Sienna and Aldo are the ones behind Fortuna Chocolate, and their cross-cultural experiences from the United States, Mexico, and Japan are the only type of fillers you want in an ingredients list.
Chocolate is food, but like any food that we Americans adopt, it sometimes rarely reflects the origins of where they came from. Although, luckily for us, craft cacao producers such as Fortuna Chocolates are giving us an opportunity to experience what the ancient Olmecs (Southern Mexico), Mayans, to the Aztecs (well, let’s just say throughout Mesoamerica) may have ate, along with a dash of influence from Japan’s artisan producers.
Like the coffee bean which is a fruit, the cocoa pod also comes from a fruit tree which has upwards of 40 cacao beans in a cacao pod embedded in a mucilaginous white goo (“white goo” is as scientific as I get bro, I’m a D+ student).
A Decade and a Half Journey
“Fortuna was born on a bicycle in the streets of Tokyo and at a long wooden table in the Danish countryside. It was born on the beaches of the Pacific Ocean and in the forests of the Rocky Mountains.”– Sienna and Aldo, Fortuna Chocolates
- 2007: We met in Mexico City in February – Aldo was born in the capital & I had been living there since 2005.
- 2009: We moved to Tokyo in May, and we were married in September.
- 2014: Moved to Boulder in August.
- 2015: We launched the truck version of Fortuna in November.
- 2020: Relaunched our online brand “Day of the Dead,” on November 1st.
Japanese Goma to Furoshiki
Fortuna offers their own furoshiki (sold as bandanas) for you to wrap up your purchased products, and that is just one of the Japanese influences in Fortuna Chocolate. The other is reflected in the ingredients and an appreciation for nuanced flavors with the use of black sesame seeds from Japan.
Fortuna bandanas/furoshiki are great for wrapping all kinds of things. Hand printed on 100% cotton using eco-ink by the awesome team at @RawPaw collective in Austin, Texas each bandana or furoshiki was designed by the Fortuna team and can be washed either by hand or machine. The furoshiki is made of a fiber manufactured from recycled PET bottles, and has a birds-and-flowers motif drawn by Itoh Jakuchu, a painter of the mid-Edo era. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
“Tokyo, Japan was once our home and we wanted to create a chocolate that could represent the sweet side of a Washoku (traditional Japanese food) menu. we chose black sesame that has been roasted by 4th generation master, Etsuji Wada. They are the most delicious sesame seeds we have ever tasted and the expert craftsmxnship has carefully drawn out nuances of flavor, a quality we love about Japanese sweets. ground into our heirloom white chocolate, this chocolate is for those of you who are looking for something special.– Fortuna Chocolates
Our white chocolate is chocolate. Cacao beans have two basic components, the rich dark-colored cacao solids, and the opaque ivory-colored cacao fat or butter. Our white chocolate is made with pure cacao butter which has been pressed from single-origin cacao beans. We love the flavor of the organic cacao butter pressed from heirloom arriba nacional grown in the northern regions of what is now Ecuador and that is what we use to make all of our white chocolates.”
Fortuna White Chocolate Japanese Black Sesame
- Ingredients: organic cacao butter, organic whole milk, organic cane sugar & Japanese black sesame seeds
- Single-origin / Ecuador
- Japanese black sesame seeds
- 100% compostable packaging
- 30g / 1oz
Aside from black sesame seed, for the past several years, Fortuna has been making chocolate with herbs grown in the Denver Botanic Garden’s herb garden and this has been one of their main products in their line-up. One such herb are fresh mint leaves that are dried and added directly into a stone grinder as they are utilized for a batch of extra creamy dark chocolate.
Also, I had to Google this, but there is a distinction between “cocoa” and “cacao” and All Recipes has a good explanation which is “…cacao powder is often packaged as vegan, as it has been minimally processed with no additives.” For the full definition, click the link, it’s worth the read.
Sienna and Aldo and the Chocolate Truck (a Q&A with Fortuna Chocolates)
This Q&A interview is something I wanted to do more of because there are so many interesting people out there, and these stories rarely see the light of day. I say that because most brands see branding as graphic design to a logo, but what branding is, is managing expectations (also, I am not saying this about Fortuna Chocolates, but I am speaking in general). People want to know what to expect when they interact with a product/service, and some brands have people who ooze an interesting and girthy backstory like a thick brown cacao log waiting to be dumped into the world. Well, Sienna and Aldo exemplify that.
I have tried to produce content on Fortuna before, but since I struggle with writing, it was a struggle on my end. As for you, you have an amazing blog/writing ability with a very extensive range of topics that I highly suggest people go and check out. With that said, I would have to say that you have a massive awareness of your actions and impact it has in this world, and I have to ask where does that all stem from/your influences?
