Elliott Curelop and Harshit Gupta founded Madhu Chocolate together and named their chocolate after mother Madhu Gupta whose name means “honey” and “sweet” in Hindi.
Originally a software engineer and a product developer by profession these Austin, TX based bean-to-bar craft chocolate makers found their winning combo by pairing Indian inspired flavors with Columbian cacao.
Due to the Texas heat their shipping of chocolate is paused until the end of August, so in the meantime we can enjoy learning some new info about Madhu until we can get our chocolate fix again! (If you are in Austin, TX you can still pick up or get orders delivered).
Victoria Cooksey: When and how did you become interested in making bean-to-bar chocolate?
Elliott Curelop: I started making chocolate as a hobby. I have always been interested in the process of how things were made, and was excited to learn that it was possible to make my own chocolate from scratch at home. I still remember how impressive I thought I was when I made my first batch, though I’m certain now it was total garbage!
It was after doing that for a while that I started experimenting with flavors, and our trip to India is what really inspired both Harshit and I to start a business.
VC: How did you decide to use cacao from Columbia?
Harshit Gupta & Elliott Curelop: We had a tasting panel with a bunch of our friends and a variety of chocolate with the same percentage we made from cacao of different regions (our friends are too kind to do such hard work for us for free). Everyone noted what they did/didn’t like about each chocolate, and then ranked them from one to ten. The clear winner was the Tumaco, Colombia beans and for good reason; they’re just wonderful.
VC: How do you incorporate chocolate into your daily lives? How do you enjoy it on special occasions?
Harshit Gupta: Elliott has to taste chocolate every single day while he’s in production, so he doesn’t eat it as a daily dessert like I do. I’m obsessed with chocolate, even after all this time working with it. I usually have brownies, chocolate sorbet, or some other chocolatey treat at my disposal as an after-dinner treat.
On special occasions we like to make fancy desserts for one another. Elliott made a flourless chocolate torte once out of our 70% and I could have died, it was so amazing!
VC: What has been some of the challenges with pairing traditional Indian flavors with chocolate?
HG: I think the biggest challenge we run into is educating our customers as to what they should be tasting. Most people know what saffron is, but very few people here know what it tastes like. They just know it as that stuff that makes paella yellow. It’s similar with cardamom, to a lesser extent, but we find ourselves spending a lot of time explaining what these spices are, what they are usually found in, and why we thought they would taste good in chocolate. This is also where handing out samples really comes in handy.
VC: What has been your favorite combo and why?
EC: Orange Clove is hands down my total favorite. I loved clove studded oranges during the holiday season, and was so excited to be able to make something that is so nostalgic yet also new. Also, I love citrus fruit so I never get sick of this one.
VC: What takes an inclusion bar from good to great?
EC & HG: Quality ingredients is the number one answer. You spend all this time roasting cacao, cracking it and grinding it for three days. Why would you flavor it with anything other than the best ingredients you can find? I can’t even imagine turning to artificial flavors for that.
Another thing that’s very important is making sure that if a flavor is advertised on that packaging, that the flavor is present in the bar. We’ve tried so many chocolates where the inclusions are thrown on the back of the bar at the last minute and they don’t add any flavor. We almost always grind our inclusions into the chocolate itself even if we are decorating the back because it’s so important to us that our customers feel like they’re getting what they expected out of their chocolate.
VC: With Austin, TX being a place that can reach high temps, how have you had to adapt your chocolate making due to the weather? Any tips for shipping and/or storing chocolate when the temps rise?
HG: We’re very lucky that the AC in our manufacturing space works very well, so even when it hits the triple digits we know the chocolate isn’t at risk. We can’t ship in peak summer though, so that’s always a bit frustrating for us. Still we’d rather not ship at all than send out a product knowing the quality will be impacted by the weather.
As far as tips, I would say look for a cool dry place to keep your chocolate. We don’t recommend the refrigerator, because chocolate tends to absorb the flavor of what is sitting around it, but if it’s the only cool place in the house I suggest wrapping it in plastic or putting it in an airtight jar to keep odors out.
VC: Any suggestions for pairing some of your inclusion bars with some specific cheese, wine, beer, etc?
EC: We like to suggest pairing our Cardamom chocolate with a nice cabernet because the cardamom tends to bring out some nice subtleties in the wine. I also think our Orange Clove goes wonderfully with a nice bourbon or Old Fashioned as both the orange and cloves play so well with the woodiness of the spirit. We also think that stout beers have a nuttiness that tends to pair wonderfully with our rose pistachio and coconut cashew. Honestly, one of the fun things about chocolate is that it can work in so many different situations, so I suggest playing around with pairings.
VC: Since you started making craft chocolate, how has your thoughts on chocolate/chocolate making changed?
HG: For us the biggest change was our fixation on the ethics of chocolate. Human rights and wage issues in the production of cacao are nothing new, but it seems very abstract when you aren’t in the industry. Starting a business and seeing how your choices directly impact the suppliers really made us realize that we have an opportunity and a duty to obtain ingredients in a way that isn’t exploitative and also won’t destroy the planet.
VC: What impact would you like your chocolate bars to have on the world?
HG & EC: We would love for people to see our bars as an example of the benefits of cross-culturalism. We’re taking what’s long been a Euro-centric product and giving it an Indian twist using South American cacao. I hope people can try our bars and understand the beauty that can be had once you leave your comfort zone.
Thank you for this interview Elliott and Harshit!