Photo by Kyle LaFerriere Photography
All Upchurch Chocolate Co. bars are hand-wrapped, right here in Richmond.
Move over, craft brews and coffee: small batch, hand-crafted chocolate might be the new watermark for how cool a city really is. Brooklyn’s got Mast Brothers, San Francisco is home to Dandelion, Ranger is out of Portland, and Seattle’s got Theo (first to roast organic and certified Fair Trade cocoa, in 2006), to name a few. And now, Richmond has its own new bean-to-bar chocolate maker: Upchurch Chocolate Co. Co-owners Alexander Burlingame and Alex Brito are the very definition of young and hungry, with Burlingame orchestrating the new business while still an undergrad at VCU, and Brito having only graduated from the University of Mary Washington last year.
Upchurch is named after Burlingame’s grandparents, whose surname would have been lost to the ages because they had no sons to carry it forth. In November 2014 over a cup of coffee, he talked up the bean-to-bar idea to Brito. “At the time, it felt like a far-off dream,” Burlingame remembers. “We went to the same high school; we’ve known each other for years. Alex was the first person I wanted to talk to about it. He has a web development background, and I wanted his advice on that end. We realized that no one else was making chocolate in Richmond, and he ended up saying, ‘Hey, I want to be on your team, let’s make this a partnership.’” They settled into a production facility in Manchester and got things running in April.
These guys don’t just order a big block of cocoa mass, sweeten it and pour it into a bar mold like, say, Hershey’s or Ghirardelli. They work with farmers across the globe to order ethically grown, raw cocoa beans from single origins, and they roast, crack, grind and finish them on site. If you’re into industry terminology, here are a few chocolate-making nuggets:
- Winnowing: the separation of the shell from the cocoa nib
- Melanging: grinding and refining the nibs into a smooth, workable paste (and, optionally, adding sugar, milk solids, nuts, etc.)
- Tempering: heating and cooling the cocoa mass for a glossy finish and a crisp snap
Upchurch’s current beans come from Tanzania, Trinidad, Madagascar and Ecuador, and they’re made into both Origin Bars, which highlight the pure chocolate flavors, and Maker’s Bars, which use added ingredients to bring out new flavor profiles. Origin Bars include “Chill,” “Party” and “Sassy,” which are from Trinidad, Tanzania and Madagascar, respectively. The “Friendly” Maker’s Bar is Ecuadorian chocolate plus goat’s milk, the “Hype” bar is also Ecuadorian with the addition of espresso, and coming in September, there will be bars made with chili and sea salt. “We’re also very interested in taking customer feedback and using local products in our chocolate, like Lamplighter coffee,” Burlingame notes. “We want this to be a Richmond product, and we want to be part of the food community here.”
Upchurch doesn’t have a retail location of its own, but you can buy your bars of choice for $7 to $8 online or find them locally at For the Love of Chocolate, Shields Market, or Harvest Grocery + Supply.
Editor's Note: Upchurch Chocolate Co. joins The Black Wolf, a bean-to-bar chocolate maker of the last four years, in the ranks of local chocolate-bar companies.