Chester’s Taylor Made Chocolates is working to aid survivors of human trafficking through the production of sweet delicious chocolate.
Tucked away in a nondescript shopping center in Chester, Taylor Made Chocolate brings a unique presence to the Richmond area. Its founders, Steve and Kim Taylor, are marrying together a mission to do good with the craft of artisan chocolate. Like their pairing of red wine and cacao in glossy truffle form, it’s a beautiful combination.
Steve Taylor, the former mayor of Hopewell, and his wife, Kim, were startled to learn that today’s world faces more slavery than at any other point in history. That fact was brought closer to home when they discovered that not only was human trafficking an issue abroad, but that it is also prominent right here in Richmond.
“We began asking ourselves questions. What can we do? How can we help? What experiences do we have that we can use?” Steve said.
Rather than provide a space for temporary relief, giving victims only a short burst of freedom before returning to slavery, the Taylors wanted to be a part of a sustainable solution. In order to do this, they would need to create job training opportunities and an environment that cultivates self-worth. After much brainstorming, product research, and market analysis, their technical search found its sweet vehicle for change in bean-to-bar chocolate.
Steve and Kim began experimenting with the chocolate making process in their kitchen. They learned how roasting times changes the flavor of the cacao bean. A light roast brings out fruity flavors, a medium roast draws out nutty notes, and a dark roast gives the bean a caramel flavor profile. When they combined all three, like a banana split laden with toppings, they knew they had a winning combination.
In their trials, Steve rigged a shop vac to mimic the function of a commercial winnower, a machine that separates the shell from the cocoa meat beneath. The Taylors’ home food processor whirred the roasted beans to powder. Later, this step in the process would become Steve’s favorite. When the beans leave the shop’s commercial grinder, they come out smelling like a warm batch of brownies.
While the chocolate testing provided for satiated taste buds and creative flourishing, establishing Taylor Made Chocolate required tremendous faith. The Taylors’ invested the whole of their retirement, and became the sole investors in their young business.
“You hear the expression, ‘leap of faith.’ It’s more like jumping off a cliff,” Kim said, reflecting upon the early days of the chocolate shop.
Now, over a year in, Taylor Made Chocolate has trained its first trafficking survivor in the art of chocolate making. Its product is sold in stores up and down the east coast. The shop also has the opportunity to fight labor abuses abroad. Low prices for cacao beans have often led cocoa farmers to compensate with slave labor. In purchasing fair trade cacao beans at a higher cost per pound, the shop contributes to higher wages for the farmers.
“While larger brokers earn about 50 cents per pound of cacao beans, fair-trade brokers garner $2.00-2.50 per pound,” Steve explained.
Taylor Made Chocolate sources its cacao beans from Haiti and partners with local Haitian organizations that seek to improve the economic status and quality of life for its residents. Haiti grows cacao beans using a three-tier production model. Canopy trees such as orange or banana trees, reaching 20 feet in height, are planted first. Later, the cacao trees are seeded below, and begin to flourish under their citrus ceiling. Finally, an array of spices such as anise and garlic carpet the ground.
The shop’s packaging pays homage to the cacao bean’s country of origin, brightly adorning the chocolate bars with art prints from Haitian students. A shopper will find variations from plain milk and dark chocolate, to bars dotted with cherries or speckled with coffee. The truffle case contains Steve’s favorite offering, a chocolate shell piped with honey-sweetened sunflower seed butter and topped with ghost pepper salt for a hint of heat. By using seeds rather than nuts, the shop maintains an allergen-free facility.
Kim recommends pairing the cacao nibs with honey and cinnamon, or using the bars as a base for homemade desserts like chocolate icing and meringue pie. Melting the chocolate down into milk with a shot of chili powder gives tribute to one of the cacao bean’s first uses as a modern version of an Aztec hot chocolate.
The 70-pound miniature chocolate home that sits upon the shop’s counter testifies to the fact that this business is a family business. The Taylors’ children are actively involved in the mission to couple chocolate with fighting one of the worst injustices facing our world today. They have plans to place the chocolate home outside in the sun and record it as it turns back into liquid form. The video will be posted to social media with a caption that reads #meltslavery.
“You always talk about faith and what it really means. We’ve come to know what it really means,” Steve said. “Faith is something you exercise, not talk about.”
Customers have the opportunity to join in the Taylor Made mission by touring the chocolate factory and taking home its product. Taylor Made Chocolate can also be purchased at For the Love of Chocolate in Carytown.
Top Photo by Michael Angelilli