Interview 008: Adam Dick and Dustin Taylor

Interview 008: Adam Dick and Dustin Taylor

We caught up with Adam Dick and Dustin Taylor of Dick Taylor Craft Chocolate. We've stocked Dick Taylor since day one of The Chocolate Bar and consider it some of our favourite chocolate in the world. Last year we entered two of their bars into the international section of the New Zealand Chocolate Awards, with the Black Fig picking up a gold and the Brown Butter, Nibs and Sea Salt picking up a silver.

It was great to have a decent chat with Adam and Dustin and find out more about what's going on behind the scenes, as well as what got them started on their chocolate making mission...

TCB: It’s well documented that you were both carpenters before you started making chocolate. How have your carpentry skills affected your approach to chocolate making?

Dustin Taylor: So with Adam and I getting into carpentry early on, the first thing we started doing was digging ditches and building homes, just framing houses and learning the rough kind of stuff. But along the way we really met some instrumental characters; bosses and different people we worked for who really taught us the value of taking our carpentry to new levels of craftsmanship, so using hand tools and hand planes and sharpening them, etc. We then started collecting big old vintage pieces of equipment to build up our wood shop. So as we were doing carpentry we started collecting old machines from Ebay and Craigslist and we’d drive all over the place to pick up these old machines and put them into our wood shops. And so through carpentry and through trying to master that skill, you learn a lot about skills and efficiency, how to fix up equipment, all those kind of things. So when we stumbled into chocolate by seeing that Mast Brothers video in 2010, we had zero background in chocolate or any desire to be chocolate makers at the time - we didn’t even know that this existed - but we saw that video and of course it looked cool and hip, and that’s what sparked the interest of even knowing that this craft chocolate thing existed. At that spot we started researching who else was out there, what was going on, and there were very few players at that time. We also found out about John Nanci [The Chocolate Alchemist] up in Eugene, Oregon, which is only a five or six hour drive from us; it’s very close so we ordered our first beans and got into chocolate that way.

The deeper we got into it... we went up to our first NorthWest Chocolate Festival and you know there’s the CocoaTown that makes chocolate. There’s nothing wrong with that, it’s just a simple machine and so that’s how we started too. We made five pounds in a little tabletop grinder in Adam’s washroom, and it was fine and fun and exciting that we had this two ingredient chocolate that we made; it was amazing and friends and family liked it, so that’s what sparked the idea of starting a business. We were doing that for probably a year before the next NorthWest Chocolate Festival started, and that was when our mind was kind of blown by all these other makers and the bigger community - it’s not just us in Humboldt County and a few other weird internet people that are out there. We met lots of people and visited Theo Chocolate and saw how there’s actually a lot more machinery that goes into chocolate, and that can - and should - be used to be able to control the processes. Coming from our carpentry background, that really resonated with us. There’s all these pieces of equipment for each step - not only is it fun to collect equipment but there’s that control and that craftsmanship that we really enjoyed as carpenters, that now can be brought to chocolate. It’s not just roast the nibs, stick them in a grinder, wait four days and voila you’ve got chocolate; I think we would’ve got bored with that process after not too much time. So once we got into seeing machinery, then all of a sudden we started seeing a chocolate factory as like a woodshop - you know like ‘this thing is kinda like a thickness planer is to boards’, and some of our equipment... our roaster’s from 1910 and we fixed that up. Process machinery is process machinery; either it’s cutting a board or it’s grinding or roasting beans. So then there’s that fun hunt of ‘how can I find pieces of equipment that can make this process on the cheap and then fix them up?’ So I think to us, chocolate and carpentry are very similar and I think that background in carpentry and knowing how to fix up equipment, knowing how to fix something if it breaks down, that really helped us to be where we are today, by being able to do it hands-on like that.

craft chocolate bean-to-bar subscription

TCB: You’ve almost answered my next question but I was going to ask you about your love of old machinery. Are there any pieces of machinery you use that are particularly interesting or unique to your process?