The three of us have diverse backgrounds in the arts and humanities. We come to chocolate making with this experience and apply what we have learned to our developing our business model. As I am responsible for the blog and social media content I will explain that my educational background is Cultural Anthropology and Fine Art from the University of Colorado at Boulder. I wrote my honors thesis focused on the impact of art on communication across borders and the ability of creativity to connect regardless of cultural differences. My specific focus was on the border between the United States and Mexico and this research has continued in my work with Fortuna as we routinely cross the border between the two countries in both professional and personal capacities.
You spent five years in Japan, and you were married there, but what brought you two to Japan?
There is a Japanese concept that explains why we immigrated to Japan; as many words in Japanese the meaning can be slightly different depending on the context so let me explain that I am a lover of Japanese gardens and from the ancient text called the Sakuteiki comes the term fuzei. It is written with two characters ‘wind’ and ‘emotion’ and when used in the context of a physical location such as Japan in this case – it can be translated to ‘the spirit of a place’. The spirit of Japan has a deep connection to both of us for different reasons, the simple explanation being that Aldo is a musician and has for many years appreciated Japanese electronic instruments and has experience working with Japanese people in Mexico City from whom he leaned Japanese as a teenager. I am an artist and have been fascinated by the artwork surrounding the ‘Scrolls of Genji’ based on the thousand year old text ‘Tales of Genji’ which I have read several times.
During the five years, you had a number of your favorite neighborhoods from Ueno, Ginza, Nakano, Ikebukuro, Tsukiji, to Shimokitazawa (I am an avid bicyclist, so I am jealous you got to ride around all these neighborhoods). Out of it all, is there a spot, activity, or food you really miss during that half-decade?
We definitely miss cruising around the city on our bikes, for such a large and busy place, Tokyo drivers are extremely aware of cyclists and share the road in ways that you wouldn’t experience in other capitals (we also biked around Mexico City) If we were to land in Tokyo tonight thee is a small family run yakitori restaurant we would head to right away. The father butchers the chickens they prepare each morning and they have the absolute best karaage in the city. The are also one of the only spots in the city we know of that serves chicken sashimi. Obviously their skewers are incredible, liver is my favorite.
Your experiences in Japan can be seen in your products from your choice of ingredients/flavor profiles to your use of furoshiki. Aside from those influences, what other lasting influences have stuck with you? Also, this is a two parter, what were some cultural differences that really stood out to you (as for me, just seeing people all stand to one side of the escalator to not talking on the trains stood out)?
There were many influences from Japan that have inspired us, one that seems to make its way into everything we do is the connection to nature. Awareness of the relationship humans have with their natural surroundings and the respect for collaboration with nature was a consistent cultural ethos that we incorporated into Fortuna as a result of our years living in Japan. That being said I was surprised to see the amount of trash that sometimes accompanies the service industry, bags and wrappings etc.. were incredibly beautiful and also contributed to huge piles of trash at events like cherry blossom viewing picnics, hanami. It enthralled me so much that one year I did a series of video shorts documenting the houseless community sifting through the mountains lefts behind in Ueno Park.
I know tacos de ojo may be a shocker for most Americans because the only meat Americans are accustomed to are the primary cuts of muscle and offal are non-existent in any Americanized restaurant. It is the reason why I have to go to Mexican joints for tripas, cabeza, to lengua. Were there any dishes in Japan that you saw a connection to during your time in Mexico City because in Japan every part is also used, even fish bones (anybody who has had menudo or tripas, I would like them to try motsunabe).
Yum motsunabe. One of my favorite memories of moving to Japan was when we missed the last train while at the legendary punk rock studio, Studio Dom, in Koenji. Our friend is the owner and we had been hanging out with him late one night, he suggested that we visit a yakitori restaurant on the second floor of the Koenji covered walkway mall. When we opened the door, my life changed. I had been a vegetarian for more than a decade before moving to Mexico City where I met Aldo. I was eating meat when we met but as you mention, I was eating prime cuts and definitely not anything close to offal even in Mexico at that point. We sat at the counter in front of the grill and the menu was all in Japanese, which neither of us could read so we decided to let the chef feed us. I started eating whatever he put in front of us and was loving it, Aldo started cracking up because of course the tastiest bits are things like heart and liver. There were no windows or clocks so it was like a timewarp, I think we walked out of there at 9am or something. The next week the restaurant burned up from an explosion so sadly we never could go back.
I love that your food focus is that chocolate is food because the way I see it, any time any food becomes Americanized in our approximately 250 year old food culture, it either gets sweeter, fattier, or saltier. Umami and savory are out the door, and I do not think that the vast majority of Americans are aware that chocolate came from Mesoamerica (central America), or present day Mexico. So how is chocolate typically used as an ingredient in Mexico?
