Updated: Jul 18
I find it hard to believe that there is anyone today who won`t say that Naive expresses a unique concept of craft chocolate. Each bar evokes a distinctive sensory voyage and an authentic culinary experience where no detail is left to chance.
We all know where Chocolate Naive comes from, a little town on the Eastern side of Lithuania, but let`s delve deeper into the spirit and philosophy that drives Domantas Uzpalis: a city planner by education who was working in the IT industry before tackling his big ambition of "making chocolate".
This is what he told me as a brief outline description of his story:
My chocolate adventure started during the last credit crunch – financial disasters are great to begin something new as it just throws you out of something into something new! Our brand name represents the stupid optimism and idealism of starting a new and adventurous project not in the US or Japan but somewhere in the Lithuanian countryside. Pretty silly, right?
Keeping up with the same chocolate missionary zeal from one question to another...
I would like to talk more about the Molecule Bar. How did you come up with this idea?
How long did it take to develop this innovative project? Sincerely, after tasting the bar and reading the laborious work behind it, I am surprised you maintained a "regular price"... I always wanted to manufacture healthy food. Chocolate is like a supplement due to very high natural antioxidants but they are destroyed while processing. Also, there are sugar and milk factors that reduce the benefit even more. Since I am into functional food for more than 12 years now I have built very specific and interesting knowledge that I combined with my main craft – chocolate expertise.
I think it’s the healthiest chocolate in the market, period!
The natural pigmentation of fresh cacao seed is either purple or whitish (as you may be seen), depending on the variety. The pigmentation might explain the genetics of cacao (more towards Criollo or Forastero, or something in between, Amazonian, etc). These purple or transparent pigments are where the polyphenols are concentrated (think other bright fruit and vegetable). Polyphenols act as antioxidants and fight free radicals in human bodies so that is why it is very beneficial to saturate one’s diet with polyphenols or other natural antioxidants from food – they are the perfectly balanced medicine ideally calibrated for great absorption and usage. We use heirloom cacao of Machu Picchu that is specifically prepared under specific methods at the farm to keep all the purple antioxidants to its fullest potential. Since processing (fermentation, drying) changes the chemical composition of cacao, the purple polyphenols are greatly reduced. This chocolate is as close to raw cacao bean as possible so that is why it tastes a little bit like cacao seed rather than the typical chocolate flavor. The price issue is always a balance between expectation/production cost and the realistic level of eater’s agreement to pay it. So I try not to make it too crazy since fewer people might want to explore it. It is still expensive but not excessively.
Personally, I experienced the euphoria after I tasted 20 gr of chocolate. Did you receive other affirmations of the mind boosting effect of the Molecule Bar? Or complaining? There is a correlation between the effect-quantity-bodyweight-gender? Of course. It all depends on body composition and everyone’s different. It would not work the same way with everyone but it still serves its purpose. The effect can be mellow or strong. It might be even unpleasant due to theobromine or other chemicals but its definitely healing. I believe it.
Have you ever think to do something different one day? Most of the days I am quitting in the evenings. It’s an ambitious and challenging job. There are many easier ways to earn money. But I think I ended here with chocolate and cacao for some sort of weird reason. Somebody has to do it, right?
Besides bean to bar chocolate, what are your interests? I have multiple interests, starting from architecture, art to industrial design. Log buildings and all-natural construction. I am a member of the sauna academy too.
I am curious about your chocolate factory: is it big, how many people are involved in your project? It's not that big. However, we are building our own facility which is going to offer full chocolate experience by being with nature and surrounded by chocolate simultaneously. It was planned and matured for many years and maybe next year the dream will come true. Plan your visit!
In contrast to various European chocolate makers, you do not use too much cocoa butter. Therefore your bars have a not-typical European texture. But it is also different from the majority of the U.S. style. Is it possible to classify your method? We do use some butter but I think it all depends on the recipe. For example, milk chocolate must contain extra butter otherwise it becomes too thin to operate. However, the butter must not mute the flavor so you have to be smart about it.
Can you describe the difference between nano-lot and limited edition? Our nano_lot collection is all about scarce, unique plantations and/or heirloom cacaos that are of unique genetics/specific post-harvesting protocols, etc. We source very limited quantities and process into the chocolate and then move on source another exciting nano_lot bean. Limited editions bars (Naïve’s) like IMPERIAL STOUT or new upcoming DURIAN are made together with flavor ingredient that represents a specific culinary concept (that is hard to pull-off). IMPERIAL STOUT bar, for example, is made out of beer that was brewed and then matured in bourbon barrels for two years. Sourcing such ingredients take time and effort and they are not readily available so we use them for limited release bars and only for a short time.
Do you notice some controversial tendencies in the craft chocolate market? I do. Too many inclusions: when the packaging fails or the name is not strong or we need to reconfirm our name on the market, let`s add ingredients. Now there is nothing wrong with it but my belief is that it is a direct effect of reaching more costumers. So are we really going to change the vision of real chocolate in the world? The real effort is to let people appreciate single origins, nano-lot like yours, specialty inclusion with at least 50% single cacao origin content. What is your thought about it?
