Photo Tour Preview of Brooklyn’s New Trail of Sweets

Dried chocolate beans at the Rakka Chocolate factory in red Hook, Brooklyn. 5/24/2016

Dried chocolate beans at the Raaka Chocolate factory. (Photo: Aaron Adler for Observer)

Upstairs at Cacao Prieto, a bean-to-bar chocolatier in Red Hook, it smelled as though vats of spiced chai were brewing and Toll House cookies were baking. A visitor then detected a vinegary undertone, where the boutique firm turns the cacao beans into a slurry called “cocoa liquor.” Down the stairs into the basement, where brown stew becomes high-end dark chocolate, the pleasing odor shifted: a full-on sweet cocoa with hints of strawberries and raspberries.

So visitors who pay no attention on one of Cacao Prieto’s weekend tours can still learn about its manufacturing process through their noses. It’s an olfactory sensation that head chocolatier Roger Rodriguez hopes more will experience soon, when visitors will follow the forthcoming Southwest Brooklyn Sweets Trail map. The map, which promises to show day-trippers the best local spots for developing cavities, from ice cream to Key lime pies to bonbons, marks the first public manifestation of a campaign to make the gentrifying neighborhood a hub for sugary innovation.

Cacao Prieto opened about six years ago. “We grow it. We harvest it. We do the fermentation,” chief chocolatier Roger Rodriguez explained. Smiling each time he spoke, he paired an old-school bakery smock with hipster glasses. “We handle every single part of it.”

The company even invents patented gear, such as its Double Vortex Winnower, which extracts the cocoa shells from the flavor-bearing nibs by swirling both aloft inside a glass tube tornado.

Eleven blocks away, Raaka Chocolate, another future stop on the tour, doesn’t roast its beans. That’s why its name means “untamed” in Finnish.

The two companies have united to create a chocolate culture like the one craft breweries built. “They use very different equipment than what we use. It tastes different. It looks different,” Nate Hodge, a co-founder of Raaka, said of his friendly competition, but “it speaks to the same thing: building community around chocolate consumption.”

Peter Gray, Raaka’s first hire, noted that chocolate is as much food as candy, since less sugary, more flavorful versions can be added to rubs, sauces or stews. To that end, Mr. Gray gave the Observer a sample of Raaka’s ghost pepper chocolate from a warming pot in its factory, a former metal fabrication shop. That sample tasted first like classic dark chocolate, but then the Indian chili pepper sneaks up, a hot kick at the back of your mouth.

Perhaps a visit with some of these real-life Willy Wonkas will have a similar delayed effect: a gradual realization that sweets can be a shared pleasure, rather than a guilty one.

Roger Rodriguez, head chocolatier of Cacao Prieto, hails from the Dominican Republic, where all of the cocoa beans they use are from as well. 5/24/2016- Photo by Aaron Adler for The Commercial Observer

Roger Rodriguez, head chocolatier of Cacao Prieto, hails from the Dominican Republic, where all of the cocoa beans they use are from as well. (Photo: Aaron Adler for Observer)

Labels being put on the chocolate bars at Cacao Prieto in red Hook, Brooklyn. 5/24/2016- Photo by Aaron Adler for The Commercial Observer

Labels going on Cacao Prieto’s chocolate bars, in the factory’s downstairs. (Photo: Aaron Adler for Observer)

Cacao Prieto, a chocolate producer in Red Hook, Brooklyn. Makes a wide variety of unusual chocolate bars. 5/24/2016 - Photo by Aaron Adler for The Commercial Observer

Cacao Prieto’s finished bars. The company even designs and prints its own labels. (Photo: Aaron Adler for Observer)

Cacao Prieto, a chocolate producer in Red Hook, Brooklyn. Many "sweets" manufacturers are located in the neighborhood. 5/24/2016 - Photo by Aaron Adler for The Commercial Observer

Cacao Prieto, a chocolate producer in Red Hook, Brooklyn. (Photo: Aaron Adler for Observer)

Chocolate at Rakka.

Chocolate being poured into bar casts at Raaka Chocolate. (Photo: Aaron Adler for Observer)

A worker at Rakka Chocolate factory in Red Hook, Brooklyn, lays out freshly made chocolate bars. 5/24/2016 - Photo by Aaron Adler for The Commercial Observer

A worker at Raaka lays out freshly made chocolate bars. (Photo: Aaron Adler for Observer)

Rakka's first employee, Peter Gray, left, with co-founders Ryan Cheney and Nate Hodge.

Raaka’s first employee, Peter Gray, left, with co-founders Ryan Cheney and Nate Hodge. (Photo: Aaron Adler for Observer)

Rakka chocolate bars ready to be packaged in Red Hook, Brooklyn.

Finished Raaka chocolate bars ready to be ship in Red Hook, Brooklyn. (Photo: Aaron Adler for Observer)

Steve Tarpin, of Steve's Key Lime Pies, in front of his shop in Red Hook, Brooklyn. 5/24/2016- Photo by Aaron Adler for The Commercial Observer

Steve Tarpin, of Steve’s Authentic Key Lime Pies, in front of a fresh shipment of his most important ingredient. Founded in 1999, his company’s the neighborhood’s confectionery pioneer. “I was niche before niche was chic,” he told the Observer. (Photo: Aaron Adler for Observer)

Photo Tour Preview of Brooklyn’s New Trail of Sweets