I think I inherited a blessing/curse from my mom.
I call it the "what's-around-the-next-bend" gene. When we were hiking she would always want to go a bit farther; needed to know what was around the next bend. And the next and the next. As a kid, it was normal. As a teen, it was irritating. As an adult, it became charming. Because there was always such wonder and appreciation at what was around the next bend if you just took the time to go see. She loved maps too. She would always want to go on a road she had never been on. This summer, she left to go around the next bend.
I bring this up because in her leaving, I have been deep in reflecting on her life; and in that, realizing the gifts she left me - even though they can be a real pain-in-the-neck; so much of it is the foundation and driving force of what I do. And this is what brings The Cocoa Forge to life.
The chocolate pool is deep and dark and endlessly mysterious.
I am not talking about the stuff you find on grocery store shelves, so just toss that out of your mind. This is not about confections. In fact when the City wanted to pigeon-hole my business into the "candy" slot, I had to refrain from having a cow.
I came into the world of chocolate years ago and through the back door. As a long time student of herbalism, I was interested in the folklore, culture and mythology along with the botany and medicinal aspects of Theobroma Cacao. This tree hits the jackpot on every level. Every day more is revealed and every day I marvel at the vastness of all we DON'T know. Before the Heirloom Cacao Preservation teamed up with USDA/ARS and started collecting samples and data, we only thought there were 3 main varieties; Criollo, Trinitario and Forestero (and Nacional) (more on that). Now, with DNA testing and genome sequencing we have identified at least 20 varieties and counting! But what is alarming is the rate these trees are disappearing and being replaced with tasteless (yet hardy?) (serious environmental and long-term social ramifications there) hybrids.
So what happened?
Why is cacao now a mere caricature of what was once held so precious that wars were fought for it? That taxes and tributes were paid with it? That it accompanied Royalty into the afterlife? Entire cities rose, and fell, with cacao at center stage. It was transported thousands of miles along the vast trade routes of the early Mesoamericans. Cacao was used in every life ceremony and on every altar. Think about the 'doctrine of signatures' and how the pod resembles the human heart. But the real significance there might be not so much the resemblance but that both are a vessel for a precious liquid - necessary for life. And now, most chocolate is just...sigh...it's just not worthy. Even though every single step of the farming and post harvest practices remain the same. Or they should anyway. (Many steps are skipped in the case of "industrial" beans = impossible to develop the beautifully complex, inherent chocolate flavors) (and "raw" - save for another post).
At The Cocoa Forge, we've gone around the bend.
Curiosity cannot be denied. We go that quiet extra mile to search out the precious strains and varietals of Cacao. Because it's important to know what once was. What's possible now.
We just finished restoring the old forge downtown. It's been a 2 1/2 year labor-of-love project. So many said it was impossible to restore and many more snorted in derision at the stupidity of the task. But this building is special. And it has some great PT stories to tell. It IS worthy. We have some big irons in the fire at The Cocoa Forge, not the least of which is bringing back cargo shipping by SAIL to Port Townsend. Yes, sail. You know those old time photos with Port Townsend Bay full of tall ships? Imagine that happening again. Well, maybe not a bay-full. But at least one particular ship, The CEIBA, is going to sail into our one particular harbor (you Jimmy Buffett fans, you) bringing precious cacao from far away enchanted lands. Be there. It will be a party. Like with a brass band and everything.
Spilling the beans;
I now have some help with communications so newletters and social media will be happening. Check back on the website for events, news and cacao bean spillage. Many fun things coming up; like custom local orders get delivered by bicycle! We are working on packaging for locals that will be natural, anti-microbial and reusable beeswaxed linen. We are working on having a "Cart of Cacao" with some extraordinary cacao and chocolate experiences! Wait, did I mention custom orders?! This is another throwback...sometimes I'd swear I was born a few hundred years too late... it used to be, traditionally back in the day, you'd go down to your local chocolate maker and choose your beans, your roast profile, your sweetness level, refinement level etc...your own recipe! FUN!! Also, as things stand now, The Cocoa Forge will probably not be a retail location. I mean, chocolate waits for no one. You can't just stop in the middle of a process to go talk to/help a customer. Perhaps instead we'll do a not-so-secret Port Townsend chocolate society that meets every month to discuss, taste, learn, play. Conjure custom recipes. And sales will take place online and from the Cart of Cacao... Stay tuned chocolate fans!
Susan Fitch is the Master Chocolate Maker and teller of stories at the Cocoa Forge. Besides making chocolate, Sue is a dog-lover, a sea breeze savor-er and an unconventional Virgo following the lead of Theobroma in the most unconventional and ever-changing second career one could imagine. Cheers!