In 2008, Anna Davies and Robbie Stout met and fell in love in Boulder, Colorado. As young romantics, they looked for ways to express their new love. One of the old standbys—chocolate—failed them, since back then, it was nearly impossible to find Colorado-crafted fine chocolate. They bonded in a quest to remedy that problem. And in 2010, Ritual Chocolate was born. Robbie and Anna set up the business to handcraft small-batch, bean-to-bar chocolate using classic European techniques and vintage equipment, while adding modern American twists.
Once they’d decided to make chocolate, they dove right in and started educating themselves by reading old chocolatier books, scouring the Internet, and experimenting like crazy. Their education included a trip to Costa Rica and Panama to visit cacao farms. After learning the basics, they bought and built some equipment and began making dark decadence.
Anna and Robbie started Ritual Chocolate in their shared studio apartment in Boulder. Once they outgrew that space, they moved their operations to an existing chocolate factory in Denver. Eventually they picked up and moved to Park City, Utah, and opened their own factory and café. The couple started small, selling bars to local markets and friends, but before long, word got out that a chocolatier couple was reinventing the chocolate bar with an intense focus on quality and tradition. The integrity of their product garnered them accolades, helping them win recognition at the International Chocolate Awards, Academy of Chocolate Awards, Good Food Awards, and Sofi Awards.
When they think about the social impact they want to have, Anna and Robbie see an important opportunity to educate American consumers about the chocolate supply chain, the realities for cacao farmers, and the importance of paying fair wages to the growers. From where they sit, they believe that chocolate and cacao are at a crossroads. More and more Central and South American farmers are preparing to retire, while many of their children and grandchildren are fleeing the countryside and a lifetime of farming for higher-paying jobs in nearby cities. Robbie and Anna want to help provide a market for higher-quality chocolate that, in turn, offers the growers higher wages and more opportunity.
Ritual sources its cocoa from Madagascar, Peru, Belize, Venezuela, Ecuador, and—soon—Mexico. They’ve handpicked their source farms, paying careful attention to quality and ethics. Ritual sources from farms that are either certified organic or use organic methods. Unfortunately, not all small farms using organic methods have the means to go through the organic certification process. But to Robbie and Anna, organic practices are more important than the organic certification. Most of their cacao sources are considered to be co-ops that have centralized fermentation and drying (with the exception of Madagascar, which is an actual farm). And depending on the origin, Robbie and Anna work directly with the co-op managers, owners, and/or importers.
Anna and Robbie make their production process as transparent as possible. Among other things, they have windows from their café into their factory. Through the windows, customers can watch the entire chocolate-making process unfold, from grinding the beans to pouring the chocolate into molds.
Robbie and Anna are also careful to limit waste. Chocolate bars that are rejected for appearance are melted down or given out as samples. The only chocolate that gets thrown away is the chocolate that ends up on the ground—an infrequent and heartbreaking event. Whenever possible, Ritual reuses packing materials for shipments, gives away cocoa shells for gardening and compost, and recycles anything they possibly can.
Want to give Ritual Chocolate a try? Visit the Hatch Lab shop to pick the three bars that intrigue you most from our Bean-to-Bar Chocolate Collection. And if you want to learn more about the chocolate-making process, check out the Hatch Lab blog post Setting a High Bar: Chocolate’s Flavors, Farmers, and Magic from our interview with TCHO Chocolate.
photo: product shot Kirsten Boyer Photography
editor: Joy Herbers