Over the last few weeks the irresistible smell of coffee and chocolate has been teasing pedestrians strolling down Second Avenue.
Consequently, people were knocking on Beanpod’s front door before the new shop had even officially opened.
“It’s been amazing how word of mouth has got around,” said Beanpod’s owner James Heavey. “A guy came in and told me he’d heard about us from people in line at the base of Timber chair!”
Now Beanpod is fully open for business and has already had regular customers come from Sparwood, Elkford, Calgary and Cranbrook to try out the handmade chocolates and espresso coffees. They are proving so popular, James is struggling to keep up with demand and the shop regularly sells out.
James and his wife, Mary, came to Fernie from Ireland, a few years ago with their four children and decided they wanted to open a shop to cater to their own passions. For James, it was coffee and for Mary, chocolate.
“Coffee and chocolate are not new to the Valley, but what makes us different is that we make the chocolate here in the shop, from scratch, and we roast the coffee beans we use in our espresso based drinks in-house.”
James travelled to Ecuador to a cacao bean farm and got to know all the people involved in growing the beans, from the machete-wielding pickers to the woman who makes the sacks that the beans are stored and shipped in.
A lot of chocolate is made from beans that are not fermented in the sun, but the ones James buys are left out to ripen before being shipped to him in Fernie, and are consequently the highest grade of bean available.
James and Mary, are the owners of the only business in Canada that make chocolate from beans, the old fashioned way. There are only about 85 companies that make chocolate in the world and most other chocolate shops buy pre-made chocolate in block form and then re-melt it to make individual chocolates.
“The problem with buying chocolate like that is you have no control over it,” said James. “You can’t control the taste, the texture, and you don’t know what the process was of getting it to that stage.”
They only use rare Nacional cacao beans, a type of bean only grown in and around Ecuador.
James, who used to be an engineer, and Mary, who was an accountant, have spent years learning about coffee and chocolate, travelling the globe and taking courses from master chocolatiers and learning trade secrets from experts.
“We want to be able to trace the chocolate and coffee every step of the way,” said James. “That means we wanted to go to the plantations and get to know the farmers. We wanted to make sure all the beans are grown totally organically, with no child labour and that the workers are getting a fair wage.”
The couple invested in a number of specialist antique machines, including a “melangeur” for grinding the cocoa beans down to make a chocolate paste. They came across the 80-year-old machine while travelling in Italy.
“It was totally by chance we got hold of it,” said Mary. “A chocolate business was selling off its old machines. This one was there. It weighs two-and-a-half tonnes so it was quite a mission getting it from Italy to Fernie!”
After a day in the melangeur, the chocolate is refined and finally goes into a conching machine for up to three days where the whole mixture is mixed until smooth and creamy, before being made into bars, truffles and bonbons.
Visitors to the shop can watch the process of making chocolate through a glass window. And then they can taste the fresh chocolate – James has installed a tap that delivers pure liquid chocolate heaven.
“We hope people will want to come in, let the kids play in the play area, enjoy great coffee and chocolate and be able to see where it has come from,” said James. “TV screens will show the cocoa and coffee farms in Ecuador so people can see where it all started.”
But no matter how great the coffee and chocolate is, don’t bother trying to offer tips. “We’re Irish, we don’t do tips!” said James. “We’ll have to organise a charity box or something because people here really like to tip!”