BY CINDY HOEDEL
The Kansas City Star
One week after the Valentine’s Day rush, the retail counter inside Christopher Elbow Artisanal Chocolates is quiet. But behind a glass door in the factory area, four people crowd around a metal worktable, breaking off small shards of playing card-thin sheets of chocolate and popping them in their mouths, chewing in silence.
The chocolate is arrayed in nine piles on two sheets of white poster board beneath long ingredient descriptions: “Manjari-Madagascar 64% Ethiopia Deri Kochoha,” “Guanaja-Venezuelan 70% El Salvador Secret Garden.”
This is no First Friday free sampling but a serious tasting. Fred Polzin (left) and Jeff (center) and Maritza Taylor, co-owners ofPT’s Coffee Roasting Co. in Topeka, have come to sample batches of chocolate that Christopher Elbow has blended using PT’s finely ground coffee beans. They want to create co-branded coffee-flavored chocolate bars and sell them at Elbow’s store and at the former Crossroads Coffeehouse, which PT’s has bought and is in the process of redesigning.
When Maritza Taylor says one of the coffees tastes different in the chocolate than in a cup, Elbow explains there are two limitations to adding coffee to chocolate. “You can’t heat chocolate to 200 degrees, the optimum temperature for extracting coffee flavor, or the chocolate will burn. And you can’t add liquid to chocolate, so you have to work with the ground beans.”
The group talks about which flavor notes in certain coffees and certain chocolates play well together, using language familiar to wine geeks: floral, citrus, tobacco. After 45 minutes, the group identifies two samples to green light for testing as bars and two more to develop with a few tweaks.
The PT’s collaboration is just the latest of many for Elbow. His chocolate company and his ice cream company, Glacé, have partnered with numerous local firms including Boulevard Brewing Co., the Roasterie, Soda Vie, Green Dirt Farm and Jude’s Rum Cakes.
No release date has been set for the coffee-flavored chocolate bars, but Elbow hopes they will be on shelves in May. “Making the chocolate goes fast. The part that takes the longest is the package design,” he says.