Few things bring people together more than food, and perhaps no food does so more than chocolate.
It’s that chocolate cake at a birthday party that people smile over, or that box of chocolate that shows loved ones how we feel. It was this relationship around chocolate that became the inspiration for the name of Wauwatosa’s newest chocolate shop, Tabal Chocolate, 7515 Harwood Ave.
“What inspired me was my love for hot chocolate,” Tabal owner Dan Bieser of Glendale says of opening his chocolate shop.
Having been to Europe and tasting some fabulous sipping chocolate, Bieser thought, “We really need to do something here.”
After a trip to Toronto to learn how to make chocolate, Bieser began making some at home. Family and friends gushed over the chocolates and suggested Bieser pursue it at a larger level. With their support, Bieser left his job as a high school principal to pursue chocolate-making full time.
Tabal Chocolate opened its first space near 33rd Street and Lisbon Avenue before moving to the Wauwatosa location at the beginning of April.
“What’s unique about us is that we are chocolate makers,” said Bieser.
It’s an important distinction over candy makers, he adds, who buy chocolate made in factories, melt it down, add flavoring and mold it themselves. Bieser said Tabal is one of just a couple of places in Wisconsin that make their chocolate from scratch.
Ingredients are key
His vision was to create one of the best chocolates in the world. In order to do that, Bieser had to find the best ingredients in the world. Just like high-end wines with grapes, Bieser is able to say exactly where their chocolate’s beans came from. Even though a recipe may be the same, the chocolate will taste slightly different depending on the origin of the beans used.
“Each farm is going to have a unique, special flavor, and that’s what we’re trying to profile,” he said.
Bieser explains that chocolate is a fermented food, a process that accounts for about 60 percent of its flavor.
“(So) it’s critical that the farmers know what they’re doing, and do a good job at it,” he said.
Bieser said that "tabal" is the Mayan word for “relationship.”
“That’s where it all begins – building that relationship with the farmers.”
The process beings with cacao beans that are bought from farmers in eight countries from Central and South America. They are then roasted, cracked and winnowed before the nibs are stone ground. It takes five days to make just one batch of chocolate.
The chocolate is what Bieser calls “slow food,” referring to the amount of time it takes to make.
“It’s a true craft chocolate made in small batches.”
Visitors to the shop can watch the process through a viewing window while sampling some of the treats.
Bieser said because their chocolate is a premium product, you don’t need to eat a whole lot.
“It’s interesting for your brain so you don’t need to gobble it,” he said. “You can eat it slowly and share the rest with other people, if you can.”
Among the more unique treats are brigadeiros: a small, soft Brazilian truffle, and of course, dark sipping chocolates.
Tabal Chocolate is certified organic and certified kosher, making it the only company in the Midwest with those distinctions.
Tabal Chocolates are sold in stores in Milwaukee, Madison, Minneapolis and at their Wauwatosa shop, and are used by many local restaurants. The store hopes to host events including tastings, parties and classes.
Bieser is committed to not only building relationships with the cacao farmers, but ensuring that they get a fair wage for the product.
He said the average income for most of these farmers is $2,000 to 3,000 a year. Buying the beans at a fair price or direct trading with the farmers ensures that the most amount of money goes to them, not a middleman. This can mean a doubling or tripling of income for the farmers.
Commitment to education
As a former principal, it’s no surprise that Bieser is a big advocate for schools and education.
He recently donated several trucks full of cocoa mulch to Wauwatosa schools, and hopes to develop programs to educate high school students.
“I love working with kids and adults and helping them learn about global trade, entrepreneurship and healthy food and everything that goes into having a business go well.”
Additionally, Bieser hopes to continue working with chefs to teach them about high quality chocolate.
“Deep down I want it to be an education center to help people learn about chocolate because so many people know so little about chocolate.”