Chocolate doesn’t have to be a guilty pleasure, so to speak. Within the small but growing “bean to bar” market, Australian companies like Birdsnake Chocolate are focusing on sustainability and transparency in the cacao industry – without sacrificing quality.
The bean to bar concept allows Birdsnake to have more control over the flavour of the chocolate, know exactly where the cacao beans came from, how they were produced, by who, and most importantly, how much the producer was paid.
We talked shop (and farm) with Fred Lullfitz, one third of the team behind Birdsnake, a predominantly online chocolate company in its infancy with a humble approach and direct ethos: from the farm to your face.
First of all, why the name Birdsnake?
We get asked this a lot! It was named after Quetzalcoatl, a feathered serpent in Mayan and Aztec belief. Quetzalcoatl gave people the gift of cacao so we wanted to name the company after him, but of course Birdsnake is a bit easier to pronounce.
Now we have that one out of the way, tell us a bit about the origins of Birdsnake.
I lived in South America, working in specialty coffee and I was constantly near cacao farms. The more I learned about cacao, the more interested I became in the bean to bar chocolate movement. A couple of years later, I was in San Francisco working as a buyer for a coffee company. While I was there I met some of the team at Dandelion Chocolate, and it blew my mind how much there was to learn, so I decided to make the switch from coffee to chocolate. I called my now business partners Mark and Bridget for a few meetings and the rest is history! Mark and Bridget have so much talent and expertise between them, being pioneers in specialty coffee.
What was life like in Perth? Were any inspirations drawn from living there?
As a kid, I would fly back and forth between Brisbane and Perth. I usually spent summer holidays in Perth, and I eventually got sent out to work on the family nursery in Wanneroo, which was hot and hard work. I think that’s where my interest in horticulture began. I would rather be on a farm, riding a motorbike and getting my hands dirty than in the office any day, and I think global producers can appreciate it when you are genuinely interested in the way their farm works.
The company is based on “doing the right thing”. How difficult is that? Have you faced many challenges?
It definitely has been a challenge. We are constantly re-evaluating the way we source our product and packaging, as well as the way we hire and the effect we have on the globe. Living in Colombia and Ecuador was an eye-opener for me; it’s pretty sad when you see how little people are paid for what they put 80 hours a week in to. I can confidently say that everyone involved in the production so far has been paid fairly.
What is your favourite Birdsnake memory from your travels abroad?
Earlier this year we were lucky enough to visit Tokyo for a pop up with our friends at About Life Coffee Brewers. Birdsnake had only been up and running for four months, so it was scary taking something so new out into the big wide world. Thankfully, one gentleman came back a day after trying a free sample of the Ecuadorian, bought 10 bars and told me he wasn’t sharing any of them with his friends – absolute legend.
Birdsnake is only a year old yet it has achieved so many milestones. Any “proud dad” moments relating to Birdsnake?
When other bean to bar chocolate makers reach out and tell me the chocolate is doing well. When someone you look up to or are competing with, in a way, thinks your choco is on the right track, it’s definitely motivating.
Also seeing people wearing Birdsnake merch out and about – that’s sick!