Life Behind Chocolate Bars

Life Behind Chocolate Bars
French Broad Chocolates Opens Factory and Tasting Room.

Jael and Dan Rattigan
The owners of French Broad Chocolates are finding new ways to give you a taste of the sweet life. Dan and Jael Rattigan, creators of the popular French Broad Chocolate Lounge, have been hard at work building their newest dream, a chocolate factory, complete with a solar cacao bean roaster. 

Bean-to-bar Chocolate 

“We are excited to share with you the transformation of a beat-up, old warehouse into our beautiful, bean-to-bar chocolate factory and tasting room,” says Jael. “This is the culmination of years of dreaming and scheming of cacao, beginning 8 years ago when we purchased a cacao farm in Costa Rica. We’re expecting our first harvest this fall!” 

The Factory will produce a new line of artisan, bean-to-bar chocolate bars, including single origin dark chocolates, milk chocolate, and chocolate bars with inclusions such as organic coffee, salt, organic nuts, and malt powder from Asheville-based Riverbend Malt House. The cacao will be hand-sorted, winnowed in a machine designed and built in-house, and refined in a stone melangeur. Bulk chocolate will be available for chefs. Already, nibs and cocoa shells are being used by local brewers, including Pisgah Brewing and Green Man. We will be rolling out our initial collection of bars for wholesale within a month.

An important and exciting development for the Rattigans, is the ability to supply the chocolate for their own line of artisan truffles, caramels, and pastries available at their popular dessert restaurant, French Broad Chocolate Lounge and on their website

“We are constantly scrutinizing the integrity of our ingredients, and with chocolate being the heart and soul of our business, we felt we could do better,” says Jael. “Our goal is to use only our own bean-to-bar chocolate in our confections, pastries, and drinking chocolates.” They already use their bean-to-bar chocolate in several items. They will be one of a handful of chocolatiers in the world to be bean-to-bar-to-truffle.

Solar Cacao Roaster

With the opening of the new factory comes the unveiling of their prototype parabolic trough solar cacao roaster, designed and built by Dan Rattigan. The goal of the roaster is to precisely roast cocoa beans using only the concentrated rays of the sun. 

The idea: solar radiation reaches the earth in rays that are basically parallel. Parallel lines reflecting on a parabola intersect to a focal point. On a parabolic trough, the focal point becomes a focal line. If a roasting drum is set to tumble with its axis on the focal line of the parabolic trough, and the trough is lined with a reflective material, solar radiation will be concentrated on the roasting drum, acting as the drum roaster’s heating element. 

This is the first cocoa bean roaster of its kind. Dan adapted the design from a peanut roaster made for use in developing countries by an Appropriate Technologies non-profit. Dan’s design has added a photovoltaic-powered gearmotor for turning the drum, a thermostatically-controlled cooling fan to remove excessive heat, and a solar water heater for use when the oven is not in operation.

The Tasting Room

The Tasting Room will host educational classes and chocolate pairing events. “Cacao is literally foreign to most of us, being from the tropics,” says Dan Rattigan. “It’s traditionally a very secretive industry, as dramatized in Charlie & the Chocolate Factory. We want to demystify cacao - what it is, and how chocolate is made.” Tours of the factory will be available to the general public.

Farm-Direct Cacao

Dan and Jael believe the best way to get farmers the compensation they deserve is by establishing direct relationships with them. This can encourage farming methods that will improve the value of their products, increasing their profitability while procuring a better ingredient. Dan and Jael went on a sourcing expedition to Peru in 2011, and met with farmers and cooperatives, yielding their first direct importation of cacao. In Costa Rica, they purchased and are restoring an abandoned cacao farm, and helping a Costa Rican friend build a fermentary. They hope to make their first purchase of this cacao this fall.

Want to go?

The new French Broad Chocolate Factory is located at 21 Buxton Avenue in downtown Asheville. Visit their website for more information.

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