Updated: May 25, 2020
SINGLE ORIGIN BEAN-TO-BAR CHOCOLATE
ENGINEER + ANALYST + LOVE FOR CHOCOLATE = AWESOME CHOCOLATE!
Ladies and gentlemen, let me introduce you Brian and Lan: an engineer and an analyst who really loves high-quality chocolate. They sort, roast, crack, winnow, grind, refine, and, in general, handcraft in small batches fine dark chocolate bars in San Francisco.
Their curated selection is distinguished by a very elegant packaging design and mold style.
Of course, I tasted some of their bars and I really love their seasonal Fiji Brandy inclusion and Öko-Caribe Dominican Republic options. I also enjoyed the two samples they sent me which are the complex Honduras Wampusirpi and their beloved one Tien Giang Vietnam.
I hope you will enjoy my interview as much as I enjoyed collaborating with this amazing couple!
Why did you use the name "9th & larkin"?
I used to live on Larkin street when I was dating Brian living on the 9th. In San Francisco, 9th & Larkin are joint streets, they become one, we love that coincidence and decided to use the two street names as our brand.
When did you start to make bean to bar chocolate?
How did this new passion influence your lifestyle and/or your relationship?
We used to do a lot of hiking on weekends and used to travel a lot more, now we are always at the factory. Most people may not know but 9th & Larkin up to now is still just the 2 of us, I am at the factory all day during the week and Brian joins me on weekends.
What is your first single-origin bar?
Tien Giang, Vietnam 70% cacao. We made it in our kitchen at home. I mentioned to my mom we wanted to make chocolate from scratch, so she came to visit us from Vietnam with a very nice surprise: 5lbs of cacao beans from Tien Giang, Vietnam. We experimented with 2.5lbs. Brian roasted half in the oven, my mom roasted half in a frying pan on the stove. Then came winnowing, we hand-peeled most of it, I also tried cracking some with a wine bottle and used a hairdryer to blow away the husk, not a good idea in an apartment. We still found bits of husks and nibs here and there for months after. It took a few days to melange it as we didn't run it continuously, our neighbor downstairs was sensitive to noise, so we only ran it during the day, then kept it warm overnight and continued running the next day.
During the making process, what is the most challenging part of this job?
Tempering. I had never tempered chocolates before, when we made chocolates for ourselves, we didn't really temper them. It took me a while to get a hang of it.
Since bonbon and truffles are very trendy, have you ever considered to introduce them in your chocolate portfolio?
Maybe one day, probably not at the moment though. There are so many things we want to do, but with just the 2 of us, it’s quite limited what we can.
I noticed you work mostly on single-origin dark chocolate bars, but what do you think about the inclusion craft chocolate market?
Inclusions are awesome, and it is a good way to introduce a number of people to craft chocolate too. Not everyone is into the rich and intense dark chocolate, but they may go for a bar with a dark chocolate base with inclusions
Do you think to insert the amazing FIJI BRANDY bar in your regular selection?
Yes, we like that bar very much too, and we are working on it. I hope we will be able to bring it back soon.
Future project or improvement?
I am working on improving the texture of my chocolate, trying to make it smoother. We don't use a ball mill machine so we couldn't achieve a uniformly smooth texture, but we are trying to learn more about our existing machine and tweaking it.
How the COVID-19 is effecting your business and what kind of measurement are you taking to prevent the worst for your activity?
Covid19 is impacting most businesses, ours too. But we are grateful to be healthy and grateful for the support of people. I am trying to stay productive, so I have a list of things that I wanted to do and make an effort to cross off one item off the list each week.
What is your favorite single-origin (Larkin) bar and do you consider one of them as your flagship and/or masterpiece?
My favorite bar is Tien Giang Vietnam 70%. I love that bar because it was my first single-origin bar, and I am Vietnamese, so I always feel connected when getting to work with beans from my country.
I know you taste other craft chocolate makers, so I would like to know who is the one who inspires you the most?
Our neighbor, Dandelion, they are super focused and consistent. And they built out a chocolate factory that is in every chocolate maker's dream. Soma in Toronto makes delicious chocolates, their fruit bars taste like eating the fruit in the bar form. Fjak in Norway is so good too, I like all the bars I tasted. And there are many more... Behind each craft chocolate bar is a chocolate maker with passion and dedication to making good chocolate.
What is your chocolate message to the world?
Eating chocolate is like traveling. They say to learn about a country, you need to eat their food, learn about their culture. What can be a richer experience than tasting food that is cultivated from the sun, the rain, the soil in that area, and taken great care of by the people who harvest, ferment, dry, pack and ship across the seven seas to all around the world where they are made into chocolate. How they are made is also influenced by the local cuisine, I see that in infusion and inclusion bars. So eat chocolate, and experience it! Terroir may sound like an abstract thing, but it is tangible when you can taste the landscape where those cacao trees are cultivated.
I am very grateful to both of you for having shared with me some of your favorite specialties.