A ‘choose-your-adventure’ in cacao: Melbourne’s best bean to bar chocolate for Easter

Fred Lullfitz, co-founder of Birdsnake bean to bar chocolate company, has his hands full in the lead-up to Easter.
Fred Lullfitz, co-founder of Birdsnake bean to bar chocolate company, has his hands full in the lead-up to Easter. Photo: Paul Jeffers

The hunt for the perfect Easter egg has led a small but growing group of passionate Australian chocolate makers towards the carefully-curated world of small batch, sustainable, craft chocolate.

It is within this emerging "bean to bar" industry that craft chocolatiers are able to control every aspect of the chocolate making process, from the flavour profile of the cacao beans, to the intensity of the roast, to the composition of the final product.

"It's about telling the story of where the cacao comes from," says Fred Lullfitz, co-founder of vegan chocolatier Birdsnake.

Lullfitz creates glossy eggs in his small Fairfield factory.
Lullfitz creates glossy eggs in his small Fairfield factory. Photo: Paul Jeffers

The majority of chocolate sold within Australia's $3.4 billion chocolate market is made up of chocolate "liquor", a paste produced by chocolate commodity giants Mondelez, Mars, Nestle and The Hershey Company.

In contrast, chocolate makers such as Lullfitz pay more than three times as much to source cacao beans directly from sustainable plantations in Ecuador, Colombia, Tanzania and beyond.

From there, Lullfitz begins the transformative process of carefully roasting, grinding, conching and tempering chocolate to create glossy eggs in his small Fairfield factory.

Fred Lullfitz with Birdsnake's limited edtion vegan Easter eggs.
Fred Lullfitz with Birdsnake's limited edtion vegan Easter eggs. Photo: Paul Jeffers

"It's a double edged sword," he says.

"People with pre-made liquor have got a massive advantage because it saves on labour and time, but doing things this way lets us have control over the flavour.

"If we want something fruity, or floral, we can talk to the producer and source the right cacao beans. It's like a choose-your-own-adventure."

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The bean to bar method of chocolate-making resurfaced in 1996 when San Franciscan winemaker John Scharffenberger and chocolate connoisseur Robert Steinberg banded together to found Scharffen Berger, the United States' first contemporary craft chocolatier.

Creator of Ivanhoe-based Good Boy Chocolate, Alessandro Luppol, says craft chocolatiers were able to bring out the flavours of cacao bean in a way commercial manufacturers could not.

"Once people try craft chocolate, they become loyal because they understand the difference," says Luppol.

Jessica Pedemont's "Ethical Eggs" from Chocolate Artisan in Sydney.
Jessica Pedemont's "Ethical Eggs" from Chocolate Artisan in Sydney. Photo: Deborah De

"The thing is, with supermarket chocolate they don't pay a lot of attention to the cacao bean. They have such a big product, they need to buy as many beans as they can get their hands on, even if they're not fermented properly.

"Then they have to roast the beans so much so they all take on the same flavour profile. For some of the beans, it's too much roasting, so they have to add lots of sugar, vegetable fats and so on to make up for it."

Co-founder of Australia's first craft chocolate subscription service, BeanBarYou, Chris Brown, thought chocolate was "kind of sweet and tasteless" before his wife and business partner, Alison Pearce, introduced him to the bean to bar movement.

"It got me hooked," says Brown. "It should come with a warning label, because once you try craft chocolate it's hard to go back."

Craft chocolate is available in white, milk and dark varieties, with percentages of cacao ranging from 30 per cent all the way up to 100 per cent. Brown recommends trying a 70 per cent blend, "because there's something about it that makes the flavour sing".

Yu Chi, the co-founder of Atypic Chocolate in South Melbourne, describes his chocolate sourced from the Solomon Islands as having "a very fruity flavour,with a nutty finish", whereas the chocolate from Vanuatu is "really earthy" because of the island's volcanic soil.

"The flavour depends on where the beans come from, because they deliver the flavour of the soil of the cacao plantation," he says.

"It's a more interesting flavour than plain, sugary chocolate. From roasting, until packaging, it's a 48 hour process. That's the freshest you can get."

Bean to bar chocolate for your Easter basket

Birdsnake Easter Eggs, 70g, $25

The Fairfield factory is pumping in preparation for Easter, producing two limited edition eggs made from 60 per cent Ecuadorian chocolate. The first is filled with gianduja choc hazelnut, which Lullfitz describes as a "very good version of Nutella, without the palm oil". For the second egg, Birdsnake teamed up with former opera singer Lisa O'Connor of Jam Lady Jam to produce a strawberry and anise jam filling. Both eggs are vegan and gluten-free. birdsnake.com.au

Good Boy Cacao Pod, price TBD

For Easter, Luppolo is planning to create a limited edition "giant chocolate bon bon, the shape of a cacao pod" to be sold at the Trust Makers' Market at Rippon Lea Estate, held each Sunday, and the Heide Market at Bulleen on April 9. "It will be about 8cm tall, with either a caramel or strawberry and cream filling," he says. "I wouldn't post this item, it's too delicate. I wouldn't risk it." 

goodboychocolate.com

Chocolate Artisan Easter eggs, 100g to 300g, $22-$55

Sydney-based craft chocolatier Jessica Pedemont has created a beautiful range of Easter eggs under her Chocolate Artisan label, which are available online. The "egg splat" is 75 per cent dark chocolate shell with white chocolate detail, and contains a delicious salted caramel truffle inside. chocolateartisan.com.au