Special Valentine’s Day online promo and more offers below!
Meet Catherine Goulet – one of my good friends, geologist, new mom, and Montréal’s newest chocolate maker. Two months ago she opened AVANAA CHOCOLAT, her own bean-to-bar chocolate workshop/boutique in the quaint neighborhood of Villeray, Montréal.
Cath is one of the few in Canada who makes chocolate directly from the cacao bean: in the province of Québec there are only eight such producers and hers is one of four in Montréal. It’s only been a few weeks since she launched the English version of her website, avanna.ca/en/, making her cacao goodness available to English Canada!
What is “bean-to-bar” and why should I care?
It’s basically about making chocolate from scratch in small batches, starting from the cacao bean:
Making bean-to-bar chocolate is not easy (and it’s probably why only a few in Canada are doing it). Every step of the process involves a crazy amount of time and passion: sorting the cacao beans, roasting, winnowing, grinding, conching… and doing it all over again. Cath is the chocolate maker and she makes sure everything is crafted perfectly in the workshop. Go and visit her, she will show you how chocolate is made, talk about sourcing the cacao, and let you taste all the delicious chocolate crafted right in front of you.
Gloire au cacao!
Bean-to-bar or small-batch chocolate is a fairly new concept in North America, first popularized by artisans in the U.S. 15 years ago. It wasn’t until recently when Cath herself became aware of the bean-to-bar movement:
The idea of Avanaa was born a few years ago on a trip to Mexico. […] In Oaxaca City, we walked everyday in front of tiny workshops crafting chocolate from cacao beans growing in the region. Stepping in one of these workshops, we realized how we knew absolutely nothing about chocolate making (even though we ate chocolate every single day). That’s when we asked ourselves: “Making chocolate from cacao beans… why not in Montréal?”
The chocolate business is a gigantic industry estimated at $110 billion per year, but most of its cacao farmers remain poor. Chocolate’s key ingredient, the cacao bean, is cultivated by the world’s poorest people in equatorial regions where hot and humid climates support the growth of cacao trees. 70% of the world’s cacao comes from four West African countries (Ivory Coast, Ghana, Nigeria, and Cameroon), with Indonesia, Brazil, and Ecuador following suit. Of the retail price we pay for a chocolate bar, only a very small fraction (about 6%) is earned by cacao farmers.
Allegations of hazardous work conditions, slavery, child labour, and extreme poverty are common in cacao plantations, even if they’re Fair Trade or Rainforest Alliance certified. In dealing directly with cacao farmers, Avanaa takes these matters to heart:
Let’s be honest, our chocolate will not change the world, but we work hard to promote direct trade with cacao farmers and sustainable agriculture. […] If we can make people happy with our bean-to-bar chocolates, […] mission accomplished!
Similar to wine and coffee, crop provenance or its “terroir” gives a unique, distinctive character to the final product. The core flavour of true bean-to-bar chocolate is determined by the variety of cacao tree and the environment in which it grows as well as particularities in the fermentation, drying, and roasting process. (For example, certain Venezuelan cacao have plum undertones, while those from Papua New Guinea can have aromas of wood smoke from the drying process.) While such uniqueness is celebrated by bean-to-bar chocolate makers who typically produce single origin chocolate (i.e., cacao from only one place), it is drowned by large mass producers who use additives such as milk extracts, soy lecithin, vanilla, and previously separated cocoa butter to ensure that their cacao blends end up with a uniform taste and texture. (All Dairy Milk bars taste the same, right?) Avanaa’s chocolate has only two ingredients: organic cacao beans and organic cane sugar!
