Walking into Five Points’ Condor Chocolates is like stepping into some imagined warm comfort zone of smell, taste and sight.
The cafe’s customers not only get to partake of the store’s chocolaty delights, but can actually see (and smell) the creation of chocolate bars and truffles.
Athens’ Dale brothers, Peter and Nick started Condor Chocolates two years ago, to create a viable business but also to honor their mother, a native of Ecuador.
“We’re choosing to kind of showcase our mother’s homeland,” Nick Dale said one day as he poured sugar into a chocolate-making machine called a melangeur.
The condor is the national bird of Ecuador, and the cacao beans that is the raw material for their chocolate bars and truffles all comes from the equatorial South American country. There’s also a marketing aspect — the brothers figure they’re the only craft chocolatier in the country specializing in Ecuadoran chocolate. (Actually, they’re more than chocolatiers. Chocolatiers create things such as truffles out of chocolate; they do that at Condor Chocolates, but they also make the chocolate itself.)
The Dales’ parents met there, and though Peter, 40, and Nick, 35, grew up in Athens, they spent extended periods of their childhood in the Ecuadorian port city of Guayaquil with their mother’s family.
They still visit, but nowadays trips like last month’s excursion are a combination of business and pleasure, said Nick, the brother who actually operates Condor Chocolates day to day.
The brothers arrange directly with farmers, village cooperatives or intermediaries to buy the cacao they want, which comes from old growth trees.
“We need the older forests to remain intact We feel like older pods have a more interesting flavor,” Peter Dale told an interested audience recently at the Athens-Clarke County Library. Their talk was one of a series about local businesses sponsored by the Friends of the Athens-Clarke County Library.
The transformation of cacoa beans into chocolate begins down on the farm in Ecuador, when the big seeds are fermented to intensify their flavor, then dried in the hot equatorial sun.
Packed in big burlap bags, the dry beans are shipped on freighters to Miami, New York or a big West Coast port such as Seattle before they’re transferred to freight trucks that eventually bring them home to Athens.
The beans can be in transit for a month or more, and just the logistics of it takes a lot of planning, said Nick Dale.
“It’s not just, ‘Fed-X, take care of it,’ ” he said.
On last month’s trip down to Ecuador, the brothers were ordering for this summer’s chocolate and they were thinking about what they’d need for the Christmas season nearly a year away — the busiest season — and then Valentine’s Day, also a busy time.
Once the beans make it to Five Points, they go into the oven. You can tell when they’re ready by the delicious aroma. The roasted beans are cracked to remove the shells from the insides — the “nibs.”
The nibs are then ground between stone wheels along with cane sugar for three or sometimes more days in a machine called a melangeur, which also aerates the mixture as it grinds.
“It doesn’t take it that long to grind it smooth. It’s the flavor development aspect,” said Nick Dale.
But that’s still not the end of the process. The raw chocolate is then goes through a tempering process of heating and cooling; it’s what produces a chocolate bar’s shiny surface, and the sharp snap when you break off a piece or bite into a bar.
At that point, the chocolate is poured into molds for either bars or for later use in making truffles or other chocolaty treats.
Truffles don’t travel well, so the best place to try one of them is at the Condor Chocolates cafe in Five Points’ Henrietta Apartments building. Chocolate bars have longer shelf lives, and are now sold in stores in Atlanta, Washington, D.C. and New York City, Nick Dale said.
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