Nationally reowned local chocolate shop, the Beanpod, celebrated six successful years in business on February 13.
Since its launch in 2011, Beanpod has risen to new heights, pushing itself to a level where it is now recognized by cacao lovers around the world, and has attracted global media attention for several products.
Before coming to Canada, James Heavey and his wife, Mary, withdrew their children from school in Ireland to travel the world for three years. During this time, they stopped in many of the best chocolate shops in Europe, in order to sculpt their ideas for a potential shop in the future. James had previously spent time in Italy, becoming a certified barista, and Mary has been dabbling in making chocolate for the past 20 years. Although their educations are different (software engineer and chartered accountant), they both share a love for coffee and chocolate.
In 2008, they moved to Fernie to start a new life with their kids. At the time they were unsure as to whether or not they would open a chocolate shop. Making the sweet treat had been a hobby of Mary’s for over 15 years. When they decided to take the leap of faith in 2011, they did so with a vision of being unique.
What differentiates them from the average chocolate shop is that they are involved every step of the way; from the partnership with the plantation, to the selection of the plant, to the roasting, to the grinding of the chocolate and the sculpting of the finished product. The Heavey’s have managed to put their own unique touch on what they consider a craft.
James believes free trade is a very important part of the Beanpod’s philosophy. Once they find out a cacao farmer is providing an extra special product, he and his family fly down to meet them. Right now the Beanpod sources its coffee from Ecuador.
“When you’ve traveled to these places, and you kind of shake farmer’s hands and you know what it means to them to buy their beans direct from them, it makes a huge difference,” he said.
Starting off, the Beanpod only sold two types of chocolate bars. Now, they provide a range of over 60 bars. Some of these include the Fernie Bear Bar, which contains local honey harvested by Deborah Davidson with Elk River Apiaries. Another is their award-winning dark chocolate Lavender Bar, which is made through the use of Lavender harvested from a farm on Salt Spring Island. This was voted the best dark chocolate bar in Canada in 2012. They also feature some seasonal bars, including their recent Valentine’s Day Love Bar, which is made using passionfruit. With celiacs in their family, the Heavey’s also sought to provide allergy-accommodating desserts.
With a fifth child on the way, the family will be slowing down their production. However, in busier seasons, like the weeks leading up to Christmas, the Beanpod will produce approximately a metric ton of chocolate in varying forms and flavours.
Each cacao bean contains about 40 to 60 seeds inside. James treats these beans like grapes to wine, using different processes to extract and amplify some of the 600 different chemical elements that dictate the flavour of the end product. These processes come through the application of heat, crushing methods, friction, pressure, and aeration.
“For us, it’s really a lot of fun. It’s a real artistry,” said James.
The cacao beans start off with a very strong tannic flavour, which makes it very bitter. It takes about a day of roasting to get rid of this flavour.
“When we fire the machines up, and do taste testing, basically every couple of hours you’re sampling. With different increases in heat, you’ll get different flavours come through the chocolate.
From a bean, to a block of chocolate, it takes about five and a half to six days. James sees the act of making your own chocolate, to producing and selling it in its final form, as being two separate industries. Usually a chef would pick and choose blocks of chocolate from different manufacturers, using them to melt and mold into different products.
“Most chocolate franchises in the world don’t make chocolate. Most chocolateers don’t make chocolate. There’s only a small amount of chocolate makers in the world,” said James.
“We just decided to do the whole thing end to end, so we’ve got full tracibility for every ingredient,” he added.
The Beanpod veers away from preservatives and emulsifiers. The ingredient, soy lecithin, which can be found in a common chocolate bar, cuts down production time from 72 hours to 15 minutes.
“We’re happy with the process, in terms of we don’t care how long it takes to do things, we just want to keep it pure,” said James.
The biggest challenge over the past few years has been trying to make their business thrive, as well as enjoy Fernie with their four, soon to be five kids. However, they dedicate time to trail run, bike, hike and ski with their kids.
“It’s not work, so that’s a huge thing for us,” said James. “We’re not pushing to be the biggest chocolate maker in North America. It’s actually a very relaxed environment to work in. Our lifestyle in Fernie is pretty straightforward; you eat, you sleep, you bike, you run and you work. You do what you can fit in a day.”