It’s all in the cocoa
Man's hobby becomes growing Denver business
The single-bean dark chocolate bars are made in Denver with cocoa beans and sugar
DeVries makes five different bars, which vary depending on where the beans come from and the percentage of cocoa.
The chocolate can be found in two Denver stores: Apothecary Tinctura, 2900 E. 6th Ave.; and Dietrich's Chocolate and Expresso., 1734 E. Evans Ave.
Steve DeVries blew glass and built sculptures in the early years of his career.
These days he’s lending his artistic streak to making pure chocolate from cocoa beans and sugar – and that’s it. His handmade chocolate bars, at about $3 an ounce, are quickly catching on with those wanting a healthy boost and a blast of pure cocoa flavor.
DeVries, 54, is a native of Steamboat Springs and the son of Bob and Barbara DeVries of Steamboat.
He discovered his passion for authentic chocolate about eight years ago after touring a Costa Rican cocoa plantation and coming home with a bag of beans.
Failing to find a “how-to” book, DeVries improvised, roasting the beans in his home oven, shelling them by hand and grinding them in a machine he had used for grains.
The result was a gritty powder full of flavors he’d never tasted before.
“I thought, ‘How can this be?'” he said. “It’s like getting a bunch of grapes and crushing them and getting a fine wine.”
Making chocolate soon became a serious hobby, which he combined with the ambitious travel vacations he loved. The next few years took him to Venezuela, Costa Rica, Mexico, Spain and Switzerland. He took classes in the art and read whatever he could find.
In 2005, he turned his hobby into a business, launching DeVries Chocolate. He still travels to pick the few tons of beans he’ll use each year, then supervises the drying and fermentation process before heading home to make the chocolate.
One of his first wholesale customers in Denver was Erich Dietrich, owner of Dietrich’s Chocolates & Expresso. Dietrich, who has been making chocolate treats for more than 30 years, sells truffles DeVries crafts from the chocolate.
DeVries and a growing but still small number of single-bean chocolate makers are at the beginning of a trend. Single-bean chocolates, also called single-origin, are made with beans that all come from one place – sometimes a single country, sometimes even a single plantation.
“Single-bean chocolate is going to be the trend of the future,” Dietrich said.
Superior taste is key. But the purported health benefits of dark chocolate are also proving to be a big selling point.
Last year, U.S. sales of dark chocolate rose 40 percent, according to trade publication Candy Industry. Also, 33 percent of new product launches by candy companies were made with dark chocolate, up from 23.5 percent in 2005, the magazine said.
Substances found in dark chocolate may work to elevate mood, lower blood pressure, and fight cancer and heart disease, according to some research.
The purity and simplicity of DeVries’ bars appeals to customers at Apothecary Tinctura in Denver, the other area store that sells the chocolate.
“Our customers are totally addicted to it,” said owner Shelley Targove.
DeVries and Targove offer annual chocolate-making classes at the store, she said, a move that has proven to be a marketing tool.
“After they’ve taken the chocolate class, they can really appreciate what real chocolate is without a lot of additives and ingredients,” she said.
Both retailers say more customers are discovering the confection this Valentine’s Day.
Word of mouth and a burgeoning pure chocolate movement are helping customers find DeVries, who quickly booked more than 300 orders after setting up to sell on his Web site in December. They find him despite the anonymous facade of his 2,000-square- foot Curtis Park factory.
Inside, DeVries and one employee do it all, using some equipment that started going out of fashion a century ago when the chocolate industry modernized and geared up for mass production.
Recently, big players including Hershey, Lindt and Ghirardelli announced plans for single-bean chocolates. But it’s tougher for the big companies to replicate on a large scale, DeVries said.
Modern chocolate making is often about efficiency, he said. Big factories roast the beans at higher temperatures, which gets the job done quicker but “flattens out” the taste, he said.
Then, the companies mix in other ingredients including vanilla, cocoa butter and lecithin to enhance the flavor.
He’s seeing sales pick up and expects that to continue, but he won’t change the way he’s doing things until the demand outstrips the supply, he said.
If it all takes time, that’s just fine with him.
“I used to tell people that I’m not goal oriented, but that’s not exactly right. I have a goal – I’m just not in a real hurry to get to that goal. My stated goal is that I want to make the best chocolate in the world.”
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Work to form a new strategic plan for the Steamboat Springs School District will start next week with the first sessions of a listening tour aimed at getting broad community feedback.