“People should have more respect for chocolate,” states Trevor Smith firmly.
It is less than a fortnight to Christmas and the Australian artisan chocolate maker is hard at work getting everything ready in time for the holiday season. It's a long process where every step of the way matters, from the very first bean to the finished chocolate bar.
“It's fascinating, it's much more scientific than people give it credit for. I have to source really high-quality cocoa beans, the best of the best. And it is different every year, just like wine – so the harvest I get in 2014 is different from the one in 2015,” he tells The Local.
Smith opened his micro chocolate factory 'Metiisto' in Falun, a small town in central Sweden's picturesque Dalarna region in 2011. But he first moved to the Nordic country many years earlier, after meeting a Polish woman when he was visiting a Swedish friend in Stockholm.
“I noticed the first day that no one said a word to each other in Sweden on the trains, and wanted to prove a point to my friend. So I went up to a girl and started talking to her. We've now been married eight years and have a six-and-a-half-year-old daughter,” he says.
Sweden is known for its work-life balance and high emphasis on family life with generous parental leave. All things Smith values, but he says it is not as easy for someone running their own small business to get access to the same benefits Swedes get in a full-time job.
“If you live the Swedish dream and both have normal jobs, you can have your parental leave and everything is fantastic. But I can't shut down my factory for six months – I wouldn't have a business when I got back,” he says.
The process of making chocolate. Photo: Private
For the past four years, he has been trying to sell the concept of high-quality chocolate to the Swedes, who are known for their sweet tooth, but tend to appreciate their pick 'n' mix and inexpensive candy bars in front of the television at the end of the working week (it's even got a name: 'lördagsgodis' or 'Saturday sweets').
“The thing that's challenging is to understand that chocolate is a commodity, it's a luxury product, just like fine wine. But people think of it as a goody. 'How dare you sell a chocolate bar for 100 kronor when I can get one for 25 kronor?'” he says.
“Pick 'n' mix is just sugar and your health is your own problem. But if you eat cheap chocolate you have a direct effect on the world around you. There's a lot of bad cocoa out there. Swedes like to think they're doing the right thing, but they sometimes hide behind the 'FairTrade' brand,” says Smith.
Smith buys his beans directly from the producers, he says, paying three to five times more than what is considered the standard global fair trade price. He hand sorts the beans himself, roasts them, grinds and refines them, a process which takes around five days.
And that's just the first part. The chocolate then needs to age for around two to three months – again just like wine – before it can be turned into a bar, handwrapped and sold.
Chocolate nibs. Photo: Private
Smith, who broke even for the first time in 2014 and expects to make a small profit this year, hopes more prospective chocolate entrepreneurs will follow in his footsteps once the phenomenon catches the trend-sensitive Swedes' eyes.
“At the time I started I was one of only two chocolate makers in Sweden. A lot of Swedes don't realize that much of the chocolate sold by Swedish brands is actually made abroad,” he says.
“But I believe we can have our cake and eat it. Sitting down in front of the TV and eating a whole 200 gram chocolate bar from the store – it's no different than downing a bag-in-box wine in one night. Chocolate is more than just Willy Wonka,” he says.