Chocolate has a story to tell. Listening to and telling this story is the driving force behind The Cocoa Forge. We recently got to talk to Susan Fitch, the chocolate-maker behind The Cocoa Forge, based in Port Townsend, WA. Susan uses her innate curiosity in folklore, herbalism, and science to derive high-quality, nuanced chocolate that embodies her spirit of adventure and storytelling. The result of which is fine-flavor, single origin chocolate made from heirloom cacao beans
Every element of The Cocoa Forge story is focused on creating a unique experience. From their new home in a historic building that used to be a blacksmith forge and brewery, to their support of shipping their cacao via Sail Cargo, and supporting ethically produced cacao beans, each of these details are important for realizing how special and thoughtfully produced this chocolate is.
Read our interview to find out more about The Cocoa Forge!
How did you decide to pursue an interest in the artisanal chocolate market?
I often do wonder why I abandoned a perfectly good job to pursue this chocolate career - other than it needed to be done. Weirdly, it wasn't because I just really LOVE chocolate. Truly, the big question for me has always been... why does chocolate often taste so BAD? I've been on the planet long enough to witness the changes in quality over the decades and for the longest time I wondered if it was just me. Maybe my taste buds had changed? Nope. There is a lot of disappointing "chocolate" out there and that bothers me. So that was the entrance to my particular chocolate and cacao "rabbit hole.” I can trace the moment I fell down the rabbit hole to 15 years ago. I'd had a long-standing interest in herbalism (medicinal, but also the folklore, mythology and cultural uses of plants). I also had a curiosity about culinary lore and particularly confectionery "wives-tales.” For instance, why did those wise grandmothers only make confections on crisp, sunny days? Wait. What? We can't make fudge because it's raining?? Those curiosities and the science behind it had been percolating in my brain... and then... one particularly warm May morning I was out tending my heirloom roses. (I was cultivating 52 varieties for fragrance and to see which ones tasted the best) (no fussy modern tea roses for me). I had mulched them with cocoa bean husk which still had quite a bit of aroma. Having just watered, the sun came up and warmed the rose blossoms and the mulch ...and the most unbelievably exquisite rose and chocolate fragrance wafted up. I immediately harvested 2 giant sinkfuls of fresh rose petals. The mission: make the most amazing dark chocolate rose creams that would make the Queen of England SWOON (it's a very British flavor). But what happened was... I also needed to find the BEST chocolate in the world to enrobe it. And I couldn't find it. Or rather, it became an elusive, obsessive search that would take over my life.
Can you describe the importance of using heirloom cacao beans in your chocolate recipes and how this will set The Cocoa Forge apart?
I believe heirloom and fine-flavor cacao is in a precarious and endangered situation. Showcasing the fine-flavor beans brings awareness to them. There is always an "oh WOW" moment when people taste the difference between a "grocery store" chocolate and craft chocolate made with the heirlooms or fine-flavor beans. The discovery brings about more appreciation, more enjoyment. Then it goes full circle; appreciative patrons are willing to pay more for specialty/craft chocolate = chocolate makers can pay the farmers more = more pay makes it worthwhile for farmers to grow the fussy but tasty varietals and to take the extra care to be a long term and responsible partner with the land. It all begins with awareness.
How are Micelli molds integral to your final product?
I needed my chocolate bars to speak. To whisper thoughts like "adventure,” "enchantment," and "extraordinary.” My Micelli molds had to be super special. And. They. ARE. I am over-the-moon about them. I smile and marvel at how they turned out every time I use them - they are absolutely exquisite.
What products in your line are you most excited for a new person to try?
I'm thrilled every time I can get my hands-on small harvest single origin beans especially from individual producers because they are all just so unique. Showcasing the varietals and origins in all of their purity and splendor is interesting and exciting to me. The beans have a story to tell and the trick is learning to stand aside and allow them to speak. I don't usually add inclusions or other flavors for this reason. Sometimes though, the chocolate really calls out to be paired with something. I had a batch of Chiapas recently that shouted to be paired with orange. So, I rolled my eyes and acquiesced and went to the store and found some incredible Seville oranges and made some candied orange peel. Chiapas and Orange were happily married and disappeared over the horizon in a limited edition. So, because I try to "listen" to the chocolate and (usually) do its bidding, there are changes and surprises. To answer the question though - to the best of my ability since I haven't even officially launched my business - I've inundated my community with such a range of tastings that now I think they expect the unexpected and look forward to new origins, new stories, new surprises. And that's the fun of it all.
What do you consider to be the glue that holds your brand together?
Curiosity is my glue. And probably my undoing. The chocolate pool of secrets, knowledge and information is dark and deep and vast. If I ever get to the bottom of it, I might have to go do something else. But there is no bottom in sight and I've been digging for well over a decade.
Can you describe the thought process/history of the design of your chocolate bars?
Let your mind wander back... imagine it is 1920... you are in the wild west port town of Port Townsend Washington...the harbor is filled with ships although it is clear the age of sail has given way to the age of steam. But there is one particular schooner... perched at the end of the dock... she is lovely... but is she real? Is she a ghost ship your imagination conjured? You inquire about her down at the pub... but most sailors refuse to talk about her. Intrigued, you finally get information out of the bartender. She is being provisioned for a special mission to the tropics - to save heirloom cacao. She is here to pick up 2 specific passengers who, unbeknownst to them, are about to be whisked away on the adventure of a lifetime...n to the lands where the enchanted cacao trees grow... (There actually is a story written about this very adventure).
Are there any processes or techniques you are interested in incorporating into your chocolate-making repertoire?
I think my next stage will be pressing my own cocoa butter so I can do white chocolate. Sometimes too, the chocolate will ask for a bit of extra cocoa butter, depending on the bean and the percentage. Especially for chocolatiers - they like a little extra flow in their chocolate.
Is there anything on the horizon you would like to mention?
We have just finished renovating a historic building in downtown Port Townsend which is the new home of The Cocoa Forge. The building's most recent incarnation was the Town Forge, an artisan blacksmith shop for many years (and which inspired The Cocoa Forge name). But, originally, in the late 1800s it was the cold storage keg room for the old brewery, and it has massive, thick concrete walls and it feels like a wine cave (great for chocolate). Port Townsend is a Victorian seaport that time forgot. It is the first handy deep-water port entering the Puget Sound (Salish Sea). My building is right across the street from The NorthWest Maritime Center and where the cargo schooner "Ceiba" will dock and deliver our cacao from the Pacific tropics by SAIL. This is not only an important piece and part of The Cocoa Forge's adventure/mission but also a huge opportunity to bring back cargo shipping by sail to the West Coast - which has been absent for about 100 years. It has never seemed quite right or made a lot of sense to me to ship cacao via sea container on massive cargo ships using bunker fuel for thousands of miles. Check out www.sailcargo.org. These people are amazing and heroic and the real deal. Along with sustainable cargo shipping by sail with her 300 MT temperature-controlled cargo hold, the Ceiba will also be a Sail Training vessel. It makes my heart so glad! Ahhhh... You can almost feel the wind in your face...
The Cocoa Forge is a local, artisan, stone-ground, bean-to-bar chocolate maker with a focus on vigilantly grown heirloom and fine flavor cacao for chocolate enthusiasts, couvertures for local chocolatiers and custom batches for diehard single origin cacao fans.