Beyond pot brownies – elevating fine chocolate edibles with Woodblock Chocolate
Weed. Pot. Ganja. Pakalolo. Marijuana. Cannabis. Whatever word you use, we all know what we are talking about. Perhaps now more than ever, we are on a precipice when it comes to the use of cannabis, particularly in North America. Those associations of hippies from the 60s, or your brother’s dead beat college roommate who slept all day instead of going to class, are being traded for grandmothers using marijuana edibles to relieve pain, or maybe even just to relax. Cancer patients using marijuana to combat some of the debilitating side effects of chemotherapy. When you see an article called “Pot smoking moms are tired of being judged by wine drinkers” you know that there is a change afoot. People around the world swear by the healing powers of this plant. And with its new found legalization in many parts of the world, perhaps now more than ever, attitudes are changing about marijuana use.
With these new groups of consumers come new demands. Many people simply don’t like smoking marijuana, and edibles are becoming an increasingly popular category (as are drinks, and topical products). And the edibles of today are so beyond pot brownies. Chefs are preparing entire menus centered around cannabis ingredients. There are confections of every description from lollipops, to gummy bears, to caramels, and the list goes on. And of course fine chocolate.
If you don’t know very much about how cannabis edibles are made, here is a quick lesson. There are 3 main type of cannabis ingredients from which edibles can be made.
Plant matter – this is straight cannabis that has not been altered by any other process. It can include leaf, buds or flowers, and trim.
Concentrates– this can include waxes, shatters, oils and extracts, etc. Concentrates work well for chocolate-based edibles as they are primarily oil-based residues from the plant, and can blend very well into fat-based confections.
Tinctures are made by infusing plant matter into alcohol or glycerine to obtain a water-miscible substance. These are best used in sugar-based confections such as marshmallows or hard candy.
The active chemical ingredients found in the cannabis plant are called cannabinoids. It has been suggested that over 100 types of cannabinoids have been identified, but the ones that have been most commonly used and are found in the highest concentrations are THC and CBD (their fancy names are delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, and cannabidiol respectively). THC is the compound that is associated with the psychoactive effects of cannabis. While CBD is usually not associated with any psychoactive effects, it is thought that the interaction between the two compounds in various concentrations contributes to people finding the appropriate balance of the effects they are looking for without feeling “stoned’.
Whether using plant matter, concentrates or tinctures, it’s incredibly important that the ingredients used in an edible are tested to determine their strength for accurate dosing. When consuming edibles, it can take longer to feel the effects of the marijuana because it must travel through your digestive system before it is released into your body. Responsibly produced edibles should give you a very clear understanding of how much cannabis you are consuming.
Typically, cannabis concentrates are infused into cocoa butter, which is then added to the chocolate itself, which is then molded into bars. Alternatively, the cannabis may be infused into a ganache type filling and then made into a bonbon or other type of filled chocolate.
Last year, Ecole Chocolat graduate Woodblock Chocolate released a line of cannabis infused bean to bar chocolate bars in collaboration with Serra . We asked Woodblock’s co-founder Charley Wheelock to tell us more about how this collaboration came to be.
1) Why did you decide to create a cannabis chocolate bar?
We were considering it for a while, but did not make any effort towards actually doing it until we were introduced to the people at Serra and Groundworks Industries. We had a similar vision, and they had the resources to take the time we needed to develop a product that stood up to our standards on all levels. We saw an opportunity to be pioneers in terms of how cannabis is presented to mainstream America, as it is gradually becoming more accepted. We are far beyond making a brownie that will wreck your weekend. We are in the fortunate position to create a dynamic experience where the joy of consuming wonderful chocolate and the feeling it gives you are balanced, thoughtful and appropriate. We set up a chocolate finishing room at the Groundwork grow/extraction facility. We deliver bulk chocolate to the chocolate kitchen there, where it is infused and then cast the bars and bonbons all under the same roof. We have total quality control from seed to weed and from bean to bar. It is a pretty impressive set up that gives us the ability to be intentional in every aspect of production.
2) Can you tell us about the line of cannabis chocolate bars that you created in partnership with Serra?
Presently we have two bars, one dark chocolate bar (70%) and one dark milk bar (64%) The dark bar is made from Tanzanian cacao (Koko Kamili) and the dark milk is made from Peruvian cacao (Maranon). Our goal is to redefine the edible with the intention of creating a beautiful and balanced experience. We based our dosage on how much chocolate satisfies people, rather than how much THC we can pack into an ounce of chocolate. The result is a relatively low dose edible. Of the people I spoke to about this endeavor, probably 100% of them had a story about how they had ruined their weekend with an infused edible that was too strong. We are actively making a low dose chocolate to confront this issue.
Matching the flavor profiles of the chocolate with the cannabis is another great advantage we have from working with Serra. Because the cannabis is grown and the oil extracted under the same roof as the chocolate kitchen, we get to experiment with the terpenes presented by the different strains of marijuana. Much like cacao, different strains of pot bring different aromatics to the game, making legitimate pairings possible. We are excited to see where this can go as we experiment more.
