From Bean to Bar: Ritual Chocolate

Utah chocolate makers share a passion for cacao
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Treat yourself or a loved one to a subscription box: a monthly, bimonthly or quarterly delivery of delicious chocolate. Each installment has a different, specially curated selection. | Photos by Blake Peterson

Anna Davies and Robbie Stout, founders of Ritual Chocolate, know there’s more to great chocolate than flavor alone.

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Ritual Chocolate has fine-tuned its chocolate-making process, taking pride in showcasing the particular flavor each type of cacao bean has to offer.

The experience has to do with texture: the crinkling package as you unwrap it, the sound when you snap off a corner, the way it softens as you chew. Intention is important as well—taking time to indulge or to share a moment with a friend. It can be a gift or it can be the perfect ending to a meal. Ritual Chocolate honors these simple joys by crafting delicious, high- quality chocolate.

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Cacao “beans” are the seeds of the cacao fruit. After they are fermented and dried, Davies and Stout separate the hard exterior from the “nibs,” the main ingredient in chocolate.

For Davies and Stout, it all started with curiosity. A little over 10 years ago they lived in Boulder, Colorado, and had a nascent chocolate habit but no culinary background. A visit to Davies’ brother in San Francisco led to a single-origin chocolate tasting. “The flavors were amazing,” Davies recalls. “We hadn’t had anything like  that before.” This planted a question that would eventually yield big results: Why is great chocolate difficult to find, and how hard would it be to fix that?

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The cacao nibs are heated, ground and aerated in a complex, week-long process using specialized machinery.

Without delay, they bought some small-scale equipment, turned their tiny studio apartment into a DIY chocolate laboratory and started experimenting. Even with these humble beginnings, they produced results that were more interesting than the average grocery store chocolate bar.

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The Madagascar bar is the second bar Ritual Chocolate produced. “It’s wonderfully bright, fruity, citrusy,” says Davies. “It has this lovely acidity, like fresh fruit.”

Then, in 2009, they met Steve DeVries, founder of DeVries Chocolate, who had collected chocolate-making machinery from around the world. He wasn’t using his equipment at full capacity and offered to rent a few pieces. They moved to Denver, started making chocolate and, in 2010, Ritual Chocolate was born.

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Ritual Chocolate offers single-origin chocolate bars featuring cacao beans from five countries.

Today, Davies and Stout have a chocolate factory in Heber City, Utah, with a new café that opened in October. A second café, located in nearby Park City, offers pastries and, coming soon, a wine list. Ritual Chocolate products are also offered online throughout North America, both to individuals and wholesale.

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The three-roll mill grinds the cacao nibs along with sugar. Many companies stop here, but Ritual Chocolate wants a smoother, more delicate texture.

The quality of the cacao beans (or seeds) used to make Ritual Chocolate are of the highest grade, ethically sourced from sustainable fair-wage farms across the globe. Respect for the product and the people Davies and Stout work with are the foundation of their business, and it’s evident in the relationships they’ve nurtured.

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Ritual Chocolate currently offers 19 unique chocolate bars. This “Novo Coffee” bar blends Ethiopian coffee with premium cacao.

Before the burlap sacks of beans arrive, skilled farmers in Madagascar, Ecuador, Belize, Peru and Mexico have cultivated and pruned the cacao trees. It’s a labor-intensive job, as the farmers hand-pick, ferment and dry the beans.

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Cacao nibs are about 50% cacao butter. They become a thick, decadent paste when they’re ground down.

Ritual Chocolate’s process is geared toward showcasing the complex and diverse flavors of those beans, which are roasted in convection ovens just enough to evaporate the moisture and crack the shells, but not so much that they lose their bright flavors. After the shells have been separated from the “nibs,” or meat of the beans, Davies and Stout use a series of machines to grind and shear the nibs down to a decadent, buttery consistency. This step alone takes several days. They then temper and mold the chocolate, giving it the proper texture.

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In these trays, Ritual Chocolate slowly, lightly roasts the beans to bring out their brightest flavors.

Whether it’s their single-origin chocolate, their blends, their drinking chocolate or their festive limited editions like the Gingerbread Spiced bar, the same care and attention to detail goes into every treat.

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Each bar is carefully hand-wrapped and stamped with the harvest year and the batch number. “Every batch is different,” says Davies. “Each one has little changes in flavor, like wine or coffee.”

The second-to-last step is packaging, also done by hand. The final step, completing the ritual, is when the chocolate finds its way into the hands of someone who will enjoy it. “We love chocolate tastings,” says Davies. “Even if it’s for five minutes in the café, we’re always saying, ‘Try this, try the Ecuador. Now you have to try the Madagascar. See the difference?’”

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