Focusing on responsible growth and transparency with award winning chocolate

Arguably one of the most beloved sweets of all time, chocolate, has found a home in Grand Rapids. 

Chocolate making has a rich history. Four thousand years ago the practice of transforming the cacao plant into the sweet treat we know and love began in ancient Mesoamerica, modern day Mexico. 
Courtesy Atucún Chocolate Facebook page
Atucún Chocolate, partnering with Roast Umber, has kept up the ancient tradition of chocolate making and brought craft chocolate to Michigan.

Rapid Growth Media connected with Atucún Chocolate owner Efren Elvir Maradíaga and head of marketing AJ Paschka to discuss world class chocolate, silver medals and Comayagua, Honduras. Though his agricultural ambitions began with coffee, Maradíaga took his familial farmland in a different direction. 

Rapid Growth: How did you make the transition from coffee to chocolate?

Efren Elvir Maradíaga: My family’s culture is very important to me. I was hoping to find a place for coffee on our farm in Comayagua, Honduras, but I discovered the environment and altitude there was not well suited to coffee growth. However, while sitting up in a big tree a cacao fruit fell on my head and then another hit me in the eye. From that moment on I turned my interest to the cacao trees and discovered more of them on the land.

RGM: What then brought you to Grand Rapids?

EEM: I was working in a coffee shop where my friend Elmer Cortes gave me the opportunity to give his customers pieces of my chocolate with their coffee. I was interested in selling my chocolate and Elmer gave me a few contacts to try. I called a number of people but Chad Morton of Roast Umber was the one who answered. We met, and Chad was very excited to work together. COVID halted our progress a little, but I eventually made it to Grand Rapids to meet the team, and from then on we were partners. 
Courtesy Atucún Chocolate Facebook page
AJ Paschka: It was important to us to include Efren as a partner. Where most coffee shops will put the name of the farmer on their product as the extent of their interaction, to us Efren is like our coworker. We are all in this together

RGM: What makes Atucún Chocolate unique?

EEM: We try to share with people these flavors that are connected with the environment of our country, our culture. We maintain all the good ingredients from the cacao plant. The way our chocolate is produced is very transparent, and you can feel that transparency in the flavor.
Courtesy Atucún Chocolate Facebook page
AP: I really want to emphasize that this is better chocolate than anyone is usually able to get, because the quality of our product is far beyond what is normally available. There are three types of chocolate pods. Criollo is the native form that was used to make chocolate from the Mayan empire to colonization. Trinitario is a hybrid formed in Trinidad due to mold and pests wiping out crops. The last kind is a really robust version called Forastero that started in Brazil and is almost entirely what is produced in Africa making up 90% of the world's chocolate. What we have is a blend of trinitario and criollo for our chocolate bars. That alone puts Atucún chocolate in the top 10 percent of the world. 

Most of the world would agree with AJ’s assessment. The company was just awarded a silver medal at the 2023 International Chocolate Awards, covering the expansive region of the Caribbean, South America and North America. This is on top of Atucún’s new partnership with the JW Marriot, with their chocolate soon to become a part of the hotel’s turndown service. However, the company has no plans to stop progressing. 

RGM: What are you hoping to see from Atucún in the future?

EEM: I hope more people see our chocolate as a vehicle they can use to understand and appreciate my culture. I want them to see the value in that, not the price.

AP: We're hoping to achieve responsible growth. We want to rebuild the supply chain in a more streamlined fashion, where anyone that touches the product throughout the way benefits. All chocolate costs the same amount to produce, so lowering the price for the consumer means someone else is paying the cost in the supply chain.
Courtesy Atucún Chocolate Facebook page

Responsible growth is on the horizon for Atucún chocolate with the organization of the inaugural Michigan Chocolate Festival underway. It will be at Hyperion Coffee Company in Ypsilanti and feature other world renowned chocolate makers.

If you’re a chocolate lover and interested in experiencing craft chocolate for yourself check out the Michigan Chocolate Festival here

Ashley King is a born and raised Michigander. She is a graduate of the University of Michigan and the Duke Fuqua School of Business. Ashley loves a good book, free time to paint and all things to do with Black women.
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