Of Chocolate Bars & Cacao Farmers

Krista Connor

Working out of their Arden home, Stuart and Mhairi Craig are the founders and sole employees of Double Spiral Chocolate and the state’s first bean-to-bar chocolate makers. Here’s why you should pay $3.75 for one of their bars.

The source of one of Delaware’s most palatable secrets is hidden away in a second-floor room of the Arden home of Mhairi Craig, a registered nurse, and her biochemist husband Stuart. Walk past the glowing fireplace and tidy kitchen, then climb the stairs to the spare room above the garage, and you’ll find a small-scale chocolate-making process that floods the space with the warm and slightly pungent scent of cacao. The Craigs are the first bean-to-bar chocolate makers in Delaware, leaders of what has the potential to be a trend not unlike the third-wave coffee movement that developed over the past 30 years. Statistics show that in the last 10-15 years, bean-to-bar chocolate makers have increased from just a handful to more than 200 in the United States. For now, the couple rules the local industry with Double Spiral Chocolate, a part-time project that distributes to local small businesses like Newark Natural Foods, Delaware Local Food Exchange, Drip Café and Little Goat Coffee Roasting. Double Spiral goes through 35 pounds of chocolate a month, making 500 bars. The potential for larger success is certainly there, but the couple, juggling busy jobs, are determined to keep it a two-person, part-time gig—right now, anyway. And that’s partially because they’re not in it for the money. They just about break even (their chocolate bars could arguably be priced higher than $3.75, and they’re known to donate boxes of chocolate). Mainly, they want to provide healthy snacks while supporting ethical cacao farming (more on that later). Originally from Scotland, the Craigs met as grad students in Edinburgh, married in 1984, moved to the U.S., and ended up here on the northern cusp of Delaware two-and-a-half years ago. Mhairi works at the Endoscopy Center of Delaware in Newark, and Stuart is director of regulatory and scientific affairs at DuPont Nutrition and Health.

Most Double Spiral chocolate is made with two ingredients: unrefined sugar and cacao. Photo Krista Connor

Before moving here, Mhairi had begun experimenting with homemade chocolate as part of a personal interest in the relationship between diet and health. Meanwhile, in 2016, Stuart worked on a project examining unrefined sugar. He wondered—can chocolate be made with the stuff? “I had only seen it with white sugar,” he says. “I’ve worked with chocolate in the past with Nabisco, so I knew enough to know that I couldn’t think of a reason why you couldn’t, but there must be a reason ’cause nobody does.” In fact, it had been done. Stuart’s research unearthed an entire movement called bean-to-bar, comprising makers dedicated to sourcing organic, sustainable cacao (which is the fermented seed chocolate comes from). The function of a bean-to-bar maker is to start with the cacao bean and from there, roast, grind and smooth the chocolate, all from scratch. The Craigs tried it, using willing friends as guinea pigs. They launched Double Spiral Chocolate just before the move to Arden. (A double spiral is an ancient Celtic symbol representing how two opposite components can find balance.) Their reputation preceded them, and before they even moved in they were known in the tight-knit arts community as “the chocolate people,” which still makes them laugh. Of their part-time pursuit, Stuart says: “It’s something interesting to do.” His nonchalant tone belies the impact of the product—one-ounce chocolate bars that delight the palate while evincing memories of some childhood fiction or dream—not to mention the passion with which he and his wife pursue a pure and ethical production process.

Chocolate Alchemists & Eccentric Innovations

Stuart Craig, a biochemist, checks on texture and taste during the chocolate-making process. Photo Krista Connor

Most Double Spiral chocolate is made with two ingredients: cacao beans and unrefined cane sugar. For flavored bars, a third ingredient is added. This could be whole food, freeze-dried fruits like raspberry and ginger, or mint leaves, or even coffee from Newark’s Little Goat Coffee Roasting Co. From cacao bean to chocolate bar, the complex process takes about three days to make a batch, which equals approximately 100 bars. The Craigs’ sunlit chocolate room acts as both a sterile science lab—not an unwanted dab or drip of chocolate to be seen —and minimalist bakery kitchen, where silky-smooth, finished bars wait on trays to be wrapped. Each batch goes through the same process: Cacao beans are sorted and the selected ones are poured into a small roaster to develop flavor. Then, to separate the now-nibs from the husk, they’re cracked and winnowed (meaning the shell is blown away). Next, the nibs are ground and refined in a melangeur—a bowl that crushes the nibs between granite stones to produce a warm liquid. Unrefined sugar is added, and the process continues for eight hours. Flavor development continues overnight through a process called conching, then the chocolate can either be aged (for several months), a third ingredient could be added, or the chocolate can be tempered (Tempering is a precise temperature profile with a lot of physical chemistry involved—it produces the desirable beta-crystal form of cocoa butter). This leads to the characteristic melt-in-your-mouth chocolate bar shine and snap. Finally, the bars are molded and wrapped with labels printed from the Craigs’ home printer. Wrappers are made from recycled sugar cane. Being a self-trained, small-scale producer of a product that is yet to trend means the market may not have what you need. But the Craigs are resourceful. For example, a hair dryer was originally used to blow the shells away from nibs. Now they’ve graduated to the winnower attached to a Shop-Vac. And the roaster? It’s a repurposed rotisserie chicken oven. “It’s very much a labor of love,” says Stuart. “Some days it’s labor, some days it’s love.” The process would be a lot easier—and cheaper—if they added extra cocoa butter or other ingredients. “But we want to stick with these simple things,” he says, “or add that third interesting flavor.” Double Spiral bars are one ounce for a reason—that’s the daily recommended amount of chocolate. And science suggests you’d need at least 70 percent cacao to have all the health benefits associated with it, which is why Double Spiral’s cacao percentage only goes up from there. That sets them apart from many major chocolate companies, who use as little as 10 percent cacao, with the rest of the ingredients dominated by sugar and fat.

