On paper, making chocolate sounds easy. First, you roast the cacao beans to intensify their flavor. Then you grind them with cacao butter and sugar to liquefy the chocolate. Next, the chocolate is tempered to achieve a shiny texture and pleasing snap. After that, you pour the chocolate into molds, and you’re done. Simple, right?
Well, like anything, the art and craft of doing something well is in the details. Sunnyvale’s Snake and Butterfly chocolate has perfected the details of chocolate making. The boutique company creates some truly outstanding chocolate by using superb ingredients in small batches and taking its time. The tiny outfit began three years ago with Celeste Flores and Ben Bulik. Flores was looking for a home business that would allow her to spend time with her young child. Bulik was experimenting with raw chocolate as a way to promote better health. After going out on a few dates, they cooked up the idea of going into the chocolate business. The name Snake and Butterfly comes from Aztec mythology. The Aztecs revered chocolate and reserved it for royalty.
Flores and Bulik liked their chocolate creations and decided to try scaling up, bringing in Flores’ dad, Vince Flores, to help write a business plan, and Jen Sorenson to make organic marshmallows and raw chocolates. Vince Flores, a musician with experience in the food and high-tech worlds, decided he wanted to be more than a consultant.
“I found out I really like doing it and here I am,” he said. Now he oversees the production of caramel, confections and wholesale accounts. In Silicon Valley, you can find Snake and Butterfly chocolate at Whole Foods in Campbell and San Jose, Barefoot Coffee Roasters in Santa Clara, Good Karma Vegan Cafe, Satori Tea Co. and the J. Lohr winery in San Jose, and the Campbell farmers market.
Like good coffee, what makes Snake and Butterfly’s chocolate stand out is the source of its beans. The company specializes in single origin, fair-trade beans with distinct flavors. The Papua New Guinea beans, for example, are roasted over a wood fire and have a strong smoky flavor that pairs particularly well with almonds and salt. The Madagascar chocolate has a more citruslike flavor. Bulik roasts each kind of bean differently to coax out its unique flavor. The company also sells raw, or “live,” chocolate made with unroasted beans. It has a more subtle nature but still exhibits an imminently chocolatey flavor. Chocolate is very high in antioxidants, and the raw chocolate is particularly high in the beneficial compounds.
In addition to bars of distinctive, single-origin chocolate, Snake and Butterfly makes some great truffles, chocolate confections and flavored bars like cherry and chile, sea salt and smoked almond, ginger and cacao nip, and maple syrup and bacon brittle. The company has also created some custom blends with beans from Barefoot Coffee Roasters.
Snake and Butterfly only makes about 60 to 80 pounds of chocolate a week. At nine bars of chocolate per pound, that’s not a lot of chocolate. It’s a slow, labor-intensive process. The chocolate is refined for three days in a simple, stone wheel “melanger.” In spite of the popularity of the chocolate (Snake and Butterfly picked up five awards at last year’s San Francisco International: Chocolate Salon), the quartet of chocolatiers wants to stay small. “When you start making chocolate in large batches you lose something,” says Celeste Flores. “We would become a factory at that point and we don’t want to do that.”