SALT LAKE CITY — Phil Davis closed his eyes and described what he was tasting.
"It is almost like being on a roller coaster," he said.
"Clack, Clack, Clack," he says, describing the sound.
The flavors in the chocolate began to increase until he experienced "crashing waves of grapefruit" with undertones of lime, a brief taste of mustard, more grapefruit and a final hint of blue cheese.
Davis' company, Coleman and Davis Artisan Chocolate, is among the fine chocolate companies in Utah that just might put the state on the industry map, said Matt Caputo, chocolate expert and Tony Caputo's director of marketing.
“The trade in Utah is definitely growing,” Caputo said.
He predicts that within five years, Utah will be the central hub for chocolate in the country.
“It will be undeniable,” Caputo said.
The bold prediction is backed by the growing popularity of the "bean-to-bar" chocolate movement, and the number of new companies expected to begin operations in Utah.
Domestic bean-to-bar producers in the Rocky Mountain region, which includes Colorado, Utah, Kansas, Idaho and New Mexico, have grown 83 percent over the past year, John Balmer, specialty chocolate buyer for Whole Foods Market, said.
Coleman and Davis Artisan Chocolate is one of at least four new chocolate companies that will launch in Utah in the next year. Caputo has tested three of the four and said they, in addition to Amano and Solstice chocolates, “will be better than the absolute best in San Francisco and New York.”
The bean-to-bar industry is "a very young industry," gaining popularity within the past eight to 10 years, Caputo said.
That means what Seattle is to coffee, Utah could become to artisan chocolates.
Growth in the chocolate market has been particularly evident in the past six months, Balmer said.
“People are moving out of the perception of a commoditized product to one that has terroir and origins,” he said. Consumers are developing an increased awareness of the process behind chocolate–making and how that influences the flavors.
Terroir, a term typically associated with soil types as it relates to growing grapes for wine, is now a part of the conversation for beans. The beans take months to grow and up to several weeks to ferment. Consumers are willing to pay more for the unique differences of each chocolate product.
“It’s become a product with a deep story and deep meaning,” Balmer said.
When Balmer is looking for a bar to buy, he looks for the story behind the chocolate, or a chocolate maker who uses an innovative process to make or market their product. In other words, a unique roasting or grinding method may compensate for chocolate that is sourced from Belgium instead of Madagascar.
Utah’s “broad scale impact” has yet to be determined, he said, because coastal cities still have the biggest impact and reach.
Although there are “some amazing things happening in Utah,” he said, there are also great things happening in New York, Colorado, San Francisco and elsewhere.
However, Utah is one of the bigger national names because of its “innovative environment,” he said.
“They’re laying the groundwork for a lot of grassroot” growth, he said.
Utah already boasts the award-winning Amano chocolate, Crio Bru, popular Hatch's Family Chocolates and new rising stars Mezzo drinking chocolate and Solstice. Each store or factory is decorated with their collective obsession: real cacao beans, cacao pods or pictures reveal the rabbit hole into which each has fallen.
"It’s not a business you get dragged into. It’s one you wander into willingly," Char Coleman, business partner of Davis, said.
Italian-based Amedi took over the industry about 10 years ago and the American industry has since caught chocolate fever and continues to grow.
A taste for chocolate
In 2012, the United States imported the most chocolate in the world at $1.4 billion according to the United States Department of Agriculture, which was 18 percent of total chocolate imports worldwide.
"Generally speaking I'd say Utah is one of the top places for fine chocolate in the U.S.," Brady Brelinski, a founding member of the Manhattan Chocolate Society, said in an email.
He bases this on the fact that Utah currently has three "craft chocolate" companies -- Amano, Millcreek Cacao Roasters and Solstice. The other states with the most craft chocolate makers include California with 14, New York with 8, Hawaii with 7 and Oregon, North Carolina and Texas with four each.
He also bases this on the "very sophisticated chocolate scene" in Salt Lake, which has largely been fostered by Caputo.
