Harper Macaw: Discover D.C.’s Chocolate Factory

Harper Macaw, a new artisan chocolate factory in Washington, D.C., run by husband and wife team Sarah and Colin Hartman, specializes in bars made with cocoa beans sourced from Brazil’s Amazon and Atlantic rainforests. It’s the only U.S. craft chocolate maker that sources cocoa beans from Brazil and one of the few that uses a 5-roll refiner, which ensures their chocolate has the best possible texture and smoothest mouth feel.

After going to culinary school and then working for Valrhona chocolate company and realizing all of the socioeconomic and environmental issues surrounding the sourcing of cocoa beans, Sarah felt inspired to start a chocolate company and do things the right way. The couple’s mission is to make high-quality chocolate, while practicing fair trade and being a force for tropical reforestation in Brazil.

Brazil’s Atlantic Forest, one of Earth’s top biodiversity hotbeds, is over 90 percent gone. It’s Earth’s second most threatened terrestrial biome and its richest zone is the focal point of the cacao industry. Harper Macaw realizes that dramatic restoration efforts must take place for there to be a future for Brazil’s cacao economy.

Through partnerships with nonprofits, Harper Macaw invests in a cutting-edge rainforest conservation initiative that acquires deforested and threatened land, and helps bring back native plants and wildlife.

Each chocolate bar they sell restores and protects 20 acres of deforested or vulnerable rainforest in northeast Brazil. The company’s name references the Harpy Eagle and Blue Hyacinth Macaw – two endangered birds that live in the rainforests the chocolate makers aim to protect.

Sarah and Colin work closely with the farmers to ensure they practice sustainable farming. They travel to their sources and purchase beans directly from farms to make sure they are compensated for their extra attention to detail, often paying premiums double the market rate and 15 times Fair Trade.

Harper Macaw uses state-of-the-art tech and traditional European methods to turn their beans into chocolate bars. The chocolate-making process involves many steps: cleaning, roasting, winnowing, grinding, refining, conching, tempering, molding and cooling. Each step is performed with precision to produce high-quality chocolate with delectable flavor, aroma and texture. When asked how long it takes to go from bean to bar, Colin said it would take about a week, but that they never make it that way. “There are so many variables at every stage of chocolate making. It’s a science. If I had to choose a step that was the most difficult, it would probably be roasting because it has the most influence on the final flavor. There’s a lot of trial and error that goes into getting the time and temperature just right,” Colin says.

“High-quality chocolate has a nice shine to it and produces a crisp, clean snap when broken,” Colin noted. He emphasized that dark chocolate should never taste bitter, but instead could taste lightly acidic, malty, fruity or nutty. “You also want to look for cacao or cocoa beans and cocoa butter – not butter fat or oil – in the ingredients list to determine if the chocolate is good quality,” says Colin.

Harper Macaw currently makes dark chocolate bars with 70, 74, 75 and 77 percent chocolate, and two dark chocolate milk bars – one with 56 percent chocolate and crushed coffee beans and the other with 57 percent chocolate. “Our bars that have milk in them have a high percentage of cocoa, so they are actually considered dark chocolate milk bars,” Sarah says. They also make Bordeaux barrel-aged and bourbon barrel-aged bars that have been wildly popular and are made in part using an oak barrel they purchased from a local winery, and other specialty flavors such as rye whiskey and raspberry cheesecake.

Pick up some chocolate for Easter with a visit to the factory in D.C. or the pop-up boutique in District Wharf, and see firsthand how chocolate gets made. Both the factory and store feature their products and state-of-the-art chocolate process. Tours are held every Saturday 1-3 p.m. and provide an in-depth overview of sourcing and the chocolate-making process and end with a chocolate tasting. Products for sale are chocolate bars, cocoa nibs, chocolate chip cookies, pretzel streusel brownies and thick drinking chocolate. Shop hours are 10 a.m.-6 p.m. weekdays and 12-6 p.m. Saturdays. The chocolate bars can also be found in stores throughout the metro area. To learn more about Harper Macaw, visit harpermacaw.com.