From Bean to Bar: Birmingham Taps Into the Craft Chocolate Movement

 Image: Becky Luigart Stayner of  Sunny House Studio  | Styling:  Missie Neville Crawford

Image: Becky Luigart Stayner of Sunny House Studio | Styling: Missie Neville Crawford

Story published in Styleblueprint Birmingham 

Take a bite out of craft chocolate and you might pick up on some bourbon barrel-aged notes or perhaps a spicy taste of chipotle. Like craft beer and wine, craft chocolate has found its place in the Magic City foodie scene — and it’s delicious.

Courtney Pigford, who owns Honeycreeper Chocolate — which sources bean-to-bar chocolate and small-batch truffles from chocolatiers around the world — says like any other food, chocolate should be well-sourced and flavorful. And, thanks to a long list of small-scale farmers who take the time to make sure their cocoa beans are artfully grown, consumers can enjoy a product that imbues unique flavor.

“It’s definitely a passion,” Courtney says of those involved in the craft chocolate movement — from the farmers to the chocolatiers and retailers. “There’s a lot more chemistry involved in it, taking it from the bean to the chocolate bar, than people realize.”

As a retailer, Courtney works with craft chocolate makers who source their ingredients from small farms with intentional, artisanal growers at the helm. Instead of mass-produced operations that employ swarms of workers and might produce their chocolate unethically, these growers, Courtney explains, work on a much smaller scale to make sure they are getting the best flavor from each crop yield.

“There’s an art to it,” Courtney says. “I can get bars from six different makers who all bought their beans from the same farm during the same harvest, and yet they might all taste different.”

Those who work in the craft chocolate industry take the liberty of playing around with flavors, working to bring out certain “notes” while suppressing others. It’s all about flavor when it comes to craft chocolate says Courtney, who became steeped in the craft chocolate movement a few years back.

“I think it opens a whole new taste experience,” she says of consumers’ introduction to craft chocolate. “What craft makers are doing is sourcing cocoa that is a higher-quality cocoa. It’s a higher-quality bean that provides more and better flavors.”

Since starting Honeycreeper, Courtney has sold at various pop-up shops and events throughout Birmingham and has also found a home at Winslet & Rhys in Avondale. Soon, Courtney says, she hopes to have a storefront of her own so locals can get a more consistent craft chocolate fix.

Courtney isn’t the only craft chocolate connoisseur in the Magic City, however. Just a stone’s throw from The Pizitz Food Hall and McWane Science Center, you’ll find Chocolatá Artisanal Chocolatier. It’s the dream of longtime chocolate lover Kathy D’Agostino come to life.

 “Dixie at Dusk” is one of the most popular flavors at Chocolatá. It’s made from a dark milk blend and features roasted pecans, brown sugar, rosemary and smoked sea salt. Image:  Chocolatá

“Dixie at Dusk” is one of the most popular flavors at Chocolatá. It’s made from a dark milk blend and features roasted pecans, brown sugar, rosemary and smoked sea salt. Image: Chocolatá

Although Kathy opened Chocolatá less than a year ago, she already has a loyal following and a few signature flavors — like “Dixie at Dusk” and “Mystic Eyes” — that she can’t make fast enough.

“You just get a lot of variety in the flavors that you don’t get with chocolate that isn’t as controlled,” Kathy says of the chocolate she uses to make bars, bonbons and other candies.

With a cozy storefront space where you can often watch the mesmerizing chocolate-making process behind the counter, Chocolatá offers a revolving assortment of flavors all sourced from growers around the world. After receiving the chocolate, Kathy melts it in a special process that re-crystalizes the cocoa butter.

After that, she adds in hand-picked ingredients like brown-sugar-roasted pecans, rosemary or sea salt to establish a unique flavor profile. Inside the shop, customers will find rows of dark, milk and white chocolate along with cases of chocolate bonbons and other delicacies.

 Located off Second Avenue North just a stone’s throw from  The Pizitz Food Hall  and the newly renovated  Elyton Hotel , Chocolatá Artisanal Chocolatier offers a delicious selection of craft chocolate sourced from around the world. Image:  Kelsey Justice

Located off Second Avenue North just a stone’s throw from The Pizitz Food Hall and the newly renovated Elyton Hotel, Chocolatá Artisanal Chocolatier offers a delicious selection of craft chocolate sourced from around the world. Image: Kelsey Justice

Every ingredient, Kathy explains, has a story and a grower behind it.

“The white chocolate is really nice,” Kathy points out. “It’s not your typical white chocolate. It comes from Ecuador, from a co-op of about 60 farms mostly managed by women. They hand-milk the cows every day, and I think all of that goes into why the flavor is so good.”

As more people begin to discover craft chocolate and appreciate its flavors, Courtney says she hopes more consumers will get on board with the movement. Just like any other art form, she says, craft chocolate is meant to be enjoyed slowly and with intentionality.

“It’s a food. It’s not pre-packaged candy,” she says. “That’s the difference. It’s actual food that comes from the ground, and it’s meant to be enjoyed.”

Chocolatá Artisanal Chocolatier is located at 1927 2nd Ave. N., Birmingham, AL 35203. Hours are Wednesday and Thursday, 10:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Friday, 10:30 a.m. to 8 p.m.; and Saturday, noon to 4 p.m. For information or to purchase Kathy’s chocolate, visit chocolatachocolate.com.

Honeycreeper Chocolate can be found locally at Winslet & Rhys in Avondale at 4000 3rd Ave. S., #105, Birmingham, AL 35222, where the hours are Tuesday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., and Sunday, noon to 5 p.m. Follow Honeycreeper Chocolate on Instagram @honeycreeperchocolate for details about upcoming pop-ups and new flavors. For information or to purchase Courtney’s chocolate, call (205) 617-9478 or visit honeycreeperchocolate.com.