“Chocolate is a food, made from a fruit,” says Janet Straub, who opened Creo Chocolate with her husband, Tim, two years ago in the tile-covered, 1924 building at 122 N.E. Broadway. The Straubs produce hand crafted chocolate that is enjoyed by nearly everyone, but that isn’t their only goal. “We also want to educate people about chocolate,” Janet says.
The shop is arranged for visitors to see how chocolate comes from the fermented and dried beans, purchased from a single grower in Ecuador. Free 30-minute tours are conducted on Saturday mornings for those who sign up in advance.
Two-hour “Chocolate 101” classes are held each month, where participants sort beans and follow them through roasting, cracking, winnowing, grinding, conching, and tempering to create a chocolate bar. After creating chocolate bars, participants will have a blind tasting to experience the variety of flavors, textures, and melting qualities of chocolate made from beans grown in a variety of places. The class costs $50.
Chocolate, like wine or apples, will have a taste influenced by the soil in which it grows, Janet says. Pods ripen on trees grown in warm, humid climates about 10 degrees north or south of the equator. Inside the pod, about the size of an adult hand, is a soft, white fruit covering the seeds or beans. According to Straub, it tastes like a sweet lychee. The fruit dries on the seed, which then is fermented and dried before sacking for transport.
The Straubs use only a small amount of cane sugar in their chocolate. In mass-produced chocolate, more sugar and milk are added, and vanilla helps create the uniform flavor expected by consumers of name-brand candy bars. The Straubs don’t regard their product as candy.
At Creo, the bars have 73 percent, 85 percent, or 100 percent cacao, for a deep flavor that can satisfy with only a small piece slowly melting in the mouth. Federal regulations say a product must have only 10 percent cacao to be called chocolate, Straub said. Some popular candy brands have only 11 or 12 percent.
The Straubs’ idea for a business began to form about 20 years ago, when they packed up their six children and spent six months touring factories around the country to see how various things were made.
Tim Straub had been a general contractor, and Janet Straub, with a teaching degree, homeschooled the children. After the tours, they bought a farm in Clark County, Washington, where the family, with two more children, spent 16 years growing raspberries. About five years ago, as the children began moving into new lives, Tim and Janet revived their “how to” ideas and learned about making chocolate. They had a contact in Ecuador, where Janet and son Kevin visited cacao farms.
“We came home with six suitcases filled with beans,” Janet says. They roasted and cracked the beans, proceeding to create warm, liquid chocolate that cooled into bars. A clear favorite emerged – an heirloom bean grown by Samuel von Rutte, a Swiss transplant whose wife, Anna, is a native of Ecuador.
When the shop opened in 2015, the Straubs joined Portland’s other half-dozen chocolate makers. They are part of a craft movement that started about 15 years ago in this country, Janet says.
The others include Cocanu Chocolate, which sells in specialty shops; Pitch Dark Modern American Chocolate, 5353 N.E. Sandy Blvd.; Ranger Chocolate Co., 118 N.E. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.; Woodblock Chocolate, 1236 S.E. Oak St.; and Mana Chocolate, which sells in specialty shops.
At Creo, in addition to chocolate bars, a selection of brownies and other treats made from Janet Straub’s recipes are served with coffee or a tea-like sipping chocolate at small tables in the Creo café.
“The food is about relationships,” she says. “As people sit for a while, they make connections. That’s important for us.”
The shop’s name has special meaning for the family, too. In Spanish, creo means “I believe.” In Latin, it means “I create.”
“Our family believes in making a difference in the world wherever we go, and we’re going to do that through making chocolate.”