"Matt has made fine chocolate readily available in SLC, provides education and tastings and fosters growth of this movement in general," he said.. "There are only a few other areas in the U.S. with this level of appreciation of fine chocolate.
Caputo's company, and sister company A Priori Distribution, are the largest chocolate distributors in the state.
“I fell down the chocolate rabbit hole about seven years ago,” Caputo said.
At that point he “couldn’t stop consuming information about chocolate,” he said. He tasted Domori chocolate, and he said it was the first time he had tasted “excellent chocolate in a focused setting.”
Eventually he came to revel in the nuances that each bar and bean flavor had to offer.
For instance, a bar could be made of the same ingredients, on the same equipment, with identical roasting profiles, but taste radically different because of their origin. Each atmosphere is different, with different microbiology and moisture levels he said, affecting the beans' flavor.
He wanted to educate others.
“It’s almost like a fine chocolate disease,” Caputo said.
When Caputos began offering free chocolate classes in 2008, it taught about 10 people every quarter. Now they charge $25 per class and teach about 75 people a month.
Types of beans
The majority of the world's produced chocolate, anywhere from 70 to 90 percent, comes from Forastero beans. These beans are inexpensive and bitter. Companies will roast the beans to the point of burning and then mask the taste with vanilla and flavoring. Caputo describes it as having a "one dimensional flavor."
Criollo, the most coveted chocolate, is less resistant to disease and increasingly rare. Although it is nearly impossible to prove that a bean comes from a pure Criollo strain, Caputo estimates that it accounts for about 2 percent of the world's chocolate.
Most beans begin fermenting while still in the cacao pod, surrounded by a white mucous-like substance. After this, many chocolate makers will then require that the beans be fermented further.
They are then shipped to the chocolate maker, where beans are sorted one by one to remove impurities or other materials that manage to make it into the sack.
Depending on the desired chocolate product, the beans may then be roasted, shelled, ground, mixed with pure vanilla, sugar and/or cocoa butter, tempered and shaped.
Dana Brewster owns Millcreek Coffee Roasters and about two years ago, she decided to bring her expertise to the chocolate industry.
She and her husband Mark DelVecchio have been producing chocolate for two years as part of the bean to bar movement. They work directly with a farmer in Ecuador who produces the Arriba Nacional beans.
"The nuances that it has to me are so beautiful that we just decided to go with that particular bean," she said.
So far, Millcreek Cacao Roasters has been able to navigate the more volatile variables in the chocolate process: growing, sorting, roasting, cracking and winnowing the beans.
On Monday, she received news that an incoming bean order will be delayed by 27 days because the boat carrying them broke down. She has learned to see obstacles like this as "opportunity in disguise."
"It's really a labor of love," she said.
Brewster said the "affordable luxury" of chocolate is something that anyone can appreciate.
"All in all, I think chocolate lovers are universal," she said.
Solstice began selling chocolate bars at the farmer's market in Park City as a means to provide a summer job to Scott and DeAnn Querry's 16-year-old daughter. They sold out of bars before the first day ended.
“Every bar is an absolute stunner,” Caputo said.
The company launched at the end of September and is currently working to keep up with demand.
“When people try it, they really like it,” Scott Querry said.
Their solar facility leaves nary a carbon footprint, with a zero waste policy, bio degradable packaging, and husks being used for compost.
They have their recipes down to an exact science. Roasting is timed down to the second; measurements are specific down to the grain.
"Honestly, I'd give it out if I could. I love it. It's so fun," Scott said.
Some vegan and healthy chocolates are “challenging to eat” and seem to be “punishing your mouth,” Caputo said, because they often forgo flavors to maintain what they see as product purity.
However, he carries bars from raw, vegan chocolate shop The Chocolate Conspiracy.
“There’s not good raw chocolate out there,” Chocolate Conspiracy owner AJ Wentworth said.
Because of this, Wentworth, a health nut and chocolate lover, decided to "bring raw chocolate to the fine chocolate industry."
He uses natural sweeteners and avoids roasting, tempering and fermenting the bean so that he can "showcase the raw bean," he said.
