Kansas City’s Christopher Elbow Chocolates has storefronts in Kansas City and San Francisco, and it is sold at retailers in about 20 states and online to customers across the country.
But it had humble beginnings.
Fourteen years ago, founder Christopher Elbow started crafting his gourmet chocolates in a tiny space above a Southwest Boulevard restaurant. Within a year he had outgrown the space and has since moved twice, currently housing his warehouse and shipping in one Southwest Boulevard building, and production and retail at 1819 McGee St. in the Crossroads.
Now he’ll consolidate operations in a 15,000-square-foot building he has purchased at 2725 Holly St., just down the street from the Roasterie’s headquarters. It will house the company’s corporate offices, production, warehouse and shipping. It also will have a test kitchen.
This fall he also will launch a line of craft “bean to bar” chocolates.
“It’s the first time we’ve made chocolates from the cacao bean, carefully sourced from around the world,” Elbow said. “We are working first-hand with the farmers to make sure we are sourcing the best cacao beans possible. They come from sustainable farms, direct trade, high quality from the best growing regions.”
He has been traveling to South and Central America to visit some of the farms. The beans are sorted for quality at his production facility. Then they are roasted from 30 minutes to an hour, depending on the bean, to help develop the chocolate flavor. After they cool, the beans are cracked and the husk is removed and put in a refiner. The cacao nib is ground through friction and heat, and then it spends 24 to 72 hours in a conche machine for further texture and flavor development.
This is the point at which Elbow previously started his process.
“Chocolate is a lot like coffee and wine, so every bean we get in from any particular origin has its own flavor,” he said. “My job is to refine that flavor through the roasting and chocolate-making process.”
One of his favorite origins is Madagascar.
“The beans have a red fruit characteristic, you would almost think we are putting raspberry in the chocolate bar,” he said. “Bolivia is going to be a lot more earthy, with more of a coffee flavor.”
He’ll keep operating the retail store on McGee, but next summer he hopes to convert the back section into the “bean to bar” production area where he can also host tours, tastings and classes for a behind-the-scenes look at the process.
Elbow also will co-brand a coffee-infused chocolate bar with Messenger Coffee.
Elbow also has Glace Artisan Ice Cream at 4960 Main St., just south of the Country Club Plaza, and a Christopher Elbow Artisanal Chocolates shop in San Francisco.