The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Chocotenango, Undone Chocolate and Potomac Chocolate get crafty with their methods

Kristen and Adam Kavalier of Undone Chocolate prepare to roast cocoa beans.
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Ismael Neggaz likes his hair cut short and often keeps it covered by a cap. And yet he’s never far from a hair dryer.

The chocolatier uses the appliance — which he swiped from his wife — almost daily to separate cracked cocoa bean shells from the edible seeds (known as nibs), which he blends, melts and molds into semisweet bars.
As the number of bean-to-bar producers in D.C. grows, many have developed ingenious ways to make their chocolate distinct.

Neggaz started making chocolate from scratch almost 10 years ago through Chocotenango, a company he founded in Guatemala in 2005. After relocating to D.C. in 2010, Neggaz worked as a cook before reinstating Chocotenango in the District in 2014. In addition to his 72 percent dark chocolate bars, Neggaz satisfies local sweet tooths with truffles, hot cocoa mixes and chocolate-covered almonds.

Adam Kavalier, a fellow D.C.-based chocolate maker, has a slimmer, more focused product line. The former cancer biologist and his wife, Kristen, launched Undone Chocolate in December, offering just three types of chocolate bars. Each is made with only two ingredients (plus all-natural spices like cardamom and cinnamon for the flavored bars). Leaning on his background in science, Kavalier opts for beans that test high in antioxidants.

He grinds his nibs into a silky liquid over a three-day period using a machine originally designed to grind Indian spices. “As a craft chocolate-maker, you have to be inventive and often have to build your own machines,” says Kavalier, who first started making chocolate in a studio apartment while attending medical school.

Ben Rasmussen, founder of Potomac Chocolate, juggles a full-time job in tech with running his Woodbridge, Va.-based chocolate company. Like the beans he sources from Peru, Costa Rica and Venezuela, his business has grown organically. “I’ve been bootstrapping it,” Rasmussen says. Using a lentil grinder and  convection oven he rigged into a roaster, he makes his bars from just the nibs and organic sugar. He’s developing new equipment (or “MacGyvering,” as he calls it) to improve on the formula further.

“That’s the sneaky siren song of chocolate making: You can make some really nice things with minimal equipment,” Rasmussen says. “But to make it great is a lifelong pursuit of tweaking and re-evaluating.”

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