26-year-old Johnny, Odyssey chocolate maker tells his chocolate story
The story of Odyssey Chocolate began in a moment of curiosity amongst a group of friends talking in a backyard in Santa Fe, New Mexico. As the flow of conversation changed from one topic to the next, one sentence would stand out in the memory of then 22-year-old Johnny Epps: “Cacao was only for the kings.” He wondered why that would be the case.
What was so special about chocolate that it would be reserved for a select few? Maybe there was something about chocolate that most aren’t aware of like some forgotten secret. So Johnny set off researching the native culture around cacao and the modern chemistry of the bean. He also began to experiment making chocolate drinks with freshly ground cacao nibs which he used as a coffee replacement in the morning.
All of this led him to conclude that there was something powerful about chocolate. This so-called “food of the gods” was uplifting and life changing. It could bring on a sort of “satori-like” experience.
Over the next few years, cacao would become a more and more integral part of his life. His interest in ancient drinking chocolate led him to the work of Mark Sciscenti, a chocolate historian and alchemist who at the time was working at Art of Chocolate in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Johnny interned with Cacao Santa Fe to learn more about these drinks and also began his journey into the world of bean-to-bar craft chocolate there. Derek Lanter, co-owner and chocolate maker at Art of Chocolate in Santa Fe, opened Johnny’s eyes to the vast variance to be found between different cacao from all over the world.
After a few months of traveling around the US to learn from different chocolate makers, the now 26-year-old Johnny moved to Charlottesville, Virginia, to start Odyssey Chocolate. The goal of Odyssey Chocolate is to make the most elegant, complex and rewarding chocolate while maintaining as much of the health benefits of the nibs as possible, which is why cocoa butter or dairy are never added, and sugar is kept to a complementary minimum.
Every bar from Odyssey is 100% vegan, although the Mesoamerican-inspired drinks Johnny serves up at the Charlottesville farmer’s markets stay true to the historical sweetener – a touch of honey. His range of chocolates is focused on being as diverse as possible, not just in location but in flavor. As an avid believer in the wonder that a new relationship with craft chocolate can bring on, he seeks to show undeniable differences between any of his two different origins.
The name Odyssey Chocolate is born from this idea, that in just a bite, one is transported to another place and with a second, the journey continues on to somewhere new. Odyssey Chocolate is like a storyteller, coaxing out the best in every bean. No one origin is treated exactly as the next, with roasting profiles, conch time, and sugar percentages changing from origin to origin. Johnny is very passionate about monitoring every step –from sourcing to packaging – and he says he won’t be satisfied until he brings home gold honors.