Colin and Sarah Hartman know it's only a matter of time until someone walks into their new chocolate factory and makes some kind of joke having to do with Oompa Loompas or Willy Wonka or purple velvet jackets. When Harper Macaw opens its doors to the public on Saturday, it will probably only be a matter of minutes.
Just don't be that person, okay?
I mean, yes, pretty much the whole darn place smells like chocolate, and there's even what you might generously call a chocolate waterfall, which flows from a machine that tempers the chocolate before it's shaped or molded. Still, let's just appreciate this facility for what it is: The product not of movie magic, but of the grit and determination of two people who transformed a vacant former warehouse and distribution facility on Bladensburg Road NE into a 10,000-square-foot ode to one of the world's most popular foods.
Harper Macaw (formerly known as Concept C) has been in production since the end of September, having spent about two months making test batches as they fine-tuned their products, which currently include 67, 74 and 77 percent cacao dark chocolate bars, as well as a 52 percent dark milk chocolate bar.
On Saturday and Sunday this weekend, the Hartmans will conduct their first tours of the factory. Colin expects he will lead most tours, as Sarah is the head chocolate maker. Tours will last about 45 minutes and be capped at 20 or so people. The tour will take attendees through the entire process the Hartmans use to make their chocolate, which starts with cacao beans from two, soon to be three, farms in Brazil -- Sarah's home country and where money from Harper Macaw's sales will be reinvested in rainforest conservation.
Harper Macaw's machinery for cleaning, roasting and winnowing (to separate shells and nibs) are spread across several rooms. The largest, best-smelling space in the factory is where the cacao is ground, refined into small particles for smoothness and agitated for 24 to 72 hours to create the desired flavor and texture. The tempering machine, the site of the enticing vertical stream of chocolate, then heats and cools the chocolate so that the fat and sugar crystals are aligned for proper shine and snap. From there, the chocolate is poured into molds for bars or piped into rounds for baking discs, after which it's run through a cooling tunnel. Packaged and stored, it's then ready for you to eat.
Speaking of eating, all tours (price still to be determined, but it will probably be $5) will end in a chocolate tasting. Should that be insufficient for your chocoholic tendencies, you'll be able to buy more in the factory's boutique. The shop will also sell a variety of baked goods using Harper Macaw chocolate: chocolate chip cookies, salted caramel brownies, chocolate-dipped coconut macaroons and gingersnap sandwiches filled with dark chocolate ganache. You can wash them down with "super thick" drinking chocolate in dark and peppermint varieties. Down the line, cacao nibs, 99 percent cacao baking chocolate and "inclusion bars" studded with items such as freeze-dried fruit will be for sale, too. Harper Macaw is also collaborating with Whisked! bakery on pies using their chocolate.
Tours will be offered every hour from 12:30 to 5:30 p.m. on Saturday (the factory will be open noon to 6 p.m.) and according to demand from 1 to 5 p.m. on Sunday. The factory will be open Dec. 19-20, when tours will be offered on Saturday from 1 to 5 p.m., which will be the schedule going forth. The factory will close for Christmas and New Year's weekends.
Harper Macaw, 3160 Bladensburg Rd. NE. 202-800-0351. harpermacaw.com.