While chocolate makes most people happy, it takes on a larger happiness dimension for Mark Joyce.
Joyce has opened Blue Spruce Chocolates in the Adobe Creek Center in Kittredge, and this isn’t your average chocolate shop. Joyce sells chocolate from bean to bar, which means he imports the cacao beans and works his magic to create the chocolate.
The results are handcrafted white, milk and dark chocolates, and Keto-friendly and vegan chocolates of a quality not found in an average grocery store.
It takes 84 hours from start to finish for one batch, and since Joyce opened his store, he’s been using every hour to make his bar-chocolate creations. Half of his building is the kitchen while the other half is the retail store.
Joyce, Blue Spruce Chocolates’ president and alchemist, is proud that his white caramel chocolate with roasted hazelnuts took gold in the 2023 international Craft Chocolate Challenge hosted by the Chocolat Inn and Café in Kentucky. Blue Spruce Chocolates also took the overall silver in the competition with about 30 chocolatiers who make bean-to-bar chocolate. The medals hang in the retail store.
Ironically, although his life has become all about chocolate, he doesn’t eat much of it.
“I’m not a sweets guy,” Joyce said. “I appreciate the flavors, and most of my chocolate eating is tasting.”
A path to chocolate
How does someone living in Kittredge suddenly decide to make chocolate? Joyce was exposed to the art of chocolate making on a trip to Belize.
“It was pretty impressive,” he said. “The chocolate tasted different.”
So five years ago, Joyce decided to give chocolate-making a try as a hobby, and as it became more of a passion, he began doing it professionally three years ago.
Chocolate was a new endeavor for the retiree as he has learned what it takes to maintain health-department standards for the kitchen plus the nuances of chocolate flavors. Chocolate making is both a science and an art.
“I’m not trying to compete with the grocery store chains,” he said. “I’m making a quality, handcrafted product.”
Joyce’s wife, Yuri Weydling, who is the director of flavor development and community relations for the business, has taste buds attune to the different flavors of chocolate.
“She has gained an appreciation of the subtleties of chocolate,” he explained.
He said while they like dark chocolate, the white caramel chocolate has “a wonderfully unique taste.”
One of the chocolates that Joyce produces is called “Stuart’s Smile,” named after Joyce’s neighbor and friend Stuart Collins. Collins said he’s not a big dark chocolate fan, so when Joyce created a chocolate that mixes dark and light, Collins smiled.
“His chocolates are quite flavorful,” Collins said. “It started off as a very fun hobby. He’s the type of person who always needs to be busy, and this fulfills his need to always be challenging himself.”
Both Collins and Joyce envision the shop becoming a place for people to hang out with a cup of coffee or tea and a bit of chocolate. The chocolate shop is near Bear Creek, so Joyce wants to have tables outside for people to stop by in warmer weather and enjoy his creations.
“I look forward to (the shop) being another social center, where we can have a cup of coffee and a bit of chocolate,” Collins said. “It will be a good place to be with people and chit-chat. Post-pandemic, I think we need that.”
“The first step is choosing the right beans,” he said.
Joyce’s cacao beans come primarily from Ecuador, with some beans from Nicaragua, Bolivia and Peru mixed in. He especially likes the beans that the indigenous peoples harvest from wild trees because they provide complex flavors. The beans arrive fermented and dried.
Once in Kittredge, the beans are sorted and roasted. Joyce uses two roasters that look like toaster ovens. Once roasted, the beans are cracked, winnowed and ground. The grinding takes 72 hours and is done in something that looks like a crockpot with granite stones that create smoothness. Then the chocolate is tempered and molded.
“Chocolate is critically temperature dependent,” he noted.
Joyce is proud that his chocolate has only four ingredients – five if he adds hazelnuts – and he uses the finest ingredients: beet sugar from the Netherlands and Madagascar vanilla. The milk powder is important because it can change the taste and the chocolate’s fat content.
“I spend about half my time looking for sources for ingredients,” he said, adding that he’d like to use a more local beet-sugar company. “It’s all about mixing and matching the ingredients.”
A new profession
He said the community has been generous and supportive as he prepared to open his shop, helping him obtain the shelving and furniture. Joyce also hopes to offer chocolate-making classes, and he’s talking with area businesses about coffee-chocolate and wine-chocolate pairing events.
“I’ve always been a foodie, but I never thought I’d be making chocolate,” Joyce said. “Given this is our first food business, I’m learning things every day. I just really love it.”