In 2014, at our small chocolate shop in Denver, we already had a few single-origin chocolate bars, which was our sole focus up until then. However, we knew we wanted to create some classic chocolate bars like our Fleur de Sel bar, Nib Bar and Dark Mocha. For these bars, we wanted a really consistent, classic chocolate flavor to highlight the essence of the inclusions. At the same time, we also wanted to be able to provide a 70% chocolate option for chefs and coffee shops to use in their recipes and drinks. Given these goals, it was time to make our first blend of origins, also known as a ‘signature blend. We would later call it the Mid Mountain Blend.
Our cacao origins at the time were Costa Rica, Madagascar, Peru, Belize, and Ecuador (the Balao version). Knowing that we would be unable to purchase more of the Costa Rica cacao, because Steve DeVries sundried those beans himself and wasn’t likely to do it again, we decided to exclude it from the blend in order to preserve those beans exclusively for the single-origin bar. Most chocolates on the market are blends—it’s how the big industrial brands maintain consistency as well as having the ability to access enough cacao for their needs. But these big brands are typically sourcing the cheapest cacao that they can find for 99% of the blend, and maybe adding a little bit of high quality cacao to adjust the flavor slightly. It’s unorthodox to use 100% superior, high-quality cacao beans in a blend because the cost would be so high, but that’s what we did. We wanted to make an ultra-high quality blend that tasted amazing.
During our development of the blend, we experimented with dozens of varieties of ratios of our four origins. This was a fun activity with our small production team because we let everyone create their own blend, and then we did a blind tasting of all the chocolate together and voted on the top flavor. At this point, I can’t quite remember which blend won, but I think it was heavy on the Balao and Madagascar and lighter on the Belize and Peru. Eventually, the blend evolved to be much closer to equal parts of all four as a way of having a flavor safety net, since some of our origins were occasionally unavailable. That’s the beauty of a blend, if an origin becomes unavailable, like the Balao (deep chocolate flavor), we can compensate for that loss by either increasing the amount of Belize (chocolatey), reducing Madagascar (fruity), or even potentially bringing in another chocolatey origin to balance out the flavor.
As for the name, what does one call their signature blend? We considered keeping it simple, like calling it the Ritual House Blend, or the Ritual Signature Blend. However, we weren’t sure if we would ever create other blends that were either more fruit-forward or more chocolatey and less fruity. So we wanted to plan ahead for the potential of having a range of blends. At the same time, we were also working on our top-secret plan to move the business from Denver to Park City, Utah.
We loved our time in Denver, but we were striving to live in the mountains where we could be close to the trails. We wanted to live where we play, play where we work, and cut out the commute. We didn’t know for sure if we could pull it off financially during this planning process, so we wanted to keep it quiet until we were absolutely certain that we could do it. Knowing that we would likely be in Park City the following year, we wanted the name of the blend to be special to Park City, but also work for the broader chocolate market. We spent a lot of time exploring ideas that were special to Park City, like bonanza, moose, aspens, high desert, and other historical mining and natural references. The runner-up to our final name choice was the Bonanza Blend, which still sounds pretty good to this day and is certainly unique to the silver mining history of Park City.
One of our greatest passions besides chocolate is biking, especially mountain biking. Mountain biking was my favorite activity starting at the age of 7 and continues to this day, 30 years later. The Mid Mountain Trail in Park City is 26+ miles long and connects Deer Valley, Park City Resort, and The Canyons. Eventually, the Mid Mountain trail ends in Summit Park, roughly following the 8,000ft contour. It was built between the time that I left Park City in 2003 and when I came back in 2015 and was a welcome addition to the trail network. It’s sort of the main artery for all of the trails in Park City, as it provides a way to connect to most of the trails along this side of the Wasatch Range. It’s not just an interstate (although sometimes it feels like it during peak summer tourism) it’s a really fun trail to ride in the shoulder seasons when traffic is low.
We decided to go with the name, Mid Mountain Blend, because it felt really natural to us, and it had the potential to fit within a line of blends. The “Mid Mountain” concept was that the chocolate was balanced, like following the 8,000ft contour. We associated fruity flavors with “peaks” and darker chocolatey flavors with “valleys”. If we ever released a more chocolatey blend, maybe we’d call it the Mountain Valley blend; and a fruity blend, maybe the Summit Blend. The goal of the Mid Mountain Blend was balance and the name was perfect. It felt very Park City to us.
The funny part of this story is that we released the Mid Mountain Blend, with a moose drawing on the label, while we were still in Denver and before anyone knew of our plans to move to Park City. Most people in Denver probably didn’t think much of it, since Colorado also has mountains and moose, but the name, perhaps, raised some questions. When we finally announced our plans to move to Park City and relayed the story about the Mid Mountain trail, it finally all made sense. It was really great to move to Park City and to already have a product inspired by this historic mountain town. I grew up there, so technically I was a local, but naming our signature blend after a well-known local icon showed our commitment to the location for anyone who thought we may have just been another new company moving to town.
To this day, the Mid Mountain Blend has been one of our most popular bars. It has really become the core of many of our best products, as the blend is used for the Fleur de Sel, the Nib Bar, The Dark Mocha, the Bourbon Barrel Aged, the Vanilla bar, the Juniper Lavender, the Pine Nut Chocolate, the 100%, and importantly, our Mid Mountain Blend Drinking Chocolate, which many coffee shops across the country use as their primary chocolate for all their hot chocolates and mochas.
If I had to choose a ‘desert island chocolate’, I’d probably go for the Mid Mountain Blend. If you focus while tasting it, you can pick up on a variety of flavors from all our origins. It’s truly balanced and goes well with almost everything. We love it here at a Ritual! If you haven’t tried it, what are you waiting for?
- Robbie stout, Ritual Chocolate co-founder