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Arts & Culture

Bean-To-Bar Chocolate Enterprise Aims To Sweeten Cottage Grove Economy

The city of Cottage Grove hopes a new business can sweeten its local economy.  A budding chocolatier opened a storefront this fall, with an emphasis on direct trade buying and educating customers on where their food comes from.  KLCC’s Brian Bull paid a visit to Sanity Chocolate, and has this report.

In the back of Mike Caven’s kitchen, round metal appliances spin and whir, churning velvety ripples of dark, milk, and white chocolate.  Caven explains. 

Credit Brian Bull / KLCC
Wet grinder with dark chocolate.

“We’re looking at our wet grinders, basically a stainless steel bowl that has a granite base with two granite wheels, reduces the particle size of the nibs from the cacao beans that we roasted.” 

Caven’s riding high on his recent win in Cottage Grove’s Business Challenge.  Sanity Chocolate took top prize over two dozen competitors, earning his business $6000 to invest in new equipment. 

On the walls hang heavy burlap bags that used to contain cacao pods from places like Mexico, Trinidad, Belize, and Ecuador. 

Credit Brian Bull / KLCC
A bucket of cocoa beans awaits being transformed into chocolate in Sanity Chocolate's kitchen.

“We work through a different couple brokers who do the direct trade, who work with the farmers," says Caven.

"One of our core values is working with ingredients that are not just sustainable for us and the environment, but are sustainable for the farmer, and in most cases, their community, that their whole livelihood is based around producing this product that we so very much enjoy.”

For the City of Eugene firefighter, chocolate is a passion that started off with a tour of a Kauai chocolate farm a couple years ago.  His wife, Bob, bought him some cocoa beans, and he ran with it.  Caven says he’s really learned a lot since then.

“Patience, I think is the most important and a willingness to try, and know that your product is what you put into it. And part of it is also intuition, taste, feel, look.” 

The Caven’s 7-year-old son, Adrian, also contributed.  He created the logo that graces every Sanity Chocolate product.  Adrian recalls the frenzied moment of inspiration that led to the distinct, bushy-haired stick figure design.

"Ahh, my mom was like, ‘My sanity’s running away’, so I made a little dude.  And then I showed my mom lots of pixes, and then she made the logo of this place, Sanity.”  

Credit Mike Caven / Sanity Chocolate
Sanity Chocolate
KLCC's Brian Bull interviews Adrian Caven on the creation of Sanity Chocolate's unique logo.

There are more than 100 varieties of Caven’s bean-to-bar chocolate. Customers Danielle Stealey and Rob York are checking out some at a recent sampling event.

“Here we have the cocoa chai white.  Oh, nice.  'Cuz chai is like my favorite, anyways," says Danielle. 

“I like the coffee chocolate, pretty tasty," adds Rob. "I think its gonna go pretty good with…I dunno, anything, actually.” 

Caven says he applies the same hand-crafted, artisan philosophy that’s re-invented beer and coffee in recent decades.

"Some people say we’re 15 years behind craft beer, 30 years behind coffee.  The movement where people care about what’s in their food, care about where it comes from, is really driving this. 

Credit Brian Bull / KLCC
Fresh chocolate for the sales counter.

"And the reality of craft chocolate, it’s really an open industry as far as maker’s willingness to share what they’re doing, what they’re trying.  Because everything I do to the bean, will change what that chocolate bar tastes like.” 

Ultimately, Caven hopes to pump more revenue into the Cottage Grove economy, by relocating downtown within five years.  Given Sanity Chocolate’s appeal and business strategy, that’s no crazy scheme.  

Copyright 2017, KLCC.

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