If you’re going to gift chocolate on Valentine’s Day (or any day), it might as well be from small, family farms that are paid fair wages, who ship fermented cacao beans on wind-powered sailboats across the sea (more environmentally friendly, and can be quicker than a freightliner) and are then roasted locally by a couple trained in chocolate making who set up shop in Chantilly.
Getting into chocolate was an accident for Krissee and Mariano D’Aguiar, the owners of River-Sea Chocolates. The couple, with their three kids, were on holiday in Brazil visiting Mariano’s family, and at a cousin’s house, they started climbing a cacao tree in the backyard, cracking open the football-shaped pods. They were intrigued.
They visited a family friend’s farm to buy beans, almost hit a sloth on the way back—they helped the sloth cross the street, took a selfie with the furry mammal, and its likeness has since become the company’s mascot—and decided that this is what they want to do for a living.
“I’ve been searching for something I could be passionate about,” says Krissie D’Aguiar. She first moved to Brazil to study Amazonian ecology while in college; she wanted to save the rainforests. But it’s not that simple and she soon become disillusioned. After college she stayed in Brazil, taught English, met her now-husband and they moved to Virginia, where she grew up. She was in IT, he was in finance.
“The day after I made my first chocolate,” she remembers it clearly, taking a bus to the beach, D’Aguiar thought: “This is what I want to do with my life.”
That was in August 2017. By the end of the year they secured space in a commercial kitchen in Sterling. A year later, they moved into their own factory in Chantilly, next door to Ono Brewing, of which they’ve sent over goods to make chocolate stout.
The collaborations continue with a coffee cacao blend with Weird Brothers Coffee and an Earl Grey-lavender tea chocolate with Elden Street Tea Shop, both in Herndon. D’Aguiar is a purist, using beans from a single region in Tanzania, but also an experimenter, playing with mushrooms and hazelnuts in bar (ultra savory), and using coconut milk for a dairy-free version (the coconut flavor breaks through the chocolate, and the texture is also a little more lush).
Inside, there’s a few shelves of bars displayed (with samples!) and a long table where private parties book tastings and decorating classes. D’Aguiar sees chocolate as a way to educate sweets-lovers on wide-ranging topics, like the agriculture and biology of the shade-growing tree; the politics of trade and economics; and the nutrition (chocolate is a fermented fruit) and chemistry of the roasting and cooking process.
D’Aguiar also wants bring the culture of the chocolate-growing regions to Northern Virginia. Chocolate’s melting point is about 85 degrees, and everywhere it’s grown hugs the equator, making it hard to eat chocolate in bar form. In these warmer climes, they grind the cacao into a warm sipper, with little bits of husk penetrating the frothy drink—egg whites mixed with water and sugar. They’re looking into opening a cacao cafe for these warm drinks, plus cacao juice, coffee and pastries, including pao de queijo, a Brazilian cheese roll.
For now, the factory doesn’t have regular retail hours, though it does offer online shopping and local delivery. For Valentine’s Day, River-Sea will open Wednesday and Thursday from 10 a.m.-2 p.m., with special promotions: two chocolate bars, a bag of roasted cacao husks (for chocolate tea or potpourri) and a cuddly stuffed sloth for $25.99. // River-Sea Chocolates: 4520 Daly Drive, Suite 100, Chantilly
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