Anyone who knows me knows dessert – more specifically, CHOCOLATE – is my ultimate vice. I’m also somewhat obsessed with the “how we make ___” TV shows (remember when Mister Rogers went to the Crayola factory?) So, when I got an invitation to tour the Raaka Chocolate Factory in Brooklyn, I practically fainted. A CHOCOLATE FACTORY? To see how chocolate is MADE??? I’d barely finished reading the email before I sent back a gleeful YES.
First, a little bit on Raaka. After the eye-rolls about Mast Brothers for their “bean-to-bar” chocolate process (that turned out to be defunct), the masses have seemed wary against artisan chocolatiers. Raaka, a small NYC-based company, is fighting this using complete transparency: they allow anyone interested to tour their factory to see exactly how they craft their chocolate bars. It also details the entire process on their website.
According to William, one of Raaka’s founders, most chocolate on the market is made with roasted cacao beans. Companies that are mass-producing claim that roasting the beans is the only way to get a “chocolate” flavor, but Raaka argues that isn’t true. Or, more so, they argue that that shouldn’t be the main goal. Instead, they focus on sourcing different types of cacao beans (all organic) and highlighting their unique, individual flavors. After tasting a ton of different bars throughout the day, I have to say – I’m way into the Raaka strategy.
STEP ONE: Winnow the cacao beans.
First step first: Raaka receives all their cacao beans in huge sacks (similar looking to what I imagine coffee beans are shipped in en masse). The cacao husk on each individual bean needs to be cracked and separated from the “nib,” as the nib is what later becomes chocolate. Raaka built their own custom winnowing machine, so this process (which would take hours by hand) goes super quickly!
STEP TWO: Grind the nibs in melangeurs.
In the room next to the winnower, Raaka stores its melangeurs. These bad boys grind the nibs and emulsify the mixture into a liquid. It’s at this stage that they add sugar and any flavorings.
STEP THREE: Process the mixture in the three-roll mill.
The chocolate mixture is processed in the melangeurs for two days (!) before it’s moved to the mill. The milling process grinds and reduces the particles further, giving the chocolate its recognizable silky texture.
STEP FOUR: Temper!
Tempering chocolate is critical. To make a long story short, the cocoa butter, or the fatty part of the chocolate mixture, needs to be worked and heated in a specific way to lock its chemical structure together. If chocolate is tempered properly, the bar will snap when broken, and it will have a good texture and shine. After the tempering is done, the chocolate is poured into molds and cooled.
STEP FIVE: Wrap them babies up!
Okay, here’s where Mister Rogers and the Crayola factory come back into play. On my favorite part of the episode, he shows an incredible machine that wraps each individual crayon, sorts and portions them out into boxes, and seals each box. I could have watched a freakin’ MARATHON of this mechanical creature: I couldn’t imagine how this machine could recognize each crayon and know just what to do! Like, who comes up with these things?? SURPRISE, the modern day version is Raaka! Not for crayons (duh) but for wrapping their chocolate bars. It’s too complicated to explain but I’ll just say it’s amazing and I want them to create a custom machine for me to stare at all day.
STEP SIX: Chocolate is sorted and shipped.
After the chocolate bars are wrapped, each batch is categorized and organized into boxes for shipping or individual sale at the factory. Raaka also distributes their chocolate to local retailers and coffee shops around NYC. They’re big on collaboration, so sometimes they’ll partner with different companies to create custom bars (when I visited they were about to launch a bar with La Colombe, using their coffee beans).
At this point in the tour, William took me to the front of the factory, where the current line of bars was on display. We tasted everything, comparing and contrasting flavor combinations – from Cabernet Sauvignon to Strawberry Basil. I love a lot of things about Raaka Chocolate (it’s ethically sourced, it’s local, they care about the product and their consumers), but as with any chocolate, it’s the TASTE I love the most. The flavors are surprising and satisfying and as unique as the factory that makes them. So do yourself a favor, and sign up for the public tours on their website or in store. It’ll make for a fun day, and a good excuse to buy a lot of chocolate. (but really, when is there not?).
RAAKA CHOCOLATE is located at 64 Seabring Street, Brooklyn, NY. For more information on products and tours, check out their website here.