Pure Chocolate Company was founded in 2017 by the husband and wife team of 40-year-old Wouter Tjeertes from Holland and 32-year-old Rennae Johnson from Jamaica. The company represents another addition to what is a growing artisanal chocolate industry in Jamaica consisting mostly of micro and small enterprises.
The married couple, who have two sons aged nine and five years, make their chocolate at their home in Trelawny in what they call a small and “rational production space”.
The process starts long before the cocoa gets to their house.
It starts on the opposite end of the island in the eastern parish of Portland where a farmer, Mr Bodie, grows cocoa as well as other crops on his farm. Once the cocoa is harvested, it is transported to the home of Johnsons' father who dries the beans for seven days.
Mr Johnson was enthusiastic and supportive of the young couple's decision to start their own company and has gained quite a bit of knowledge on the job about how to dry the beans, aerate them and develop their flavour.
The beans are then taken on the road again to Trelawny, where Tjeertes and Johnson make the chocolate.
Both husband and wife are pastry chefs who met in 2011 while working at the Half Moon resort in Montego Bay, but it wasn't until they moved to another Caribbean island that they learned to make chocolate.
“It was during one of my assignments in St Lucia that we both got to know how to make chocolate from cocoa tree to bar,” Tjeertes revealed.
“Upon returning to Jamaica, we said let's do something with the knowledge we gained. We know that Jamaica has one of the five best flavoured cocoas in the world and we know what to do with it, so hey, why not?”
Their product range consists of four different chocolate bars at the moment with varying percentages. The percentage refers to how much of a bar is pure cocoa content. The rest is sugar.
Their “lightest” bar is 68 per cent and has little bits of slow roasted cocoa beans (cocoa nibs) added to it. There is also a 70 per cent bar made with jerk seasoning.
“For us it was a no-brainer to do a jerk bar,” Johnson explained. “It works really well and it's a perfect souvenir for some people.”
The other two bars are 75 per cent and 84 per cent pure chocolate bars.
Tjeertes revealed that the quality of the cocoa is so high in Jamaica that even with the increased bitterness of higher percentages, the chocolate is still tasty and fruity. He added that the 75 per cent chocolate bar goes well with wine or rum and the 84 per cent bar pairs nicely with coffee or expresso.
But what makes their dark chocolate even more unique is its branding and packaging.
“Each bar is hand-wrapped, hand-labelled and hand-dated so you know you have a handmade product,” Johnson said. “Every date and every batch code are done by hand. It is more labour intensive but we believe it brings personality to the bar. You can see that somebody sat down and took the time to do this. It doesn't come out of a factory.”
Pure Chocolate partners with a young Jamaican artist, Taj Francis, whose artwork is featured on the product's packaging. The artist's bio can be found on the inside of the wrapping as well as information on how to find his work.
Additionally, information on the farmer, Mr Bodie, is provided. The intention is to acknowledge the farmer as well as providing a canvas for young Jamaican and Caribbean artists to showcase their work.
Currently, the product is available in Montego Bay at The Village Commissary in the Half Moon Shopping Village, DLE Cafe in the Fairview Shopping Centre, and Smokeez By The Sea in Rose Hall. Hotels that carry the brand include Jamaica Inn in Ocho Rios, Golden Eye Resort in Oracabessa, and Strawberry Hill in the Blue Mountains above Kingston. It can also be purchased at Things Jamaican stores.
Pure Chocolate is also sold in Holland where it was featured at the Chocoa chocolate festival, which was sold out in two hours.
The couple's goal is to produce 100,000 bars per year over the next three years and double that in five years. They are therefore looking for a larger production area outside of home.
There are also additional plans to expand the product range in the immediate future.
“We are working on a new line of flavoured bars, which are a little smaller so the price point becomes more interesting.” Tjeertes disclosed. “Market research shows that flavoured bars are really up and coming.”
The current bars are large, weighing in at three-and-a-half ounces or 100 grams.
People are a big part of the company's culture, from the artist they promote to the farmer they support. It is for this reason that Tjeertes and Johnson also do workshops, tastings and pairings as part of events and team building exercises for Jamaicans and tourists. These interactive groups can involve up to 20 people.
“It's a playful way of educating people about the product.” Johnson said.
What is most important for them is to give back to the community. In addition to promoting Mr Bodie, their farmer, they pay him straight cash for the product above market rate. Tjeertes said Bodie was planning to cut down his cocoa trees before the company started doing business with him. The outcome of that collaboration has been a happy and productive one.
“The first time we went up to Mr Bodie, he had been farming cocoa for a good 30 years but he had never tasted chocolate from his cocoa, and this was heartbreaking to us, so when he tasted our chocolate, he loved it so much he had tears in his eyes.” Tjeertes shared. “He said this is the first time I am tasting my own chocolate.”
“Of course, we want to make a living but it is all about doing the right thing,” his wife added.
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