DINING OUT: Going cacao for Raaka Chocolate

From bean to bar, Raaka Chocolate is more than just a chocolate company. “Raaka is a social enterprise,” explained founder Ryan Cheney. “We care about how chocolate affects people and we aim for business relationships to improve quality of life where our beans are grown.”

Cheney’s dedication to and raw enthusiasm for his values, mission and company are as infectious as they are serious.

Walking from room to room inside Raaka’s new factory/store space in Red Hook during a recent factory tour, the young entrepreneur explained to an enraptured crowd how Raaka’s “virgin chocolate” transforms from cacao beans sourced globally from responsibly- and sustainably-grown cooperatives in countries such as Belize, Bolivia and the Dominican Republic into smooth, vibrantly flavored bars.

Among these are the nutty and earthy Maple & Nibs bar made of 75 percent Bolivian cacao, the Dark with Sea Salt bar made with 71 percent chocolate from Bolivia and the Dominican Republic – deep and dark with a salty start and rich, raw finish – and the Bourbon Cask-Aged bar of 82 percent Belize cacao – a bit bitter and subtle in its faintly tropical flavor.

There is also the lightly sweet and slightly cloying Vanilla Rooibos of 67 percent Bolivian and Dominican Republic cacao, a smooth and darkly rich Coconut Milk bar of 60 percent Dominican Republic cacao, and a sweet and calming Lapsang Chai flavor made of 66 percent Bolivian beans.

At Raaka, around 55 pounds of cacao beans go into 500 to 600 bars, and all those beans also create what Cheney describes as a healthier and more stable future for cacao farmers.

“For example, in Belize, one co-op has raised the [earnings] price 69 percent in three years for farmers,” said Cheney. “The percentage of children of their farmers who are in school went from 45 to 85 percent between 2012 and 2014. And they’ve upped the acreage of USDA organic certified land, which guarantees higher prices.”

Raaka’s sense of community also extends to its own employees and Brooklyn as a whole.

“Our focus on social impact is not just on farmers but on our team here, as well,” said Cheney. “I’m hoping we can create a fun workplace where people enjoy their jobs and treat people well, have open communication, and different team members get to make their own chocolate bars.”

The Red Hook factory hosts factory tours ($10), school trips ($10 per person), chocolate making classes ($50) and a monthly chocolate subscription service called First Nibs that offers three flavors per month – two totally new and one from the standard lineup – of unique, seasonal and exclusive chocolate bars infused with ingredients like saffron, lapsang souchong tea and more. Subscriber feedback often leads to new additions to the regular menu.

Raaka Virgin Chocolate
64 Seabring Street, Red Hook
[email protected]

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