Chocolate: It’s rich, it's creamy, it comes in different flavors and forms, it’s made right here on Cal Poly’s campus. Aside from the more administrative duties and guidance performed and provided by faculty member and Operations Manager Molly Lear, Cal Poly Chocolate is entirely produced and distributed by students. Additionally, all of its ingredients are both fair-trade and ethically sourced. I spoke with Rachel Rosenbloom, one of the managers of Cal Poly Chocolates, to get a closer look at the inner workings of the creation of this tasty Cal Poly product.

Jessica May

How It’s Made

Cal Poly Chocolates does not make chocolate from scratch because it would be extremely labor intensive for the students running production, and the production itself would be extremely expensive. Instead, Cal Poly Chocolates begins their chocolate making process by getting 25 lbs bags of what Rosenbloom described as a chalky, chocolate chip-like, raw chocolate product. This product is ordered in both milk chocolate and dark chocolate.

Photo courtesy of Cal Poly Chocolates

The production team takes this product and heats and cools it in a process called tempering. Tempering the chocolate allows for the team to ensure that the chocolate has both the perfect amount and the perfect formation of chocolate crystals.

Photo courtesy of Cal Poly Chocolates

Once the chocolate is tempered, it is deposited into molds and put into a cooler. It is during this depositing process that special ingredients are added. According to Rosenbloom, these special ingredients include “anything from actual ground coffee to big scoops of peanut butter, freeze dried raspberries, [or] mint oil.”

Photo courtesy of Cal Poly Chocolates

The solid chocolate is fed through a flow wrapper that wraps the chocolate, seals the packaging, and cuts the packages apart. The finished product is distributed by sales managers to almost fifty different locations around San Luis Opispo County, including wineries, farm stands, and a few small grocery stores. The chocolate is also sold at locations on campus, including the University Store and Campus Market.

Taste Testing

Jessica May

When creating new flavors, Cal Poly Chocolates does a lot of research into spices, market competition and the ingredients other companies use in their versions of that flavors.

The team then starts trying different combinations and amounts of special ingredients. The chocolate goes through a lot of internal taste testing before it is released to the public. The team must decide on a recipe that they all like and think will be popular among buyers.

Additionally, there are many food science professors whose offices are in the production building itself . These professors are trained at tasting different items and giving feedback. The Cal Poly Chocolates team consults the professors to see what they think of the flavor. When a recipe is finally agreed on, it is produced and distributed to vendors.

Photo courtesy of Cal Poly Chocolates

Cal Poly Chocolates is going through this process right now trying to create a spicy chocolate bar. They are working on developing (and agreeing on) the perfect blend and amount of spices in the bar. The goal is to create a more complex spice in the new bar than currently exists in the Spicy Cayenne Bar on the market. They have purchased different spices and peppers and are trying them in different combinations, in both milk and dark chocolate, to determine a recipe to produce.

Rosenbloom gave an example of the challenges that come with deciding on a recipe in a team setting: she really liked a milk chocolate version of the bar that included cardamom as the main spice, but the recipe failed to make the cut when the rest of the team did not like it as much as she did. The bar simply would have been more challenging to market without the full support of the team.

On the other hand, in some cases, the process for creating new flavors actually becomes fairly simple. Flavors can be changed by simply substituting similar ingredients like freeze dried olallieberries with freeze dried raspberries.

Once the chocolate bar is in stores, the team tracks sales very closely to determine how successful the flavor is and how much of it they should produce.

Flavors in the Works

Cal Poly Chocolates produces different seasonal flavors throughout the year as well as flavors or products for special events.

Currently, Cal Poly Chocolates is focused on the spicy chocolate bar. Rosenbloom added that we can expect to see some kind of peppermint bark or winter-themed flavor in the near future. They are also working on creating a recipe for chocolate covered coffee beans and hope to start producing them in the future. 

How to Get Involved

New students are hired by Cal Poly Chocolates every year. There are usually about six employees making chocolate. Generally, these students are Food Science and Nutrition majors and they are almost exclusively freshmen and sophomores. It is possible, however, for students in other majors to get involved if they have good understanding of what they are doing and know how to maintain cleanliness and hygiene.

Rosenbloom says the most important trait a person working for Cal Poly Chocolates could have is initiative. Employees should be able to recognize problems or things that need to get done and be able to take care of those without needing to be told what to do all of the time.

The production all takes place in Building 24 which is located by Campus Market.

Photo courtesy of Cal Poly Chocolates

Even though production takes place on a college campus, Cal Poly Chocolates is a real, high-functioning production facility that provides firsthand industry experience for Cal Poly students. Next time you take a bite of a Cal Poly Milk Chocolate Bar, Pumpkin Spice Bar, or Coffee Crunch Bar, take a moment to appreciate the hard work and time that a group of dedicated students put into your tasty treat.