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the candy man can

There are times when I’m wrong. I know this shocks you as much as it shocks me. A year ago you could find me railing against Twitter and FaceBook declaring I would never join either one. Today, you will find me railing against Twitter and FaceBook ON Twitter and FaceBook. Twitter is for the egomaniacs, minutiae-obsessed, and people who never shut up. FaceBook is for those who don’t know how to blog. Okay, I’m making fun (sort of). I drank the punch for a variety of reasons, but one of the benefits of Twitter that I never foresaw was how it connected me to Boulder. I don’t live in Boulder. When people ask where I live, I usually tell them Boulder, Colorado because few people have heard of my little mountain town. So one evening the tweet activity was hopping and I’m tweeting away with Andrew (follow @andrewhyde on Twitter), the man who knows EVERYONE, and a fellow tweets that he likes the name of my blog and if I drop by his shop, I’ll get free chocolate. Andrew too, if he comes with me.

Yeah. Sure you will, Mr. Axe Murderer.

There is much spamming on Twitter (I had 67 hot babes ask me to check out their profiles the other day… uh huh) and you get your fair share of freaks. I checked his profile and read that Rick is an organic chocolatier in Boulder. REALLY? I did some quick research and saw he is the real deal. I asked if it would be okay for me to come by and take pictures. Sure, but just try the chocolate first, no obligations. Great! I’ll get in touch when I find some time in my schedule. Over a month later, I’m donning crocs and a hair net as I pass through the glass doors into the inner workings of Seth Ellis Chocolatier headquarters. This is why I love Twitter – it has brought me closer to the fooding community in Boulder and it’s a GREAT community. I still hate FaceBook.

chocolate truffle to nibble on while i waited for rick

Rick Levine (follow him on Twitter: @ricklevine) is one of three partners who head Seth Ellis Chocolatier in Boulder, Colorado. Their artisan chocolates are not only organic, they are fair trade, nut-free, gluten-free, and kosher. I would hardly call myself an expert in chocolate, but the visit wasn’t like letting Kaweah loose in the dog treat factory either. My readers know I prefer fruit over chocolate any day of the week. That said, I can definitely appreciate quality chocolate and have enough of a discerning palate to know the difference between Good and Evil Bad chocolate.

the enrobing machine

If you’ve followed my adventures in tempering chocolate, you know that it has taken time, patience, and a lot of chocolate for me to finally achieve a proficiency where I no longer dread the task. The machine above streams hundreds of kilos of tempered chocolate 24/7 and enrobes luscious confections faster than I can say “Schokinag”. This is the first piece of machinery that greeted me once I entered the chocolate shop. It’s beautiful. It’s better than that 40 foot chocolate falls we saw in Dunedin at the Cadbury factory. Actually, the 40 foot chocolate falls was gimmicky and gross.

production for the colorado buffs

When I arrived, the shop was abuzz prepping to ship an additional last-minute order to the University of Colorado, Boulder. I offered to return at a better time, but Rick insisted and graciously invited me to tour the operation.

business partner and chef david lurie

I know what some of you might be thinking – it’s sooo Boulder: organic, fair trade, nut-free, gluten-free, kosher, eco-friendly. But that’s why I love Boulder. To take all of that and make it into a growing business and turn out consistently high-quality artisan chocolates is so much more than just chocolates. Merely being a devourer of chocolate is not enough to fully grasp what goes into this labor of love. Rick described ingredient sourcing and tracking, recipe development, automation without sacrificing quality, machinery and equipment design, packaging (biodegradable – yeah!), marketing, software, distribution. There is much overhead that has nothing to do with the chocolates… and yet it has everything to do with the chocolates. It’s business.

rick explains how the vacuum mixer works

Everywhere we walked, Rick talked and answered my questions while breaking off a piece of white chocolate blended with local organic powdered mint for me to try or handing me a chocolate-covered candied lemon peel. I can’t walk and taste chocolate at the same time. I mean, when I’m REALLY tasting food or wine, I have to stop moving and just concentrate on what I’m seeing, tasting, smelling, feeling in my mouth. Each confection was surprising for its purity of flavor and pleasing textures as it melted on my tongue. I can tell you the first thought that entered my mind when I tried the candied lemon peel: can I get the recipe for this? Rick said it takes three weeks to make the candied peels!

