In the world of chocolate, there are hundreds if not thousands of chocolatiers, people who make and mold chocolate candies from chocolate that someone else makes. There are only 85-100 people in the world who actually make chocolate from cacao pods and, surprisingly, two of them are in the little village of Fernie, British Columbia.
Beanpod is the love child of husband and wife team James and Mary Heavey. In 1996, the then-newlyweds traveled to St. Lucia and visited a coffee plantation. They fell in love with the idea of artisan products and controlling the ingredients that go into what you produce. They also became entranced with making chocolate the old fashioned way.
“We were interested in rolling back the clock,” says James, a former software engineer. “We wanted to make artisan chocolate where we could control the flavor release in the beans.”
Learning the ins and outs of making chocolate was arduous. The couple traveled for three years and logged 29,000 miles researching techniques and looking for the right 100-year-old equipment – a Molinge crusher/grinder and a conching machine, originally invented by famous chocolate maker Lindt.
They buy sustainably-grown cacao beans, partially dried, from farms in Ecuador, Trinidad, Costa Rica, and Papua New Guinea. Then they roast them and begin the long grinding process. The old Molinger grinds the beans from 20 mc to 600 mc. Then it’s onto the conching machine that further grinds and aerates the beans. James says that most chocolate makers conch their beans for 15 minutes; they conch for 72 hours. It takes them a full six days to make a batch of their chocolate.
“This machine is amazing,” says James. “It changes the flavor spectrum of the cacao beans from nutty to berry to honey to cinnamon/nutmeg.”
Their chocolate, which they make into candies like truffles and other candies, bars in 60 different flavors, and drinking chocolate, contains chocolate solids, cocoa butter and raw cane sugar (or honey). Some also have additions like nuts, seeds, or dried fruit. They make 70% dark, 85% dark, 100% dark, and milk chocolate. The percentage reflects the amount of cacao in the products. Their 70% dark chocolate is intensely-flavored with a slightly grainy texture. The 85% is less sweet, but has a silkier texture. The 100% is über-chocolaty, but bitter (chocolate is not naturally sweet) like unsweetened baking chocolate.
Beanpod chocolate isn’t the most sophisticated chocolate we’ve tried. The mouth feel, especially on the 70% dark chocolate, could be smoother. Their chocolate is a bit grittier — perhaps more like original chocolate made by the Mayans – than many contemporary chocolates we’ve reviewed. And their packaging is pretty basic – foil with rudimentary-looking paper covers. However, we love the fact that Mary and James are tackling the difficult process of making chocolate. We also appreciate the inventiveness and creativity of their flavors.
Their Fernie Espresso Bar, made with 85% dark chocolate, contains 700 espresso beans, which they roast themselves. It’s not especially sweet, but it contains a strong espresso flavor that true coffee lovers are likely to fine pleasing. The Fernie Nib Bar, made with 70% dark chocolate, has crunchiness and a bit of bitterness from the nibs. The Fernie TransRockies Bar, another 70% dark bar, offers interesting textures with the addition of cocoa nibs, Goji berries, almonds, cranberries, flax seeds, and pumpkin and sunflower seeds. This is a bar that would take you far on the trail.
Another interesting Beanpod bar is the Fernie Salted dark. This 70% bar has a bit of graininess to it and a saltiness that comes from Himalayan pink salt. My favorite of the Bean Pod bars I sampled is the Fernie Black Bear, a dark chocolate laced with honeycomb that adds a lovely textural contrast to the rich chocolate.
Beanpod’s truffles and other chocolates are worth exploring. For instance, their lime and rum truffles have a bright limey flavor. Their peanut butter and jelly tastes like, well, PBJ. Their salted caramels, which use a fleur de sel from France, feature a buttery, almost liquid caramel.
Their drinking chocolate is fun, too. They offer a Mayan Hot Chocolate that contains spices like paprika, pepper, and chili that is more spicy than chocolaty. It’s a drink that will definitely warm you on a chilly British Columbia winter’s night.
James and Mary don’t ship their chocolate outside of Canada – at least not yet. So if you don’t live in Canada, you’ll have to make a trip to experience Beanpod and it’s a trip worth taking. The town of Fernie is quaint, the surrounding scenery is spectacular, and the work Mary and James are doing well worth supporting. – Review by Bobbie Hasselbring, RFT Editor