PHOTOS BY KATIE NOBLE
When I first contacted Monica and Tom Rogan, they emailed me a photo of themselves holding a cacao pod in the jungles of Peru, where, along with Ecuador, they were sourcing cacao for their next batch of chocolate bars.
A few weeks later at their chocolate factory in Sudbury, as they told me the story of Goodnow Farms Chocolate, they also told the story of each cacao farmer with whom they do business in remote villages and small family farms in Guatemala, Mexico and Nicaragua. Because each chocolate bar is made from single-origin cacao beans, the stories begin with the bean and, by extension, the farmer.
When the Rogans taste beans they like, they go directly to the source to determine if the cacao is ethically grown, and that the farmers are fairly compensated and using sustainable farming methods.
The result: the most flavorful beans as well as good relationships with farmers who grow and harvest those beans. The consumer, meanwhile, benefits from rich, high-quality chocolate that’s as distinctive as it is delicious.
“We find every bean has very different flavors,” Tom Rogan says. “That’s why we do single-bean chocolate.”
The Rogans have been selling single-origin chocolate bars since November 2016. They launched their business nearly a decade after they started experimenting with chocolate making out of their Los Angeles kitchen—a hobby spawned by occasional visits to a vintage furniture store in Santa Monica, which sold homemade chocolate. “It had really unique flavors, and it wasn’t even single-origin,” Tom recalls. “We didn’t realize chocolate could be like that.”
The Rogans were inspired and bought beans on Amazon, roasted them in their oven and winnowed them with a hairdryer (Monica laughs at the memory, recalling that she lost a lot of hairdryers to shells getting caught in the filter).
They began considering transitioning their hobby into something more serious when Tom sold a controlling stake in his TV production company in 2010; he knew that at the end of the five-year deal, he’d want to switch gears professionally. Tom and Monica (who was working in real estate development at the time) saw this as perfect timing to plan a move back to the East Coast—Tom was raised in Western Massachusetts and Monica grew up in Baltimore and spent her summers on Cape Cod—and start a family.
“We thought, ‘What could we do to get us back here that would be interesting and fulfilling for us to do?’” Tom says.
The more the Rogans researched craft chocolate, the more they saw an opportunity in a growing industry. It was appealing from a creative perspective for the challenge of bringing forth untapped flavors with single-origin beans. “I love figuring things out,” Monica says. “How does it all work?”
Meanwhile, the prospect of becoming single-origin chocolate makers was attractive from an ethical and social responsibility standpoint: the ability to work directly with farmers by paying them a premium for their beans to positively affect their lives. In the case of the Guatemalan village of San Juan Chivite, the Rogans took things a step further by funding the construction of a fermentation and drying facility and are looking into providing micro loans to help the community buy more acreage.
With their interest piqued, the Rogans scaled up their home production and dove into researching chocolate making and sourcing cacao. Fast forward to June 2015, when they bought the Sudbury property. Renovations began the following November and a year later, they were selling chocolate.
During my recent visit, Tom and Monica gave me a tour of Goodnow Farms and walked me through the process of getting from bean to bar. All of the chocolate making happens inside a renovated attached garage of a 225-year-old barn situated on Goodnow Road, named for one of the town’s first settlers.
Beans are stored in 55-gallon lined containers, from which they are sorted by hand in small batches to eliminate imperfections. From there, they are stored in 15-pound buckets and brought upstairs for roasting in a drum roaster, 30 pounds at a time. The Rogans spend a lot of time test roasting to determine the best time and temperature at which to roast the different bean types, known as their preferred “roasting profiles.”
The process becomes about augmenting the inherent flavor. “There are a lot of factors as you get to know a bean,” Tom says. “You find out the flavors that are the strongest and the flavors you want to try to draw out. You find that you like this or that about it and then work with it to figure out how to maximize those particular tastes.”
From there, the roasted beans are fed into a winnowing machine, where the nibs are separated from the shells (the latter are donated to Siena Farms in Sudbury to use as compost and mulch in their perennial herb garden). The nibs are transferred to a melangeur, where they are refined and conched. (Conching involves mixing and aerating the heated liquid chocolate, allowing excess moisture and volatile compounds, such as acetic acid, to be released. This reduces the acidity of the chocolate and allows the flavor to develop more fully.) During this process, sugar and cocoa butter—pressed in a cocoa press from the chocolate “liquor” generated from the nibs—are added; as a result, each variety of bar is made with cocoa butter from that particular bean. “We’re really staying true to the bean,” says Monica. “When you buy chocolate from us, everything comes from that [one] cacao bean.”
After tempering (a process to give the chocolate a harder consistency and higher melting point), the chocolate is poured into molds, chilled and wrapped.
After my tour of the chocolate factory, not only did I get to taste the chocolate currently on the market, but also what’s on the horizon: chocolate “inclusions” featuring maple syrup from Severance’s Maple Products from Northfield, coffee from El Recreo in West Roxbury (sourced, incidentally, from Nicaragua) and almonds from Burroughs Family Farms in California, sourced through Equal Exchange.
Beyond the new products, the Rogans have a lot of other ideas brewing: selling the cocoa powder generated by the cocoa press; talking to local chefs about including their chocolate in desserts; deepening their wholesale business by talking to distributors in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago; and considering purveying at local farmers markets this summer.
“We want to spend time making great chocolate and connect with good distributors to sell in great stores, and build the brand that way,” Tom says.
“A lot of craft chocolate is perceived as inaccessible, something that’s a little too precious,” he says. “We want people to understand that this is really great chocolate, and we want to make sure it’s accessible to a broader range of people, especially people who may not have tried fine chocolate.”
While they might not have predicted the trajectory of their business, the Rogans couldn’t have imagined a more fulfilling next act of their careers.
“It’s incredibly satisfying,” Tom says. “We believe in what we’re doing. It’s invigorating because we’re excited and passionate about it. We love working with the people we’re working with, the connections we’ve been able to make in the industry, both with farmers and other chocolate makers who are doing great work.”
“This is just the beginning for us,” says Monica. “We’re in it for the long run. We’re slowly but surely building.”
A Milton-based writer and editor. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.