There are certain memories that are revived following a particular sensory experience. Memories that become ingrained in our hearts and minds, mulling away until their awakening. For Craig McKenzie, these dormant memories become aroused following a hot chocolate encounter.
“When I was seven years old, my parents took me for a tour through Spain,” Craig recalls. “We were there for about two months and it was autumn time and getting cooler. One of my most outstanding memories is going to have a choco latte at the local cafés.”
“They used the best dark chocolate and you could really taste the complexity. I have this resounding memory of getting churros and dipping them into the melted chocolate. At the time, the flavour seemed so intense, delicious and really well-balanced.”
While Craig isn’t as enthusiastic about the choco latte experience now, it doesn’t stop the memories from flowing back every time he indulges in a pleasurable hot chocolate reminiscent of his childhood.
“I’m sure the experience left some imprints.”
Craig McKenzie is the founder and artisan behind the coveted Grounded Pleasures hot chocolate range. A venture he proclaims with surety was inspired by his childhood. With a background in hospitality – specifically in cafes - the connoisseur has always loved the flavours, tastes and complexity inherent in coffee and wine.
But it wasn’t until almost 20 years ago that he came to realise the mediocrity of products available to hot chocolate drinkers.
“I decided to educate myself on the great cocoa that was out there, and there was nothing I really liked or that was single origin. I realised that most types were mixed with inferior cocoas, but I knew there were wonderful cocoas out there. So I decided to explore that.”
It didn’t take long for Craig’s intrigue to transform into a business venture. After discovering a flavoursome cocoa bean from Ghana, he began producing his own recipes, mixing and packaging them up, and stocking them in cafes around the town.
While the business launched in Melbourne, it has been operating in his newfound hometown of Ballarat for a number of years now. The Grounded Pleasures factory is also based in Ballarat – allowing the business to maintain a strong focus on local jobs.
“Ballarat is a lovely, warm and incredibly supportive place to do business. I just love living here and there are so many opportunities to do cool collaborations. The city also has a perfect weather profile for hot chocolate, wine and warming food.”
Since Grounded Pleasures launched, the products have found their way into eateries, shops and food products across Australia. 30-40 per cent of business also comes from overseas exports.
Just recently, Craig and his wife Sophie decided to purchase a large, neglected industrial warehouse in the centre of town. They tastefully refurbished it and have now created a space that is calming, light-filled, and more ideal for an ever-expanding business.
Craig exclaims that creating, tasting and mixing flavours is no doubt the favourite part of his job. Over the years, the Grounded repertoire has grown to incorporate a range of flavours including Cinammon Spice and Sicilian Orange (Craig’s two favourite flavours), Dark Noir, Salted Caramel, Peruvian, Vanilla Bean as well as the exclusive range of Grounded Pleasures soft, fluffy, flavoursome marshmallows.
“For me, it’s always been about the flavour. If I love the taste, I want that to come to the fore,” he says. “I’m always thinking about new recipes, and I love thinking about how to blend flavours. It’s all about releasing potential.”
It’s not only the awakening of the palate that sets Grounded Pleasures apart. The team is always striving to purchase beans direct from co-ops (particularly in Peru, Tanzania, Ecuador and the Brazilian Amazon) which implement best practices and fairly compensate their members. It is also imperative that the beans boast an intense flavour and complexity in order to maintain a sustainable business.
“I love it when great cocoas and great people intersect and come together. It is the most wonderful and satisfying way to spread joy and happiness.”
Craig says he is looking forward to growing his product over the next few years – with some exciting and indulgent offerings in the works. And while his brand will always be about premium, single origin hot chocolate, it will continue to hearken back to his younger years.
“Funny how those memories so vividly remain.”