the team packs the day’s shipments

stacking dark chocolate bars

For me, the coolest candy was the Sun Cup. It is a high-brow version of the Reese’s peanut butter cup. I’ll be honest with you, I do not like Reese’s peanut butter cups except for once a year when I am feeling a little white trashish around Halloween, but a Sun Cup? Give it to me (please). If you will recall, their chocolates are nut-free. Rick asked if I liked dark or milk chocolate. I can never just answer “dark chocolate” because I have to qualify that answer with “I don’t like most milk chocolates, but I really love a Good milk chocolate.” He handed me a dark chocolate Sun Cup. I took a bite and tried to puzzle out what I was tasting while Rick smiled and watched. Hamster wheels spun in my brain. The chocolate was clearly several orders of magnitude better than the stuff Reese’s slaps together, but the filling… it had a texture similar to the peanut butter filling – except it couldn’t be peanuts. It tasted familiar. What was it?

gorgeous samples

Sunflower seed butter. Mixed with some white chocolate and (I think) cocoa butter to help it remain solid at room temperature and some flaked sea salt to emulate the crunch of a peanut, it fooled my brain into thinking “peanut butter cup”. Rick told me 1 out of 10 people with peanut allergies have some reaction to sunflower seeds, but what a great alternative for those who can’t enjoy a Reese’s cup. Seriously? I think the Reese’s cup is what you eat when you CAN’T get your hands on a Sun Cup. The development story behind the Sun Cup is as brilliant as their lovely labels designed by third partner and Rick’s brother, Neil in California. Sorry, I didn’t get a picture – busy nibbling.

At the end of my tour, Rick gathered an assortment of chocolates and packed them in a box for me to take home. I would have brought Jeremy along (he is the chocoholic in our house and would have loved the science and engineering aspects as much as I did) except he had a student’s candidacy exam to chair. Don’t feel too sorry for Jeremy, he ate most of the confections I brought home. We marveled at the artistry in every bite.

ginger chocolate truffle (geodesic dome)

chocolate truffles (on right top to bottom): mint, coffee, raspberry

The process is transparent to you and me, the consumers. What we get are beautiful, unadulterated confections. My tour of the facility gave me a deeper appreciation for the care and attention to detail that goes into Seth Ellis Chocolatier’s products. For me, it was fascinating to learn how Rick brought his experience as an entrepreneur in the tech start up world and married it to his passion for chocolate. His ultimate goals: to make fine chocolates and have fun. It looks like he’s meeting those goals. Thanks for the tour and the education on how to run a great business, Rick!

UPDATE from Rick: Here’s the deal. Anyone who stops by and rings the doorbell gets chocolate. Say Jen sent you, and I’ll give you a Sun Cup. [Wow!! -jen]

Seth Ellis Chocolatier
5345 Arapahoe Ave.
Suite #5
Boulder, Colorado

They do not have a store front retail shop, but you can find a retailer who carries Seth Ellis Chocolates.

sun cup – a nut-free and far superior version of the reese’s peanut butter cup

Full Disclosure
Seth Ellis Chocolatier did not pay me nor was I under any obligation to write this post. I received a tour and a box of ass-kicking chocolates for coming by to check them out. I just like sharing a Good Find and spreading the gospel about awesome people and great businesses – particularly if they are local.

45 nibbles at “the candy man can”

  1. TheKitchenWitch says:

    Those chocolates are a work of art! I LOVE it when somebody finds something awesome and shares it with their readers! I’ll be checking him out!

  2. Aran says:

    beautiful write up jen! i miss boulder and everything it has to offer, the people, the artisans, the free thinkers… one day i will be back. but for now, i will definitely look to see if i can get some of these chocolates!

  3. Carter @ The Kitchenette says:

    Me thinks I’ll be visiting this shop the next time I’m in Boulder (which, after reading this post, is in approximately 38 minutes).

  4. Tracy says:

    Beautiful photos! If I am ever in the area, this is the first place I am going. I’m allergic to peanuts and would absolutely go crazy over those sun cups! When are they opening one of these near me?? ;-)

  5. Anita says:

    Jen, if they’re smart they’ll hire you to do all the photography for them:) Love it when an online connection yields a happy surprise:) I know Kansas isn’t exactly local-local to Colorado, but when I visited KC I found a local chocolatier – Christopher Elbow. He actually opened an outpost in SF – it’s in Hayes Valley near Paulette’s Macarons – you may want to squeeze it onto your list if you can:) XOXO Anita

  6. Allison says:

    The suncup sounds insanely good! I must admit that I LOVE Reese’s but they always pale in comparison to artisan peanut butter cups. The ones that Yippie-I-O in Jackson, WY, makes are to die for. I ordered 130 and had them shipped to San Diego to use as my wedding favors! But I must get my hands on a suncup now.

