The Washington, DC metropolitan area is a powerhouse of intrigue with politicians, lobbyists, judges, lawyers, and government offices but today the spotlight is on a chocolate maker in our nation’s capital. Ben Rasmussen owns and operates Potomac Chocolate: a real bean-to-bar chocolate maker who handcrafts truly incredible dark chocolate bars in a suburb (Woodbridge, Virginia) of Washington, D.C.
Most chocolate shops are owned and operated by chocolatiers (those who buy chocolate and make confections ) as opposed to chocolate makers (those who create chocolate from cacao beans and other ingredients). For the dark chocolate aficionado who appreciates the nuanced flavors of cacao beans grown in different areas, the bean-to-bar chocolate maker is the ultimate resource (it’s like a wine connoisseur or sommelier living close to a vineyard). The flavor of the cacao bean is greatly affected by the soil, the climate, and the processing (just as the flavor of wine is influenced by the same factors) which stirs excitement among those who seek out bean-to-bar chocolate makers.Rasmussen sources cacao beans which grow in cacao pods – brightly colored pods the size of footballs that contain 20-60 beans per pod. Cacao beans are grown in warm climates (primarily Central and South America, Africa, and Indonesia) and Rasmussen obtains his beans from Costa Rica, Peru, and Venezuela.
The pods are cracked open with the beans removed to allow for the fermentation process, which can take about a week. The beans are then dried (because they have a high moisture content), sorted, and roasted which brings out the flavor of the bean. Once cooled, they need to be cracked into small pieces which separates the nib from the husk. The husks are then removed by a process called winnowing.
The next step is the refining process which grinds and refines the nib to ensure the chocolate will be smooth on the tongue, followed by conching in which the solid particles (cacao and sugar) are being rounded out and encapsulated into cocoa butter which also contributes to the smoothness of the final product. The final step before molding the bar is tempering where the temperature of the chocolate is manipulated to “temper” cacao butter crystals so that the chocolate has a nice shine and a good snap. Sounds complicated? It is which is why a beans-to-bar chocolate maker is to be admired.
Potomac Chocolate currently offers six bars made with organic cacao beans from three places: Upala, Costa Rica, San Martin, Peru, and Cuyagua, Venezuela. The only ingredient Rasmussen adds is organic cane sugar.
- Upala 70% Pure Dark Chocolate: Rich and earthy. This is the bar that garners awards, lots of oohs and aahs, and devotion. If you only try one dark chocolate bar, this is the one.
- Upala 70% Dark Chocolate with Nibs: Rich and earthy but with the added crunch of nibs.
- Upala 70% Dark Chocolate with Salt: Rich and earthy with flour de sel sprinkled on the back of the bar.
- Upala 82% Pure Dark Chocolate: Rich, smooth, and earthy, this extra dark chocolate bar is for anyone who wants a deeper chocolate flavor experience.
- San Martin 70% Pure Dark Chocolate: Intense and fruity from an organic cacao bean grown in the Amazonian highlands of Peru.
- Cuyagua, Venezuela 70% Pure Dark Chocolate: Deep, dark chocolate from organic cacao beans grown on the northern coast of Venezuela.
Each bar weighs 1.76 ounces (50 grams) and is individually wrapped in sealed plastic and then protected with a double cardboard box. The bars are $8 each plus shipping ($8.50 for orders up to $50 and free shipping for orders over $50) or all six bars for $42. To read more about Potomac Chocolate, go to the company website: http://www.potomacchocolate.com.