Featured Interview: Aaron Koch

Explorer, health lover, founder of KuK chocolate and overall awesome guy- Aaron teaches us about chocolate, his rad company and gives us a little glimpse into his adventurous life!

Rapid Fire Q + A:

Favorite local restaurant?
Le Pigeon! I was also recently was blown away by the drinks at Andina (the Peruvian place downtown)… they have this guava cayenne drink that knocked my socks off!

Must-see scenic spot in Oregon?
I love the southern Oregon coast.  I’ve biked the whole thing a couple of times and I’ve surfed all over the tropics, but the wildness of camping on an empty beach and waking up to a blue sky on a spring day and surfing with just your buddies- that doesn’t get old!

Favorite local hiking spot?
Before the rains, I was climbing almost daily at Lewis & Clark State Park.  It’s pretty sweet because it’s only 15 miles from town but it feels like you’re way out there.

Craziest thing you've ever done?
Maybe agreeing to deliver a sailboat from Singapore to Papua New Guinea.  The boat got hit by a freighter and they were doing repairs in Singapore, where I hopped on.  We were delivering it to Jack Johnson and the Malloy brothers for a video called Thicker Than Water.

They were late, so the Captain wanted to b-line it, which meant going through pirate waters of southern Philippines.  For three days no one could take it easy, every time a boat would pull close everyone would start freaking out.  We got struck by lightning in a monsoon and lost all electricity, like navigation equipment. That was pretty crazy...

Favorite meal to cook?
Coconut chicken curry!

It's Sunday in Portland... what are you up to?
Probably doing something outside… that’s a safe bet.

One place you are dying to visit:
I’m really hoping to make it down to Central America soon and check out some of their amazing cacao farms. So far I've just seen young cacao farms in Hawaii, but hoping to see more.

Favorite life-changer book?
Zen & the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Oh, & Shantaram.
Tell us a little bit about yourself...
I grew up in Singapore and moved to Oregon in 2000.  I learned to surf on the Oregon coast, and soon moved to Hawaii for warmer waters.  I’ve spent the majority of my time since then migrating between Indonesia, Hawaii, and Oregon.

I became fascinated with cacao when I returned from a surf trip in Indonesia and ended up renting a cabin on a 7 acre cacao farm on Kauai.  Part of the rent was to take care of the trees.  It was the first year these trees were bearing fruit, so everyone on the farm was learning and there was an element of wonder about the place.  This was the beginning of my chocolate journey.

What caught my interest with cacao was the fact that it’s an understory crop.  This means that it can’t grow in full sunlight, it needs the jungle shade to survive.
The big corporate farms, mostly in Africa, will get around this artificially by using shade-cloth structures to simulate a jungle environment.

Small family farms in central and south america can’t afford things like shade cloth and pesticides, so they grow their cacao traditionally… which means organically and using the natural jungle as shade.  So when cacao is purchased from farms which use traditional growing practices, the rainforest is preserved.

When I learned about this, it struck me as a pretty awesome way to preserve the rainforest… one chocolate bar at a time;)

In fact, that’s why I’ve chosen to use coconut sugar as my main sweetener, I went into these farms in Bali and it’s technically a monocrop farm, but it looks like you’re walking in a wild jungle… there’s mango, avocados, papaya, breadfruit, all these things growing under the coconuts and it’s been that way for generations.  That’s the kind of stuff I want to support!

What was the vision behind KuK chocolate?

The vision behind KüK chocolate… I found myself using cacao mostly in 100% form to cook or bake with.  I make cacao based drinks daily, and love coming up with creative recipes to include cacao.  I wanted to base my products around this passion.

Sometimes the full characters in the cacao aren't present, because of overwhelming sugar.  But chocolate doesn't need to be limited to just a sweet indulgence.  It can be even more!

Basically, KüK Chocolate is going to be offering two items: Pure cacao baking/cooking chocolate and lightly sweetened Drinking Chocolates.  All low glycemic, vegan, & gluten free.

I think a lot of people aren't aware of the difference in chocolate. A lot of labels say "cacao" "cocoa" "organic" or put percentages on them. Could you give us a mini-education on what it all means?

Mini education.. Ok, so percentage is the amount of cacao vs sugar.  Like if I’m making a 70% cacao chocolate and am aiming for 10 pounds of total product, I’d put  7 pounds of cacao and 3 pounds of sugar… simple.

The terms Cacao vs Cocoa… Theobroma is the botanical name of the chocolate tree.  The pods (look like deflated footballs), are referred to as cacao pods.  They are taken off the tree, hacked open, the seeds inside are fermented for 5 days and then dried on elevated rafts (much like coffee is fermented and dried).  At this point, it can be referred to as either cacao or cocoa.  Cocoa just means it has been processed.

Organic…  this organic thing has been changed so much over the years that I know some farmers in Hawaii which refuse to refer to their farm as organic… they call it authentic or permaculture,etc.  Because large corporations want to get in on it and they bend the rules to allow all sorts of stuff to be used and still call the crop organic.

For me, it’s all about knowing the farm and what practices they use.  That’s why direct trade and small family farms are key to sustainable practice.  These are farms which understand the cycles and that they need to preserve this land for their next generation… because it’s their family land, so they love it.  That’s what it all comes down to.  Corporate farms just lack that sentiment.

How/Where is your chocolate made?

My chocolate is made in a tiny facility located in inner southeast Portland.  I currently rent time on a roaster from Mr. Green Bean (Mississippi St.).

There’s a few steps involved.
The Process
When I receive these organic cacao beans they are shipped via pallets in burlap tote bags.  These beans have been fermented 5 days on the farm, then dried on bamboo rafts.  They smell musky, of earth and love.

I currently roast in 25 lb batches. This is a very exciting process because it is like making music, it's all about timing and active observation. If the temp is rising too high, I've got to adjust, if it looks like the trajectory of the batch isn't moving in time with the choreographed roast program, I've got to adjust something... I love it because it is so involved that you can lose yourself in the process.

I run the roasted cocoa beans through a grinder to crack the beans. This allows me to separate the shell from the nib (nib is the inside of the bean almost like a nut).

Separate the shell from the nib using a vacuum system.

Melanging is french for 'to mix'... this is basically the refining stage. The nibs are slowly added into a traditional stone grinder, and ground until the particle size is reduced enough to produce a smooth mouth-feel.

This is a proprietary method used for character development to create an incomparable chocolate. Nuff said;)!

The batch is poured into trays and allowed to rest for up to 3 weeks.

Blocks of chocolate are melted into liquid and run through a series of temperatures to develop a crystal structure which allows for snap, gloss, and storable state.

What are the benefits of raw chocolate?
Raw chocolate is processed below 118 degrees and generally holds more nutrient value than roasted chocolate.  It has a more earthy flowery taste to it than roasted chocolate.

Where can we buy it!?
Right now I’m still getting going so you can buy it at Farmers Markets… OHSU Tuesdays and Motavilla Sundays.  The website should be up really soon, and local deliveries will be done via bicycle courier service!

I’m also looking into starting a service where orders are delivered directly to offices around Portland via bicycle courier!  Keep checking in for more news on this.

1 comment:

  1. I have know Aaron since he was born and he is the most authentic person I know.


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