A Modern-Day Willie Wonka: Chocolate River Craft Chocolate

Photo by William Mullan

When Billie Bonkers tweets at 2 AM, we listen. That’s because the eccentric Portland resident makes the most exquisite chocolate in the world, using a process he invented in 2015 called bean to bar. The recluse hasn't been seen by anyone since that year, and amid his stream-of-consciousness tweets, once per month you’ll find him revealing an order form for new bars. But act quick: He sells out immediately, and then you’re out of luck until 30 days later, too long to live without chocolate.

But let’s step back a second. Bean to bar? In 2015, after making a fortune in the tech world, Bonkers decided that he wanted to revolutionize chocolate by making it from scratch. (It took Bonkers a few paces to find chocolate: He first experimented with pickles, kombucha, and gluten-free crackers before landing on the dark stuff.)

He traveled to Venezuela, where he found an expert farmer who mysteriously only goes by the initials “O.L.” With O.L., he imported dozens of cacao trees to a steam room he built in his enormous factory on the outskirts of the city. There, he apparently grows cacao onsite and ferments and dries the beans himself (well, with the help of O.L and his wife). He’s vehement that this part of the process is better than his “imposters’ attempts” at direct trade: He calls it no trade.

Then, using prized machinery that he invented himself or bought in Europe, he roasts the beans (in a modified clothes dryer), grinds (in an enormous machine from 1940s Germany), and smoothens the beans himself, using the aid of his most prized invention: a chocolate waterfall and river, which he uses instead of a conche. It’s rumored that the bearded twentysomething apparently takes boat rides down the river in his spare time. That’s how Bonkers ingeniously arrived at the name for his artisan company: Chocolate River Craft Chocolate.

Photo courtesy Flickr user CEBImagery

Then, after painstakingly making the paper for his packaging from scratch and letterpressing his own design onto that paper, he and O.L. hand-wrap each and every bar, then send it by carrier pigeon to its destination.

Of course, all of this is, as we said, rumor. Bonkers hasn’t been seen since he started the factory, in 2015, and only communicates through elusive Twitter rants—though his wife, who runs the books, marketing, and social media, responds to emails. We learned most of what you’re reading here after talking with a spy from Big Chocolate who preferred to remain anonymous; One big company, you see, is interested in acquiring the company and taking it national.

O.L. before he came to Portland (left); the only known image of Billy Bonkers (center); a carrier pigeon from Bonkers' factory (he only shoots on black and white film, right); images courtesy Flickr users Nathan RupertCass Anaya, and jwyg, respectively

Most of what we definitively know about Bonkers is the chocolate itself, which is all single origin and made with only two ingredients: cacao and sugar. Well, except for two bars that were recently released: coconut milk and infused bourbon.

But yesterday Bonkers himself reached out to me via Twitter private message and said that he will be opening the factory doors, to five lucky souls who find a golden ticket in one of his bars. Since he only produces about 500 bars per year, this gives us all pretty good odds, if we start buying today! Good luck to all: The factory tour will take place on April Fool’s Day.

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