Finally, it’s worth distinguishing between a chocolatier and a chocolate maker. Chocolatiers buy pre-made chocolate (known as “couverture”; much like bricks or pastilles of store-bought baking chocolate), melt it, and give it their own spin by adding flavourings, fillings, nuts, etc. and transforming it into truffles, flavoured bars, and other creations. Almost all chocolate boutiques are chocolatiers (Laura Secord and Purdy’s are well-known national brands, while smaller shops include CXBO in Toronto and Érico in Québec City). In contrast, Cath is a chocolate maker who produces her own chocolate. (You can find more about her bean-to-bar process here, with stunning photos to boot!) One good analogy is that Cath makes freshly-squeezed orange juice, whereas chocolatiers and large mass producers make orange juice from concentrate. Which glass of O.J. would you rather drink?
How it all began
Evidently, making the very best chocolate demands the very best cacao. In 2014, Cath and her boyfriend Malik set off on a trip around the world in search of the best cacao plantations. They traveled to Indonesia, Honduras, Ecuador, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, and Peru, meeting farmers and learning all about cacao beans and chocolate. Cath saw how little farms struggled to get a fair value for their outstanding cacao beans. It struck a chord with me when she explained, “Ils travaillent tellement fort… [They work really hard…]”
I got into a car accident when she was in Ecuador.
Being the sweetheart that she is, Cath sent me chocolates from Christophe Morel, one of Montréal’s most celebrated chocolatiers. On her card, she wrote:
Pour le meilleur retablissement qui soit à Danica
[All the best for Danica’s recovery]
Even though I was on a strict diet to help with my recovery (no refined sugar, lots of fruits and vegetables, three glasses of milk a day for my fractured bones), I couldn’t say no to those chocolates!
In the months after she came back to Canada from her incredible world trip, Cath told me about her grand idea to open a bean-to-bar chocolate factory that was 100% artisanal, organic, and fair-trade in her hometown of Montréal. With 23kg of Peruvian cacao beans she smuggled in her backpack, she filled her apartment with cacao aromas as she experimented making chocolate. She sought to buy chocolate-making equipment, designing and fabricating them with her dad when they weren’t available. Contacting the farmers she met in Central and Latin America to import cacao beans became a challenge as they wouldn’t promptly respond to phone calls or emails. She also took a course on starting a business, applied for the necessary permits, and tirelessly searched for a space for her factory.
Christmas 2015, just after I got my last neck brace off and started physical therapy – I asked her if she was making any chocolate for Christmas. Excited to try her chocolate and give them as presents, my husband and I ordered several bars of her single origin Piura Blanco (70% Peruvian cacao). This was the first time I had bean-to-bar chocolate. Compared to regular dark chocolate, there were more subtle flavours to be appreciated. Cath said that people often asked her if she added any cherry to it, but it’s really just the cacao!
Six months later in May 2016, Cath let me crash at her place during a conference. She just had a baby girl, beautiful little Adèle, and was still working hard to officially launch Avanaa. In her homey Rosemont apartment, she showed me how to make chocolate: all the bags of cacao beans, different cane sugars, machinery and molds, photos of farmers and co-ops she visited on her trip, and packaging options for her chocolate. It was so fascinating. Upon leaving for Québec City, she gave me a small bar to snack on!
Avanaa opens its doors
When Cath announced that her store was finally opening in mid-December 2016, my husband and I ordered 35 bars for our family and friends for Christmas again. Luckily, Cath knew that my $200 worth of chocolates wasn’t just for me!
My husband picked up our order on opening week.
When my husband entered the store, Malik was manning the front, offering customers samples of their chocolate. (Avanaa offers free chocolate tasting, by the way!) Cath was hiding behind one of their signs, quietly feeding baby Adèle. Meanwhile, I was impatiently waiting for my husband in Toronto so we could eat her chocolate!
Everyone in Villeray has only good words to say about Avanaa, just look at all the 5/5 reviews on their Facebook page!
Délicieux. Je lève mon chapeau à la gentille proprio chocolatière : ça prend du guts pour ouvrir sa jolie petite fabrique en plein quartier résidentiel. On lui souhaite tout le succès qu’elle mérite. Ça devrait pas être bien difficile, avec la qualité de ses produits! Miam!!
