Serious chocolate for Valentine's Day from Coquitlam woman

In time for Valentine's Day — Margaret Inoue makes this this nut-free, dairy-free craft chocolate in her tiny shop

In a world drenched with chocolate from, sugary kids' breakfast cereals to rich, decadent cakes, are people ready for small-batch, artisan-made chocolate that tastes of the tropical forests where the cacao beans were grown?

The answer is, decidedly, yes, according to Margaret Inoue, owner of Cocoaro Craft Chocolate in Port Moody.

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It’s not just foodies and people with dietary restrictions who care where their food comes from, she said — more and more people are choosing food produced or grown locally.

For Inoue, who sells some of the chocolate bars she makes at the Port Moody Winter Farmer’s Market and some at her shop at 2415A Clarke St., the so-called “bean-to-bar” experience is a growing trend.

“People are becoming more aware of where their chocolate comes from and where their food comes from; they want the ethics and the flavour,” she said.

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The Coquitlam resident has taught herself how to make chocolate from beans, which come from the fruit of cacao trees grown in Tanzania, Columbia and Ecuador. Many of the farmers are indigenous growers or working in cooperatives and are making a living wage, she said. 

Chocolate on display at Cocoaro in Port Moody
Margaret Inoue sets up a display in the window of her small-batch chocolate shop, Cocoaro, on Port Moody's Clarke Street. - Mario Bartel

Her bars are small and elegantly packaged, rich in cacao, and have intriguing names such as Ray Gun as well as novel flavours, as some of the moulded chocolates contain such locally produced delicacies such as B.C.-produced honey, sea salt from Vancouver island and raspberry dessert wine from the Okanagan, to name a few.

In addition to being non-dairy and nut-free, her chocolate is richly flavourful — even experimental — as Inoue is not shy about introducing international flavours into her creations, such as yuzu, a Japanese citrus fruit, and mochi, Japanese sticky rice, in homage to her family’s heritage. Some of her bars are made with pandan, a tropical fruit grown in Southeast Asia that has a sweet yet spicy flavour, with the “chocolate” a cool green in colour.

Some of her Cocoaro chocolate, pronounced “koh-koh-row,” which in Japanese means heart or spirit, contains no sugar and is sweetened instead by dried blueberries, ground up with the cacao nibs.

Packaging the chocolate
Each of the chocolate bars crafted by Margaret Inoue is packaged by hand. - Mario Bartel

Inoue said she began with two ingredients, cacao and cane sugar, when she started her business about six years ago while living in Wells, B.C., and expanded as she tried new ingredients.

“I learned a lot by reading books, talking to people and asking for help,” said Inoue, who said it takes three days to make a batch of chocolate, from grinding the “nibs,” which are dried and fermented cacao pieces, through the roasting and tempering process, which gives chocolate its glossy shine.

Since moving to Coquitlam two years ago, Inoue has seen her business grow as more chocolate lovers seek out her hand-crafted chocolate.

Chocolate made from bean to bar shown here poured into moulds
Port Moody chocolatier Margaret Inoue crafts her bars from bean to final product. - Mario Bartel

However, there was one significant setback, which might have put other companies out of business — the fire last July that destroyed Port Moody's historic Roe & Abernathy grocery store on Clarke Street, and its neighbour the Gallery Bistro,

Her tiny shop, which had her life savings tied up in beans and equipment, was next door to the blaze but survived, although all the food-stuffs had to be destroyed — a loss of months of work, Inoue said.

But with the help of friends, Inoue was able to re-stock in time for Christmas and had a selection of heart-shaped chocolates ready for Valentine’s Day.

Still, it’s not easy to start over while also trying to be new and innovative in a world where chocolate is a common ingredient, and grocery store shelves are stocked with cheaper, manufactured brands.

But Inoue has bigger goals as she experiments in the bean-to-bar chocolate niche.

“Great constraints make you more creative,” she said.

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