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Crafting healthy chocolate: D.C.’s new chocolate makers

WASHINGTON — When Kristen Kavalier met her now-husband, Adam Kavalier, it was love at first bite. On their first date, Adam handed Kristen four chocolate bars and asked which she liked best. Adam’s hobby was…

WASHINGTON — When Kristen Kavalier met her now-husband, Adam Kavalier, it was love at first bite.

On their first date, Adam handed Kristen four chocolate bars and asked which she liked best. Adam’s hobby was making his own chocolate, and he was testing roasting profiles on a number of cacao beans to see which combination worked the best.

“And that’s what really hooked me,” Kristen says.

Several years later, Adam has turned his hobby, and Kristen’s turned her love of chocolate, into careers, with their new D.C.-based business — Undone Chocolate.

Adam’s journey into chocolate didn’t begin in culinary school — he studied cacao while pursuing a Ph.D. in plant biochemistry.

“It intrigued me as a medicinal plant, as a plant that’s rich in antioxidants,” he says. “It’s like none other, really. It just has a tremendous complexity, chemically.”

As Adam studied the plant more, he became interested in the process of chocolate making — from sourcing cacao beans to tempering the finished bars.

“I really have always loved to use my hands and build things, and in chocolate making there are so many steps to go from a bean all the way to a chocolate bar,” says Adam, who has been making chocolate for about seven years.

Before he knew it, Adam’s Manhattan apartment was transformed into a small-scale chocolate factory. Bean grinders that were left running for days at a time, hand-made equipment and storage bins full of beans took over his tiny space.

“There was a time when we couldn’t find a place to sit down because there was just chocolate equipment everywhere,” says Adam, who grew up in Chevy Chase.

So the two decided to find a bigger space — one that would allow them to make chocolate for the masses. They packed up their equipment, relocated to D.C. and moved into a production space at Union Kitchen.

“We decided D.C. needs some chocolate,” Kristen says.

“Craft chocolate making — there’s a consciousness and awareness picking up in the D.C. area, and it’s just fun to be on the ground and be a part of it,” Adam adds.

Adam and Kristen take a unique approach to chocolate making. For starters, they only use two ingredients: organic cacao and organic cane sugar.

“By only using two ingredients, we actually have more cacao, or more cocoa nibs or more chocolate, and it’s shown that the chocolate is what actually has all of the health benefits in it,” Kristen says. “So just by virtue of us not adding more stuff to our chocolate, you’re getting more of the potency of the actual cacao.”

Producing the healthiest chocolate possible is a priority for Adam and Kristen. When selecting their beans, Adam takes the various cacao beans to a lab and puts them in a mass spectrometer to find out their chemical composition. The one that tastes best and has the most antioxidant properties is often the one picked for their bars.

“Cacao is one of the most potent sources of antioxidants,” Adam says. “We talk about them as having antioxidant activity, but they’re much more than just that. The health benefits are not just because of the antioxidant activity; it’s because of other mechanisms.”

Most notably, the antioxidant properties in chocolate increase the body’s blood flow.

“It’s really good for cardiovascular health,” Adam says, adding that the theobromine in cacao beans raises the body’s levels of HDL, or good cholesterol.

“So it’s like this creative/artistic side of chocolate making and the scientific/analytical side of what we’re making and how we can benefit people as well.”

Undone Chocolate may only contain two ingredients, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy to make. Once Adam and Kristen receive the cacao beans (they source from small farms and co-ops in Central and South America and the Caribbean), they lightly roast them, so as not to alter the beans’ chemical makeup.

Then they crush the beans to get to the nib, or meat, of the bean, and use a vacuum-powered tool to remove the shell. The nibs and the organic cane sugar go into a spice grinder, where they grind for three days.

Adam and Kristen then pour the chocolate into blocks and age it anywhere from one week to a few months, depending on the origin of the cacao and the flavor development needed. After the chocolate ages, it is tempered to give it a shine and a snap before it is hand-wrapped into bars.

Undone is sold in several stores in the D.C. area, including Yes! Organic Market, Glen’s Garden Market and Smucker Farms. Both Adam and Kristen say one of the biggest challenges they face is educating consumers on craft chocolate — and explaining the $8 price tag of their bars.

They say while some customers balk at the price, most understand that the cost is associated with the amount they pay for the beans and the time that goes into the process.

“For a two-ingredient chocolate maker like ourselves, the bean is everything. We don’t have anything that we hide behind, so there’s no extra cocoa butter or soy lecithin or milk that can mask our flavors,” Kristen says.

“Chocolate for us is a form of communication; people get really excited about it and we’re really able to connect with so many people through it — everything from farmers all the way to our process and the health benefits of it, to consumers who love to taste chocolate and learn about it,” Adam adds.

“People light up. It is the most fun part about being a chocolate maker — sampling and demoing with people. Because our first question is, ‘Do you want to try some dark chocolate?’ And the answer is always yes. And then we tell them our love story with chocolate. We’re really here to tell the story.”

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