (3201 Bee Caves Rd. #167) and at both Wheatsville locations (3101 Guadalupe, 4001 S. Lamar). For more information, see www.kiskadeechocolates.com.
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