The first bean to bar chocolate factory in Sonoma County

The first bean to bar chocolate factory in Sonoma County

Jonas Ketterle of Firefly Chocolate learned how to make chocolate the traditional way in Oaxaca, Mexico, in April 2012. Carefully roasting cacao beans on the gentle ashes of a fire, patiently hand-peeling the cacao beans while telling stories beneath a sacred mountain and grinding the beans with ancient stones showed him a fascinating process that he had never given thought to before. 

Fast forward five years and many batches of chocolate later, Firefly Chocolate has become the first bean-to-bar chocolate factory in Sonoma County specializing in organic dark chocolate bars of many unique flavors and also ceremonial drinking cacao. Firefly Chocolate is independently owned and wholly supported by its fans as it continues deepening its craft. 

person pouring cacao beans into a winnower

During an interview with us, Jonas shared, "I learned to make chocolate in a small town called Tenotitlan de Valle, most famous for its naturally dyed and handwoven tapestries. I was doing a homestay there and it was through my homestay that I met Maria who showed me how to process cacao beans. At the time I discovered chocolate, I did not know that I wanted to become a chocolate maker. That took another two years. And it took a third year before I let go of my part-time engineering job. 

“Ultimately, it was a calling and a choice to follow my passion which I couldn’t explain it rationally at the time. Fortunately, there’s plenty of engineering in chocolate so I knew I would find a way to channel that talent. But something about the combination of sharing my products locally with people I knew and working with food that had this blend of people plus art which I did not find in the engineering back room," he added. 

Jonas brings a diverse set of skills to the art of chocolate making. Previously in his roles as Imagineer at Greenlight Planet and engineering lead at Fenix International, he worked on providing affordable solar energy to rural customers. He is a Mechanical Engineering graduate from Stanford University and an immigrant from Germany who received the prestigious Paul and Daisy Soros Fellowship for his graduate studies. He also studied permaculture and nature awareness at the Regenerative Design Institute, and has lived in eco-villages and co-operative houses for the majority of the last 10 years. 

person putting cacao beans into an oven to roast

Jonas added, "As an engineer, I love the intimacy of process and I love doing things myself. So bean to bar was a natural fit, I didn’t really consider any other way. I’ve been grateful it was the path I chose because being able to influence the process from bean to bar has allowed me to innovate and make exactly the kind of chocolate I want to offer in the market, not any other way." 

The team at Firefly Chocolate is most excited about chocolate as a medicinal super food. The experience of cacao extends far beyond the lingering flavor. As one of nature's most pharmacologically complex foods, cacao has profound impacts on neurochemistry. Jonas believes that making chocolate from bean to bar matters to your health profoundly because it is the only type of chocolate on the market freshly made from whole cacao beans, retaining the natural fat (cacao butter) which is the best carrier for the medicinal properties of cacao. 

He said that many chocolate companies don't make chocolate from scratch. Instead, they make their bars with cacao powder or reconstituted cacao mass that has been heavily processed and use inferior fats in place of cacao butter. As such, his advice to chocolate lovers is to stick to whole food chocolate which is healthier.

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