I can’t even imagine what it must have been like for Oak Cliff Coffee Roasters owner Shannon Neffendorf’s two kids when he started experimenting with chocolate-making: the ultimate dream, their home kitchen turned into a lab. That was almost a year ago. And now, as though to prove that coffee is a tropical companion plant to cacao, the team behind Davis Street Espresso, better known for its juggernaut role in craft coffee roasting, has debuted its first single-origin bean-to-bar chocolates under the name Five Mile. It’s not a leap, but still a step from coffee to cacao.
For Neffendorf, it started with visiting producers on the coffee side and observing the correlations between these tropical plants, which grow at different elevations, but share such similarities in the ways they’re grown, dried, and processed. Even the tasting notes are akin, with their talk of brightness, acidity, caramel, toastiness. The correlations began to fascinate him.
Last winter, Neffendorf began delving into online resources, finding how he could tap into this chocolate-making world that allows a maker to bring out the nuances of origin and terroir—just as in coffee. He bought a melanger (the machine with granite rollers that churns the beans from grit to gloss), used a home coffee roaster to roast batches of cacao beans, cracked them and then winnowed them with a blow dryer and a bowl. And many rounds of roasting, winnowing, conching, and tempering later, he had something he liked.
The challenges cropped up, predictably, in the places where the Venn diagrams of cacao and coffee don’t overlap. Roasting was easy, as were many of the principles of temperature curves—all the food science that preoccupies a craft coffee roaster. But with coffee beans, you roast and you’re done, Neffendorf will say with a sliver of a smile in his voice. With chocolate, there is the lengthy conching (grinding), the tempering with its finicky crystallization. It’s the involvement that struck him. It’s a labor-intensive process, with many steps, at each of which something could go drastically wrong.
Now, the machines to which Neffendorf upgraded once he realized this would be a real thing, not something they dallied with on a whim, share space with the coffee roasters on the production side of Davis Street Espresso. And if you hit it at the right time, you can watch them make chocolate through the lab windows as you wait for your coffee.
They started with two single-origin bars, from Peru and the Dominican Republic, both at a dark 75 percent cacao. The Peru is smooth and complex, the Dominican Republic richer and deeper. True to form, the former is sourced from a collective dedicated to preserving native species of cacao; the latter from Reserva Zorzal, an estate that doubles as a bird estuary.
The tropical plants’ altitude differences mean that most of OCCR’s coffee producers do not also grow cacao (though one of their sources in Guatemala might be a lead). And so these first batches are not sourced from farmer partners yet. But they’ve been reaching out via their farmer producers to find direct partners, and the upcoming cacao harvest should be the first they source directly from relationships they build.
The goal is to add a handful of single-origin dark chocolates and a milk chocolate bar. Bookmark the thought. For now, look out for single-origin brownies in the pastry case.
Five Mile chocolates are $8 for a 2-ounce bar. The four current bars are available currently only at Davis Street Espresso.
And I’ll end with this thought: call Oak Cliff an incubator, call it a trend. This part of town is our de facto haven of bean-to-bar chocolate crafting, with CocoAndre having launched a line in the spring. I, for one, am happy.