When Eric Parkes took a trip to Costa Rica a few years ago, he thought he was just going on vacation. But after touring a bean-to-bar chocolate-making facility, he became fascinated by the process and determined to replicate it in his Somerville home. Parkes began tinkering with all that goes into making a bar of chocolate–beans, equipment and methods–eventually creating a product that he thought was pretty good. But Parkes wasn’t satisfied with just enjoying it himself, he wanted to share it with other like-minded chocolate lovers, so he started Somerville Chocolate CSA.
“It was partially an excuse to make a make a lot more chocolate,” Parkes, an architect, said of creating the CSA (which usually stands for community supported agriculture). “The CSA seemed like a good way to do an entry into the marketplace.”
Parkes put out feelers in the spring to see whether any Somervillens were interested in joining his CSA and he found many fellow chocolate-loving people right in town. About 45 of them are currently signed up to receive his chocolate every few weeks.
The Somerville Chocolate CSA is a homegrown enterprise, operating out of Parkes’ licensed home kitchen near Union Square, and his focus is on creating good-quality bean-to-bar chocolate by experimenting with variables each time he makes a batch.
“If you look at what’s sold commercially, there’s so much in the marketing and branding. I don’t want to do that,” Parkes said, adding that tasting variations on the same chocolate say by changing the roasting time or temperature is next to impossible in the current retail chocolate market. “It’s hard to experience that in the retail world. Everyone finds the perfect bar and sells it.”
To that end, Parkes has been experimenting with different beans, roasts and sugar content in each batch of chocolate that he makes for the CSA. As an architect, he clearly enjoys both the creative and problem-solving aspects of his newfound passion.
“An an architect, you have to understand everything,” Parkes said. And the same goes for making chocolate, where “you’re messing with the laws of nature.”
After connecting with people in the online bean-to-bar chocolate-making world, as well as the folks as Somerville’s Taza Chocolate, Parkes purchased 800 pounds of beans and the equipment necessary to make the chocolate. Some of it was rather makeshift at first, such as using a hairdryer to separate the chafe from the nibs, but as the CSA has grown, he’s invested in bigger and better tools.
“I’m married to the CSA for at least a year,” Parkes said, alluding to his 800-pound bean purchase.
Thought Parkes isn’t too concerned about the marketing and branding of his chocolate bars, he has put a lot of thought into their packaging. The wrappers are old maps of Somerville, which Parkes described as a play on one of the themes in the chocolate-making world: origins. As he’s a longtime Somerville resident, he thought historic maps of the city were the perfect touch.
Back in the 19th century, East Cambridge and Charlestown were home to many candy makers, so Parkes sees the recent influx of sweets businesses in Somerville as the area coming full circle. He credits the city being a creative hub, with its large Open Studios each spring, as the reason so many small food producers are springing up here.
And if Parkes had it his way, he might have an even bigger food business. He said that he dreams of creating a store devoted to chocolate with an emphasis on creating a delicious cup of hot chocolate that adults, as well as kids, would enjoy.
But for now Parkes says, “It’s been a fun hobby.”
Somerville Chocolate CSA
The “season” consists of 10 deliveries (over about 20 weeks) with three chocolate bars in each. The cost is $150 ($5 per bar).
P.S. Believe it or not, but Parkes’ Somerville Chocolate CSA is not the only one in town! EHChocolatier is also running a community supported chocolate program this fall and winter. But Parkes’ venture is the only bean-to-bar CSA operation in the city.