How Ethereal Confections sources its cocoa beans

By Shannon Sweeney — / Death Wish Coffee Blog

The beginnings of Ethereal Confections, makers of Death Wish Chocolate

In anticipation of our upcoming Death Wish Chocolate Bars we wanted to introduce you to Ethereal Confections, the true geniuses behind this delicious, caffeinated chocolate bar. 

Death Wish Chocolate Bars were made by sourcing the finest cocoa beans from around the world that match the exact flavor profile of our coffee. We talked about the chocolate bars last week, and this week, we wanted to talk to Michael Ervin about how Ethereal Confections started and how they source their cocoa beans. 

Ervin is one of the owners of Ethereal Confections. 

Can you tell me a little about Ethereal and how it started? What made you want to get into the chocolate business?

We looked around at the world of chocolate and thought we could do better. We could make better flavors. We could source more sustainably. We could help people rediscover that chocolate was a food and not just candy. 

Chocolate and cocoa nibs are versatile: they can be used to make chocolate porters and stouts, mixed with spices to make sauces like moles, and steeped like tea. We make chocolate bitters for our cocktails, in addition to molding chocolate into shapes and combing with other flavors to make truffles (all vegan and gluten-free). It seemed like there were endless possibilities. And the more work we did with farmers and our customers, the more excited we got about Ethereal.

Around that same time, we had family and friends who lost jobs, houses, and retirements in the economic problems in the early 2000s or because of illness. It taught us that we have to make a difference every day and that we can't wait for the future. We also need do what we love and share that with the people around us. With that, we wanted to do better for our community and our wider world by creating a demand for well sourced and well treated ingredients. If people see the value of good food, they will pay for it and if they pay for it, we can turn around and pay more for our ingredients. 

We also wanted to create a product that more people could enjoy. We wanted lower sugar (or no sugar), dairy-free, soy-free, and gluten-free options for people. And we wanted to make sure there was never a sacrifice in flavor.

In a sense, we didn't know what we were getting into when we started Ethereal. It's not just about chocolate, but being a mechanic, a plumber, a logistics operator, and a computer expert, aside from tasting everything every day. Sometimes machines break down at 2 a.m., or a truck pulls up with giant pallets of beans in the middle of a busy afternoon. We just know that we have to be ready for anything and we are grateful for the opportunity.

 How do you source your chocolate? 

Chocolate is a testament to the ingenuity of humankind: survival at one point meant eating anything and everything. Cocoa trees grow in tropical locations and the seeds (what most people call beans) are inside of pulpy pods that sprout off of the trunks. So, gradually over a long, long time, people figured out that the seeds could be removed, mashed and consumed. At first it was a spicy and stimulating drink. Eventually, through the industrial revolution, machines were able to refine the texture of cocoa, along with sugar, into the smooth and sweet chocolate that people know today.

What's left out of the chocolate story is that cocoa is grown in very poor places with limited access to modern resources, like health care and education. In some parts of the world, child and slave labor are still used to harvest cocoa. Most beans are sold unfermented on the world commodity market to companies who don't really care about quality or who produces the cocoa. They only care about volume and the lowest possible price.

Early on, we made a commitment that we would visit every place that produced the cocoa we were using and to understand the reality lived by the people who were growing our most important ingredient. We've visited places like Belize, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, and Ecuador. They are very different people with very different cultures, but there was one thing that was clear: people want to have a sustainable business. They want to do something every day that they are proud of and that will be there for them the next season and the next year. If there is a predictable customer for their products, the farmers can invest in tools, buy more plants and send their kids to school. 

We set out to build long-term relationships with farmers that we know are using the money to invest in their lives, who use organic and sustainable growing methods, and who provide us the best cocoa possible because they are able to spend time with it.

The cheapest beans in the world are taken out of the pod, washed and then dried. The best beans are fermented over the course of five to seven days in hot weather and then dried before shipping. If the beans are treated well, it can bring out the natural flavor of the beans unlike poor quality beans where the flavor has to be covered up with sugar and milk. By rewarding better beans, we can also remove the farmers from world commodity prices and pay them several times more than what they would have received from companies that don’t care about quality.

Doing good by the farmers and the environment naturally results in an amazing and sustainable chocolate experience. Don't let anyone tell you any different.

Buy Death Wish Chocolate bars here

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