Presently we only have THC infused chocolate but we are working on a CBD bar to be introduced soon. I am very excited about that.
A post shared by SHOP SERRA (@serracannabis) on Oct 28, 2017 at 10:59am PDT
3) What are some of the challenges about working with cannabis in terms of combining the flavor profile of the cannabis with the flavor profile of the beans to create a product that both tastes good, and delivers the result that people are looking for?
At this point, I am not sure if people know what they are looking for in terms of flavor. This is one of the exciting aspects of this project. In the past, due to the fact that pot was illegal, chocolate, among other things were simply a vehicle to get THC into your system. This was conducive to making edibles as strong as possible!! We have the luxury of looking at the whole thing in a different light. The chocolate is a much more integral part of our product, as our goal is to introduce the cannabis oil in terms of flavor and feeling.
As I said above, because we have tight controls over every aspect of the marijuana we choose, how we extract the oil and how we introduce it to the chocolate, we are able to create thoughtful flavor combinations that are beyond what has been done before. If you have had the opportunity to go into a dispensary and smell the different pot strains, you will see the inspiration for different pairings and flavor profiles.
4) What are the laws in Oregon currently around making and selling cannabis edibles? Did you encounter any challenges in creating the product from a legal standpoint?
What do you mean by currently? The rules seem to change daily! It is a new marketplace and the rules and regulations are still being worked out. Groundwork actually has a full time compliance officer who keeps us apprised of labeling changes, dosing regulations and a myriad of related issues that arise. It has been a challenge to get this product to market but we are very proud of our efforts to support and follow the regulations as they evolve. We are hoping to be a pillar of the new cannabis culture.
A post shared by SHOP SERRA (@serracannabis) on Nov 1, 2017 at 7:08pm PDT
5) One of the challenges in creating a cannabis edible is responsible dosing, so that people know exactly how much cannabis they are consuming when they are eating your product. How did you address this challenge during your production and on your packaging?
We have developed a very reliable system for introducing the pure cannabis oil to the chocolate. We have to! There are very rigorous testing processes we must go through before our infused chocolate ever hits the shelf. The acceptable tolerances are very tight and everything is under the microscope long before the public has access to it. We are very consciously making a low dose chocolate. The last thing we want to do is to spoil someone’s evening. Other infused edible producers tend to max out the THC allowed by law. We chose to concentrate on the overall experience rather than making an infused chocolate that is as strong as legally sanctioned.
It has also been an interesting challenge to maintain our brand aesthetic but make it obviously different from our non-infused chocolate. We made new molds just for the cannabis products. It has the similar woodgrain pattern in the mold but the bars themselves are square. The packaging and the shape of the bars in our cannabis line are distinctively different but maintains our brand. We also like to make it clear that there is no cannabis anywhere near our manufactory or shop. There is no chance that there will ever be any contamination of the infused chocolate because there are melters, tempering machines and molds dedicated to the cannabis chocolate at the Groundworks Industries location.
6) What type of feedback have you received from your cannabis bars?
We have succeeded in our goal so far! We have had great feedback. I was honestly more concerned about how it made people feel. The flavor is great! I was not concerned about that. I wanted people to tell me that it was not too strong and that they enjoyed the feeling as much as they enjoyed the act of eating the chocolate and that is what I have been hearing. I am very proud of our achievement. Even people who had expressed concern, based upon previous edible experiences, were very pleased with the results and are excited to enjoy it again.
7) There is some sense that the trend for edibles is on the rise, as many people seem to prefer to consume cannabis rather than smoke it. Who are your main customers?
I am not really sure. Presently we are only selling them in the three Serra stores. We are not the least expensive product on the shelf but I can honestly say that we are the best. We will be launching into other dispensaries in Oregon soon.
A post shared by SHOP SERRA (@serracannabis) on Oct 1, 2017 at 7:35pm PDT
8) Are you planning to create more cannabis bars in the future?
Absolutely! It is really fun and we are with the right people. We are so excited to explore and refine flavor and feeling combinations that will continue to raise the bar for this burgeoning market. It was a big decision for Woodblock Chocolate to enter this arena and we did not take it lightly. That being said, we are so happy with how this collaboration with Serra is evolving. Honestly, the cannabis industry now has a lot in common with the craft chocolate industry of 15 years ago. It all seems new and better than ever before and the opportunity to do something that has never been done is in our wheelhouse. It is very exciting.
Thank you so much to Charley Wheelock from Woodblock Chocolate for taking them time to write such detailed answers to our questions about working with cannabis and chocolate! Have you tried any cannabis chocolate? What did you think? Tell us in the comments!
Cacao farmers face economic realities that can lead to tough decisions – including selling their farms
A cacao flower blooming on the tree
When you think of Costa Rica, you may not think of cacao or chocolate – for many people, Costa Rica brings up memories of sun-filled beach vacations or time spent exploring tropical jungles. But there are also farmers growing cacao and chocolate makers who are making chocolate. Unfortunately, like so many places growing fine flavor cacao in the world, the economic realities for small farmers can make continuing to grow cacao extremely challenging. We have just learned of one such story.