“I’m going to let the cacao do its thing and I’m going to present it in a way that people want to consume,” he said.
Owner Christopher Webb, modeled his company after the drink of the Mayan and Aztec cultures. To them, it was a celebratory and ceremonial drink. Chocolate was also used as currency.
"I think they realized the power of the bean itself," he said.
In the years since the bar was taken to Spain and spread throughout Europe, it became more of a confection to be molded, shaped and made into candy. It lost its purpose as a cultural celebration drink.
“I wanted to take it back in that direction,” Webb said.
Everything from the roasting to the grinding and grating processes are designed to draw out the distinct flavors of beans from five different source countries. This is in contrast to the mass produced chocolate, and specifically with drinking chocolate, that rely on artificial flavors to produce difference in taste.
“What we wanted to do was produce a chocolate where the main focus was the flavor," he said.
He wants people to have an experience with drinking chocolate similar to Starbucks, where they can customize their drinking experience.
Amano chocolate is currently the most decorated bar in Utah, Caputo said, adding that any serious chocolate distributor will offer Amano chocolate.
The company launched in 2007 and has since won almost 150 international, national and state awards, including the Gold Award from the London Academy of Chocolate for their Dos Rios Palet D'or bar.
Company owner Art Pollard said he is developing a bar that will be “completely and radically different than anything that’s been done before.”
Not many people can afford a fine car or yacht, “but most anybody can afford a world-class chocolate bar,” Pollard said.
People rise to their surroundings, he said, so when people eat fine chocolate, they are better for it.
“It helps people enrich their own lives and they end up becoming better people for it,” he said.
Eric Durtschi learned about nutrition while going to school to be a chiropractor. About a decade ago he found out cocoa was a super food, and began investigating how to encorporte the bean into diets while foregoing the fat and sugar often added.
He researched drinking chocolate and realized no one else had successfully created a chocolate that could brew like coffee.
So he set out to do what no one else had done before.
Since its launch on Oct. 10, 2010, the product has spread to about 1,000 stores in the United States, Australia, Japan and Korea.
He works with his source plantations to teach them to ferment the beans in a specific way that will allow them to brew well. He recently received beans from a farmer with whom he worked for 16 months to train him on how to farm the beans properly.
In 2014 he will launch a new Bru line and also offer chocolate bars to pair with the drinks.
Coleman and Davis Artisan Chocolate
The company will launch in early 2014, and although Davis has yet to produce a bar, he has come to Caputo's attention.
“He trusts my palate,” Davis said.
Most bars being produced worldwide have a subtle taste of roast, something, he says with pleading in his eyes, that masks the taste of the bean.
“The world needs to be presented with what these beans have to offer and no one is doing that right now,” he said.
He promises that the beans and chocolate he will produce will showcase the flavors in unprecedented ways.
During a chocolate testing he was guiding, Davis described an Amedi Blanco De Criollo as being “like a symphony in the mouth.”
“Great chocolates always take you on a journey.”
One of the reasons for this is that palates mature and their ability to detect tastes sharpens over time.
The aging process in chocolates also changes the flavors, making it a whole new experience with each tasting.
Davis claims to have pioneered the world's most sophisticated chocolate tasting method.
“It turns out that how you sample the chocolate is as [important] as the chocolate you sample,” he said.
The method involves rubbing the widest surface area of a chocolate piece about the size of a nickel.
Step two, sniff the chocolate in small puffs of breath, keeping the mouth open partially. This trains the palate on what it is about to taste.
Next, place the chocolate on the tongue and press and rub the piece against the roof of the mouth for about 15 seconds, more if the chocolate is cool in temperature. Then chew the chocolate and move the flavors from the back of the tongue on the sides up to the tip of the tongue.
Distinct flavors arise from this, from fresh bread to blackberries or cherries.6 comments on this story
Every step of the way — from fermenting the bean to winnowing (peeling), to roasting and conching — affects how the bean will taste.
“At every step you can destroy the potential that the chocolate has to offer.”