Ritual chocolate was founded in 2009 by Anna Davies and Robbie Stout with the aim to make chocolate in the most honest way using a unique vintage equipment.
Indeed being a bean-to-bar chocolate maker is not an easy task. It consists of taking care of roasting, winnowing, grinding and mixing, refining, conching, tempering, molding, and wrapping each bar. And, one of the peculiarities of the ultra-smooth texture and bold flavor of their curated selection is the 1950s, Brooklyn-made, three roll mill, which grinds the chocolate down to about 15 microns. Another important step for such smooth and delicate texture and aroma is the conching which is a combination of heating, agitating, and grinding. Also, in this case, they use a vintage machine: a 1915 Swiss longitudinal which is involved in the conching process for 72 hours without interruption.
The very first time I tasted one of their bars was the Bourbon Barrel Aged 75% which is still one of my favorite of all time. Since then I became one of their countless supporters.
For that reason, when Anna accepted to join my blog, I was not only humbled but very excited for the opportunity to collaborate with one of the most representatives American bean-to-bar chocolate makers on the market.
Below you can read more details about them, their story, philosophy, and upcoming plans.
Why did you choose the name Ritual?
Ritual was one of the first names we thought of. It ties into the history of cacao as it was used by the Mayans in their ceremonies and rituals. It was considered the food of the gods and held in very high regard. Cacao, unfortunately, has lost that respect and appreciation through the years. We want to revive this appreciation and show that chocolate is a fine food that should be respected as so much care goes into creating chocolate from the farm through the chocolate-making process. And of course, chocolate should be a part of everyone’s daily ritual.
I noticed Ritual is a diversified craft chocolate maker involved in the production of hot chocolate and truffles, some interesting branded items and you also run a well-known Cafe. But which passion comes first?
I think for us, we are just passionate about serving our chocolate to customers. Our chocolate bars are the main products that we share with customers across the US, but we love to have that direct connection with people in our cafe locally. Robbie and I are big coffee enthusiasts and so we love to share our chocolate in a cafe setting. Having chocolate in hot liquid forms such as sipping chocolate or hot chocolate is a great way to taste the flavor profile of the cacao beans. I guess it all goes hand in hand and we want people to get inspired by chocolate in whatever form that takes a hot chocolate, bar, or even a slice of chocolate cake. We want to meet people where they are and make it approachable.
Have you always been involved in the chocolate market or have previous job experiences?
Not at all. We were chocolate enthusiasts of course, and would always end the night with a bar of chocolate, but Robbie and I did both works at specialty coffee shops and I think the appreciation for coffee, wine, and fine food led us to chocolate. We did a lot of research into the chocolate history and the process and felt that it wasn’t well represented at that time.
How big is the Ritual Family?
Right now we have about 20 people on our team.
I tasted a lot of Ritual bars and I always noticed a vivid-rustic flavor profile. So what is your secret?
I think we have always gravitated towards beans that have a unique flavor profile. We love to show the variety of flavors you can get from different genetics and terroir of cacao. We really want the bean characteristics to shine through in the finished chocolate, so we crafted our process around being gentle with the chocolate so there is no loss of flavor. We do a very light, slow roast and really break down each grinding/refining step. It takes more time, but we aren’t compromising flavor at any point.
What is the key stage of the processing of each bar?
That’s why we feel it is so important to do the whole bean to bar process, so we can have complete control of every step and put out the best chocolate possible.
Do you like to enjoy the product of other chocolate makers? If yes, do you find someone truly inspiring?
There are so many amazing makers out there from all over the world. I get inspired by every maker I meet and chocolate I try. The beauty of the bean to bar movement is that every maker has crafted their own style and made it their own. Ha! It’s too hard to name just one.
Have you ever been to a cocoa beans farm and/or are you part of special support cocoa farms program?
What really led us on this journey was going down to Costa Rica back in 2009 to visit some cacao farms. And this was the lightbulb moment for us when we realized how important it is to be supporting cacao growers so their efforts are truly understood and appreciated. We feel paying a higher yet fair price for good quality cacao is so crucially important to helping save unique cacao genetics, protecting biodiversity as cacao is an important part of the ecosystem, and it’s also a key part of many small farmers income as they often grow a variety of complementary crops on their farm.
What is the most challenging cocoa beans to work with?
We love our Camino Verde beans, but they are very low cocoa butter, which makes for a beautifully fudgy texture, but it can flow like mud when tempering and molding. Other beans can be trickery to winnow as the shells stick to the beans, so each bean acts differently at each step and we have to learn to work around these characteristics. All part of the fun!
Future project and/or dream (new single origins, new trip, new inclusions, or limited edition)?
This year is a big one for us. We are moving to a larger factory space so we can improve the flow and layout of our factory while having more space to do tours and tasting. We are also expanding our current cafe, so we will have more space for seating and a more extensive menu.
How are you keeping all together during the COVID-19?
It’s been a stressful time for us, as I’m sure it’s been for every small business as there are so many unknowns. It has made us look at our entire business and try to be smarter about how we are running it and where we are putting our focus. In a funny way, I think we will come out of this stronger, though perhaps with a few more white hairs!
What is your chocolate message to the world?
It is such a gift that we have so much great chocolate now at our disposal. It takes so much effort to get from cacao tree to chocolate bar, and even more for it to be exceptional quality. So appreciate it! Slow down and make a great chocolate tasting experience! The chocolate deserves it and you deserve it!!
Last but not least; thank you Anna, I will never forget your generosity.