In 2012 I wrote about the emergence of bean-to-bar chocolate makers in New Zealand – a craft food movement that, similarly to good wine and coffee, is about developing a product that is defined by the origin of its main ingredient.
As an artisan food pursuit, the barriers to entry are steep – from sourcing the cacao beans to building the machinery used in the multiple steps from bean to smooth, glossy chocolate.
So I was surprised when my friend Charlotte from Kerikeri dropped by this summer and her husband, Jamie Andrews, left us two bars of his own-made, beautifully-packaged single origin chocolate.
The bars were professional, sleek and glossy, and the chocolate from each (Papua New Guinea) plantation tasted distinctly different: one full of citrus sours and one much more deep and earthy like floral chocolate mud cake. And that really is the point of single origin chocolate.
Here is how Northland’s Capt Pembleton craft chocolate began.
Sourcing the beans
Jamie’s first step in chocolate-making was finding a supplier that would sell a relatively small quantity of cacao beans, and his second was how to get them to New Zealand.
“Normally you have to buy in 5mT (metric tonne) contracts but I only wanted a few hundred kilos. My typical batch uses 5kg, making around 60 bars of chocolate.”
Jamie made a contact through a friend of his sister, who had lived in Papua New Guinea, with Kulili Estates, a plantation on a volcanic island off the mainland. Kulili was willing to sell smaller amounts. The Germans first introduced cocoa to PNG in the late 1800s and this plantation was founded in the early 1900s.
“This supplier warned me at the beginning that I should look into shipping as early as possible – which I didn’t listen to – and that was the most time-consuming part. I ended up contacting a friend who did logistics at my old work. He guided me through the world of shipping acronyms and importing the beans to Auckland.”
“I knew there would be differences in flavour between beans, but you have no idea what that difference will be until you actually taste them. Seasonal and environmental factors, and the fermenting and drying processes, have a big influence on the final flavour.”
Grinding involves releasing the cocoa nibs down to a liquid form: cocoa liquor. Jamie is an industrial designer, so making smaller versions of machinery that large chocolate manufacturers use was the goal, and he pulled in his retired physicist dad, who happily immersed himself in the second-hand goods world of Ebay, tip shops and computer wreckers in the pursuit of motor and fan parts.
Jamie calls this the biggest challenge of chocolate-making: growing the correct crystals through tempering.
“It is a science but at times seems more of a dark art. Your chocolate might look nice and shiny, but the only way to really know if it’s tempered is to snap the finished bar, destroying what you’ve just made. You don’t have to throw it away if it’s not tempered, but you do have to start again.”
Branding and packaging
“The thing I like about chocolate is its rich history and the fact it is made from beans from far-flung parts of the world, so I wanted the name to evoke that kind of nostalgia and romanticism, but also be a little bit whimsical. My wife and I had a cat called Pimbleton, and we thought the name variation Pembleton fit the bill pretty well. Then the “Captain” just popped into my head…”
“I wanted the packaging to reflect where the beans are from, so I got lots of images from Papua New Guinea. From that I decided to design a pattern rather than a single image, like a bird of paradise, so that it wasn’t an obvious link but more or a vibe.”
So what is next for the brand, which is already stocked at stores in Auckland and Wellington, as well as available online?
“Make more chocolate, with more cocoa from the Pacific region, get into more stores and get the idea of single origin, bean-to-bar out there in NZ.”