Meet the Maker: Ryan Cheney of Raaka Chocolate

Posted on July 2nd, 2013

Ryan Cheney of Raaka ChocolateThis is Ryan Cheney, founder of Raaka Chocolate. We met last September at the 2012 Northwest Chocolate Awards. I suspect Ryan’s a morning person, because he arrived for our early-morning meeting grinning and full of energy, excited about the long run he’d just had. I am not a morning person. I was happy to absorb some of his enthusiasm through osmosis, while nursing an enormous coffee.

Raaka Chocolate came on my radar because of their bourbon-barrel-aged chocolate. Basically, they take cacao beans, age them in old bourbon barrels, and make chocolate out of it. I quite like it, though the bourbon flavour is more subtle than you might expect. The other thing about Raaka is that they make “virgin chocolate” (their term, not mine), which is also known as raw chocolate. Basically, raw chocolate is made from cacao beans that are unroasted. I’m not usually a fan of raw chocolate, which seems to bite back, but Raaka’s okay in my books.

Oh, and the name? Raaka means “raw” in Finnish.

What is Raaka Chocolate known for?
Raaka Chocolate provides fair-trade bean-to-bar chocolate and we make our chocolate without roasting our cocoa beans. We provide unique flavours, and opportunities for farmers to get paid above average prices.

How did you come to chocolate?
I came to the world of chocolate through a yoga school in Thailand where I met someone who was making aphrodisiac truffles. I got excited about the possibilities of flavour and cocoa and eventually discovered bean-to-bar chocolate making, which got me excited about flavours, variety and different origins and the impact that trade can have on communities in cocoa growing regions.

What’s the best part of your job?
The best part of my job is that it allows me to do a lot of different things. I really like working with people. I started with this focus on cocoa farmers, but as I’ve worked I’ve realized there’s a lot of direct impact I have on members of the team and how the company is run really affects their lives a lot. Being in a position where what we’re building together can have a good affect on their lives is something I’m learning a lot about and really appreciate. I realize now that it’s also about the people who are closest to the team at first and we kind of branch out as we grow, whereas my intiial ambitions are now more on the horizon.

What’s the most challenging part of your job?
I have a really broad set of interests and a lot of different modalities that I like to engage in. And it requires a lot of discipline and continuity to start a company, so i feel as though I have to commit a lot of my time to a smaller set of modalities of being than i would like to, for a long period of time, in order to really get the company off the ground and profitable. I’m realizing now it’s really easy for this to be five or eight years of my life. We range from 50–70 hours a week depending on the season. It’s all focused on issues related to starting the company. So yeah, it’s great and it’s a lesson in itself. But it means letting go of being a wild traveler for 6 months or being a painter or something like that. Or maybe it makes it harder to run an ironman. Things like that.

What do you do when you’re not making chocolate?
Things I like…I love chess. I love meditation. I like kickboxing. I got a couple of jujitsu classes in recently. Those are a few things.

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