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Jasper and Myrtle: The new choc on the block

Michelle Brotohusodo

“Chocolate is endless in terms of possibilities.”

When someone makes a statement like that, you know there are exciting chocolatey times ahead. Li Peng Monroe, founder of Jasper and Myrtle—Canberra’s newest chocolatier and its only bean to bar maker—is only just starting to explore what those possibilities are.

I first discovered Jasper and Myrtle at the Handmade Markets in March, its official launch (thanks again for the tip, Julie Nichols!). I was taken by the beautiful packaging and the unusual flavours, which included wakame and Himalayan rock salt, spiced rum, and lemon myrtle and macadamia.

JMstall

I wanted to find out more about the creator of these delectable treats, so I arranged to meet with Li Peng and learn about her Jasper and Myrtle journey.

“I always wanted to have my own business,” she said, “But I hadn’t decided what it would be.” Inspiration struck while she and her partner Peter were on holiday at Margaret River in Western Australia. “We went to Gabriel Chocolate, where we got an amazing taste of all the different beans. It was the first time I’d tasted bean to bar chocolate, and it got me thinking, maybe I could do this.”

After researching how to make chocolate, Li Peng put theory into action, initially sourcing beans from a health food store, learning how to roast and winnow them, and putting them through a melanger (grinder). She also bought a large spice grinder and began experimenting with different flavours.

Her confidence growing, Li Peng decided that the beans from the health food store weren’t producing the chocolate she wanted, so she hopped online to find alternative sources for cocoa beans. “I had people contacting me from places ranging from the Philippines, Peru, and Papua New Guinea, to India and Cameroon,” she explains.

One of the contacts was a food technician from the Cocoa and Coconut Research Institute in Papua New Guinea (PNG), a government body that, amongst other things, assists cocoa producers with farm management practices. After talking to him, Li Peng decided to order her first big shipment of beans from PNG. “It was the first crop of many decades, because the previous crops had been affected by natural disaster,” she said. “So it’s a nice story. My first shipment from PNG was more than 400kg.”

JMbeans

With such a large order on the way, Li Peng’s vision became a very real reality. “When you have 400kg of cocoa beans, you have to do something with them!” After checking with the neighbours, Peter (who Li Peng jokingly calls her ‘Director of Logistics’) custom-built a chocolate-processing facility in their backyard. They experimented with flavours, and came up with a name for the business.

“I wanted something that reflected our backgrounds,” Li Peng said. “I’m from Western Australia, which is known for its jasper. Peter’s from Newcastle, which is known for its myrtle trees. And so I came up with Jasper and Myrtle. I wanted the name to bring together significant parts of my life.” Coincidentally, they later found out that the hill behind their house in Canberra is full of jasper (which I think was a pretty good omen!).

The packaging was designed by local graphic designer Caroline, from Callie and Co Design. “I gave her the brief, she came back with exactly what I wanted,” Li Peng said. “The packaging is based on the flavours.”

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Li Peng and Peter came up with the flavours by trial and error, tested on themselves and eager-to-volunteer family and friends. “Some were hits but there were also some big misses!” She also explained why she chose to make bean to bar: “It offers more flexibility because I can add the flavours as I’m making the chocolate. There’s still a lot to learn, but the ideas are endless.”

After settling on some formulas, Li Peng decided to enter the 2016 Royal Melbourne Fine Food Awards to see how her creations would rate. She was surprised and elated when the lemon myrtle and macadamia milk chocolate was awarded a bronze, and the dark chocolate with wakame and Himalayan rock salt won a silver. Not bad for someone who’d only been making chocolate for seven months!

Jasper and Myrtle’s other flavours include white chocolate and sour cherries, espresso dark chocolate, spiced rum, classic milk chocolate, Peruvian dark chocolate, and PNG dark chocolate. There’s also the Silk Road, which is a delicious take on rocky road using pistachios, coconut, figs, marshmallows, Turkish delight and, of course, chocolate.

Photo: Jasper and Myrtle

Photo: Jasper and Myrtle

Making the delicious bars is a time intensive process that involves roasting and winnowing the beans and leaving them overnight, followed by 10 hours in the melanger, where Li Peng adds sugar, vanilla bean, and the specific ingredients for each batch of bars. The chocolate then has to be hand tempered on marble, poured into moulds, left overnight, and then packaged.

Each batch takes almost two days, and their capacity at the moment is 300 bars a week. Did I mention Li Peng has children and also still has a day job?? I felt quite unproductive by comparison!

As her business grows, Li Peng continues to experiment with new flavours and explore new possibilities for Jasper and Myrtle. “It’s been a great journey in terms of learning,” she said, “I’ve learnt a lot about importing and exporting, freight forwarding, I’m looking at sourcing beans from different countries, like Vietnam and the Solomon Islands, and we’re learning how to make our own Turkish delight.”

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If you’re keen to try Jasper and Myrtle’s range (and I highly recommend you do), you can find them at Shop Handmade, The Essential Ingredient, and The Friendly Grocer. They’re also at the EPIC and Southside Farmers Markets every second weekend. And while the wakame and Himalayan rock salt is their best seller, you might find it as amusing as I did to hear that espresso is the most popular flavour in the morning and spiced rum in the afternoon.

The essentials
What: Jasper and Myrtle bean to bar chocolate
Where: Shop Handmade (Civic), The Essential Ingredient (Kingston), The Friendly Grocer (Cook) and every second weekend at Capital Region Farmers Market and Southside Farmers Market
Contact: Call 0416 182 477 or visit their website or Facebook page

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Michelle Brotohusodo

Michelle moved to Canberra vowing to stay for two years, tops. 10 years later, she’s a bona fide Canberra convert. When she’s not working in her day job as a public servant, she’s enjoying Canberra’s culinary delights or finding fun things to do/see in and around town. More about the Author

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