Chris Kopek, owner and chocolate maker of Lirio Chocolate makes chocolate in Knoxville, Tennessee
Chris Kopek, owner and chocolate maker of Lirio Chocolate, fell in love with chocolate in 2017. He worked in the tech industry for 13 years before finding chocolate. A self-proclaimed foodie, he has always loved unique foods and flavors.
Traditionally, Chris would avoid dark chocolate because he found it bland or bitter. However, things changed when he had the opportunity to taste bean-to-bar chocolate in North Carolina for the first time. The dark chocolate was full of flavor, something he never thought was possible. As there wasn’t access to high-quality, locally made craft chocolate in Knoxville, his love for sharing how chocolate can really taste, combined with the lack of local options available led him to start this chocolate adventure. The company, Lirio, is motivated by his daughter, who has been his inspiration behind the company due to her love of chocolate and coffee as a young child.
Chris learned how to make chocolate online through other makers and watching how-to videos. Making chocolate first started as a hobby in his home kitchen. During his first attempt, he roasted beans in his home oven, cracked them with a rolling pin, blew the husk away with a hairdryer, and attempted to “refine” them in a Vitamix blender.
Chris’s first batch was Akesson, Madagascar. It was awful, he recalls, as he over-roasted the beans and under refined them. They were all bitter and acidic. His next round wasn’t much better. Again, he over-roasted the Porcelana beans and ruined all their nuanced flavors. In those early rough days, his wife was his official taste tester. “I feel sorry for her,” says Chris, with humor in his voice.
Lirio Chocolate is founded on four key principles: Bold Flavor, Single Origin, Bean-to-Bar, and Minimal Ingredients. Within these principles, the one key element that ties them together is ethical practices. It is critical that Lirio not only produces chocolate bars that have great unique flavors, but that it also sources beans from ethical farmers.
Chris uses a lot of small table-top equipment, with several pieces hacked together like his winnower. The part he enjoys the most is getting beans from a new origin and discovering their flavors, figuring out how to maximize certain notes while minimizing others.
Chris’ mission is very similar to Cococlectic’s and that is finding new origins and new flavors with different origins, drawing more people to exploring craft chocolate. For Chris, the most challenging part about making chocolate is learning how to fine-tune the flavors and quality for consistency, batch over batch, knowing that every harvest will be different.
“The fun part about making chocolate is there are challenges and opportunities to learn, from running a business to branding and packaging, but, in the end, the taste of the chocolate makes it all worth it,” shares Chris.