An intoxicating chocolate smell wafts through the air from behind a reclaimed wood bar. The man tending to the latest batch offers me a free sample, breaking off two fruity, bittersweet tiles from single-origin 70 percent Nicaraguan bar.
Welcomes this warm were typical on opening weekend at CAR Artisan Chocolate, a manufactory and café that sprouted from Haris Car’s home chocolate kitchen and debuted in central Pasadena on March 19.
Car previously spent six years working for San Francisco-based Philz Coffee, getting his start in retail and eventually moving into their wholesale grocery coffee sales. In 2019, he committed to a very different bean altogether. His current “bean-to-bar” business spotlights single-origin chocolates, limiting ingredients to cacao nibs, cane sugar, and cacao butter to preserve and accentuate distinct tasting profiles.
Car learned to make chocolate from Chocolate Alchemy founder John Nanci. “He is a pioneer in our industry and sells really great cacao that is sourced from ethical operation,” Car says. From there, he started sourcing chocolate from origins other chocolate makers were using, so he could compare and contrast his results. Car says, “It showed me the potential of certain origins and the variations in taste profile from maker to maker, simply just from different roasting and processing methods.”
Now that Car’s dialed in his chocolate making process, which is akin to tuning an instrument, he plans to establish direct relationships with farmers, some at origins he already respects, others at completely new origins. “My goal is to develop and grow these relationships through my business in order to make it a two-way street between myself and the producers/farmers,” Car says.
CAR Artisan Chocolate bars’ stylish cardboard wrappers tells each farm’s story and pinpoints each origin on a map. Most single-origin chocolate bars are 70 percent dark, but taste completely different, including Camino Verde (Ecuador), Kokoa Kamili (Tanzania), and Bejofo Estate (Madagascar).
Opening the manufactory and cafe allowed Car to increase production and offer espresso/chocolate beverages, pastries, and “all things chocolate.” In the future, Car also plans to implement a more robust food program.
In addition to offering a premium customer experience, Car also hopes to make a lasting impact on his team members. “My goal as a leader is to is help people grow in life, whether that’s within my business or eventually somewhere else,” Car says. “There is no requirement for previous chocolate or coffee experience because I didn’t have that myself when I first started. As long as somebody is kind, responsible, interested, and has the drive to learn/grow, they are qualified.”
Considering Car’s background, it’s no surprise he also offers an impressive coffee program. He buys beans from the Reverse Orangutan, a Glendora roaster. A stylish two-group black and wood-panel La Marzocco espresso machine powers a classic beverage menu, and chocolate comes into play. A mix of Nicaragua and Dominican Republic chocolate ranging from 50 to 70 percent chocolate, depending on how sweet or bitter you like it, stars in mocha or hot chocolate.
A glass pastry case also touts brown butter chocolate chip cookies with 70 percent Nicaragua chocolate. CAR Artisan Chocolate even collaborated with nearby Seed Bakery on a chocolate croissant.
Most people take their chocolate, pastries and drinks to go, but CAR does have some window-front tables lit with Edison bulbs along with some shaded sidewalk tables. Order from a reclaimed wood bar topped with myriad temptations.
CAR Artisan Chocolate; 1009 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena, 626-524-8090.