  7. Tartelette says:

    That reminds me of the artisan chocolatier in town back home. I do feel like K. in a treat store when I am there but mostly with the equipment, molds and artistry. Here’s what I love about this chocolatier: downright creativity. They are not copying or doing just like the cool kids. That’s true artisan-ship! Thanks for the write up!

  8. Rosa says:

    Thanks for sharing! I’m drooling now…



  9. haya says:

    oh wow! i wish i had known about this when i visited boulder in june.

    on my last visit to trader joe’s, someone suggested i buy a jar of sunflower seed butter. i can’t wait to try it!

  10. Whitney says:

    I can’t imagine how fun that was! I think I would really enjoy Boulder, especially with chocolate places like this one.

  11. christina says:

    Mr. Axe Murderer, LMAO!!!

    Very cool! Always a treat to see the inner workings of a business.

  12. Kitty says:

    Okay… maybe I’ll just think about joining Twitter – maybe. Probably not, but this is enticing!

  13. Biz says:

    I had to laugh about the axe murderer part! I am getting together with some local food bloggers that I’ve “met” over email and my husbands like “you don’t even know who you are talking to!”

    Mmmm…chocolate….definitely insulin worthy!

  14. Amy J says:

    Damn, I’ve gotta start blogging about some candy or something so I can get an invite like that. Talk about a kid in a candy shop…

  15. peabody says:

    And see. I hate Twitter. The step by step play of someone baking something and updating about it drives me insane.
    I do like it however for finding things in the Seattle area when I need it. It has helped a little with that.

  16. peabody says:

    Twitter is also where people who should most likely get fired from their job from not doing their job to Twitter hang out. ;)

  17. Lisa@The Cutting Edge of Ordinary says:

    As a major chocoholic can I just say….best post ever!

  18. jennywenny says:

    Wow, it looks so delicious. I really dislike reeses but I did actually have a peanut butter cup this weekend at Starlite, which you should visit if you ever come to San Diego, and it was very good. I think it needs dark chocolate to compete with the insane creamyness of the nut/seed butter.

    I really want to go and lie under the tempering machine thingy, it looks so amazing!!

  19. Margie says:

    Boulder has just one more beautiful item to add to it’s list of many. Thanks for the story AND the link. I’m feeling the need to eat food from home. :)

  20. Susan says:

    Their chocolates are so good (and pretty), they’re a delightful company and they donate to our chocolate fundraiser every February. And yeah, I opened Andrew’s twitter and thought, “he looks really familiar, I think I’ve met him.”

  21. Fiona says:

    I was aware of sunflower seed butter because our daycare gives it to the little kids. The one kid with peanut allergies can handle it, so everyone is happy. My son loves it. I’m betting that the cup is excellent – the texture looks very dense in your photo – but the other chocolate pieces look very, very appealing to me. And candied lemon peel? Sign me UP.

  22. Caitlin says:

    Why, oh why, didn’t I know about this place when I visited? Love the geodesic dome :P

    Oh yeah, and Facebook? It’s the devil.

  23. audra says:

    So beautiful….! i wish i had known about this when i lived in Boulder– totally would have checked them out. i only like good quality dark chocolate, milk chocolate doesn’t pass my lips. not even Good milk chocolate. ;) or maybe i just haven’t found it yet.

    speaking of, you know what’s funny? FaceBook (i held out for a long time too. i didn’t even open my account, a friend did. and i refuse to join Twitter!) keeps suggesting you as a friend for me. the only reason i know it’s the same Jen Yu is from the skiing picture that i’m sure i’ve seen somewhere on your blog. but i don’t know how it makes the suggestion because i don’t have anything about food blogs, etc in my profile…. anyway, thanks for yet another lovely post. =)

  24. Pearl says:

    the chocolates are so awesome! i too, am staying away from twitter after multiple messages inviting me to “come over and play with me.” but that was only if i was a hot man.

  25. Sarah says:

    I love sunflower seed butter! That all looks like it was a delicious tour!

  26. Karen B says:

    Oh, man. Serious chocolate cravings and nothing is open at this hour of night! At least no place that can satisfy this type of craving. I am hopeful that my Whole Foods carries his chocolates, I will know in just a few hours.

    Two weeks ago I was having New Mexico hatch green chile cravings, and I’ve never even had them before (I can thank you for this craving as well). Miraculously our local grocery store got a huge shipment of them, and two large bags of roasted chiles later, I am a happy woman.