DT: What’s interesting is that in our process, what we’re really trying to mimic is - and you know it’s this dirty word - industrial chocolate making. It’s a dirty word in craft chocolate, like ‘oh we’re not industrial chocolate’, but the reality is that industrial chocolate has gone through all these years of science and honing in how to make chocolate. The drag is that then they went for the bottom line and there’s very little chocolate in it, so the ingredients kind of went by the wayside but the actual processing of the chocolate is amazing. So I’d say what we’re trying to do is... there’s Beckett’s book on industrial chocolate making, it’s kind of like the bible of chocolate making, like ‘oh, here’s the whole manual of how to make chocolate’, but it’s based on these enormous factories and gigantic level things. So I’d say what we’ve been doing - part of the puzzle - is how do I create that control of industrial chocolate making, of really being able to control every step of the process in such a finite way that I can really direct these two ingredients, but make it on a scalable chocolate factory that’s within our budget - you know, we’re still a tiny chocolate maker. And so a lot of this equipment we’ve found or created is not meant for chocolate but is a processing machine that kind of mimics it. Or to now where we’ve finally grown to the spot where we’re able to afford a big enough roll mill - a big 12” by 36” roll mill.

One creative thing is we built our own winnowers - those are always kind of fun; seems like the majority of the craft chocolate guys all have their own little tweeks on the winnower.

TCB: Yeah I’ve seen all kinds of crazy things on the internet.

DT: Yeah different ABS pipes or vacuums - we now have a cyclone dust collector. Actually one piece that we’re trying to sell now, it was a Littleford plow mixer, so it has nothing to do with the chocolate, they make them for all different industries but it has nothing to do with chocolate, especially this one. But you’re looking at this machine and it’s a stainless steel tank so that checks out - you can clean this thing to be food grade - and it’s jacketed so it can heat up - it can melt chocolate - and it can spin at a high rate of speed so it kind of mimics a conche. So [even though] it wasn’t a conche, it was nothing like a conche, we went out on a whim and bought this old rusty thing and then - like all of our equipment - took it down to bare metal, got rid of all the paint, all the grease, everything, so that it’s basically a new machine when we start. That was a kind of quirky one that was this weird, crazy looking machine that worked out great - did about 125lbs so it worked out as that next step. It’s amazing, each piece of new equipment always comes in right when we’re totally bursting at the seems or this machine’s about to break or doesn’t do enough chocolate for the holiday season, so how do we get something in line. So that was a good set gap fill machine, and then we ended up using it later on just for multi-purpose, so we were using it most recently just to mix our sugar and liquor together before we run it through the roll mill. We’ve recently acquired some more melters that are a larger size so now we’ve ended up running out of floor space and saying ‘alright, that guy’s out’. It’s hard to sell a piece of machinery though because you always know as soon as you sell it you’re gonna need it for some other process or something else, so it’s very rare that we do sell equipment but we really ran out of space.

dick taylor craft chocolate bean-to-bar fine

TCB: I wanted to ask you next about the scene in the U.S for craft chocolate. Over here in New Zealand it’s very small and when we look to the U.S, it seems like it’s a big thing over there. Does it feel much bigger to you these days or does it still feel very niche? Or somewhere in between?

