There's a little bit of mad scientist in every chocolate-maker. Mike Orlando of Twenty-Four Blackbirds in Santa Barbara, actually studied marine biology and chemistry and worked at a lab at U.C. Santa Barbara before launching himself into the world of bean-to-bar. Commercial chocolate making equipment was out of his price range, so he built smaller versions himself, relying on the internet and a lot of test runs with help from his sister, Gina, and his girlfriend Elaine. All three threw themselves into the project, but it was Mike who eventually quit his day job to run the workshop full time.
They take DIY to a new level, even designing and printing the labels themselves – the small bars are wrapped in simple brown kraft paper illustrated with original line drawings, mostly of blackbirds. They work with just a few origins at a time, developing a recipe for each new bar, figuring out the right roast, conch and aging process. Since 2010, they've made handfuls of different single origin chocolate bars and an insanely perfect "drinking chocolate kit." Indeed, one successful experiment.