When I walked into the Coda Signature facility in Trinidad, Colorado, I was embraced by a blend of amazing scents—sweet cannabis oil, rich dark chocolate, Earl Grey tea, and medicinal essential oils. Together, they formed an indescribably pleasant aroma. I knew I had arrived at a special place. Check Menus Nearby
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In Coda Signature’s chocolate production area, a prominent sign reminds team members that “Every day leaves a legacy.” The sign exemplifies the company’s human-centered approach. Lauren Gockley, the genius behind Coda Signature chocolates, says it’s there to remind employees to think about how they make decisions every day, from the consciousness of working with the ingredients to the way they treat each other.
“I think that’s at the core of what we’re trying to do—evoke memories.”
I was surprised to learn that many of Coda Signature’s team members do not have a background in chocolate. In fact, four of the production staff transferred to Coda Signature from Danielson Designs, the home-décor factory that used to occupy the facility space. Gockley looks for craftsmen rather than chocolatiers.
“This is a group of people who go above and beyond what is asked of them. They are people who take a great amount of pride in what they do,” Gockley says. “They feel the failures as much as they feel the success, and I think that is a critical part of building a team.”
No team reaches its potential without a good leader. Gockley creates an atmosphere where no one is afraid to speak up about an issue. Multiple signoffs on each step ensure that no one person is accountable for any task. “If there’s a mistake, we all work together to fix it.”
Gockley believes that chocolate should create an experience that touches all the senses. The visual appearance, scent, taste, and effect all contribute. When she designs a truffle, her goal is to create and evoke pleasant memories.
“Chocolate and cannabis together work as this beautiful marriage, elevating your emotions and experiences.”
With the Earl Grey truffles, “creation really came from how much I love a cup of warm tea, milk, Earl Grey, and some honey. It reminds me a lot of my mom because that’s something we always shared together. I think that’s at the core is what we’re trying to do—evoke memories. We capture small essences of flavors to play a movie in your head of a past experience.”
Gockley feels that the experience associated with cannabis-infused chocolates is even more important than conventional chocolates. “After all,” she says. “We’re asking people to commit themselves for several hours.”
Each truffle contains a symphony of flavors that are rooted in the taste of Coda Signature’s raw cannabis extracts. As Gockley explains, “CBD has an earthy flavor and a sweeter smell. THC has a bit of a sourness.” The goal isn’t to cover up the cannabis flavor—it’s to enhance it. “Chocolate and cannabis have a beautiful synergy.”
This synergy doesn’t stop with flavor profiles. Coda Signature also focuses on blending the psychological effects of cannabis and chocolate. “Cannabis affects your brain so much. Why wouldn’t you want to contribute to that effect?” Chocolate works in a similar way to anandamide, a natural endocannabinoid.
“Chocolate by itself brings about such joy to people. Chocolate and cannabis together work as this beautiful marriage, elevating your emotions and experiences. Cannabis is the perfect addition to take chocolate to the next level.”
Another secret to Coda Signature’s amazing truffles is their ingredients. Like a conventional artisan chocolate company, Gockley travels the world to find the absolute best ingredients. Their white chocolate is single-sourced from a farm in Ecuador, whose cows roam free in the Andes mountains. The ganache in their Earl Grey truffles is made with fresh cream, infused on the stovetop with curated Earl Grey tea, and blended with Colorado honey.
Coda Signature also curates their cannabis ingredients. According to their master extractor David Hand, “We start with the finest ingredients, and that begins with the flower. You can’t really take a bad product and make it great. I’ve visited the majority of grows we work with. I’ve walked through the fields. I’ve spoken to the growers. I ask questions that they may or may not like. If we receive flower that doesn’t meet our standards, we send it back.”
Hand says that with cannabis-infused products, consistency is everything. Coda Signature’s top-of-the-line equipment allows them to create a very consistent CO2 distillate. “CO2 produces some of the best cannabis concentrates. It starts clean, so you don’t have to worry about it as much,” Hand says. “You can really focus on trying to get that flavor from the plant.”
Hand is proud to say that their distillate product contains absolutely no residual solvents.
Coda’s stringent, 3-day process leads to a confection that is amazingly consistent for a mostly handmade product. Their process begins with pharmaceutical-grade, clean-room procedures. Everyone in the factory wears a hair net, booties, and lab coat—even visitors. Shoe-sanitizing stations are placed at the entrance to every room.
The first step in the truffle-making process is to decorate the outside of each truffle. Different colors of liquid cocoa butter are painted or airbrushed onto the molds in layers, with liberal use of stencils. The process is led by the same artist who creates Coda’s marketing drawings.
After decoration, a thin layer of non-infused chocolate is applied to the inside of the mold. Gockley says, “It’s important for us to keep touching the chocolate. I think it creates the intuition that the team needs—understanding the thickness, understanding the texture. It creates that relationship in such a way that they’re the experts; they’re the masters. You don’t get that if all you’re doing is hooking things up to a machine.”
Cannabis is infused into the filling using the “Russian doll method.” Because only 25mg of cannabis oil is needed to produce 1,900 truffles, it’s difficult to distribute the cannabis evenly if you put it in all at once. Instead, Coda Signature uses a process similar to making mousse. First, a small amount of chocolate is added to the heavy cannabis oil to lighten it. The chocolate-cannabis mixture is added to a small amount of filling. As ingredients are added, more cannabis is stirred into the filling at every stage. At the final stage, a vacuum mixer is used to remove all air bubbles and moisture, increasing the time that the truffles will stay fresh on the dispensary shelf.
The filling is squirted into the prepared truffle shells using a depositing machine. Heating plates keep the filling at the right temperature. It must be hot enough to settle into the shell and form a flat surface, but not so hot that it melts the shell. After the truffles are filled, another machine adds a thin layer of chocolate to the bottom of the truffle. Finally, the truffles return to the décor station to apply the THC symbol.
The final stage of the process is packaging. Coda Signature is one of the first companies to use the box-style “lock for kids” technology. This technology has gone a long way toward making cannabis packaging look like a high-end conventional product.
What’s Next at Coda Signature?
Gockley told me that over the last year, they’ve been setting up a facility in California. California consumers will be able to purchase Coda Signature products by 2019.
She had a tear in her eye when she talked about leaving Trinidad to work in the California facility. The Coda Signature team has been like a second family to her. Although she’s sad to leave, she knows that the Trinidad team will continue to succeed. “They’re the experts now.”