Costa Rica Living – The past few years for Matt Weyandt and Elaine Read imitates a story that many couples dream of. After finishing their contracted jobs, they picked up their life and two kids and moved to Costa Rica at the end of 2012. The family spent the next seven months living the tropical lifestyle, and upon returning to the states, the husband and wife team became chocolatiers. Xocolatl, their bean-to-bar chocolate company opened in Krog Street Market at the end of 2014.
ER: When Matt and I met, we spent time traveling in South America, and we wanted to spend time outside the states. We had one child, and another on the way, so we knew this was the time to go. After the second child was born, we rented our apartment and sold our cars and made the move. We told ourselves we’d live in Costa Rica a minimum of six months, but maybe indefinitely.
What piqued your interest in chocolate making?
ER: In Costa Rica, the people are interested in wellness and food-based health. Each week we went to a local farmers market and always loaded up on dark chocolate from one of the vendors. It became our weekly indulgence. Two of these chocolate makers, Caribeans and Talamanchas invited us to learn to make chocolates with them.
What was their method for chocolate production?
MW: It was inspiring to see these chocolatiers producing bean-to-bar chocolates in the middle of the jungle with minimal resources. They used a drill as a make-shift grinder, and tempered the chocolate using a double-boiler. It makes you realize that you don’t need a huge chocolate factory to make good chocolate.
So no large factories or machines? What did their production facilities look like?
MW: Besides an air-conditioned cooling room for the chocolate molds, the rest of their facility was an open air factory with only two walls. It’s amazing because Costa Rican weather changes frequently.
What made you decide to become chocolatiers?
MW: There I was, working in a little shack on a hillside surrounded by cacao trees in the rainforest. I could look out in front of me and see the Caribbean. I looked on the side of the grinder machine and the label said “Cocoatown, Roswell, GA”. I took that as a sign. Cocoatown is a producer for small batch chocolate grinders that happens to be based here in Roswell.
How was the learning process for you as you started producing your own chocolates?
ER: The first six months was all experimentation. We were testing bars out and trying recipes. We started testing cacao samples from Peru or Bolivia. We visited French Broad Chocolates in Asheville and they shared some of their techniques.
What was the hardest part?
ER: Tempering. The good thing is chocolate is very forgiving so you can re-temper if you don’t do it right. It takes a while for the chocolate to be perfectly tempering.
What’s your goal with Xocolatl?
MW: Small-batch chocolatiers are very collaborative. We want people to know that our craft chocolate is real food, sourced ethically through a direct relationship with farmers. We can’t wait for our customers to say, “this harvest of Ecuadorian chocolate is different from last year’s harvest.” Each bar should taste different.
By Alexa Lampasona, http://atlantarestaurants.blog.ajc.com/