Pollinator Chocolate blossoms with small-batch, bean-to-bar chocolate
Mark Burrows has been a busy bee. For about a year, the Carbondale-based chocolate maker has been crafting micro-batch, single-origin chocolate from imported beans, pollinating local palates with fruity flavors from faraway lands.
“I like single-origin chocolate—I want to taste the chocolate,” Burrows declared last weekend on the front porch of the Emporium and Flying Circus on Main Street. “Every location has a different flavor. Tanzania tastes totally different from the Dominican Republic. (Cacao from one) plantation tastes like black olives! That’s the terroir of the area.”
His Pollinator Chocolate pop-up, which returns on Friday and Saturday, Aug. 21 and 22, displays an enticing chocolate mosaic: dozens of smooth bars packaged in clear plastic sleeves to showcase wallpaper-worthy cacao-bean imprints created by the molds. Platters of whole, roasted cacao beans and cacao nibs, plus a descriptive flavor wheel, allow visitors to better understand the chocolate production process and articulate flavors identified within samples from Pollinator’s 17 (and counting) chocolate varieties.
Most Pollinator Chocolate bars include just two ingredients: cacao from a specific place, such as Madagascar or Bolivia, plus 30% sugar. (Burrows’s top choice: the rare Wild Bolivia, which uses rainforest-harvested beans not grown on a plantation. “It’s got a nice nutty texture but some cherry back to it,” Burrows quips.)
A collection of complementary flavors includes Moonlight Expresso, made from the tails of Marble Distilling Co.’s coffee liqueur production; Cellar Door from Roaring Fork Beer Company Dark Corner stout; and one studded with candied orange peel—“my idea of an Old Fashioned cocktail,” Burrows says.
Fans of milk chocolate will dig Emporium owner Shae Singer’s pick, Coconut Milk Chocolate, a subtly tropical, dairy-free version, or the biodynamic 50% milk chocolate bar, made in collaboration with Sustainable Settings in Carbondale.
“They freeze-dry the milk for me,” Burrows notes. “You can’t add any liquid to chocolate or it will seize.”
Named for his love of beekeeping, a hobby Burrows has stoked for the past decade (along the way earning a Master Beekeeper Certificate from the University of Montana, teaching at Colorado Mountain College, and maintaining hives on his property and elsewhere), Pollinator Chocolate recently launched two unique flavors: Honey Foam, dusted with galactic-looking honey-sugar powder, and Bee Pollen, studded with yellow-orange nuggets of nature’s high-energy superfood. Infused with distinct honey flavor and floral notes, both are made from organic cacao sourced from the Öko Caribe plantation in the Dominican Republic.
“I roast it to a temperature that really brings out the flavors of the chocolate, (without depleting) the nuances of fruitiness—because cacao is a fruit, even though we don’t recognize it as such, like tomatoes,” Burrows explains.
His work as a chocolate maker is much more labor-intensive than that of the more popular chocolatier, who forms bonbons and truffles from pre-roasted, -ground and -blended chocolate.
Part of a U.S. craft chocolate movement that is only about 10 years young, Pollinator Chocolate seems a world away from the commercial chocolate industry.
“Hershey’s, Cadbury, Valrhoha, Callebaut, they take beans from all over—good beans, bad beans, old beans, new beans, fermented beans, unfermented beans, moldy beans, they don’t really care—and roast them to a (consistent) profile,” Burrows says. “It’s bulk chocolate, which is why it’s so, so cheap. The farmers aren’t making any money off this stuff.”
Since Burrows sources organic raw material through a trusted cacao bean broker, he’s able to purchase 70-kilo bags (instead of 10 metric tons that a broker buys to distribute among makers). He roasts 4-kilo (8-pound) batches, which enables him to experiment so broadly. Because his broker has either visited the plantations or is able to pledge that farmers are compensated fairly and not involved with slave labor, Pollinator bars might seem pricy: $7.95 to $8.95 per 30-gram bar.
It’s worth it—if only to taste a wild world outside of the Roaring Fork Valley.
“I try not to make my chocolate too complicated,” Burrows says. Which is why he’s arriving at the Emporium on Friday with a universally beloved treat to entice new customers: freshly baked single-origin chocolate chip cookies.