I personally think that different styles of chocolates represent different eating routines. Some are based on culinary experiments, like seasonal chocolates, chocolates with inclusions/infusions, country-specific, etc. Others are pure, without additional ingredients and cacao-centric. I believe chocolate/cacao can be used in so many ways that it would be sad to focus on only one “right” way. What about savory chocolate products? What about drinks? What about snacks? Sauces? Bitters? Medicinal products? All these styles can and should co-exist.
You just launched two new nano-lot, one of which has leather notes. Now I noticed the Rugoso Special hasn`t been very appreciated. Aren`t you afraid the same thing can happen for the Sierra Julian bar? By the way, thanks to you I learned the meaning of "leather note" often confused with actual grapefruit flavor.
I believe we already launched almost 10 nano_lot bars and they are all well appreciated. Since we export around the globe there are different preferences from country to country. Also, it's always different from person to person. Of course, some beans are just hard to beat in terms of story and flavor. If you want to experience real nano_lot collection, you might consider trying ELIZABETH AGUDELO, NICARAGUA PLATINUM GRADE, or SIERRA JULIAN SALVADOR that were carefully selected and represent very specific flavor profiles. I just realized they are out of stock though and gone. Oh well, there is some very interesting new stuff coming out soon.
What do you think about white chocolate? Is it a possibility you are looking into?
I see white chocolate as pastry. However, there is a possibility to make an edible one. One big advantage of white chocolate is that you can introduce all sorts of colors of fruit/vegetable/herbs. So it can be very eye-appealing.
There are many bars with spirit or beer inclusions. But these days I was thinking why not a bar with wine (maybe red wine)? I am Italian and I love wine. So far, I found an Italian bean to bar chocolate maker (Ruket) who makes a Sangiovese Bar.
It is definitely possible but we never tried this combination yet. Chocolate is a great tool for culinary experimentations and wine could be a nice pairing too.
I always read the culinary culture of different countries. Here is some inspiration for you then: beetroot, shrimps, fermented rye bread drink (gira), mead, or Horseradish (instead of wasabi)... Lol.
Good suggestions. I like to experiment with local ingredients, we even have a chocolate collection dedicated purely to our terroir which includes chocolate with porcini mushrooms, kefir, local honey. There are plans to expand it with some seasonal/limited release products and your references are not that far away from our own ideas. But let’s keep it a small secret until its fully ready.
Can I volunteer as your assistant for future chocolate show events? Lol.
What is your chocolate message to the world? For me, it is very important to create a bond with our eater. Some recipes are more successful than others but hey, different strokes for different folks, right?
Keep learning and eating, please! Support your favorite chocolate makers and open your mind to new things!
It doesn`t end here, right below you can read some customers' doubt and curiosity.
1. I have been asked for more info about the Jaguar Tree Bar. The customer questioned the rarity stated on the package.
In her own words: "First it says that there are only 1000 trees and I wonder why we do see jaguar chocolate by other makers ( it seems like it would be hard to harvest enough of those beans to send out to several makers ) and I would like to know if the chocolate of that bar is a mix of white heirloom beans and jaguar tree beans or if it’s just white heirloom beans and then just the jaguar tree beans ( Macambo nuts ) set on top. I ordered a whole jar of those nuts and it wasn’t difficult to find so I wondered why he insisted that it was such a rare thing. Otherwise, why can you find it on amazon? By the way, I love the bar!" D. U. says:
The Jaguar tree nuts are scarce since nobody is really cultivating them widely. It is more of a personal use crop, grown by farmers for themselves. ‘1000 trees’ is more like symbolic expression, does not mean I counted them all to provide factual statistics to my eaters. Sometimes people tend to overthink and confront my writings but our packaging stories are not meant to provide statistics. They are created to build aura and mood around the product. It’s expressive and romantic rather than dry and statistical."
2. Another of your costumer send me an email about "Mulate Collection": she would like to know if it still exists? Personally, I noticed on your webpage some Berlin awards about this collection but I admit my lack of knowledge about it.
No, we have sold that one many years ago. Nothing to do with lately.
3. Do you consider to work with Asian cacao origin? Personally, I would like a Naive Papua New Guinea bar.
Yes, of course. We have some plans with Indonesian cacao for nano_lot collection. It’s going to be great! We are about to release some new bars and there is a facelift upgrade to our overall collection planned this summer. One recipe I am very excited about and you are the first to know is chocolate with durian fruit. Yes, the stinky durian. It’s going to be amazing.
I can`t believe it yet, and I have no words to describe how much I am grateful to Domantas Uzpalis. The only thing I can recommend is to support his inventiveness, as it is a unique experience the one you feel when you try something less predictable.