When I started food blogging (starting with a simple Instagram), I had little expectations. I mostly wanted to get better at photography and maybe get some free food every once and a while (#realtalk).
Well, here we are, almost 2 years later. However, there was one very specific goal that I wanted to accomplish with photography. And that was touring Christopher Elbow Chocolates.
I have obsessed over Christopher Elbow’s chocolate for a long time. They are all petite masterpieces that taste like heaven, but no need to tell you that. The proof is in the photos.
So, when I got an email from Elbow Chocolates about a tour of their chocolate shop and a beautiful and delicious new holiday collection coming out, I was BEYOND thrilled.
Elbow Chocolates Tour
We walked in to see Christopher Elbow himself standing behind the counter. We chatted over a shot of drinking chocolate, had a foodie geek-out moment (It’s him!) and continued to the back of the shop.
Chocolate covered the surfaces, some cooling and others finished, awaiting packaging. People were airbrushing molds with colored cocoa butter. Other chocolates were coated with a small waterfall of melted chocolate and screen printed with a particular design. It was a legitimate Willy Wonka experience.
Christopher began by explaining his new vision for Elbow Chocolates, starting with his new bean to bar program. Elbow now works with small providers of cacao beans in the Dominican Reuplic, Madagascar, Peru, Tanzania, and other locations to source his chocolate and create bars with only one source of cacao beans–a single origin chocolate bar.
I’ll give you a small run down on how Christopher Elbow’s new chocolate bars are made (and the brief basics of chocolate).
From Bean to Bar: How Chocolate is Made (and More!)
Chocolate starts out as a large pod. It’s about a football size (long and pointed at the ends) with a different colored exterior depending on the maturity. Once the pods are ripe, they are harvested. The beans are removed, along with the pulp and that is left to ferment together. The pulp is typically very sweet and helps the fermentation process, creating that chocolate flavor you love.
Chris also mentioned the farmers make hooch from the pulp. Who knew.
After the fermentation, the beans are left to dry and then are moved to the chocolate manufacturing process where they are roasted. After roasting, the shells are removed and the cacao nibs are ground into fluid form: chocolate!
Ever wondered about the percentage on the front of a dark chocolate package?
The percentage, usually 72% to 80% for dark chocolate, is the actual percentage of chocolate in the bar (including the cacao butter and chocolate liquor).
And there’s the basics on chocolate.
For Elbow’s four new bars, he is focusing on the countries of origin for these chocolates, so they will each be named after the country of origin: Peru, Tanzania, Madagascar, and Dominican Republic. He had samples of them all chopped up, so we tried each, searching for the flavors while Chris coached us into eating chocolate correctly: start with biting the chocolate into a couple smaller pieces in your mouth, then let the chocolate melt on your tongue.
Here are the four bean-to-bar chocolate bars and their flavors.
- Peru is a 75% chocolate, so it is quite dark and has hints of berries with it.
- Tanzania is a 72% chocolate and has elements of walnuts and stone fruits to it.
- Madagascar is a 70% and it is my favorite. Honestly, I couldn’t get over how tropical the chocolate was!
- Dominican Republic is a milk chocolate at 50%. With the addition of sugar, milk powder, and vanilla bean, this chocolate is more recognizable as a pure chocolate flavor, but so so delicious.
We talked more about the new bean-to-bar program, which would be based out of the main Kansas City Elbow Chocolates’ storefront, allowing people to see more of the process. He also mentioned a new chocolate factory, near the Roasterie factory in Kansas City that will house most of the other processes (like the bon bons).
Elbow also wants to introduce tours, classes, and more in this new factory.
Lastly, we chatted about the new line up of holiday treats, including three delicious chocolate bars (White Chocolate Egg Nog, Milk Chocolate Speculoos, and Dark Chocolate Peppermint) and an absolutely scrumptious collection of holiday chocolates. With flavors like Caramel Apple Spice, Gingerbread, Fleur de Sel, Egg Nog, and Mulled Wine, the holiday collection is an absolute perfect holiday gift to give (or just buy for yourself, I won’t tell).
I couldn’t wait to ask Chris about the beautiful designs on all of his chocolates, and particularly the ones in the holiday collection.
As with all of his collections, logos, and branding, the collection was designed by his wife, a graphic designer at Hallmark. They both love mid-century modern style. (This was when me and my husband both went, “Me too!” We were so excited to have something in common with Elbow.) So, they decided to take inspiration from that era for Elbow Chocolates’ Christmas-time collection.
This also led to plenty of questions about the designs on the chocolates himself. All of Elbow’s chocolates are very artistic, airbrushed with colored cocoa butter to create a marbled look. I expressed interest in the process, and Elbow whisked us away to explain how the bon bons are created. We watched the Bananas Fosters caramels being prepared behind the scenes, a simple swipe of colored chocolate evenly airbrushed into small molds, turned four times so each side gets the same amount of color.
After the color, they pour liquid chocolate into the mold, then quickly turn over the tray to drain the excess chocolate, creating a thin shell. The filling is added, and another thin layer of chocolate is added over the top to form an even edge to the bottom of the chocolate.
For the screen printed chocolates, here’s a short video to show exactly what happens.
Though I loved trying the chocolate, I loved seeing Christopher Elbow’s passion for his business, for the chocolate industry, and for flavors. He expressed a deep concern for the chocolate industry and his interest in creating an Elbow Chocolates Foundation for the areas in which he uses chocolate to help the farmers and workers. Not everyone knows that the cacao bean industry has a lot of issues, from small wages to human rights issues and more. Elbow wants to support the chocolate industry in multiple ways to ensure a better future for chocolate producers and chocolatiers alike.
Seeing one of Kansas City’s most beloved businesses taking new leaps and bounds makes me so proud of the city and the people in it. I’m so excited to see the next steps Elbow Chocolates will make. Let me know what holiday chocolate you’ll try in the comments!!
I also wanted to thank Christopher Elbow for his time and patience with us. We asked so many questions, yet he was so thorough in his answers, and so dedicated to helping us understand a bit about the chocolate industry. He was so very kind to allow us to enter his space and learn more about his process. He’s extremely down-to-earth, intelligent, creative, humble, and passionate and we loved spending time with him in his beautiful shop!