Diego’s Artisan Chocolate is a craft chocolate maker located in Guatemala. The chocolate is very fudge-like in texture and comes rolled in colorful tissue paper. (My favorite is the one with whole coffee beans). At Diego’s Chocolate everything is done by hand from roasting the beans in very tiny batches, hand peeling the beans and even coloring the labels by hand.
I recently had the pleasure of meeting Nicolas Silverman, who represents and distributes Diego’s Chocolate in the USA, at the Northwest Chocolate Festival in Seattle this past November, 2018.
Victoria Cooksey: How long has the Diego family been making chocolate?
Nicolas Silverman: Diego and his family have been making chocolate for almost 30 years. While the recipe and packaging went through some changes in the early years, it has been more or less the same for decades. In the past year, we opened our own retail store in San Juan la Laguna, Guatemala, where customers can come learn about chocolate making, buy our products, and even try making chocolate themselves. We are very excited about being able to welcome visitors – please come and see us!
VC: Is the texture of their chocolate a texture that is typical for chocolate in Guatemala, or is it unique to their own recipe?
NS: The soft texture of our chocolate is indeed fairly common in traditional Guatemalan chocolate, however Diego’s recipe imparts an extra creaminess and fudge-like texture that you’ll never find elsewhere. We have a very unique grinding and cooking process, and our cacao beans are naturally high in cocoa butter. This adds to the texture as well. While all of our chocolates are dark (75% cacao or greater), we have many flavors that include a small amount of milk for texture, as well.
VC: What is the inspiration for both the shape and the colorful paper the chocolate is wrapped in?
NS: Our motto is “Think Outside the Bar”. Regarding the shape, when he started Diego really wanted to do something different and bold with his chocolate. He looked around at the competition and noticed that almost all chocolates were formed in the usual bar. Since our chocolate is soft and hand-rolled, it’s easy to manipulate into the shape everyone knows and loves now. The process also allows Diego to add in inclusions (like seat salt, cinnamon, cardamom, ground chili pepper, etc.) one by one into each chocolate individually before it is wrapped. The colorful wrappers are inspired by the traditional clothing, or “traje”, worn by Mayan women (and some men, still) in Guatemala. Diego and his family are all Tz’utujil-Mayan and the speak the language as their mother tongue, and practice many customs of their ancient ancestors…such as making chocolate. Guatemala is a country rich in bright, vibrant colors and Diego’s Chocolate reflects this!
VC: What are some chocolate traditions for the area of Guatemala the Diego family is is? How do they incorporate chocolate into their daily lives?
NS: The Mayan people have regarded cacao beans as an extremely valuable commodity for thousands of years. The ancient Mayans even used it as currency. Today it is seen as a bridge to the past – a way to connect with one’s ancestors. And while here in north America we are just learning about the benefits of cacao for heart and other health, the Mayans have known it to be an amazing “super-food” for countless generations. Chocolate is usually prepared as a drink in Guatemala, and it’s often not sweetened at all, or with just a little honey. Some good things never need to change.
VC: How does Panela differ from the sugar that is often used to make chocolate?
NS: Panela is known in English as “unrefined evaporated cane sugar.” You can think of it as a slightly thicker brown sugar. It’s made with the evaporated and dried juice of the first pressing of sugar cane. The result is a sweetener that still contains the vitamins and minerals naturally found in the plant. Panela is the most common form of sweetener found in Latin American and the Caribbean. Almost all other chocolates are made with processed white sugar, which undergoes chemical and other treatments to produce. It you are looking to eat a minimally processed powder sweetener, panela is definitely worth a try. You can find it in any Latin American grocery store. It also goes by other names like “muscovado, jaggery, rapadura, or raspadura.” In the USA, Sucanat is a similar product. You can read more about it here and here.
VC: Where does the inspiration come from for the various flavors/inclusions of the chocolate?
NS: Diego loves to experiment. He has a very creative palate and will try mixing chocolate with just about anything! Many of these experiments fail but the ones that end up as final products have all been well tried and tested. all of the flavors/inclusions we use are grown and processed right here in Guatemala. Some, like the “chile Coban” we use for our spicy flavor are only found in our country. Others such as cardamom and coffee beans can be found elsewhere of course, but we find the local varieties to be more flavorful and to go better with our chocolate. We source all of our ingredients locally, including our primary ones: cacao and panela. This has two main benefits. We support the local economy in Guatemala and we keep our chocolate with a low carbon footprint. Whereas most chocolates are made from ingredients that travel very far, often from very different places before reaching the chocolate maker, our ingredients are all grown and made in our little country the size of Tennessee.
VC: When did Diego’s Chocolate become available in the USA and how did you reach our market?
NS: Diego’s Chocolate has been available in the USA since 2013. In that year Diego partnered with GlobeWright, a small company that works with artisans to reach new markets in the USA and beyond. Since then we have been promoting our chocolate online, by word of mouth, through media connections, and by attending events such as the Northwest Chocolate Festival in Seattle. If you like what you read and/or have tried our chocolates please help us spread the word!
Diego’s Chocolate at the NW Chocolate Festival 2018
VC: What types of experiences does Diego’s Chocolate hope people will have when eating their chocolate?
NS: All of our chocolates are “hecho con amor,” or made with love – and this is evident in the taste, texture and packaging. We want our customers to taste the unique flavor profiles of Guatemalan cacao, the birthplace of chocolate. We want them to experience the soft, fudgy texture and see all of the handwork that goes into wrapping each chocolate. Did you know that all of our labels are colored by hand? Besides making each individual chocolate unique, hand coloring allows us to employ more and more people as our business grows.
VC: What would they like people to know about their chocolate?
NS: Diego’s is people-centered, slow chocolate – one that will create many many jobs as the business continues to grow. Our founder insists on an artisanal process for everything. Besides the hand colored labels, all of our cacao beans are peeled by hand – about 4 – 6 beans at a time. We crack them and then use air to separate the shell from the beans. Diego also roasts all of his cacao on a wood-burning stove, about 2-3 pounds at a time. Other chocolate makers might call us crazy for doing it this way, but we would rather scale up our business by paying more people rather than by investing in large machinery. In Guatemala there is a desperate need for jobs, especially for young adults. We currently have about 10 employees and the goal is to grow to 18 – 20 people by the end of 2019. Please help us reach that goal by trying and telling your friends and family once you’ve experienced it!
Thank you for this interview Nicholas Silverman!
Diego’s Artisan Chocolate: