FONT

MORE STORIES


PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP: JONATHAN HOUSE - Aaron Koch of Treehouse Chocolate is going on a motorcycle tour of Oregon to spread the word about his drinking chocolate.In the next few weeks, Aaron Koch will set off by motorcycle sidecar on an epic 10-day road trip across Oregon.


He’ll have a load of his artisanal product — single-serve pouches of drinking chocolate handmade in Portland — and a surfer buddy who’ll help capture the trip on social media.

His goal? To promote his company — Treehouse Chocolate Co. — and the sort of minimalist, passion-driven lifestyle he espouses.

“It’s a free lifestyle, a wild lifestyle, living the way you believe,” says Koch, 34, who started the business two years ago in a shipping container-turned-production space parked in a Southeast Portland warehouse.

Koch, who has an anthropology degree from the University of Oregon, isn’t that different from the kaleidoscope of food entrepreneurs in Portland who have built their lifestyle and livelihood around a self-taught craft.

He has some quirks, like living in a tiny house — a 6.5-foot-by-10-foot vintage trailer in Northeast Portland. (He keeps his surfboard at work.)

He also has a Forrest Gump-like background, including growing up in Singapore, traveling through Indonesia, and living off the land in Hawaii for six years.

On Kauai, he worked as a landscaper, permaculture gardener, cacao farmer and groundskeeper, learning the trades along the way. (Two of his clients were movie star Pierce Brosnan and Billy Kreutzmann, former drummer for the Grateful Dead).

Now in Portland, Koch is trying to figure out the best balance between making a profit, doing the right thing, and having fun.

Case in point: How important is it to certify his product as organic or fair trade? Or become a certified B Corp?

For now, Koch is part of a growing movement of companies that have held off on pursuing these certifications to focus on what they believe are more meaningful ways to make an impact.

Treehouse sources all of its 72 percent cacao from organic farmer-owned cooperatives in northern Peru, which Koch believes is the best way to ensure that farmers are directly compensated well for their work.

Farm-direct sourcing "trumps everything," he says. "It's less ambiguous, more transparent. ... It's more important to build an incredible company that's known for integrity, instead of riding on a stamp that's murky."

Koch imports and roasts the cacao beans at different roasters around town, and stores them in his tiny production space until he’s ready to crack, winnow and grind them into a fine powder on a little silver machine he’s nicknamed R2D2.

“We probably have about 800 pounds of chocolate stored here,” Koch says of the shipping container, which emanates a heavenly chocolate aroma. “We take the bricks, shave them, mix in the flavors, put them in R2D2, fill the pouches and they go out.”

Two of the five drinking chocolate flavors (just add 6 ounces of hot water) come from Oregon artisans Koch collaborates with: Portland-based Jacobsen Salt (for the cherrywood salt blend) and Eugene-based Red Ape Cinnamon (for the Spice blend), which donates 5 percent of its proceeds to orangutan rescue in Sumatra.

The cause is close to his heart, since he spent his childhood playing in the jungles of Singapore, spending lots of time with orangutans at the zoo.

From his rooftop he could see the jungles of Sumatra, where there was and continues to be heavy "slash and burn" deforestation that's destroyed critical habitat for orangutans and other species.

Koch just met the brewers at Basecamp Brewing and decided to collaborate on a tasty summer drink: An ice-cold chocolate martini with his Camp-flavored drinking chocolate and Basecamp's porter, aged in a cherrywood whiskey barrel.

In July, he's worked out a promotion with New Seasons — riding his Ural motorcycle around town to their stores to give away iced drinking chocolate.

PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP: JONATHAN HOUSE - Bags of Treehouse Chocolate wait to be sealed during production. The cacao comes from organic farmer-owned cooperatives in northern Peru.He's also preparing to grab some attention at the upcoming New York Fancy Food show, a giant trade show that could broaden his distribution nationally.

Currently, Treehouse Chocolate is in about 30 local stores, including New Seasons, Whole Foods, Zupans and about a dozen independent retailers.

He's looking forward to expanding in the Rocky Mountains region this year, and has his eyes on the East Coast next.

“This is like a puzzle," Koch says. "I love it."

For more: treehousechocolate.com.

@jenmomanderson

Go to top
Template by JoomlaShine