Just about every time I’m out with friends or strike up a conversation with a stranger, the topic turns to what each of us does for a living. This promptly sets a grin to my face every time I say I am a chocolate maker at Harper Macaw here in Washington, DC because I know what the impending reaction will probably be. As soon as those words leave my mouth I get inundated with questions or comments ranging from “how do you not look 1,000 pounds?” or “so you’re basically Willy Wonka”. While I think it’s comical even my friends and family see me this way (I even had a friend crop my face onto a picture of a certain movie poster), I have had to debunk some of the misconceptions about my day to day life.
I look at being a chocolate maker as finding the harmony between art and science in my everyday work to make the best product possible while doing our best to get that product out the door and into the hands of our clients. These daily responsibilities range so much that I do not believe in the several months I’ve been with HM that any day has been identical to another. Every day I’m working on projects that look deeper into our processes like the way our roasting profiles affect our finished nibs or developing a plan for how we conche each batch. It’s fascinating that we get to “tweak the recipe” of our different chocolates. This is done through experimentation to make them better or to explore the various flavors that can be brought out by each of our fine cocoa beans. We find harmony here by using empirical evidence found in the past to develop a complete experience of flavor and texture when you taste one of our products.
Don’t get me wrong, being a chocolate maker is by definition a fun and interesting job but it can be frustrating at times. I’ve found that working in chocolate requires patience and resilience. The patience to troubleshoot when everything is done right yet the chocolate still doesn’t cooperate (such as when chocolate does not temper well and many molded bars need to be remelted). The resilience to try again at it the next day. What you may not expect to hear is all the cleaning the job entails. I usually joke to my friends that my day is about 20% doing the fun stuff and 80% cleaning up after. A negative that some people don’t understand is that tasting chocolate everyday is a blessing and a curse. It’s great when you have a sweet tooth that day and indulge in our snacking chocolate pile in the break room. It’s not so great on days you need to taste first thing in the morning and having to hold off on your morning coffee.
These negatives are mere bumps in the road when you look at how rewarding it can be. It’s a great feeling to see all the hard work the team has put in culminate in a satisfied customer. Beyond the job itself, Harper Macaw sets itself apart with its Brazilian rainforest conservation initiatives. These social impacts are the “icing on the cake” so to speak with a job such as this. Making chocolate here at Harper Macaw may not be exactly what you expect but everyday comes with fun and exciting new challenges that teach us more and more about chocolate.