"Cacao is an incredible raw ingredient with endless possibilities, and as creative people, that is very attractive," says Trapp-Bowie. "We plan on a lifetime of exploration and inspiration through chocolate-making together."
Right now, the buzz is growing around bean-to-bar — a term used to describe artisans who roast and grind cacao and then produce an end product that's what we think of when we talk about chocolate. And at a time when the chocolate industry is dissecting each cacao bean and its provenance, calling out hyped-up companies and questioning the legitimacy of their claims (ahem, Mast Brothers Chocolate Makers), it's refreshing to find a small group completely open to discussing their process. Not only that, the folks at Fortuna have so much joy in their work, they will wax poetically and scientifically about the growers, the beans they use and the chocolate-making techniques they have learned.
"We are fascinated by the entire human process of making fine chocolate, and this begins with humans cultivating high-quality cacao on single estates, using wild-yeast fermentation and encouraging biodiversity, as they have done for thousands of years," says Trapp-Bowie. "Making bean-to-bar chocolate encourages a dialogue between the farmer and the chocolate maker, and ultimately a sense of pride in the resulting product for both."
The inspiration behind Fortuna actually started in Tokyo, where the trio lived for some time. And in an even more random twist, it was a Danish beer they had there that got them thinking about craft products and getting to know sources. From Japan they traveled to Denmark and spent five weeks at Bøgedal Brewery, the same small-batch brewer that had started the wheels turning. After learning about how the owner and his family created their beers, Ramirez and Trapp-Bowie decided they wanted to start a family business that really focused on quality ingredients.
That's when they headed to Mexico, where Ramirez is from and where the botanist and professor Nisao Ogata teaches at the University of Veracruz. An essay about cacao written by Ogata gave them the idea to start working with chocolate, and they wanted to head to the source to learn as much as they could about how it was grown, who farms it and how to work with it.
"Once we decided on the concept, we wanted to physically meet the growers," explains Trapp-Bowie. "We wanted to tell the full story and feel confident that what we are telling is true."
Hence, today all their beans come directly from three single-estate cacao growers in two regions of Mexico. Beginning this month, Fortuna will also be working with cacao grown by an indigenous Mazateco community living in the Sierra Madre mountains of eastern Oaxaca. Thanks to Ogata, the group will be harvesting Cacao Criollo, a lauded bean that shares the same genetics as a prestigious estate in Tabasco. They grow this delicate cacao using the principles of biodiversity, which means that the beans benefit from all of the other plants thriving around them.
With newfound cacao knowledge, the couple moved to Boulder, Trapp-Bowie and Spencer Bowie's home town. Now, when he isn't singing professionally, Bowie tempers chocolate along with Ramirez, who also does all the roasting. Trapp-Bowie handles the marketing and packaging, and all three sample and decide just how their goods should taste. The result: discs and truffles of high-quality chocolate that showcases the region, the bean and the hands-on process. You can sample chocolate from all three of the single-estate beans they use, or opt for a trio of a single bean prepared with different roasts. Or, stop by for a cup of decadent hot chocolate and simply savor the beverage.
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Another neat project that Fortuna has taken on is creating a special chocolate tasting for the fiftieth-anniversary party at Denver Botanic Gardens. Utilizing the 21 cacao pods harvested from the Gardens' greenhouse, they are making truly Colorado chocolate, possibly the first ever produced. Unfortunately, the cacao grown at the DBG only adds up to about a pound, not enough to share beyond the VIP tasting session.
Right now Fortuna can only take its mobile taste lab around Boulder, but the team hopes to expand soon. For now, you can find Fortuna Chocolate at Cured, on the menu at Blackbelly, and in a gluten-free, peanut-free chocolate mole sauce at Fresh Thymes Eatery. Of course, you can always order the chocolate online, though part of the fun is actually talking about the product with the family.