Melting Pot

Small-batch, single-source chocolate makes Indi Chocolate a journey on the tongue.

STORY BY LAUREN ADAM
PHOTOS BY DARREN ZEMANEK

Erin Andrews of Indi Chocolate

When you bite into a bar from Indi Chocolate, you taste anything from the smoky hazelnut of Nicaragua beans to the ripe-fruit notes commonly found in beans from Peru. This is what Erin Andrews, the artisan and founder behind Indi Chocolate, calls “a journey on the tongue.”

“When you give single-origin chocolate to someone for the first time, and they say, ‘I taste this’ and ‘I taste that’ — that to me is an interesting bean, and those are the ones that I search out.”

Erin’s own journey in chocolate started in 2008, in Belize, where she was a founding partner in the bean-to-bar chocolate company, Cotton Tree Chocolate. The experience not only taught her how to fix the machines that the company required to operate, but solidified her passion for making the small-batch, single-origin chocolate that she now sells from Pike Place Market.

The space at Pike Place was a long time coming. Erin spent two years traveling back and forth to Belize before realizing she wanted to start her own company. “I just knew it was the right thing, and I knew there was a circle of good that could come out of making chocolate.”

Almost a decade later, Erin’s business has transformed from what first started in her home and, later, as a pop-up at Pike Place in 2012, to a full-blown small-batch chocolate factory, café, and event space, with wall-to-wall windows overlooking Elliott Bay. “Part of the whole customer experience — and why I love Pike Place Market — is that it’s about people knowing where their food is coming from and who’s behind their food.”

Erin launched Indi with her natural lip balms and lotions after discovering her youngest daughter had an allergic reaction to body care products. “With the lip balm and lotions, it was foundational realizing that my philosophy is the fewest and best ingredients. If it isn’t required, then you shouldn’t put it in there.” Body care products today, notes Erin, contain neurotoxins, estrogen inhibitors, and known carcinogens that have caused consumers to boycott certain big brands.

She still lives by the less-is-more approach to everything that she creates at Indi, from the chocolate-infused spice rubs to body care to the chocolate itself, which is generally 72 percent dark chocolate, sugar, and cocoa butter from cacao beans. “With chocolate, I do three ingredients — and the beans are the rock star. The beans are the ones that really give our chocolate the flavor. I can source six to eight different beans out of fruit at the same time that will have vastly different flavors from each other.” Because there are no additives, nothing masks the taste of the bean.

To source beans that give Indi’s chocolate distinct flavors, Erin considers several factors, including terroir, genetics, and farming practices of the cacao plants. While all are important, the thread running through each is an equal-opportunity partnership based on direct trade with farmers. The emphasis is not only on the farmers’ well-being, but also the integrity of the cacao plant.

Good farmers maintain genetic variety in their beans that contribute to the flavor profile, says Erin, whereas the beans used for industrial chocolate require additives like vanilla and soy lecithin, a food additive used as an emulsifier that extends shelf life. For this reason, corporate chocolate companies are not necessarily as invested in keeping that genetic diversity and instead push toward higher yields. Hybrids may be disease-resistant, but they don’t have the same interesting flavors.

“It’s also about creating and maintaining a more sustainable environment,” she says, describing the importance of other tropical foliage on cacao farms. While the industry has become known for deforestation practices that eliminate canopy protection and leave cacao more susceptible to disease, maintaining the forest and plant life where cacao grows sustains local wildlife, protects the cacao, and naturally nourishes the soil with plant matter that contributes to the flavor of the bean. “The types of practices that are good for the farmer are actually really good for everyone. And it’s how we’re going to get a lot better-tasting and a lot more interesting chocolate without a bunch of fillers.”

Erin visits origin countries frequently and has developed relationships with farmers in the community — allowing her to see the farming practices for herself and buy direct. “A big part of the reason for me to go to origin is to work with farmers and look at not only what they’re raising, but how they’re raising it and how they’re treating it,” Erin says. Being at origin gives her insight into the cacao plants and techniques that farmers use from end to end. This includes hand-harvesting the cacao pods twice a year and then removing the beans from the pods before fermentation. After the beans are fermented in the pulp from the cacao pod for three to seven days, they are dried and ready to be shipped to Indi’s chocolate factory.

The chocolate-making process begins immediately when the beans arrive at the chocolate factory in Pike Place Market. Behind the glass at Indi, visitors get a glimpse into how cacao beans are transformed into chocolate. The 12- to 21-minute roast brings out the flavor of the beans — similar to coffee-bean roasting, but at a lower temperature. Next, the beans are husked and winnowed before the nibs are added to the refiner with cacao butter from the bean and sugar for 24 hours. Finally, the chocolate is tempered. The heating and cooling of the chocolate causes it to develop a crystal structure that melts at body temperature. This give the chocolate that melt-in-your-mouth appeal while also allowing it to be poured into molds.

But for some of the products in Erin’s shop at Pike Place, the beans never make it to the refiner. The walls are covered with artisan specialties that Erin has worked tirelessly to perfect, including chocolate teas, infusion kits, whole-roasted beans, and nibs — which allows the superfood to be added to yogurt, ice cream, smoothies, and even coffee.

“We approach chocolate when we are children, and we fall in love with it,” says Erin. “We have that curiosity, we have that pleasure, we have that playfulness. And that’s why I always want to do things that are really different and not necessarily the way people are traditionally thinking about chocolate.”

Erin wants to continue creating new products with chocolate that not only surprise people but remind them of childhood. In addition to opening Indi for tours and short classes — like truffle making — Erin wants to start taking groups to origin countries so they can meet the farmers and see for themselves where their chocolate is coming from.

“It is important to know where your chocolate comes from,” Erin says. “The impact you’re making with your consuming choices does make a difference.”

Jamaican Jerk Delicata Squash with Pickled Cranberries 

Serving Size 4 | 60 minutes

Ingredients

  • 3 cups apple cider
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 2 cups cranberries
  • 1 stick cinnamon
  • 2 peppercorns
  • 2 medium delicata squash
  • 1 shallot, cut thickly
  • 1/4 cup avocado oil
  • 1 tablespoon indi chocolate Jamaican Jerk Spice Rub
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup orange juice
  • 2 tablespoons maple syrup
  • 2 teaspoons fish sauce (or soy sauce)
  • pepper to taste
  • fresh sage for garnish

 

Recipe

Bring apple cider and sugar to a boil. Add cranberries and stir 3–4 minutes until cranberries have split.  Add cinnamon stick and peppercorns. Place in a jar in the fridge until ready to serve. Note: It is best to let the cranberries sit for 24 hours.

Preheat oven to 425°F. Coat delicata squash and shallot with avocado oil, spice rub, and salt. Roast 20–25 min. Whisk together the last 4 ingredients. Top roasted delicata squash with dressing, fresh sage, and pickled cranberries.


Lauren Adam is a writer with roots in Seattle. She loves traveling, trying new food, and her cat, Donatello.

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