Jonas Ketterle didn’t plan on becoming a bean-to-bar chocolate producer, but the story of how his Firefly chocolate came to fruition is as organic as the brand itself. Built on relationships with producers and other members of the bean-to-bar chocolate community, he strives to inspire awe and wonder through a medium we can all get on board with, chocolate.
From mechanical engineering at Stanford to chocolate making, how do you explain that transition?
It was kind of a prolonged one. I went into engineering because I love building things. I was working on renewable energy technology in developing countries, specifically on solar energy. I eventually quit because it was too much travel and I was more interested in early stage product development. I went on a trip to Mexico and discovered chocolate making. It was the best chocolate I had ever had and the first time I connected to the process of making chocolate. I’ve always been a chocolate consumer growing up, typically Rittersport bars hiking and such. After I came back from Mexico I started thinking about chocolate. I built my own winnower and began learning through failure after failure.
Have you done any formal training or are you self taught?
Entirely self taught. I learned to monitor texture, humidity, and other variables through trial and error and a lot of Google queries. After about 2 years of experimenting I got it to a point where people were interested in buying my chocolate. I switched to all 85% cacao and an only coconut palm sugar sweetened product. At that time I actually took on a part time job back in solar energy and didn’t ever think I would ever do chocolate full time. But in July 2015 I took the leap.
Where do you get your cacao beans from?
Currently, all of my cacao beans come from southern Belize. They produce high quality beans and foster socially and environmentally conscious practices. I used to use many origins, but decided to go deep into showcasing one origin. I like cacao from Belize because it is very complex, with a balance of fruitiness and nuttiness. It also makes an excellent 100% bar and pairs well with the flavour of the coconut palm sugar I use. Also, I took into account how I felt after eating it – it made me feel good. We’re now selling 100% dark cacao for drinking chocolate. Many people are interested in using chocolate medicinally as a super food.
We are also looking into new origins, like Tanzanian cacao, to pair with some of our different flavours. I never thought I would make chocolate with beans from Africa because central/south America is closer. We are also experimenting with Costa Rican and Dominican beans.
What’s your favourite bar in your lineup?
Well that’s like choosing which of your children is your favourite. How I’m feeling dictates what I choose to eat. Maca is my go-to for stamina. On a hot summer day, it’s crunchy almond and sea salt. Spicy chai is for mornings to wake up. Coconut cream for when I want a real treat. Plain dark chocolate, well I eat that every day. It doesn’t have a lot of sugar in it, so if you want to eat it every day, eat it every day.
What are some of your favourite lesser-known bean-to-bar chocolate producers?
Starchild. They also use coconut palm sugar, and I would happily eat their chocolate every day. They have (or at least they used to have) almost identical chocolate making machinery to us, so we would share similar stories of frustration and joy.
LetterPress is also producing great bars out of LA.
What are you goals with Firefly moving forward?
I view chocolate as social currency. Beyond doing a good job sourcing and ensuring sustainability, it is a tool for social change and living happier lives. Actually the name Firefly comes from the fact that chocolate can inspire awe and wonder, just like fireflies.
Awe and wonder are elusive; hard to plan, but powerful and beautiful. I find that consuming chocolate makes me more susceptible to experiencing awe and wonder.
I’m really excited about creating high quality dark chocolate (85% or higher) and am increasingly fascinated with 100% chocolate. I want to make chocolate that surprises people. Many taste it thinking that they will never like 85% cacao but they do.
Overall, I think chocolate is a lifestyle. There are a lot of positive health benefits that come from eating what we want regularly. Chocolate is a way of life, and it is also a bridge to other areas of the world, other communities.