The birthplace of an idea is rarely forgotten. Where and when we have a life-changing epiphany becomes an indelible part of our memory. For Ryan Cheney, the idea for Raaka Chocolate can be traced back to his time at a yoga school on an island in Thailand. It was there that he became excited by the flavors of raw chocolate, and chocolate making.
Ryan began making his own aphrodisiac truffles in Thailand. He was drawn to the experience of combining aphrodisiac herbs and raw chocolate together to create an experience that allowed people to open up to one another in a mindful way.
After spending a year learning bean-to-bar chocolate making, Ryan returned to New York City armed with a knowledge and passion for chocolate, and an inspiration to start a company with a social mission. Alongside Nate Hodge, a like-minded foodie, musician and gastronomist, (and now head chocolate maker), the team began to experiment with bean to bar chocolate making. They explored low-temperature chocolate making, and created Raaka Chocolate as a way create a more equitable global society in which communities have opportunity to improve their quality of life.
Ryan and Nate started out making very small batch chocolate in a tiny NYC apartment together, hand tempering, pouring and wrapping bars to sell at local farmers markets.
They also enjoyed the sound of micro-batch chocolate grinders churning around the clock as they developed a new approach to chocolate making.
Soon, they realized the social impact that could be made from creating and selling bean to bar chocolate – and how buying cacao through direct trade agreements could help better the livelihoods of cacao farmers abroad.
“I think we make a truly unique product that people can feel good about eating from a health, ethical and social perspective,” says Ryan. “We buy directly traded, ethically sourced cacao. We make delicious, organic, allergen-free chocolate using unroasted cacao. We present innovative ideas and flavors through chocolate. We donate our cacao husks to Edible School yard where they use it as mulch to grow vegetables. And we wrap our chocolate in environmentally conscious 100% post consumer recycled paper with soy-based inks. We provide not only a piece of chocolate, but a mindfulness to our business that I think a lot of people respond to.”
Their customers are what they describe as “conscious foodies.” “They are people who eat with an ethical mindset and like us,” says Ryan. They “ask questions like ‘where did their food come from?’ and ‘how did it get here?’ But mostly they are people who love bold chocolate and are excited by creativity and innovation in food.”
The team is now building a new factory space in the heart of Red Hook, Brooklyn, ”It will be the first time that our customers will get to interact with our chocolate as we do every day, from bean to bar, and see the magic behind chocolate making, says Ryan, “We are also really amped on our new chocolate subscription service we started this winter called Raaka Box. It has really taken off, and we love being able to introduce people to completely new, innovative chocolates every month.”
Ryan and Nate are able to keep the creative juices flowing and experiment with new flavors and concepts through small batch runs. “Some of our favorite flavors we've come up with so far are our Saffron Cranberry Bar and Lapsang Souchong Chai bar,” says Ryan.
From the seed of an idea on an island in Thailand, to Red Hook, Brooklyn, the folks at Raaka Chocolate are accomplishing a social mission through creating innovative and ethical chocolate.
Check out Raaka Chocolate here.