True, this has been one of the difficult pieces of our business model, many people expect our chocolate to taste like the industrial chocolate they grew up with. In some ways transforming chocolate into a shelf stable product has made chocolate available to a wider range of economic classes because of the cost saving involved but it has also meant a race to the bottom in terms of ingredients and fillers. It’s wild to look at the ingredient list of a common chocolate bar, so many things are added to manipulate it for the market. Cacao in Mexico was a beverage for thousands of years, ingredients like honey, chili, flowers etc.. were added for their health benefits and cacao was understood to be a vitality tonic. Once the Spaniards invaded some of the culture around cacao shifted and you saw it introduced into dishes like mole, ground with dozens of other ingredients into a rich paste that was fried and blended with broths to serve as a sauce over meat. Another addition to cacao culture was sugar and now you see most chocolate sold in Mexico is highly sweetened. We make a mole from a family recipe with our chocolate for special occasions and it really is quite different when using such high quality cacao and retain low sugar levels.
Your diverse cultural experiences have influenced your product, so it is even cooler that 14er, a Boulder, Colorado cannabis cultivator and dispensary have collaborated with you. With what I know about you, and how passionate you are, this would be the one edible that I would seek out over all others. I also would not want to call it a “chocolate bar,” even though your bean to bar product is either a 2:1 (20mg/CBD, 10mg/THC), 70% dark chocolate or 55% milk bar consisting of organic hand-roasted Chontalpa cacao, Maldon sea salt, organic cane sugar, and 100% THC distillate. The way I see it, it is like comparing Japanese food in Japan to the Americanized “Japanese” food in Colorado, not even comparable. So I know a lot of people won’t get that reference, but you will, and I only mention it because I am glad more people get to try your product. Is this a direction that you had ever planned to take your product?
Yes, we believe in the medicinal and recreational qualities of cannabis and have always thought the two would combine really well. Chocolate can be a celebration as well as a tonic as I mentioned earlier. When we returned from Japan to Colorado the cannabis industry was exploding and there were so many nasty edibles on the market, filled with stabilizers and emulsifiers and flavorings… We believe that people enjoying cannabis can also enjoy food and flavors. We also believe that high quality ingredients make you feel differently, infused or not, and when you eat real food you feel better. The 14er team is such a great group of professionals that take their craft very seriously so it only make sense that they would want to produce an edible that mirrors that level of dedication.
How did that collaboration even happen?
Organically, if you will excuse the play on words, a mutual friend is the owner operator of Moxie Bread here locally and when he heard that 14er was looking for a high end chocolate producer to make an edible with he introduced us. Moxie is also a stockist and have been such an awesome support for Fortuna for years. We met at the Southern Sun over craft beers and talked through the idea. Instantly we wee really impressed with their respect for ingredients and their quest for premium flavor. They have spent years developing an in house terpene library documenting and exploring the terpenes, or flavor components, of cannabis. They pair the different strains of their cannabis with their edible products based on flavor, leading the industry in such attention to detail.
Are there any other types of products that you would like to take your product in the direction of?
Of course, we are creative people with background sin the arts so we love the exploration process of thinking through and developing new products. One of the most challenging parts of the craft chocolate industry in the US is the focus on shelf stability and distribution through grocery chains. We love to collaborate with other venues to produce small batches of fresh chocolate that sell to customers looking for something special, something that has not been sitting on a shelf for up to a year. So in a way our retail partners, or stockists as they are called, many times influence the products we offer. For example we have been making chocolate in collaboration with the Denver Botanic Gardens for the past five years and incorporating herbs like lavender and lemon verbena into the chocolate we offer at their gift shop.
Money is not your primary driver, and you, I can bet you money (hahaha), that you can not be bought if it compromises Fortuna’s ethics. So what is the ultimate goal you would like to achieve with your efforts either individually or through Fortuna?
Quality of life. We want to live well and make a product that we are proud of sharing with like minded people. I think that many times ‘living well’ is swapped for ‘making money’ and that is simply not true for us. Quality of life also includes rest, time for family and interests that are not monetary. Basically at the end of our lives what will we have lived for? I do not believe that human beings are not born to generate profit or to accumulate wealth at the cost of all else. Of course we live in a capital driven society, for now, and so money factors into decision making and is required for acquiring a certain standard of living but this is not the motivating factor for what we do. I truly believe that we live in abundant times and we choose to operate from that perspective, one of abundance sharing not hoarding because we have a fear of scarcity. We want a full life and we want to share that full life with others, what better way than to bring chocolate to the table?
Thank you so very much Sienna for taking the time to participate in this Q&A, and if you would like to collaborate with Fortuna or try one of their many chocolate products, this is how you can do just that:
- Buy directly off of the Fortuna Chocolates website.
- Visit the Denver Botanic Gardens store at 1007 York St, Denver, CO 80206.
- 14er Boulder dispensary products online.