On April 17, five NOVA culinary students, accompanied by Chef Mike Herbert, visited the Harper Macaw chocolate factory in Washington, DC. Harper Macaw is a fine chocolate venture founded by a Brazilian chocolate maker and a US Marine Veteran with an ambitious yet tangible objective: To turn chocolate into a force for tropical reforestation. To do this, they travel to sources in cacao-producing regions to purchase the finest cacao for a fair price. Next, they ship cacao nibs from the pods to their factory in Washington, DC, where they process the cacao into fine chocolates.
Our students were greeted by Colin Hartman, the owner, who explained how chocolate originated, how it grows, the challenges of growing cacao, and how it is marketed as a commodity. He shared how and why prices fluctuate, and why some chocolate is so more expensive than others. He also clarified how the cacao growers are paid so little, and what steps Harper Macaw takes to get them a fairer, more equitable price.
The students saw the entire chocolate making process, starting with the chocolate nibs which come from the inside of the pods. Everyone tasted the nibs, which is chocolate in its rawest, most natural form. From there they saw how they clean, roast, winnow, grind, refine, temper, mold and cool the chocolate. Samuel Carvalho, a native of Brazil whose father used to own a cacao plantation, showed the students every step of the process. He explained how Harper Macaw uses different cacao nibs from many countries for their variety of chocolates. He showed them the process from one machine to another, and how chocolate making is as much an art as a science. Samuel then turned the tour over to Anna Wooten, who provided the students with a tasting of the chocolates. She related how the cocoa percentage affects the flavor, and why they offer a variety of chocolates for a variety of palates. Everyone saw the barrels which formerly contained whiskey, wine, and other spirts, and how they use these to flavor some of their unique chocolates. Everyone on the field trip walked away with a greater knowledge and appreciation of the chocolate making process!