We were very, very saddened to hear that Hugo Hermelink sold his 110 hectare cacao farm, FINMAC, in August 2017 to a neighboring pineapple plantation. His 110 hectares of organic fine flavor cacao trees will be cut down to give way to pineapple, an environmentally unfriendly crop.
Hugo teaching students during Ecole Chocolat’s program in Costa Rica
According to Julio Fernandez and George Soriano of Sibu Chocolate, friends and clients of Hugo, “The destruction of FINMAC represents a loss of 20% of the country’s total production of cacao and of most of Costa Rican organic cacao production. Hugo had been struggling for years as his trees got older and costs to renew the plantation seemed to be too high. This also reveals how hard it is for organic producers to survive. It’s ironic that those who take care of the environment, their workers, the local fauna, the aquifers etc. are the ones who have to pay for expensive certifications, spend on infrastructure and prove their commitment over and over. Big agriculture, on the other hand, can disregard the environment and neglect their worker’s health and safety with no consequences. The world is upside down.”
Transporting the harvest pods on the FINMAC cacao farm
Julio and George see this crisis in the Costa Rican cacao industry as an opportunity to mobilize cacao farmers and chocolate artisans. We support them in that effort and will continue to make sure our students are educated on the perilous future of fine flavor cacao sustainability and work even harder to ensure the success of the Heirloom Cacao Preservation (HCP) Fund.
We wish Hugo much success in his other chocolate ventures and understand that business decisions have to be made. We thank him for sharing his philosophy of cacao growing, expertise in organic farming and skill in producing fine flavor chocolate with our 100+ participants of our Cacao and Chocolate Making in Costa Rica program over the last 9 years.
This story is just one example of some of the larger challenges that exist within the fine chocolate industry. It’s so important that we continue to educate consumers about why fine chocolate costs more, and that the vast majority of certifications say nothing about the flavor or quality of the beans used to make chocolate. If we want to ensure that we continue to have diversity in chocolate flavor, then we have to support chocolate makers sourcing cacao from these small farms. It would be awful to live in a world where all chocolate tastes the same. And chocolate makers in turn must continue to make quality products that wow their customers each and every time. There are many links in the chain involved in ultimately making a bar of chocolate, and we must all support each other at each step of the process.
Wait, isn’t anyone who makes any type of chocolate a “chocolate maker”?
If you read almost any article published by a mainstream news media outlet, the terms chocolatier and chocolate maker are thrown around pretty loosely. This probably leaves people confused – isn’t everyone who makes chocolate of any kind a “chocolate maker”? Then what is a chocolatier? What IS the difference?
These two professions actually have very different knowledge and skill sets.
Chocolate makers make chocolate from dried cacao beans using specific equipment such as a roaster, grinder, refiner mill, conch and tempering machine. Their finished product is pure chocolate – usually in bar form.
The inside of a dried cocoa bean – cocoa beans are used to make chocolate
If you want to learn more about how cocoa is grown, click here, or if you want to learn more about how chocolate is made, click here and here.
Chocolatiers source and blend that pure chocolate, made by the chocolate maker(s), for specific properties and flavor profiles, and then use it to create recipes for their own unique bonbons, confections and bars.
Chocolatiers use chocolate to create bonbons and other types of confections
The same is true in other food industries – a baker usually doesn’t own a flour mill to make the flour for the products she wants to make and sell in her bakery. It’s the miller who buys wheat grain which he mills into flour. The baker then buys flour from the mill to make her cakes. The mill and the baker are two different kinds of businesses, but partners in the process of turning grain into flour and then into cakes and cookies.
Or, if you want to take an analogy from a completely different industry, consider fashion. Typically one company makes the fabrics, and then another company makes the garments – shirts, dresses, pants etc. Again, two very different skill sets and two very different end products.
You may have heard terms such as “craft” or “small batch” used to describe chocolate makers. While these words aren’t regulated and don’t have a defined meaning, they are often a way that smaller chocolate makers use to differentiate themselves from large, multinational chocolate companies. In theory, Mars is a bean to bar chocolate maker, but the quality of the product they create compared to the chocolate made by an artisan chocolate make is very different. The number of bean to bar chocolate makers has grown rapidly in many parts of the world in the past 15 years, particularly in the United States. We have a list of chocolate makers on our website, and it is a challenge to keep it up to date with new companies popping up all the time!
Chocolatiers have been chocolate bonbons and confections since the mid 1800s. We also have a list of some of our favourite leading chocolatiers who are recognized as pioneers and masters in the field.
So there you have it – chocolatier and chocolate makers are different types of artisans. There is so much to get into in terms of the processes involved in each of their laboratories to make their products, but we’ll save that for another blog post!
Do you have any favourite chocolatiers and/or chocolate makers? Tell us in the comments!