Harper Macaw is a new artisanal chocolate factory in DC. Their grand opening was this past December, and my husband and I just happened to show up in time for their first ever tour of the space. But first, free hot chocolate. Made from pure chocolate, not powder, this little shot of hot chocolate was decadent and heavenly. From the first sip, I knew we wouldn’t regret the drive out to the factory. I have to say, for a store’s opening day, they had everything worked out incredibly well.
A tour costs $5 and includes a chocolate tasting at the end. We paid in advance and were told to help ourselves to more free chocolate samples on the beautiful wall of chocolate.
I passed on this, but Tom obliged, reporting back that they were all very good. I started to get even more excited to learn more about this new venture.
One of the things that caught my eye when reading about Harper Macaw was that they source all of their cocoa beans from Brazil and that every product they sell protects and restores deforested or vulnerable rainforest in Northeast Brazil. As a DC resident who recently spent five months living in Brazil, I was instantly drawn to Harper Macaw’s mission and our visit only made me respect their initiative more.
Run by a husband and wife team, Sarah and Colin Hartman, Harper Macaw is hoping to change the artisanal chocolate scene for the better. Sarah, a chocolate maker from Sao Paulo, seems to be well poised for success.
Colin, a U.S. Marine Veteran, explained during our tour that compared to the coffee and craft beer industries, little is really known about chocolate making on a craft level. The big companies keep the majority of their recipes and information to themselves, so startups have to be innovative to make it work.
Our tour started in the storage room, where giant bags of cocoa beans wait to become delicious bars of chocolate. Harper Macaw works closely with its cocoa bean farmers to ensure they practice sustainable farming, which helps to maintain tree cover and increases biodiversity in the rainforests. These practices help both the wildlife in the surrounding regions as well as to raise the level of income potential for the farmers.
Here, the beans are cleaned, classified and roasted before going through a machine called a winnower, which cracks the beans and separates the chocolate nibs, which are then used to create the final product.
Next, the chocolate is put into a conche machine which creates a chocolate liquor prior to the refinement process. We were offered a taste of the liquor, which looked a lot like cake batter but didn’t quite taste like it. It was gritty and slightly bitter, but you could definitely start to taste the familiar flavor of chocolate.
After that, the chocolate is tempered to bind the crystals from the cocoa butter and the sugar so that the chocolate dries in the right chemical structure. The chocolate is then poured into molds and once dry, wrapped in recyclable paper instead of foil. Besides being environmentally friendly, this keeps the chocolate from absorbing any outside flavors.
I’ve definitely dumbed the process down here. While I’m pretty much an expert chocolate eater, I’m far from knowledgeable in chocolate making. I highly recommend visiting the factory and taking a tour for more in-depth information. The tour concludes with a tasting of all four of Harper Macaw’s chocolate varieties.
Sarah joined us to teach us how to properly taste chocolate and give us more information about her products. We were pretty excited about this part. When tasting chocolate, you should first rub the chocolate between your fingers to get it to melt slightly which will release the flavors and aromas of the cocoa beans. Don’t mind my super cute food-safe hair net, or the guilty look on my face, I was just massaging my chocolate as instructed.
Once you place the chocolate in your mouth, take a few bites but then allow it to melt completely in your mouth instead of continuing to chew it. This will allow you to experience all of the flavors of the chocolate, of which there are many more than I realized.
I’m usually not a huge fan of dark chocolate, but I may now be converted. We started with Harper Macaw’s 52% milk chocolate, which is decadent like a good milk chocolate should be while still offering a lot of complexity. The varieties got darker as we progressed from 67% to 74% to 77%. Each version had different flavor profiles, with a lot of different nutty and fruity flavors I wouldn’t usually associate with chocolate. I think my favorite was the 74%, but it’s hard to choose.
Chocolate bars cost $8 each at the factory and $9 online and offsite (the bars are also sold at Glen’s Garden Market). They also sell chocolate nibs, fresh-baked goods and hot chocolate at the factory. If you still need a few stocking stuffers or gifts for your coworkers, I highly recommend checking out Harper Macaw Chocolate Factory and supporting a new local DC business along with forest conservation efforts in Brazil.
Also, a chocolate tour and tasting would make for an excellent first date, or second, or thousandth in our case. Tom was actually really impressed with me for finding such a fun way to do our Christmas shopping. The fact that we got to drink beer next door at DC Brau afterward didn’t hurt either.
For the address and detailed information to plan your visit, click here.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Kacy runs the DC blog, Bad Sentences, and is also a cultural ambassador for MezzeCulture in the Washington DC area, who lives and writes in Washington D.C., and enjoys travel and discovering international food and wine locally.