AN ENTERPRISING couple have set up a chocolate-making business in their garden.
Suzanne James and Carlos Mendez, of Raw Goodies, produce tiny batches of chocolate from cacao beans, using adapted household appliances and a workshop at the bottom of their garden in Queen Street, Worthing.
Their venture started when they discovered raw chocolate made with butter, cocoa and agave nectar.
Now, Carlos does the making while Suzanne does the tasting of the chocolate, and their partnership is already paying off as they won the 2013 Great Taste award for their Tumbes from Peru, which contains 72 per cent chocolate.
Suzanne, 42, said: “I used to work in a health food shop in Hove and I have also got thyroid problems, so was looking for something that was natural and healthy that would boost my energy.
“While I was working there, I was introduced to raw products and found that you could have a product like chocolate in a healthy way, which fascinated me.
“We made a lot of chocolate for a Christmas fair at our daughter’s school about five years ago, and people seemed to love it.
“We were working in our kitchen before, but it was not ideal for a number of reasons, not least because chocolate is very absorbent and it was getting everywhere.
“We are doing something that only a handful of people in the UK are doing, but we are doing it from the bottom of our garden and no one knows we are here.”
The mother-of-one said that there was a lot of misconceptions about what is available to buy.
“A lot of people do not know anything about real chocolate, where it comes from, how it grows and how to taste it,” she said.
“With many commercial bars of chocolate, all you are doing is tasting sugar, so this chocolate is like something from another planet in comparison. We started off making simple bars of chocolate and then experimented with it and tried different things. Everything is completely different because we try to use the most interesting products whilst being good for you and your body.
“Chocolate has not survived for centuries for no reason, it just has to be used properly.
“Our products give you a real boost and because it is pure cocoa you do not have to eat a lot of it because the flavours are strong.
“With other brands, people can munch 20 bars because they are addicted to the sugar, but you will never get addicted to cocoa.”
Carlos, 46, added: “We have made the best of what we had in terms of space but at the start we were doing things in a ridiculous way because we did not have the money to buy a tempering machine so we were doing everything by hand.
“This meant that we could only make 300 grams of chocolate at a time.
“We have done everything ourselves, from the website to the packaging, because we have had to.
“It has taken me two or three years to crack it and they do not teach it in college.
“The technique is called tempering the chocolate to make the crystals within it stable.
“If you get the right temperature, it can last for up to a year.
“I started experimenting as I am the scientific mind of the business.”
Each batch of chocolate produced in the Chocolate Shed consists of 30 to 60 bars and takes up to four days to craft.
The couple use criollo and arriba beans from small co-operatives in Ecuador and Peru and make use of a variety of adapted household items in their business, including hair-dryers and fans, to increase and decrease the temperature while tempering.
They also use Indian net grinders, which are normally used for making chapatis, to make the cocoa beans small.
Suzanne said: “We go to a lot of festivals and people say they have not seen anything as artisan as this.
“The hardest thing ever is learning how to make chocolate and an important distinction is that we are chocolate-makers, not chocolatiers, which means that we buy the beans, peal them, then grind and temper them into chocolate.
“We would like to get a unit eventually, but I think the biggest aim is to work with farms directly. We are already fair trade and are definitely not in this for the money We want to make a living, but we want it to be more of a personal journey.”
Carlos added: “Chocolate is a commodity, which means that the farmers do not get paid what they should. We are too small at the moment to buy 500kg from a farm but we would like to in the future.”
“ I think we have done so well because people want something different and with our company they know exactly where the bean is from and they can trace what they are eating.
“They say the taste of good chocolate should last in the mouth for around 20 minutes and within it there should be lots of different flavours, from fruit and nuts to leather.
“We are so passionate about what we do and I think that makes a real difference.”
For more information, log on to the website www.rawgoodies.co.uk