186 Sydney Rd Brunswick, VIC 3056
|Opening hours||Thu-Sat 10am-9pm, Sun 10am-5pm|
|Prices||Cheap (mains under $20)|
|Payments||eftpos, AMEX, Visa, Mastercard|
|Phone||03 9388 8920|
Chocolate maker Debb Makin has a storied past. As a zoologist in Kenya, she gave baboons vasectomies and, in Texas, trained rhinos to accept life-saving injections.
In England, she was lunching in a village pub when the owners asked if she'd consider running their wedding venue. She went from gorillas to bridezillas and loved it.
Everywhere she travelled, she obsessed about chocolate and, back in Melbourne, decided to follow her passion. Ratio is the result, a bean-to-bar chocolate factory and cafe that's as much about education as it is eating.
Most chocolate "makers" don't actually create the chocolate – they buy it in and then work with it. Makin sources cocoa beans from places such as Peru, Panama and the Solomon Islands, brings them to Brunswick, and takes them through a three-week nine-step process to turn them into chocolate bars.
It's a single-origin approach to chocolate that recalls new wave coffee – not surprising when you learn that Debb's big brother Dave is behind Axil Coffee Roasters, a direct-trade exemplar.
Making chocolate is more complex than roasting coffee (am I allowed to say that!?). Book in for an hour-long tour and be shown through the slow, joyous process, including bean sorting, roasting, winnowing (in a Willy Wonka-ish machine made by Debb's handy dad) and conching, a three-day process of grinding under granite wheels that turns cocoa nibs into runny chocolate. It's hard not to grab handfuls at every stop, but luckily the tour includes tastings.
You can skip straight to eating in the onsite cafe. A chocolate tasting plate is a dainty showcase of Ratio's milk and dark chocolates. It's fun to get all wine-wanker as you taste – ah, the citrusy notes of the Peruvian! Ooh, the rum tones in the Trinidad! – or just fall into a chocoholic stupor.
I love the cocoa nib pourover, wherein filter coffee technique is used to make a chocolate "tea" that's creamy, fragrant and subtle.
Rather less delicate is the choc-dipped Anzac sandwich filled with house-made marshmallow. It's a cute Aussie take on s'mores, the American marshmallow sandwich that's a campfire favourite.
Possibly more apropos is the mega-chocolatey brownie tasting plate: it's brilliant to disguise a brownie feast as a considered tasting session. Can't be bothered chewing? Have your brownie in a milkshake.
There are 12 different truffles but only four on display each day, giving plenty of reasons for return visits. I've fallen hard for the peanut butter and chilli cased in dark chocolate and the fragrant earl grey.
All these tidbits can be taken home, as can the beautifully packaged chocolate bars etched with the golden ratio spiral (maths geeks will get it).
Expressing the origin of carefully sourced beans is Ratio's main mission but chatting to Debb Makin made me realise something else. Those who grow the beans rarely get to taste the finished chocolate: it's taken to factories far away and never brought back.
Makin is part of a small change to that paradigm: she'll take some of her Solomon Islands chocolate back to its south Pacific birthplace in April as part of an Australian government-funded trade fair. Bean-to-bar-and-back-again. I love it, and not least because I plan to toast the completion of this cycle with Ratio's chocolate fondue.
Rating: Four stars (out of five)