Raising the Bar: An artisanal and educated chocolate experience

By Melissa Wallace

It began as a vision from two friends hoping to attract chocoholics during the “in-between” mealtime from 1 to 4 p.m. The idea: open a chocolate drinking bar.

Much like espresso bars and coffee shops are familiar meeting spots, Cacao 70 wanted people to gather for chocolate. But this concept would take time to mature.

The first store opened October 2011 in Montreal and can now be found in several Canadian cities including Calgary, Toronto, Ottawa, and Vancouver. Along with being a sweet shop, Cacao 70 also offers an eatery, ice cream shop and a bean-to-bar chocolate factory in Montreal that opened last spring.

Some of Cacao 70’s success can be attributed to the creativity and talents of Van Hien Dao and Gaiia Kim, who were hired as consultants in 2015 before permanently joining the team.

“We’re in a domain that hasn’t really been opened yet,” says Dao, Director of the Chocolate Factory, where flavour combinations are tested and new products come to life. “One of our missions is to help people develop an appreciation for chocolate as many don’t know where chocolate is from or how it’s made. By doing this, we can develop their palette and help them distinguish between better chocolate.”

Documentaries and news stories have also heightened consumer interest in a product’s origin and a frequently asked question at the factory is whether the chocolate Cacao 70 produces is fair trade.

“We try to keep everything as organic as possible, but we aren’t an organic-certified factory.” Dao explains that obtaining certain certifications is expensive and the cacao-producing countries are often in the poorer regions not as advanced as the coffee world, for example, where the necessary infrastructure already exists. But, he explains, Cacao 70 is adamant about staying true to the authenticity of chocolate — extracting the product’s natural flavours and avoiding additives.

Cacao 70’s chocolate is made from Hispaniola, which is a breed of cacao that only grows in the Dominican Republic. The company plans to work with producers from other countries in the near future to add variety to their products, which range from bars to fondues to chocolate drink mixes. “We’re able to control our own product and it gives a lot of value to our company,” says Dao. “In that sense, we’re a bit more vertically-integrated and ‘hands-on’ with our products and goods.”

Head chocolatier, Gaiia Kim, recently received recognition at The International Chocolate Awards. Cacao 70’s 45% milk chocolate chai bar received gold while the 45% milk chocolate earl grey and dark chocolate Jack Bean both received silver.

“For us, the awards are confirmation that we’re on the right path, as the factory has only been open a few months,” says Dao. “We hope people will see that the chocolate we’re making is special and unique.”

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