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Courtesy of Shawn Askinosie
Shawn Askinosie’s chocolate is single origin, meaning the beans derive from one distinct region. Each pod produces twenty to forty seeds, or beans.
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Courtesy of Shawn Askinosie
Shawn visits the cocoa bean farmers near the Guatemalan border.
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Cocoa bean pod.
For the first time in a century, cacao beans from the historically famous chocolate region of Soconusco, Mexico, are being exported to the United States. By biting into a chocolate bar bearing the name of this region, you taste a flavor that is being introduced to this part of the world.
Shawn Askinosie, founder of Askinosie Chocolate in Springfield, had an epiphany to produce a product from this legendary area near the Guatemalan border. He located Janine Gasco, PhD, an anthropologist from California State University, who has spent her professional life studying Mesoamerican culture in that region. Through contact with Janine, Shawn developed a relationship with the farmers and began the process of making Soconusco chocolate.
There is a profound sense of obligation to the area’s rich heritage and the farmers’ hard work by undertaking something no one outside of Mexico has done in a century. Shawn says, “I hope I have not diminished the name ‘Soconusco’ with our chocolate. We try to effect the taste of the chocolate very, very carefully in our little factory. That is, during the roasting and conching process, we want the bean and the farmers’ work to shine through in the taste. This is possible because we add nothing to chocolate. We don’t add vanilla, lecithin, or any kind of flavoring to hide the true flavor of the bean.”
Shawn believes one of the most important parts of making Askinosie chocolate is finding cocoa bean farmers that will accept input on the fermentation and drying process. This early step affects the taste of the final product, he says, and it is critical to be able to influence this step. There are 70 steps to making Askinosie chocolate, all of which are overseen by Shawn or performed in his factory. “That is very important to me,” he says. “We get to touch our chocolate at every step, and that is a source of gratification.”
There are two parts of the process that Shawn loves, and they are at opposite ends of the chocolate-making spectrum. “I love traveling to where the farmers are,” he says. “I am happiest in experiencing their hospitality, meeting with them, eating in their homes. And I love being the store, handing out the chocolate to customers and watching them taste it and seeing their expression.”
Shawn believes in partnering with the farmers that supply his beans, working in a fair and mutually beneficial relationship. “I follow the principals of fair trade, social justice, and environmental process,” Shawn says. “I pay above the fair trade market price. It is very difficult to make friends and develop relationships with a culture that is not used to negotiating.” In addition, Shawn is active in his neighborhood. He started Learn Good Chocolate, a charity created in corporation with Drury University and Boyd Elementary, both at Springfield. Shawn donates every dollar from Askinosie factory tours to this charity, which educates school children about the numerous scientific, geographic, and social elements of making chocolate.
Although Shawn now has all 70 steps in his process down to a science, there was a time when chocolate was a hobby, not a passion. Shawn was a defense lawyer by day and a specialty dessert maker by night. In 2005 he upped the ante on his hobby and become a chocolate maker. Although it seems like very different arenas, Shawn has taken experience from the corporate world and transferred it to the culinary one.
Because of the process, Askinosie Chocolate is unique, and Shawn plans to keep it that way: “I don’t want to make chocolate with mass appeal.”
Visit www.askinosie.com for more information.