Treehouse Chocolate’s instant drinking chocolates save the rainforest, one cup at a time
STORY AND PHOTOS BY MATTIE JOHN BAMMAN
When I emailed Aaron Koch about writing an article on his instant drinking chocolate company, Treehouse Chocolate, he responded, “Do you want to come see the smallest chocolate factory in the world?” This was the first surprise. There would be more.
Aaron grew up in Singapore — waking in the mornings to find the family’s cars covered with ash from the manmade fires destroying the rainforests in nearby Sumatra. He has worked for a “celebrity landscaper” in Hawaii, with gigs for actor Pierce Brosnan and former Grateful Dead drummer, Bill Kreutzmann. He has also planted and tended two chocolate farms, in part to sustain his surfing habit.
Treehouse Chocolate wouldn’t exist at all if a deal with Portland’s McMenamins restaurant chain hadn’t fallen through in 2013. Aaron says he was living in a tree house on Brosnan’s estate in Hawaii, when he came to Portland to see about making chocolate. The opportunity didn’t pan out, but with five days until his return flight, he didn’t quit: He decided to stay in Oregon to attempt to turn the 450 pounds of cacao beans leftover from the fledgling venture into a business.
“I knew what life would be like back in Hawaii,” says Aaron. “I stuck in Portland because it was a challenge.”
Aaron’s tiny chocolate factory is a 100-square-foot shipping container inside an Inner Southeast warehouse. In it, he has all the tools to turn raw, sustainably sourced, organic chocolate beans into instant gourmet drinking chocolate. Most importantly for Aaron, this tiny factory lets him enter direct trade agreements with farmer-owned cooperatives to help save the rainforest.
This is Aaron’s driving mission: to create a business that protects against deforestation. Currently, he does so by exclusively purchasing chocolate from Peru, a region of the world where chocolate farms use trees to shade and protect chocolate crops from the sun. In so doing, Aaron says he knows he’s protecting the rainforest, because on those chocolate farms, losing trees means losing business. To boot, by choosing a farmer-owned cooperative, Aaron says each farmer receives an equal share of the profits.
With such thoughtfully sourced cacao as a base, it isn’t surprising that Treehouse Chocolate doesn’t cut corners elsewhere. It makes five types of instant drinking chocolates: Original, Spiced, Coconut, Sea Salt, and Mocha. They’re good for anyone who likes to drink chocolate on the go. They’re a dessert, coffee alternative, traveler’s pick-me-up, and a camping trip luxury.
Treehouse Chocolate’s drinking chocolates come in both single- and six-serving packages, and they’re convenient: Just add hot water and stir. They dissolve easily, and, thanks to hands-on production that retains cocoa butter, they taste great just using water (though adding milk adds richness).
Treehouse’s drinking chocolate styles are diverse. The Mocha packs a caffeinated punch ideal for camping mornings, and the Coconut, which is vegan, features coconut nectar, a sweetener made from coconut tree flowers. The Spiced delivers the heat with aji pancao chiles, plus cinnamon from Eugene-based Red Ape Cinnamon, a company that donates five percent of its profits to saving orangutans, including in Sumatra.
Aaron says he’s begun distributing to Japan, and he hopes to continue to scale up. By purchasing more chocolate, he can work to save rainforests, one cup of drinking chocolate at a time.
Mattie John Bamman is a culinary travel writer focused on the Pacific Northwest, Italy, and the Balkans. Wine, wilderness, and words brought him to Portland, where he regularly contributes to Edible Portland and other publications, including Northwest Travel & Life Magazine. Mattie is also the editor of Eater Portland.