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Friday, March 27, 2015

Behind The Scenes: Xocolatl Small Batch Chocolate (Krog St. Market - Inman Park)

In anticipation of wrapping up our #SupportATLBiz campaign on March 31, we decided to do something a little different for all our friends.  We partnered with the awesome team at Xocolatl Small Batch Chocolate at Krog Street Market to get a behind-the-scenes tour of their in-shop chocolate factory.  Read on to find out more about how Xocolatl (pronounced "chock-oh-LAH-tul") started, why they chose to open their shop in Atlanta, and how they work with other local businesses to create delicious chocolate treats.

"Cacao doesn't grow in Georgia's climate.  But, if it did, I'm sure Xocolatl would buy it here.  They support ATL biz!" 
We visited Xocolatl on a weekday morning when most of the stores in Krog Street Market had yet to unzip their screens and open for business.  Elaine, who owns Xocolatl with her husband Matt, was there to greet us with two of her chocolatiers.  The Xocolatl chocolate factory was already bustling when we arrived, and our noses filled with the sweet scent of cacao and sugar.  Our eyes met with the heavenly sight of stacks of as-yet-unwrapped chocolate bars.  What was this magical place Mommy took us to on a school day?  (And, more importantly, was Mommy losing her mind?!)

Stacks of freshly made chocolate bars waiting to be hand-wrapped.
Elaine, who is a mommy herself to 5-year-old Ronan and 2-year-old Evabelle, was an extremely patient and gracious host to us, and it was clear she could tell us everything we needed to know about chocolate.  The first thing she did was give us a tour of the micro chocolate factory, along with a really easy-to-follow description of how Xocolatl's chocolate is made.  She explained that cacao beans are the key ingredient of chocolate.  Cacao beans are the seeds of the cacao fruit.  Most parts of a cacao fruit are edible, including the white flesh of the fruit, which Elaine said has a tropical flavor sort of like pineapple.  And the edible parts are, in fact, quite healthy - especially the raw cacao beans, which Elaine told us are high in antioxidants and flavonoids.  Elaine showed us the huge bags of cacao beans Xocolatl orders from exotic places like Costa Rica, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Trinidad, and Madagascar.  She shelled and let us try some of the raw cacao beans and even let us inhale the lovely scent wafting from the burlap bags.

"This has to be what Heaven smells like!"
"But can we eat it yet?"
Once they have their supply of cacao beans, Elaine's team sorts through them, selecting only quality beans for their chocolate.  They then roast the selected beans to enhance the cacao's chocolatey flavors while burning off sour flavors the beans may acquire through fermentation.  After roasting the beans, the Xocolatl team cracks them using a machine with a hand crank.  The cracking process helps turn the cacao beans into cocoa nibs that are used to make chocolate.  Elaine and her team were nice enough to let us crack a few beans ourselves.  That was surprisingly tough!  We're thinking folks who crack cacao beans all day probably don't have to lift weights much...

"Okay, it's time to show Ms. Elaine what these biceps can do."
After the cacao beans are cracked into cocoa nibs, the mixture has to be winnowed so the hard bits of husk can be separated from the softer, tastier cocoa nibs.  The winnowing process is super cool.  The winnower is basically a wooden box with a couple of paths inside it, kind of like a maze, that's covered on the front by a clear acrylic sheet.  Xocolatl's chocolatiers scoop the cracked cocoa nib/cacao husk mixture into a hole at the top of this wooden box.  Then they use a vacuum hose to blow air into it.  The air blows the cacao husk pieces down one path and into a bowl waiting underneath; it blows the cocoa nibs down an opposite path and into a different bowl.  The cacao husks are used as mulch - per Elaine, they're really good for plants due to their high nitrogen content).  The clean mixture of cocoa nibs is the only ingredient in Xocolatl's chocolate bars other than organic cane sugar.  Incredibly, Matt built Xocolatl's winnower himself.  Amazing!

"Must. Not. Spill."
Once the magical winnowing process is done, the Xocolatl team puts the cacao nibs and cane sugar into a grindeur/melanger (a machine with two granite wheels inside that grind, churn, and aerate the cocoa nib/sugar mixture until it becomes smooth and creamy).  We learned that the Cocoatown grindeurs Xocolatl uses are manufactured and sold right here in Roswell, Georgia.  How's that for supporting local businesses? 

Cocoatown grindeur made in Roswell, GA, filled with gallons of chocolate.
The grindeur/melanger works the cocoa nib/sugar mixture for many hours to get it to the right consistency.  Throughout the process, the Xocolatl team has to manually adjust the tension in the granite wheels to ensure the mixture will create creamy yet light chocolate bars.  Once the mixture is perfect, Elaine and her chocolatiers pour it through a machine that squirts perfectly portioned batches of chocolate into Xocolatl's custom molds.  The team puts the chocolate-filled molds into a custom-built (also by Matt) wooden chest of air conditioned drawers so the bars can set.  Once the bars have set, they remove them from the molds, trim off any unsightly chocolate slivers, hand-adorn them with ingredients like locally sourced nuts (if that particular chocolate bar calls for it), and wrap them up to sell.  This entire process, from bean to bar, takes at least 4 days.  Quite a bit of work for a small rectangle of chocolate - but totally worth it because the final product is exquisite.     

Some of the locally sourced ingredients that Xocolatl uses for its chocolate bars.
Local suppliers include Caffe Campesino (coffee) and Kirsten Farms (peaches, pecans).
Each almond is artfully placed by hand onto each bar. 
When we finished our tour, Elaine let us sample some of Xocolatl's bars.  The bars taste different depending on where the cacao beans in the bar originated and the ratio of cocoa to cane sugar in the bar.  After we got a little bit "chocolate wasted," we asked Elaine why they decided to start a chocolate shop.  She told us how she and Matt traveled to Central America in their pre-kids days and always dreamed of going back.  Then, at a point in their post-kids era (while she was pregnant with their second child), they said, "Why not?"  Then they packed up their things and moved their family to the Costa Rican jungle for 6 months.  During that time, they learned as a family the art of chocolate making.  They saw how in that region chocolate is made organically, often with crude handmade tools, and wanted to bring that spirit of artisanship back to the U.S.  Matt is an Atlanta native and still has family here (in fact, his dad stopped by while we were there to help with chocolate bar wrapping); so Atlanta is where they landed.  And we're really happy about that.  

We love hearing stories like Elaine and Matt's.  And we love seeing how their story unfolds every day and intertwines with similar stories of Atlanta business owners who, like Elaine and Matt, pursued their dreams and became entrepreneurs.  Thanks, Xocolatl, for being such an inspiration, for supporting other ATL businesses, and for providing our community with such yummy, wholesome chocolate to enjoy.  We wish you much success!


"This was the best Toddler Foodie outing ever  Thanks, Xocolatl!'

Have you participated in our #SupportATLBiz campaign yet? 
It's not too late!  Post a photo of your business/product on Instagram or Facebook with the hashtag #SupportATLBiz, and we'll give you a shout-out on our blog.  The Toddler Foodies love local small businesses!

1 comment:

  1. This is so cool! My girls would be so jealous... :)