Valentine’s Day is meant to be spent with loved ones, significant others, and a heart shaped box of chocolates you had to grab last minute at the gas station. Luckily, we skipped the ordinary sweets and had the honor of partnering with one of the most delish and adventurous chocolatiers on the planet; Raaka.
Raaka means raw in Finnish. What other Finnish words do you know?
Ryan: We don’t really use other Finnish words, but we do use Google translator. We searched “Raw” in a bunch of different languages, and when we found Raaka we thought it was approachable and felt right. Originally, we were flying under the name “In the Raw”.
How long have you been making chocolate?
Ryan: It’s been about seven to eight years now, if you include “In the Raw”. Those original bars with actually printed from a Xerox printer out of our local Kinkos. We’ve come a long way.
At what point do you consider your self a chocoholic?
Ryan: Not sure we’d consider ourselves a chocoholic per se, we are fascinated by the flavor or raw cocoa beans. Back when we were eating tiny batch chocolates at home, we were surprised about the flavors unroasted cocoa beans could produce. We’re very interested in food and process, and chocolate is a fascinating way for me to express those passions.
What’s the most difficult/time consuming process?
Nate: Removing the cocoa shell from the cocoa bean is very difficult when you don’t roast the beans. The shells can become fused to the beans and roasting is a way to release them. It’s forced us to be creative in searching for equipment. We now use an optical sorter for this process, it’s basically a robot designed for removing rocks and sticks when bagging rice on a commercial scale.
You source from all over the world… what’s been your craziest travel experience?
Nate: Last year in the Peruvian amazon, we had to travel with someone whose title was ‘Chief of Chiefs’, so that he could introduce us to remote communities that had interesting varieties of cacao. On the approach to one of these communities, the Chief had to use the bathroom so he went off the path into the jungle while we continued on. When we approached the village, a man in the distance appeared and drew a bow and arrow on us. When the Chief heard the commotion, he came running out of the jungle pulling up his pants and shouting for the man to calm down. When we got to the village it was revealed that the man was trying to scare us as a joke.
Ryan: In southern Belize, we joined an annual farmer’s gathering. There were about 70 farmers that come together to share thoughts about how to improve quality, conservation, harvest tips and connect with one another. It was a beautiful experience and some of the farmers were able to try some of our finished product!
How much chocolate would we have to eat to get the caffeine of an espresso?
Nate: Many lbs. Chocolate only contains trace amounts of caffeine, but instead contains lots of theobromine. So while chocolate can give you a buzz, that buzz is different than the buzz of espresso.
Plans for Valentine’s Day?
Nate: I just got back from Japan, where me and the wife celebrated.
Ryan: I’m hoping to do some bouldering in Central Park with my significant other or maybe go to a movie.
Both Nate and Ryan pride themselves on creating experiences around chocolate. Whether its exciting process innovations like barrel aging cocoa beans or steaming cocoa above wine, watching people get passionate about making things is part of what makes them successful.