DT: I’d say somewhere in between. It’s funny, it’s like if you’re in the right circle, like if you go to the NorthWest Chocolate Festival, you feel like this thing is huge and everybody gets it. You know there’s nine thousand consumers that come to that show and they’re all there for craft chocolate and they get it. So the Pacific, well basically both coasts get it, New York gets it, but then you’ve got this whole middle of the country that doesn’t really get it. It’s coming around - you know we’re in a few stores in Texas and stuff like that - but I think the reality of, especially two ingredient dark chocolate, like this Belize, Toledo single origin, that’s a trickier thing to convey and get into stores like Wholefoods; it’s a price-point issue at some point with those kinds of things. You’re trying to not only educate the public on where chocolate comes from and why they should spend more, but then you’re also trying to educate these larger retailers who are... in the end you know the majority of the public don’t shop at these niche little boutique shops - those are people who are in-the-know, who are looking for something unique, but the majority of people are just going to be shopping at their supermarket to get food. So we’re at that interesting spot in growth, like how do you change the mindset of these buyers and these larger stores to carry your product, and along the way how do you get in those stores and not lose the niche people who brought you up, and you don’t want them to be like ‘oh, Dick Taylor used to be cool back then but now they’re in all these other shops.’ So we really stress out about growing in a healthy way, that we’re not burning any bridges, but we’re also, as we do grow, diversifying the lines so that there’s something unique. You know there was only eighty pounds of the Solomon Islands bar from the beans that Adam brought back, so there’s some really unique stuff that will only be available either online, or then there’s another line of stuff that’s unique for these boutique shops.

dick taylor craft chocolate

So I think we’re seeing it grow. More people are coming on board; a lot more breweries, coffee shops and other industries catching on. Coffee shops are some of our larger growth market right now - not only do they buy bars but also the bulk chocolate for their ingredients, where they really want that name associated with their ingredient. So I think that’s an exciting time because then there’s the perfect catalyst for a one-on-one experience, for the consumer to be able to talk to somebody - the barista or whoever sold them the chocolate bar. That’s really at the end of the day... people need to just have someone tell them or explain what this is. A friend of ours was just talking about this - it says ‘Belize, Toledo’ [on the packaging] and it says ‘chocolate’ so small - there’s very little to tell you it’s a chocolate bar. So as we’re packaging and coming up with new things we’re trying to come up with how we can stay simple and stay true to our graphics and our illustrations and stuff, but also still... how can anybody read this bar and understand what it is?

TCB: Yeah I’ve had a couple of my customers ask me what Toledo is, thinking it’s an ingredient.

DT: Exactly.

dick taylor belize toledo

TCB: You touched there on the Solomon Islands limited release bar that you did last year and the year before. Did the quality of the beans from the Solomons surprise you and do you think this is an area that more makers from the U.S will start looking to for beans?

DT: Oh for sure, I think we were very surprised. I unfortunately was unable to go on both those trips because of different babies due at different times, but hearing the feedback and Adam coming back - they were very excited with what was out there and the potential. And then going back the second year and seeing that much more growth, and seeing repeat farmers coming back; because a lot of times you think maybe it was just a one shot scenario, that it was just a fluke thing where the beans were fermented properly but it’s not going to be able to continue. But I think they were very excited with seeing how the quality progressed in year two, how they had a lot more samples - you know it grows prolifically all over the island. You know we’d take on that bean in a heartbeat as a mainline bean but export and the logistics of getting that bean all the way over to the U.S is the tricky spot right now. It’s about as far away from us as you could possibly get and it just doesn’t seem like the shipping channels are there quite yet. With that being said, it’s been great because the outcome is positive, the beans are done great, the small amount that we did have - you know Adam brought back forty pounds from the winner the first year, and he looks like a drug smuggler with these duct-taped bags of cacao that he’s bringing in - but he brought back eighty pounds the next year of the winner again, who happened to be someone that he visited before, Kenny Patovaki. But the bar was still great, just a wonderful flavour, a different flavour from the Guadalcanal bar from the year before. So exciting times I think for Solomon Islands, there’s a lot of potential there.

{Adam Dick enters the room - he had to go out and find a replacement part for a machine, of course.}

TCB: I noticed on the website you list how you source each origin and how much you pay for each origin, which I think is great. There’s quite a range in price from different origins, for example your Guatemalan beans are a lot more expensive than your Madagascan beans. I wondered what some of the factors are that affect those differences in price?