[Delicious. Hats off to the kind owner/chocolate maker: it takes guts to open her small factory in the heart of a residential neighbourhood. We wish her all the sucess she deserves. It shouldn’t be too difficult with the quality of her products! Yum!]
Single origin dark chocolate – $8.50 per 65g bar
ZORZAL 70% AND 80%
On a trip to Dominican Republic you will (easily) find the region of Punta Cana, where nightlife moves to the rhythm of merengue. But (off the beaten path) you may discover the Zorzal reserve, where protected birds live and sing in peace amongst cacao trees. And that cacao is amazing!
Tasting notes: Honey, Sharp, Fruity
Zorzal cacao beans are sourced from a cacao plantation in the Zorzal bird reserve, which is creatively showcased on the orange packaging.
Zorzal 70% is my favourite of the bunch with its lasting, fruity taste. The one with 80% cacao wasn’t as bitter as I expected: the inherent fruitiness of the cacao bean mellows any bitterness stemming from the high cacao content. (Unfortunately, Zorzal 80% is currently out of stock online.)
KALLARI 70% AND 80%
So, you want to boost your karma, right? Thanks to Kallari Cooperative’s cacao, you are already contributing to the preservation of the traditions and culture of the Kichwa people. And you are helping to protect the Ecuadorian rainforest. Simple.
Tasting notes: Floral, Slightly fruity, Vanilla
Kallari cacao beans come from the Kallari Cooperative, a group of cacao farmers or “rainfamily members” who work together to promote economic growth, preserve their local culture, and protect their environment as they market their precious cacao.
The strong vanilla flavour of Kallari gives the impression of a sweeter chocolate bar even at 70 or 80% cacao. While I like Zorzal more, my husband prefers Kallari! With all the unique flavour profiles of cacao beans, it won’t be too hard to find something you’ll like!
Straight from the choco lab – $8.50 per 65g bar
Unfortunately, I haven’t tried any of these as they came out after my big order last Christmas. Since Cath is always experimenting with new kinds of chocolate, we always have a reason to keep coming back to Avanaa!
For some of us, there will NEVER be enough cacao. Our R&D department found a solution for them. We sprinkle perfectly roasted cacao nibs on top of our pure origin chocolate bar. Simple.
Cacao and coffee. We had to bring our two favourite beans together. And we did! Creamy chocolate and crunchy arabica coffee pieces are the perfect match.
Cath collaborated with her friend Béatrice from Trésors d’Afrique to provide her with Rwandan coffee beans torrefied here in Québec.
We grind Dominican cacao with shredded coconut to craft this 65% coconut milk chocolate. The result? Creamy and fruity chocolate with a hint of tropical coconut. It is how we cope with endless winters!
Cannot make a choice?
Or you are only looking for a gift?
Let us carefully choose for you 4 of our most delicious chocolate bars.
We choose. You eat. Deal?
Try some and see for yourself!
After talking about all this chocolate, I decided to treat myself and order some Avanaa online! Ordering from the online store is fast and easy, and Avanaa ships all across Canada. I’m excited to get the new coconut milk Zorzal 65% for my birthday this week!
But before you jump to the online store, Cath is offering 10% off with the promo code VALENTIN10 for Valentine’s Day! For a limited time, purchase four or more bars and get free shipping too!
Avanaa is also currently giving away chocolate bars to 10 lucky folks who visit their Facebook page, like, and share this post:
Happy chocolate tasting! Here’s to never going back to grocery store chocolate.
Gloire au cacao!
AVANAA CHOCOLAT is located at 309 rue Gounod, Villeray, Montréal, Canada H2R 1B2. At the Avanaa workshop, Cath can show you how she crafts chocolate right from the cacao bean and let you in on some free samples! You can phone her store at (438) 388-0200 and visit her website at avanaa.ca/en/ where you can learn more about the bean-to-bar process and get quality chocolate delivered to your doorstep.