The Bigger Picture

When you pay $3.75 for a Double Spiral Chocolate bar, you’re getting more than a flavorful, healthy snack. Here’s why: The Craigs have traveled to a handful of the farms their chocolate is sourced from, including some in Belize, Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Up next is Guatemala. The trips reveal a side of the chocolate world that consumers never see, and demonstrate why sustainably-produced chocolate is linked to the survival of farmers and rain forests. It all starts in the jungle. Pods housing cacao seeds grow on trees found in rainy, tropical areas. They’re often grown on large farms where people are overworked and underpaid. But like others in the bean-to-bar movement, Double Spiral sources its beans ethically. Their supplier, Uncommon Cacao, links small holder farmers to the specialty cacao industry and ensures transparency and a good profit for the farmer. “The supply chain is very transparent,” says Mhairi. “As opposed to big companies.” One huge issue masked by big-company supply chains is child labor. That’s because many farmers only average $1 a day working with major supply chains, so they must send their children to work. Leaders in the chocolate industry—think big players like Nestlé and Hershey’s—have been grappling with the problem for almost two decades, particularly in countries in West Africa. A 2015 U.S. Department of Labor-funded report shows that 2.1 million children were engaged in objectionable labor practices in cacao farming in Ivory Coast and Ghana alone. Feeling the heat of public outcry, some chocolate corporations have vowed to be 100 percent sustainable by 2020 and 2030, but progress is slow. Sustainable companies, of course, forbid child labor. And in addition to providing good wages to farmers and workers, these ethical producers contribute to job growth. Haiti, for example, faces mass amounts of unemployment. Cacao farming is one way to overcome these obstacles and create jobs. “But it’s not just us,” says Mhairi. “We need people to like it and buy the chocolate—to say, ‘From my disposable income I’m willing to pay for this because it will help support farmers and save the rain forest.’” The difference bean-to-bar chocolate can make is huge when it comes to tropical deforestation. The logic is simple: Growers grow what they know will sell. If a farmer can grow a crop and support his or her family, then he or she will be less likely to cut down trees—i.e. clear the rain forest, which is a big problem, especially in Haiti—to plant another crop more likely to sell. The risk that certain strains of cacao will become extinct is currently high as development encroaches or more conventional strains are primarily cultivated. So, bean-to-bar producers also have to focus on maintaining the genetic diversity of the beans they purchase. “An economic model that encourages the maintenance of the rain forest to produce a profitable crop becomes, just by itself, a much more sustainable way of thinking about how we buy our food,” says Mhairi.

The Craigs source their cacao from farms like this one in Dominican Republic. Photo courtesy of Double Spiral Chocolate

On top of everything else, farmers have to grapple with corruption. Once Uncommon Cacao got involved in Haiti, the business partnered with Produits Des Iles SA (PISA), a cacao processor and exporter that offers farmers double what low-paying middlemen, or brokers, give. (Today, PISA works with an association of 1,489 smallholder farmers; 476 of them are female). However, used to buying cacao for a rock bottom price, the previous brokers began threatening and intimidating farmers. They broke into one farmer’s home while he was at church, says Mhairi. “All this is going on in the background and we don’t know about it,” says Mhairi. “Look how many people had to be involved just to get to the container ship: the growing, harvesting, fermentation, drying, putting beans in sacks, loading the sacks into trucks in 90-degree heat. Then there’s the warehouse over here, and our whole process making the chocolate. And at the end of that, some people may think: ‘I don’t want to spend $3 for a chocolate bar,’” she says. “But look at everything that happened to get it to the store.” Says Stuart: “It really comes down to consumers understanding and demanding where their chocolate comes from, and that’s part of the chocolate journey.”

For more information, visit doublespiralchocolate.com.

Stuart and Mhairi Craig. Photo Krista Connor

 

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