Adam Dick: Some of the price difference is based on availability of supply and the volume that these places produce. We pay a pretty high price for our Belize for instance - that’s a very small co-op with a very limited supply. But then we pay less for our Madagascar because Bertil [Akesson] has a pretty big estate there that he’s been running for a long time and he grows a lot of cacao out there. So that’s partially what contributes to the price we pay, I mean it’s like regular market supply and demand issues.

adam dick craft chocolate

TCB: Next question - and sorry if this is an annoying question - but the term ‘craft chocolate’ gets debated quite a bit these days... everyone seems to have a different use for it, ranging from very small scale bean-to-bar makers up to people who use the term to describe anything that’s high quality and fine flavour. Do you think that you can ever grow out of being craft chocolate?

AD: Yeah, I think that you certainly can grow out of being ‘craft’. I think for us, at least in my mind, a craftsman or craftsperson or anything called craft, there’s a skill, the person’s making something. So for us, I think we always want to take a craftsman’s approach to the product. So you know when we’re roasting... typical industrial practice would be to steam puff the shell of the bean, remove the shell and then nib roast - they do continuous nib roasts in the factory. So you don’t quite have a craftsperson there to monitor the flavour development steps of the process; you’re not sitting there tasting the beans to check whether they are properly roasted or not. So for me, when you’re making judgements and you’re making manufacturing decisions based on volume, or if you’re making your decisions on the way that you process cacao based on quality and having a skilled craftsperson running that, I think that that’s where you start to walk the line between whether something is craft chocolate or not.  

For us, we batch roast, we batch conche - those are the kinds of things that contribute to the overall quality of the chocolate. We roll refine, there’s a person running the roll refiner, judging whether it feels like this is correct. So there’s a lot of highly skilled craftspeople that all work together to make our chocolate. But, I could scale my machinery and I could still have the same process and the same people running it, and I could do ten times what we’re doing now, and I would still call that craft chocolate. So to me, it’s slightly less about size until you start to get into tremendous volume, that I don’t think anybody is currently anywhere near the threshold of. So I think it’s a little early to be talking about putting size caps on what we would consider craft chocolate.

dick taylor brown butter nibs

TCB: Yes, sure. Well I just have a couple of easy questions to finish up with... what have been some of your favourite chocolate bars that you’ve tasted recently?

AD: Other than ours?

TCB: Other than yours.

AD: That’s good because I haven’t tasted any good ones I like of ours.


AD: Nah just kidding. Let’s see... one that I really liked that I just had - I picked it up at the Northwest Chocolate Festival - Soma Chocolate’s new Fiji bar, which I thought was just excellent.

TCB: Oh yeah? I need to try that.

AD: Yeah their Fiji bar was really exciting. And I’m trying to think... I just recently went through the whole Domori collection again and I’m just always amazed by their quality, their consistency and their flavour profile. Domori is always one that I constantly go back to.

TCB: Lastly, what’s coming up in 2018 for Dick Taylor? Any new products or projects you can give us a hint about?

AD: Yes of course there’s new products - Brianne [Taylor - Sales & Marketing Manager] drives us pretty hard!

We don’t necessarily want to give it away all at once but we certainly are looking at doing some bars that will be different from anything else we’ve done before - if that wouldn’t be giving away too much information. And I think around the holidays too we’re looking at doing a kind of single origin bundle or flight - all of our single origin bars, maybe in a slightly smaller format, we’re not totally sure. Just a way for somebody to buy, in one bundle, all of our single origins and taste them to get an idea of what those are.

TCB: Sweet, that sounds great.


Thanks so much to Adam and Dustin for taking the time for this interview, and to Brianne Taylor for helping to connect the whole thing. 

If you've never tried Dick Taylor Craft Chocolate, you've got a whole world of joy awaiting you!

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1 comment

Phenomenal interview, Luke, and thank you, Adam and Dustin, for your insights. I love that nugget about emulating industrial chocolate. That is such good insights. Chocolate exists thanks to machine so talking abour artisan or handcrafted chocolate does not make much sense. Thanks to you all for this interview.

Estelle Tracy

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