Slivers of (chocolate) heaven: New chocolate store opens in Northampton

  • Suzanne Forman of Northampton makes premium handmade chocolate slivers which she sells through her online shop, Tangle Chocolate. Photographed on Thursday, Dec. 10, 2020. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Suzanne Forman of Northampton makes and sells premium handmade chocolate slivers through her online shop, Tangle Chocolate. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Suzanne Forman of Northampton makes premium handmade chocolate slivers which she sells in creative boxes through her online shop, Tangle Chocolate. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • A gift box offered through Tangle Chocolate includes hot chocolate and chocolate slivers from Suzanne Forman complemented by lotion, elderberry soap, candles from Mole Hollow and a poem by Emily Dickinson. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

For the Gazette
Published: 12/23/2020 3:28:04 PM

Suzanne Forman sometimes pinches herself these days — not literally, of course — when she thinks about the sliver of the premium dark chocolate she makes and sells out of her Northampton home.

“Am I really making chocolate for a living?” she asks rhetorically.

Turns out, yes. This is a second career for the Northampton woman who recently launched Tangle Chocolate, a bean-to-bar chocolate business that specializes in making thin slivers of high-end chocolate. The business’s name comes from Forman’s mental image of “the rainforests where cacao grows, with all of the tangled vines and incredible lushness everywhere,” Forman says.

Forman first got involved in the craft chocolate industry in 2015, when she and a friend started Boho Chocolate, another business in the area. She transitioned into starting her own business after working at Boho for several years.

“When I was with Boho and went into stores to meet with buyers, I took these little samples for them to try. They loved them,” Forman said. “Over time, as I learned more about the geopolitical and social justice issues surrounding chocolate, I became convinced that in order for consumers to understand the high price this kind of chocolate commands, the chocolate ... made it possible to really feel, taste, and savor the quality ingredients and the traditional craftsmanship that goes into making real chocolate.”

Rather than making big bars of chocolate that society has been trained to think of as something to scarf down, Forman offers the chocolate in smaller sizes. She thought people would respond to that because of her experience with the store buyers.

“Making it in slivers, as I do, encourages people to really slow down and savor each small piece,” she said. “People naturally hold it on their tongue because of its shape, where it melts quickly and reaches all of their taste buds, maximizing their experience of its flavors and aromas. This chocolate tastes nothing like the chocolate I grew up with. And suddenly chocolate becomes not a food, but an experience.”

The chocolate Forman makes in a licensed production facility in her home sells for between $9.90-$49.90, and gift boxes with Tangle chocolate and a variety of local products sell for up to $64.90.

Forman, who previously worked as a bodymind therapist, believes deeply in the joyful power of chocolate, and that specialty chocolate like Tangle is perfect for those who want to live mindfully.

“This chocolate brings me into the moment, because it’s so flavorful that it captures my attention and wakes up all of my senses,” Forman said.

While many small businesses have struggled during the pandemic, Forman has found unique success. She had originally scheduled Tangle’s grand opening for March 2020, right as things began to shut down due to the spread of COVID-19.

“The (business shutdowns due to the) pandemic helped me lower my expectations and relax a little bit, because suddenly I didn’t feel like I had to compete in a giant way, because ... it was clearly going to be a gradual start,” Forman said.

What she didn’t expect is that “this business is perfect for the pandemic, because we all need little pick-me-ups right now ... Things that a lot of people used to do, which were considered special, are off the table ... We all need something to look forward to, even if it’s small. In fact, in some ways, something small is better than something big, because it’s accessible. You can have a little bit of chocolate every day.”

Ethical impact

Tangle’s also dedicated to making an ethical product. Forman got her start in chocolate when she went to Belize with a group of chocolate lovers, where she was able to learn about the ethics of the chocolate industry and the process of making chocolate. As an ethical and sustainable chocolate brand, Forman pays well above fair trade prices — or the minimum price that importers must pay for products such as coffee — for her cacao, unlike most large chocolate corporations, which are known for using slave labor.

She is part of the new Chocolate Industry for Social Justice initiative, a craft chocolate industry-wide group that hopes to educate consumers and push “big chocolate” toward more ethical and sustainable practices.

The farmers in Cahabón, Guatemala that Forman works with are part of the ADIOESMAC cooperative that encourages women in the Cahabón community to take on leadership roles and start their own entrepreneurial endeavors in addition to cacao farming. The Cahabón community also partners with the Guatemalan Ministry of Agriculture and various non governmental organizations to farm in ways that are environmentally sustainable.

Forman values having a personal relationship with these farmers in Guatemala. “(The farmers) have knowledge that’s generations old. They know more about cacao than I ever possibly could, and I feel lucky to have them as partners.”

While Tangle does source its two ingredients (cacao and sugarcane) from Central America, it is a business that is deeply local and loyal to Northampton. In the past few months, Tangle has expanded to offer other locally-made products in addition to its original chocolate thins. Tangle sells hot chocolate kits that include custom-made mugs from Black Cats Pottery in Amherst, and coffee-infused chocolate with coffee from YUP Coffee Roasters in Florence.

For a limited time this season, Tangle is also offering “Winter in New England” gift boxes, which includes products from Amherst Soaps, Sweet Birch Herbals, and Mole Hollow Candles. Forman recently also started giving the unwanted husks from her cacao beans to Amherst Soaps to use as an exfoliating agent. The majority of Forman’s customers are local to the Pioneer Valley as well, and she is offering free local delivery until January 1.

If all goes well, Forman hopes to expand the business into a storefront in the near future.

Working with other businesses in the community is part of what Forman loves about running Tangle in Northampton.

“We all really love our town and there’s a huge commitment to supporting local businesses and the local businesses supporting each other, and so that makes it a total delight to be here,” she said.

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