NORTH TRURO — Cape Cod visitors willing to spend a little extra time in their cars have long been rewarded with dramatic, sweeping beaches that can be nearly deserted even at peak season, bike trails that rise and fall through forests and protected dunes, and a lively, eclectic art scene. Now, thanks to Josiah Mayo, 36, and Katherine Reed, 25, you can get something not typically associated with a New England coastal town — hand-crafted bean-to-bar chocolate.
Chequessett Chocolate and Cafe, named for the Wellfleet neighborhood where Mayo and Reed, who are engaged, conceived their business, is the third bean-to-bar chocolate maker in Massachusetts. (Taza Chocolate in Somerville and Rogue Chocolatier in Three Rivers are the other two.) “It’s an exciting time to be involved,” says Reed. Bean-to-bar refers to making molded chocolate bars from raw cacao beans. Chequessett’s bars are minimally processed, 70 percent cacao sweetened with organic evaporated cane juice. Current flavors are pure dark, sea salt (from Wellfleet Sea Salt Co.), cherry almond, and cacao nib. The duo also make small batches of low-glycemic chocolate using coconut palm sugar, and usually has a few small-batch limited-edition flavors available, like superfood crunch, which includes hemp seeds, goji berries, and cacao nibs. “Every week I have a new flavor I test out,” says Reed.
According to Clay Gordon, a chocolate consultant and founder of the online forum The Chocolate Life, there are more than 50 bean-to-bar companies in the country now, up from a handful in 2006. Though self-taught as chocolate makers, Mayo and Reed say Gordon “took [us] under his wing,” offering general guidance and help with their production design.
The pair have more than the casual aficionado’s interest in all aspects of this multifaceted ingredient. Throughout its history, chocolate has maintained an almost mythical reputation, as an aphrodisiac and mood elevator. Now, pending results of a study led by researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, it may turn out that cocoa flavonols may also protect the heart. “Cacao is a superfood,” says Mayo. “It has all these incredible health aspects when minimally processed.”
Before Chequessett, Reed was a raw and vegan chef, caterer, and instructor through her business, FarmMaid Foods. Mayo, whose family has lived on the Cape since the 1600s — his parents cofounded the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies — was a commercial fisherman who worked with FarmMaid. They launched Chequessett for a number of reasons, not least of which was, says Mayo, “It’s tough to make a living here in a seasonal economy.”
“It’s an incredibly challenging food to work with,” says Reed. “We love the alchemy of [chocolate]. Both of us had very scientific minds about this.” They traveled to Peru, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Mexico, and Costa Rica in search of cacao beans, ultimately selecting those from Finca la Amistad in Costa Rica, which was awarded the Salon du Chocolat Best Cocoa Bean for Central America and the Caribbean in 2011. They buy the beans directly from the farm. They also buy beans from the Dominican Republic and Belize through Taza chocolate founder Alex Whitmore.
Chequessett Chocolate and Cafe is located in a 3,000-square-foot building that had been abandoned for two years. With Reed’s father as project manager, the couple spent 10 months converting the space into a cafe, chocolate production room, and office. From November until February, when they opened, the two worked alone, renovating and making chocolate. Currently they produce 1,000 pounds a month, but they built in extra capacity to be able to increase production and/or add cafe space.
The entrepreneurs purchased a new cocoa grinder, and state-of-the-art conching and tempering machines, but the rest of the equipment is a patchwork gathered from the Outer Cape culinary establishment. They roast cacao beans in an old Garland stove that came from The Flying Fish Cafe in Wellfleet. The cafe’s juicer once graced the kitchen at Provincetown’s famed Lobster Pot. Prep tables come from the former Aesop’s Tables (now Winslow’s Tavern); and refrigeration equipment used to keep things cool at the South Wellfleet General Store. “They’re all our buddies,” Mayo notes. “We’re on such a shoestring; we had to be resourceful.”
The cafe serves three kinds of drinking chocolate (hot now, but cold when the weather changes), juices and smoothies, George Howell coffee, and pastries that lean vegan and gluten-free. It’s already a community gathering spot. “Every day new faces come in the door,” says Reed.
“If you want a very broad experience of the chocolate spectrum, come here,” says Mayo.
One more reason to hop in the car.
Chequessett Chocolate and Cafe , 8 Highland Road, North Truro, 774-538-6249, www.chequessettchocolate.com . Chequessett Chocolates available at Beacon Hill Chocolates, 91 Charles St., Boston, 617-725-1900.
Andrea Pyenson can be reached at email@example.com.