French chocolate expert Chloë Doutre-Roussel considers Patric Chocolate some of best in the world, and Askinosie's not far behind.

"Americans realized quite late that bean-to-bar was growing, but when they did it, they did it well and fast," she explains. "It's a very American attitude to change your profession and put all your money and energy into a new venture and make it happen."

Americans have also revolutionized the conception of how chocolate should taste. "Alan's chocolate is really wild," says Duffelmeyer. "It takes the tongue and wrestles with it. Shawn's stuff is also very robust, not delicate and nuanced like the French. Chloë compares European chocolate to a dapper older gentleman in a suit. Shawn and Alan are the guys in the Hawaiian shirt with spiky hair.

Askinosie and some of his work.
Edward Biamonte
Askinosie and some of his work.
A freshly unmolded bar of Patric chocolate.
Nick Schnelle
A freshly unmolded bar of Patric chocolate.

"When people taste chocolate like Askinosie or Patric," she continues, "you can see them having an 'aha' moment. They're thinking, 'This isn't candy; this is chocolate. And chocolate is an amazing food.'"


It's a bitter cold January morning, and the air inside the Patric Chocolate factory, located in a tiny industrial park on the outskirts of Columbia, is redolent of something acrid and sharp. If you sniff hard, you can detect a hint of cocoa. Then your eyes water.

The smell emanates from the melanger, a 600-pound machine that takes up most of a small room in the back of the factory. McClure lifts the lid. Two heavy granite wheels churn through a viscous brown liquid, warmed by friction and infrared heaters mounted on the outside of the tank.

"That's cocoa and sugar," McClure says. "It's impressive to see how liquid it is already."

Three hours earlier, McClure filled the melanger with 56 pounds of cacao and 24 pounds of cane sugar and flipped the "on" switch. It will run for the next four days. The heavy wheels will refine the sugar and cocoa particles, and the heat will evaporate impurities such as acetic acid, which, it turns out, is the source of the vinegary stench.

"It's not a pleasant flavor," McClure admits, though he does allow that the aroma is effective in opening up one's sinuses.

McClure is 31 years old. He has colorful tattoos on his forearms, hipster glasses and a thick light-brown goatee. He majored in religious studies at the University of Missouri but knew early on that he wanted to work with food. The prospect of 60 hours a week in a restaurant kitchen, however, made him sick.

A year living in Lyon, France, his wife Vivianne's hometown, acquainted him with fine European chocolate. Back in Columbia, he and Vivianne would sit at their kitchen table and have tastings, then enter their findings into a database — like wine snobs. "Looking back," McClure says, "I realize I didn't have a clue."

One day he cooked a turkey with mole sauce made from cacao beans he'd bought on the Internet and toasted in a skillet over the stove. "It was amazing," he recalls. "Aside from growing the vegetables and raising the bird, it was all from scratch. It was a pleasure to do that."

He began to wonder if there might be a future for him in chocolate. "I was a religious studies major. There weren't that many options. I had the money [from an inheritance]. I didn't want to spend it because I was out of work." So he went into business, which he gave his own middle name, minus the final "K."

McClure is something of a chocolate scholar. He has a file drawer of scientific papers about the nature of cacao and, before he got too busy, kept a blog that investigated such esoteric questions as whether the cacao pod is a berry or a drupe.

"That's the mystery of the cocoa bean," he marvels. "It's hard and crunchy, and then it turns into a liquid. It's such a unique plant. Nothing tastes the same or has the same texture. I can't find another fruit like cacao — and I've looked."

The cacao plant's official Latin name is Theobroma cacao, the food of the gods. It's a tall, prickly tropical tree with shiny green leaves and seed pods the approximate size, shape and color of footballs. The white pulp inside the pods is sweet and good to eat. But nearly 2,000 years ago, the Olmecs of Central America discovered the plant's chief glory: When the seeds were dried, fermented, roasted over the fire, ground into a fine powder and mixed with water, chiles and vanilla, they made a very tasty drink.

By the time Spanish explorers landed in the New World in the sixteenth century, cacao had become one of the region's most valuable commodities. The Aztecs used the beans as currency and in religious ceremonies, and only the very wealthy could afford to drink xocolatl. The emperor Montezuma was said to consume 50 cups a night to fortify himself for his harem, which led to cacao's later reputation as a powerful aphrodisiac.

The explorers brought these wondrous beans home to Spain and tried to keep them secret from the rest of Europe. They were unsuccessful: By the mid-seventeenth century, ground cacao — corrupted by English speakers into "cocoa" — mixed with warm milk had become a beloved morning drink throughout the continent.

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