Monday, November 28, 2011

Meet the Woman behind indi chocolate LLC

Erin and husband in Honduras
Sisters and Brothers, as we've discussed from time to time here on The Chocolate Cult, where your chocolate comes from matters.  Farming techniques, payment to farmers and workers, even who turns beans into your chocolate truffles matters because all of it helps others live their lives either for the better or the worse.  Today I want to introduce you to Erin Andrews from indi chocolate LLC.


Erin, thank you for joining us for this email interview.

While women may be the biggest consumers of chocolate in the USA, female chocolatiers seem in the minority in the world.  What inspired you to get into the chocolate business?

A family vacation to Belize and the desire to teach my children how "chocolate grows on trees" was the inspiration that got me started making chocolate.  Products don't just appear on shelves and I have always tried to teach my family to appreciate how things are made.

When did you create indi chocolate LLC, and how long have you been in business?

indi chocolate LLC just celebrated our first anniversary.  We launched our chocolate body care products (chocolate lotion, lips and scrubs) last year at the NW Chocolate Festival.  This year to celebrate our one year anniversary, we launched our chocolate to eat.

Prior to launching indi chocolate LLC, I have had a bean to bar business in Belize for several years.

Your products are created from "bean to bar" as the expression goes.  Would you explain your process to our readers?

Yes, indi chocolate starts the process before most "bean to bar" producers by directly sourcing our beans from their origin.  This means we travel to where the beans grow and meet the farmers.  We confirm their farming practices are sustainable and that the beans meet the indi chocolate standards that will produce the best tasting chocolate.  We pay a premium for quality beans and this premium goes right back to the farmers and their community.


Cut cacao beans on window
Once we know that the beans meet the indi chocolate standards, the work of making chocolate begins.  Roasting the beans begins to change the bitter taste of the beans into something most of us would begin to recognize as chocolate.  Once the beans are roasted, they are cracked and the husks are removed.  At this step, the beans are referred to as nibs.  The nibs are then made into a paste called chocolate liquor.  The chocolate liquor is not alcoholic.  It resembles a smooth peanut butter when it is warm.  The chocolate liquor is combined with cocoa butter and sugar (these are the only ingredients in my dark chocolate) and is refined.  The refining further develops the chocolate flavors.  Once the flavors have fully developed, we start the tempering to give our chocolate the shine and snap you expect in fine chocolate.


indi chocolate is very unusual in that we make not only chocolate to eat but also chocolate body care products from the bean, as well.  indi chocolate sugar scrub uses chocolate from different steps in the chocolate making process to give both a great exfoliant and a luxuriant chocolate experience.  indi chocolate lips come in 5 varieties that all contain our chocolate and melt in moisture that warms to your body temperature. indi chocolate mint lotion is often referred to as the "OMG" lotion since that is what most people say when they first try it on their skin.  The lotion absorbs well without making you feel greasy and the smell brings many positive memories to mind.  How do we know this?  Direct feedback from our customers.  How could you not love that?

When we buy chocolate products we don't often think of where the bean comes from.  Would you tell us more about the Belize community you've been working with?  How long is their cacao growing tradition? 

Cacao seedlings
The family vacation lead me to start a bean to bar chocolate company in Belize where I got to see first hand the positive impact of working with the local community.  The local Mayan community has been growing cacao there through the ages.  Creating a sustainable company in Belize has lead to better economic opportunities for not just the farmers, but their families and their communities.  Seeing this positive impact is what influenced me when beginning indi chocolate.


Now, we have also begun to buy beans directly from Honduras.  It is on the islands off of Honduras where Christopher Columbus became the first European to see cocoa beans.  At that time, the beans were used as currency.   (Haven't you wondered where the expression "when money grows on trees" comes from?)  We are happy knowing that the Honduran farmers will receive hard currency and a premium for the quality beans we use in our chocolate and chocolate body care products. 

Would you consider your business to be fair trade, sustainable, or both?


Because we are a small family owned business the cost of fair trade labeling of our products is too expensive.  We believe that we can better compensate and impact the farmers and ensure a high quality and sustainable source for our chocolate through direct trade.  We look closely at the communities we work with to ensure sustainable practices and that we positively impact the communities we work with in a sustainable way, too. 


We often do not consider the fact that cacao is only growable in a small area of the world and for us in the USA this means the basic ingredient for the chocolate we love must be imported.  Are there particular difficulties you've encountered bringing products into the USA from Belize?

Cacao grows in the warm tropics where the temperatures soar above the melting point of chocolate.  To keep chocolate from melting during the trip from Belize can be very tricky. 


Making indi chocolate right here in the US makes transporting our products to clients a lot easier.  

Most of your products currently are body care related -- lip balms, lotions, along foot and skin care.  We've recently covered similar products and one comment we received questioned the value of such products.  What are the benefits for using cacao derived ingredients as opposed to other ingredients in your products?

I developed the body care products initially because I missed the sensations of working with chocolate when I was home in the US far from the chocolate making in Belize.  I missed not only the smell of working with chocolate but, also, the way my skin felt so smooth, soft and hydrated.  I wanted to have those sensations everyday.  Isn't real chocolate the best aromatherapy anyone could ask for? 


I designed the body care products to not only be very chocolatey but, more importantly, to be high quality body care products.  Just as I do with the chocolate, I believe the best items are made from using simple quality ingredients put together well. 


The high antioxidant properties we enjoy when eating chocolate are also highly sought after in body care products.  In addition to the antioxidant properties, the cocoa bean consists of 50% cocoa butter, which has long been enjoyed for it's beneficial properties in body care products.  We get the distinctive melt of chocolate from cocoa butter's melting point being so close to that of our body temperature.  The cocoa derived ingredients produce a luxurious body care experience.


I am rather proud of the short, understandable list of ingredients for both our chocolate and chocolate body care items.  I post them on the indi chocolate website (http://indichocolate.com) for all to see.

We know that with food items there are certain federal regulations that must be followed.  Is this also the case for body care products?

The regulations for food items is much more extensive than they are for body care products.  I use separate locations to produce the chocolate and chocolate body care products. 

Do you use the same quality cacao beans in your body care products as you do in your dark chocolate?

Absolutely.

Do you plan to expand your chocolate food items in the future?

Of course.  Part of the reason we picked the indi chocolate name is that we wanted to make chocolate "as individual as you are."  One of my favorite things is being able to customize our products to meet customers needs, wants and desires.  It keeps it fun and interesting and there is nothing like seeing the happy faces of my customers when I deliver.  Part of the beauty of being such a small family business is that I get to interact directly with customers and their requests.  Now that is sweet.

Finally, do you have an advice for other women who might be interested in starting a "bean to bar" chocolate company?

Making quality chocolate from the bean is part science and part art together with a lot of hard work and research.  Finding an apprenticeship is a good way to see aspects of the business before the large capital outlays required to do it yourself.

Thank you, Erin, for talking with us today.

Thank you Chocolate Cult. Long live the exploration and ecstasy of chocolate!

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