Less than three years ago, former geologist Catherine Goulet decided to step out of her comfort zone and focus on producing and selling artisanal-style, bean-to-bar chocolate. With an approach parallel to that of “third wave” coffee — which promotes direct trade and slow-roasted beans that highlight distinct flavours and aromas — Catherine’s pursuit of high-quality chocolate pushed her to launch Avanaa Chocolat in late 2016.
As a result, Montreal has its very own micro-roastery located in the heart of Villeray. Eater caught up with Catherine there to get the story behind her chocolate.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Why did you decide to pursue producing chocolate?
Most consumers did not have the option to buy chocolate that adhered to the notion of eco-sustainability. The idea was to make chocolate as great as it can be, like cheese, wine, or beer. There are all kinds of artisanal products on the market. I felt it should be the same for chocolate.
[When travelling in cacao-producing areas] in Honduras, Belize, Colombia, Peru, or Ecuador, I learned that respect of Mother Earth is a strong foundation of these communities. They understand the earth and how it is (or should be) balanced. This served as an important principle when launching the company.
What makes your chocolate unique?
What separates us from much of the industry is the ethical process behind it. We believe in sourcing the cacao beans directly from local farmers mainly in Colombia, Ecuador, Guatemala, and the Dominican Republic, and this can to help improve the welfare of a community. We choose our producers based on their stories and their motivations, and we take pride in the fact that our chocolate tastes different — even sometimes from one batch to the next, depending on the variations in acidity and texture in each bean. Our process is more like wine — every new harvest can bring a new surprise, so the products are constantly in evolution.
Could you describe the process behind production?
The first step is product sourcing. I still travel frequently to make connections with plantations. The beans are then imported, sorted, and roasted at our facility. Once the shells have been removed, we place the nibs in a stone grinder — a bowl with granite rows — which produces a chocolate liquor. We let this sit for a month or two, before melting it again and tempering it. This is by far the most important step, and if it’s done right, it gives the chocolate a smooth texture and releases all the flavours at once.
Where did you learn all of this?
Following a trip to Oaxaca in Mexico, I quit my job and traveled to cacao plantations across South America for six months. I needed to learn more about cacao and the entire process behind production. Back then, I had no idea how Avanaa would end up — it was only an idea. There was a lot of trial and error. I read a lot and started producing chocolate just for myself at first before attending workshops.
What are some of your upcoming projects?
The latest project is three different cacao-infused teas — coconut, chai spice and pure cacao. We’re also working on a few limited-edition products that might be released this year, and possibly some special products for the holidays, too.
Having started a successful chocolaterie from scratch, what advice would you give to someone if you could look back on the last three years?
It’s so important to invest in systems and to be organized. I wish I would have started sooner, too. Everyone always says “I don’t have time” – but you do. You just need to make the time. And then it gets bigger and then you realize you really don’t have time (laughs). Also, it’s important not to overwork. Be disciplined, create a balance, because it will never stop. There’s no break — you might even need to deal with things while on vacation. Take care of yourself to make sure you will endure for the long haul.
Avanaa’s workshop is open at 309 Gounod (corner Drolet) from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesday to Friday (11am – 6pm) and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday; its products are also sold online.
- Avanaa [Official]