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“When we started out we kind of had to figure all this stuff out on our own,” Parsons laments. “Now there are more places that are brokers, middle men that bring in the beans and then resell them. Of course by dealing directly with the farm we are assured we are getting the best that is available” even if it means more trouble. Having completed their journey from South to North America by sea or by air, the beans are stacked high in 60-kilo bags in the small roasting room at Escazú. Each bag will spend a week to ten days being lovingly transformed from beans to chocolate, and from chocolate to bar, confection or beverage. Although the process will have essentially the same basic steps — separating debris out of the beans, roasting, winnowing to separate shells from nibs, grinding, adding sugar, aging, tempering, and molding the end product – the tools and techniques can differ vastly. A tour of a modern chocolate making facility, particularly the big companies, will be notable by the stark absence of chocolate. It is all contained in stainless steel equipment pushed through a contiguous labyrinth from input to output including wrapping and sometimes packaging. At Escazú, they use a small-batch process that demands a human touch – tasting frequently through every step of the process — resulting in work that is infinitely more sensual. Entering Escazú’s tightly packed room behind the retail shop is like stepping back in time. Two antique machines – a mammoth ball roaster and an absolutely beautiful mélanger — distinguish Escazú’s production techniques from those of other

chocolate makers, even artisans like Theo and Scharffen Berger (before it was acquired by Hershey’s). “The first thing different about what we do,” Parson explains, “is in the roast. We roast at a much, much lower temperature than anyone that I know. The flavors in the bean are so delicate. They’re why we pay a lot of money for the beans we buy, to get these complex flavors. High temperatures have a very narrow margin of error." When you roast at a very high termperature, one minute can be the difference between just perfect and burnt. The vintage roaster dates back to the 1920’s and was originally designed for coffee beans. Parson and Centeno use the ball roaster at a cooler roasting temperature, affording them a greater degree of control over the process. They eschew using systems controls to determine the best stopping point. They rely on taste, and experience because roasting times vary by bean, origin and harvest, even the weather outside. Like the roaster, the mélanger is an awe-inspiring piece of vintage equipment from decades past with two mammoth stone wheels that grind and slosh chocolate and sugar. Managing particle size is key to the chocolate experience. It would be hard to find an American child who doesn’t know that chocolate should be smooth and melt on your tongue. So it’s not surprising that what starts as a bean needs to be ground until it is polished and smooth. This step is another point of departure from modern or

Profile for spenser mag

spenser magazine: issue four  

may.jun 2012

spenser magazine: issue four  

may.jun 2012