On August 5, 2016, I drove to Red Hook, Brooklyn with my 3 kids, Tyler, Anna, and Abby, for a chocolate tour of Raaka’s Chocolate Factory. The kids weren’t thrilled about the long and very traffic-filled drive from Long Island to Brooklyn on a summer Friday. However, they tolerated it for some chocolate tasting!
We arrived in a pleasant, industrial area of Red Hook, Brooklyn and saw the large Raaka sign on the building. Upon entering, Raaka staff required us to put on hairnets for our tour. And, of course, I grabbed a picture for blackmail!
Chocolate Tour at Raaka
Our host, Peter, introduced us to the beginning of the Raaka chocolate making process. Raaka is a bean to bar chocolate maker who sources their beans from different cacao farmers in regions around the globe including Dominica Republic, Peru, and Madagascar. Raaka develops direct relationships with the farmers they source from.
Traditionally, the first part of the bean to bar chocolate making process is to roast the beans. Raaka does not roast their beans at all. Why? Because they want to differentiate their bars and retain the authentic cacao flavors that begin to disappear as cacao beans are roasted. Raaka means “Raw” in the Finnish language and their tagline is “Virgin Chocolate”.
The next step is to remove the shells from the cacao bean. Because they do not roast their beans, the removal of the shells, also known as winnowing, is a bit tougher. Raaka invested in a sophisticated, very expensive machine to improve the effectiveness of the winnowing process.
Next we visited the room where the beans are ground and mixed in machines called melangeurs. This process can last up to 3 days until the chocolate reaches the ideal consistency. During this process, Raaka adds flavorings for many of their unique bars.
After up to 3 days in the melangeurs, the chocolate is milled to further reduce the particle size. Milling rolls the chocolate into masses that resembles giant tootsie rolls.
The chocolate is then tempered, a process that melts solid chocolate to a temperature high enough that the crystals in the cocoa butter break down. During this process, Cocoa butter is separated from the chocolate. Cocoa butter is the fat in the cacao bean that gives chocolate its unique mouth-feel and stable properties. Cocoa butter is the major ingredient in good quality white chocolate.
From there, the chocolate is poured into molds, packaged and shipped.
Tasting Chocolate at Raaka
My kids and I had the opportunity to taste many of the Raaka bars including:
- Mint & Nibs
- Maple & Nibs
- Coconut Milk
- Pink Sea Salt
My kids also attempted the Ghost Pepper Bar…and needed to chase it with the Mint & Nibs bar!!! I was too afraid to attempt it!
We each had our preference but the kids really liked Mint & Nibs, Coconut Milk & Pink Sea Salt. And of course, we had to purchase some of Raaka’s specialty bars including Arnold Palmer, Raspberry Lemonade, and Pina Colada before we left!
What We Learned at Raaka’s Chocolate Tour
On the drive home, although my kids know a bit more about real chocolate than the average child, I asked each of them what they learned that they didn’t know before they visited Raaka. And here were their responses…
- Abby (my 8 year old) learned that Raaka does not roast their cacao beans and most of the other chocolate makers roast their beans. She also noted that by not roasting the beans it retains the real flavors of the cacao.
- Anna (my almost 12 year old) learned that the cacao shells that are winnowed can be used as fertilizers at farms. Raaka mentioned that they sack up the cacao bean shells from the winnowing process and donate them Edible Schoolyard NYC to be used as compost. My family volunteers for a local organic farm that donates their food to food pantries in Long Island. Anna thought we should get a bag of the cacao bean shells and try it out at the farm!
- Tyler (my 15 year old) was impressed by the monster winnowing machine that was built for a different purpose and retrofit to support Raaka’s winnowing process. In addition, he didn’t know that it took up to 3 days for the chocolate to be ground down to a smooth consistency.
We had a great experience visiting Raaka’s Chocolate Tour – you should try it some time. Chocolate tours equal free tastes of chocolate – Yum!!