arrowenvelopefacebookinstagramlinked-intwitteryelpyoutube

Boston Born: EHChocolatier Has Rochers For Days

Behind these cozy orange doors lives some of the best chocolate in the country.

When she was younger, Elaine Hsieh and her brother would spend time demolishing their chocolate Easter bunnies with scientific precision, the former medical practitioner and co-founder of EHChocolatier says.

“Should you start with the ears? Should you pop the eyes out? Start shoving the pieces in so you have more of a solid chocolate by the time you finish?” she recalls of her process. “I spent a lot of time thinking about that. That was probably my first memory of chocolate.”

By contrast, her fellow chocolatier and business partner, Catharine Sweeney, had one simple aspiration regarding candy.

“When I was at home I used to say as soon as I move out I’m going to have a cupboard full of Almond Joy. Of course that never happened,” she says.

She got an entire kitchen full of chocolate instead.

EHChocolatier is housed in the same building as Taza Chocolate. When you walk in, the bitter smell of Taza’s cacao beans is the first thing that hits you. But as you walk up the stairs to find the artists at work at EHChocolatier, the sharpness fades to that familiar, warm, sweet aroma of melty, flowing chocolate.

Located in Somerville, on the second floor of an enormous and unassuming building, Elaine, Catharine, and their female-powered team at EHChocolatier are handcrafting some of the finest chocolates in the country. A lofty declaration, to be sure, but they have the votes of The New York Times, Food & Wine, and Boston magazine’s Best of Boston award. But unlike many master artisans, both Elaine and Catharine began their craft pretty late in the game.

Having studied medicine her whole life, Elaine was working in women’s health, and had even opened her own practice in Boston before realising that it wasn’t fulfilling her as she’d hoped. She was enjoying cooking in her spare time, “I think partly just to deal with the stress of practicing medicine,” she says. She eventually enrolled at the Cambridge School of Culinary Arts, where a pastry instructor encouraged her to pursue the sweeter side of things.

Elaine boxes up an assortment of treats for a Chef’s Choice Box. “I do love to eat chocolate, but it’s far more than that,” she says. “It’s a great medium to work with, and you really need to understand the science of it, which I think for me is very appealing as well.”

An avid amateur baker by contrast, Catharine was working at Harvard University’s admissions office, also searching for a new challenge, when the two women were introduced to each other at a party.

“We had a mutual friend who was getting married,” Catharine says, and they were asked if they’d make her wedding cake together.

Their friend didn’t want a homemade-looking cake, Elaine (left) says. When she showed them the cake, “It was multi-tiered, edible seashells cascading off the top of this cake with like coral and seagrass. I was dumbfounded.” Long story short, like many strong unions, Elaine and Catharine’s friendship was forged over a wedding cake.

The two continued cooking together, and would team up around the holidays to bake treats for family and friends. Almost a decade after the wedding, Catharine decided to leave her job, and Elaine followed suit.

“After we left our respective jobs we decided we’d test the waters a little bit and see if we could work together, so we started a family and friends ‘Chocolate Club’,” Catharine says. “Once a month, they would get a box of chocolate and some confections, and we did that for nine months.”

Working out of Elaine’s home, the pair were able to keep overhead costs quite low as they slowly expanded their fledgeling enterprise. “It was also like our own little Kickstarter in many ways,” Elaine says. “By the end of the nine months, we ended up with quite a little egg to start our business.”

Catharine and Elaine were able to bring some of their equipment they’d been using at Elaine’s home to their new Somerville workspace, but used some of those funds to buy bigger capacity equipment. They bought this Automatic Continuous Tempering Machine directly from Italy, and affectionately named it Lucie.

Slowly and organically is the way Elaine and Catharine grew EHChocolatier, and it turns out it’s also the secret to making great chocolates. The ladies put a lot of focus on tempering; the delicate process of melting and setting to achieve the perfect amount of sheen, snap, and smoothness in the finished product.

“Chocolate is very finicky, and we find that when we run into problems it’s because we’ve disrespected that process,” Elaine says. “You can’t rush it, and you can’t wait. When it’s ready, you have to stop what you’re doing and use it, otherwise you’ve waited too long.”

The fancy melting pot keeps chocolate flowing and liquefying at exactly the right temperature to ensure it reaches the right temper once EHChocolatier resets it.
The temper of the chocolate determines how cleanly it will break when bitten, the texture, and all important glossy look. These candied orange rinds dipped in dark chocolate are exactly how EHChocolatier want its product to look.

The other, less secret parts of the puzzle are using the highest quality ingredients at every step, and attention to the details, and Elaine says it’s those details that set EHChocolatier apart.

“It has to be exceptional in how it tastes, it has to be exceptional in how the texture is, it has to be exceptional in how it looks,” she says. “It’s the whole package.”

Compared to other local chocolate companies that produce bean-to-bar chocolate, EHChocolatier instead takes high quality, smooth, pre-made chocolate — like the Valrhona pictured — melts it down, and crafts its goodies. The women joke that they’re “beyond the bar people.”

The women wrestle with the idea of expanding, or opening a store, as they know they always want to be in the kitchen, ensuring that quality. As the company’s menu continues to expand, they know there will be a point where they have to make a choice between existing items and newness.

“We love our stuff and we love everything we make, but it would not be the same if we could not keep making more. It’s kind of a balance,” Elaine says.

Whatever decision they make, there’s one thing that Catharine assures definitely won’t change.

“There will always be lots of testing!”

We love being in Somerville, and we’d like to stay in Somerville,” Elaine says, but the pair do dream of having a retail shop in addition to their kitchen. While EHChocolatier chocolates are available at specialty retailers around the Boston area, the kitchen in Somerville is the only place you’ll find the whole menu.
Freshly coated with milk chocolate, Brown Butter Toffee Almond shards are topped with sliced pieces of almond for a finishing touch.

•••

Yelp connects people to great local businesses, and in our Boston Born series, we’re sharing the stories behind some of the highest-rated, locally-owned biz in and around the city. Features researched, written and photographed by Lloyd Mallison. To read what Yelpers have to say about the featured biz, download the Yelp app.