  27. Hande says:

    I know you will never come to Rome as it is so opposed to what you like and who you are (big city, chaos, history, heat) but I would so love to have you taste wines with me – I can’t even imagine the tastes you will pick. Sigh. Maybe I’ll come to Boulder sometime! ;-)

  28. Kristin says:

    Looks & sounds fabulous. In Kansas City we have Christopher Elbow Chocolates & he makes awesome stuff. He also has a store on Hayes St in San Fran so, if you pass it when you’re visiting sometime, I highly recommend a visit.

  29. Debbie says:

    Oh lucky you!!!! I would have loved to be in your shoes for that tour!

  30. Jessica Lee Binder says:

    me want suncup

  31. Rhoda says:

    Those look amazing and as I’m just starting my lunch hour…

  32. Avanika (Yumsilicious Bakes) says:

    Oh My God!! This is a chocoholic’s heaven!! That picture of the chocolate pouring out of the machine has just become my desktop! :P I’m soo jealous of you right now :P

  33. JessW says:

    Holy Wow! I am not a big chocolate fan but those are gorgeous! Simply amazing~

  34. Rick Levine says:

    Ok, I’ll fess up. You’re actually not the first person to wonder if I was an axe murderer. It was worse before I shaved my beard. (Can’t work in a kitchen with one. Beard nets. Yuck.) My kids think my driver’s license picture is of a terrorist. But I really do make chocolates.

    Here’s the deal. Anyone who stops by and rings the doorbell gets chocolate. Say Jen sent you, and I’ll give you a Sun Cup.

    (The first production Sun Cups got wrapped this afternoon.)

    Thanks, Jen for the great post and beautiful pictures. And yes, you can have the recipe for the candied lemons.

  35. Allie says:

    Oh, man. I don’t mean to be incessant, but I swear, I’ve gone and done the no-food-since-5pm, therefore-im-gonna-go-on-URB-and-die. MY HEAD IS EXPLODING. Looking at the chinese recipes and the shrimp recipes mainly. I would murder for shrimp cocktail right now! Or for my boyfriend’s Chinese mother’s cooking! I even looked at your vegetarian bagel recipe from collegetown bagels and I live in Ithaca so god damn I need to go there. Like. TOMORROW.
    You are queen of food.

  36. Robert says:

    Jen, I’ve visited that factory many times – your pictures capture the mood so well……I can smell it!
    Thanks for allowing so many other people to share this magical place.

  37. Mrs Ergül says:

    that was a really enriching tour! the chocolate sure looks very good. now I am craving for some GOOD chocolate! fantastic photos there babe!!

    You take care!! xxoo

  38. Mitch says:

    Spectacular pix, as always. Looks like a brochure waiting to be printed! London has some spectacular chocolatiers, nearly all of whom I’ve sampled, but no one seems as nice and open as Mr. Levine. Once again, I’m jealous of you Boulder-folk!

  39. Lisa says:

    This will be an awesome Christmas gift included in my gift packages in December which is only a few month away. Thanks for sharing.

  40. Nicisme says:

    Those chocolate look the best, what a wonderful find!

  41. jenyu says:

    So glad everyone is as jazzed about this company and their products as I am! :) For now, Seth Ellis Chocolatier doesn’t have a retail store front, but you can click on the link at the end of the post that tells you where you can find their lovely chocolates.

    Anita – thanks for the rec! I will make a note of it :)

    Susan – ha! That is hilarious and awesome!

    Audra – if you’ve ever emailed me, then it sometimes searches your email contacts. FaceBook is total slimebag.

    Hande – my dear, if I ever go to Rome it will be TO SEE YOU! But Boulder would love to have such a sommelier as yourself grace our fine restaurants!

    Kristin – thanks! Anita made the same rec!

    Rick – thank you so much. Glad you are a clean-shaven chocolatier :) In the true spirit of open-source, you are that special kind of businessman who is artisan, mentor, and part of the community.

    Mitch – that just means you are destined to move out here (yes yes yes!)

    Lisa (mom) – let me know if you have any questions. The chocolates are AMAZING.

  42. Liz says:

    Are you from Nederland, James, or Ward?

  43. jenyu says:

    Liz – Ned

  44. Hailey StickerFairy says:

    It was really awesome to stumble upon this blog post today as I was researching our recent sticker client Seth Ellis Chocolatier;) It truly takes people like you to spread the word about hole in the wall businesses that really take the artisan craft to the next level. Thanks so much for sharing this! We are going to need to try some now;)

  45. Angie says:

    I am a chocolate lover. I have a friend that brings me chocolate all the time from other states and countries. He brought me a sun peanut butter cup 1 day and it melted in my mouth. He later told me it was nut free! It tasted wonderful, and was so articulate in it’s appearance. You could of fooled me it was nut free!

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