At 10 years old I created my first email account– chocolatelovers99.
So when I tell you this was the best chocolate I have ever tasted, I hope you know I mean it.
On the corner of Fourth Avenue and 22nd Street, sits Monsoon Chocolate, where I tried the Blueberry Oat Cardamom Bon Bon.
You know that moment in “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory,” when Violet tries the stick of gum, designed to give you a three-course meal in one?
This felt similar.
Packed into that Bon Bon were three layers– blueberry caramel, gluten free oat crumble and cardamom white chocolate ganache. It felt like a full three-part breakfast. And it was mouthwatering.
I had my “Willy Wonka Moment”, but I found out that founder, Adam Krantz had his own “Willy Wonka Moment” too.
At 13, he played Willy Wonka in his school play at Coronado Middle School. It wasn’t his childhood dream, nor did he ever expect to own a chocolate shop, but irony ran its course.
“I always imagined one day I would do something to contribute to Tucson; never imagined it would be a chocolate factory,” Krantz said.
Krantz’s previously worked as a chef at Tooley’s Cafe, a buyer at the Food Conspiracy Co-op, and grocery manager at Time Market. He then lived in Portland, Oregon where he led the program at World Foods, the largest craft chocolate library in the world.
He didn’t know it at the time, but all this experience would lead him to branch off on his own.
“I think I’m an entrepreneur at heart,” said Krantz.
The first step was coming up with a name, the ultimate first impression. After writing all his ideas on a piece of paper, he almost as quickly started scratching names off. Eventually Monsoon Chocolate stuck and with reason too.
He wanted the name to embody the experience consumers would have with his chocolate; he was looking for something with a desert feel to represent Tucson.
“I wanted to create pleasant experiences for people and I feel like a Monsoon is a pleasant experience for Tucsonians,” said Krantz.
Monsoon chocolate is the first ever craft chocolate and manufacturing shop in southern Arizona, let alone Tucson. So, of course, that had to shine through in his flavors.
“So we’re playing with things like prickly pear and mesquite pod and chiltepin pepper,” said Krantz.
With the novelty, still came challenges.
“Starting a business is kinda scary, you don’t know how it’s going to be received, “ said Krantz. “We had a lot of challenges getting this off the ground and there were moments I thought to myself, ‘I don’t know if this is going to work’.”
Krantz and the team faced climate control issues where they had to figure out how to be chocolate experts in the desert. He also faced typical business challenges.
“Everything takes longer and costs more money than you think it’s going to,” said Krantz.
He also explored the perfect balance for his chocolate.
“The cocoa industry is really complicated, it’s very complex,” said Krantz.
His vision for the Monsoon Chocolate emerged and exceeded his expectations. They recently won 14 awards at the International Chocolate Awards in New York. The team plans to submit chocolates next year and they now qualify for the world competition.
Krantz said him and his team feel humbled by the recognition and success so early on.
“It’s like a little pat on the back that, hey, all of this effort, everything that we are doing here, it’s appreciated,” said Krantz.
He clarified that’s not why he’s in this business.
“You don’t do this for the awards, but it’s nice to be recognized,” said Krantz.
They felt one aspect that set them apart from the competition was how they manufacture their own chocolate.
Something else that was top priority for Krantz is that the cocoa beans were produced in sustainable and ethical conditions. Krantz said human rights abuses far too often exist in this industry.
“We got to some great lengths to source the cocoa that we use to make our chocolate,” said Krantz.
But you can taste it. This is a term my sister-in-law used this week so I can’t coin it as mine, but when you eat this chocolate you feel “close to the earth” and now I know why.
He shared with me the journey of the cocoa bean.
The cocoa beans arrive in jute sacks and are stored in their warehouse. Some patiently sit in the corner of his shop, ready to be sorted.
The team hand sorts all the cocoa beans in a sifting type process. They search for damaged beans or anything that wouldn’t be conducive for chocolate.
After quality control the roasting begins. They have the temperature and time down to a science. This roasting allows the bean to be softened enough to be cracked open.
They load the beans into a machine that sucks up the paper-like coating, leaving just the nib. You’ve heard the term cocoa nib before? Well that’s actually the part of the bean you want for chocolate.
With a bunch of perfectly primed nibs, they are ready to grind them into a paste known as cocoa liquor.
Ironically, the machine used to grind them is a vintage Oaxacan molino, originally used to grind corn. Now I say ironic because before Monsoon Chocolate, the building housed an old tortilla factory who probably had the same machine.
Krantz likes to think of this building as a legacy — with independent businesses taking over this space.
Now, cocoa liquor, although it sounds good is not good on it’s own so they mix in the perfect blend of sugar and cocoa butter.
With more vintage equipment, their three roll mill that was used for refining inks in the printing industry, now refines the chocolate. This creates that smooth feel of chocolate in your mouth.
They heat, aerate, and agitate the chocolate to improve flavor, a certain type of alchemy.
Okay, so once flavor and texture is good, massive blocks of chocolate sit on the shelves in the shop. The bean’s journey comes to a bit of a standstill for at least 30 days while it does nothing but age. This is when the real flavor sets in.
Then the journey continues– they take the liquefied bean through a process of heating and cooling it to encourage crystallization. This gives it a shiny finish and that snap when you bite into it.
Finally, it’s time to take shape and they fill each mold with chocolate and leave it to set. They hand paint and airbrush the colors and designs, creating the magical finish.
And of course the last part and the best part– EAT IT!
But it’s wrapped up in this intensely darling paper, almost so artsy you don’t want to unwrap it.
So if you’re needing your chocolate fix, they are located at 234 E 22nd St. Tucson, AZ 85713 and open from Wednesday to Sunday from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. for summer hours. You can also follow them on Facebook and Twitter @monsoonchocolate for more updates as they come.
When I walked in, met by the sharp smell of cocoa bean I knew I was in for a treat, but then again I am chocolatelovers99 so I have a sixth sense for these things.
So go try it for yourself. After all, Adam Krantz and that cocoa bean have been through one heck of a journey.
I’ll meet you there.