Charley and Jesse Wheelock came to Portland from New York City eight years ago, seeking a calmer, a simpler life. After a few years as a struggling industrial designer, Charley decided it was time for a big change. He and Jesse wanted a family business, something that would allow them to be home to spend more time with their two young children and with each other. They quickly zeroed in on chocolate. “It all happened really fast, we decided and then we were immediately all in. We bought a $600 bag of beans, and some basic equipment and just dove in.”
Within a few months, Charley – a complete chocolate novice – traveled to UC Davis to study chocolate (yes, that’s a thing) and to Costa Rica with cult chocolatier (and crazy-talented guy) Steve Devries to see cacao harvest and fermentation in action. Armed with a brainful of cacao dreams, Wheelock came back and began to apply all he’d learned. Their friends (and ours!) over at Olympic Provisions loved the first batch, and sold them in their own increasingly popular storefront. Soon, Charley and Jesse outgrew their home-kitchen where they “constantly had to take everything out of our fridge to cool” and found a simple space to create their current ‘manufactory.’
Woodblock begins with exceptional cacao carefully sourced through friends in Ecuador, Madagascar and Venezuela. Stacks of burlap bags brimming with beans greet you as you walk into the white-washed, spare, Wonka-smelling workspace. Next to the bags sits a beautiful, old-timey roaster, and after a pass through that, the beans shake in a winnower, which shells the beans and transforms them into nibs (very small bits).
Here’s where it really gets good. Behind a heavy wood-and-glass door sit three metallic tubs called conches. The bottoms are made of heavy stone and Charley pours the roasted, chopped beans into the conche, where they’re ground until they're liquid. It’s a magical process, and the smells that waft through the air as it happens...well, let’s just say it’s a transformative olfactory sensation.
Charley pours the chocolate into simple metal containers to cool, then the bricks are labeled by origin and date, and left to age for about 3 weeks.”The chocolate has gone through a lot of transformation, and the grinding process especially introduces air and heat. It needs time to settle. Someone once told me something about letting the ‘tannins mellow.’” When the Wheelocks are happy with the way the chocolate tastes, it is melted, tempered and carefully wrapped for the world to gobble up!
Charley and Jesse are true visionaries, on the forefront of the bean-to-bar movement, but you’d never know it. It’s abundantly clear that at the center of their business is that they’re simply happy to have found something fun to do together. And the fact that their kids think it’s pretty cool? Well that’s just icing on the...chocolate bar.