SIERRA VISTA - Who would have thought that a brown, bitter drink made by ancient Mayans 4,000 years ago would become one of the most sought-after confections in the world?
In Bisbee, two chocolatiers are developing a business that will offer some of the finest chocolates in the region. Gordon and Kim Terpening have brought their flavorful creations to the artsy town and just opened "Chocolate" on Tombstone Canyon near Castle Rock.
The couple have been coming to Bisbee for several years during the cold Homer, Alaska, winters and decided to buy a home here. They liked the quirky little mountain town, and when they felt that they knew enough to start a business, they set up shop. The couple held a grand opening last week, and 100 people filtered in and out of their tiny shop throughout the day.
"We had a great turnout," said Gordon, who was checking the melange machine that had been smoothing ground cacao beans for the past two days. "Every once in a while, the shop would clear out and we could breathe a little. But everyone who came in was happy to be here and had smiles on their faces."
For the Terpenings, chocolate has become their lives, but it wasn't always that way.
"I wasn't sure I even liked chocolate until we went to France," Gordon said. "Then I ate a piece I liked and decided if someone else can make this, so can I."
He started researching and trying cacao beans from different regions of the world.
"Each region has its own flavor," he explained. "Cacao from Madagascar tastes differently from that of Venezuela."
Each geographic type has to be handled a bit differently to bring out the best flavor. The beans come from big pods on plants in South America and Africa, he said.
Villagers cut the pods and remove the fruit's meat and the beans. They toss the beans into a box and cover them with banana leaves, and the aging process begins. Beans are white while in the pod, but turn dark as they ferment and even darker when they are roasted.
Gordon buys the raw beans, sorts them by hand and roasts and stone grinds them himself. In the roasting process, the beans tell him when they have had enough by the cracking sound they make.
After the chocolate has spent around two days in the melange, it is transferred to the tempering machine. That keeps the chocolate from forming crystals, which can cause the chocolate to crumble rather than snap.
"The snap imparts the scent and is very important in chocolate-making," said Gordon.
He also found the importance of cacao butter. Half of a cacao bean is butter. It's what makes chocolate rich and creamy.
But that's the stuff most chocolate manufacturers withdraw from their products to make a buck in the cosmetic industry. The natural butter is replaced by a number of other agents, such as soy lecithin.
The Terpenings leave all the natural butter in their chocolates, which has given rise to a unique art form for Kim, who has been an artist for 30 years. She took to creating recipes that produced mini-works of art.
One with a touch of Gran Marnier is decorated with brightly colored cacao butter like a miniature painting.
"I'm thinking of recreating my paintings on the chocolates," she said.
Another of her creations is called "Fresh Orange & a Ping of Chiltipin." Each piece holds a hint of orange in its ganache (a creamy blend of chocolate, cream and flavors) and a bit of Chiltipin pepper. It's topped with a small slice of candied orange peel.
In another of her favorites, Kim makes her own caramel for the center and adds just a hint of sea salt on top. The combination makes for an incredibly taste treat, as does their entire selection of beautifully shaped chocolates.
"To really appreciate chocolate, you need to find a quiet spot, maybe a little light music, and just let it melt in your mouth. All the flavors come alive, and you end up with this finish that goes on and on," Gordon added.
They both say the best time to eat chocolate is in the morning, while the palate is still fresh.
"I'm thinking of developing a breakfast box," she added.