Lisa, Scott, Halley, and Tahoma underneath "The Tree of Life" out on Washington's Olympic Coast.

"In the language of forestry and forest ecology, the 'understory' is the name given to the life that exists between the forest floor and the tree canopy: the fungi, mosses, lichens, bushes, and saplings that thrive and compete in this mid-zone.

Metaphorically, though, the 'understory' is also the sum of the entangled, ever-growing narratives, histories, ideas, and words that interweave to give a wood or forest its diverse life in culture."

- From 'Underland: A Deep Time Journey' by Robert Macfarlane

Our story begins in 2016 when we went down to Costa Rica for the wedding of two of our best friends. During that incredible trip we stumbled on a random rainforest cacao tour that, unbeknownst to us at the time, would change our lives! (Thanks for getting married Teresa & Ben!)

As someone who loves chocolate, It was a no brainer to take an opportunity to see where it comes from. But what unfolded during that fateful tour was far beyond a simple lesson in chocolate-making.

"Wait what?? THAT'S where chocolate comes from?!"
The experience that started it all: Costa Rica cacao tour, December 2016.

First off, discovering that chocolate comes from gooey seeds encased in a fruit pod hanging off of the Theobroma Cacao tree was an eye-opening revelation. Chocolate is a fruit?! How does chocolate come from THAT!? This newfound knowledge, fascinating in itself, was just the beginning.

At the end of the tour, we tasted something extraordinary – ancient drinking chocolate, made from the cacao beans harvested from the very trees we had just walked amongst. The same drink that the ancient mesoamericans of that land referred to as “the food of the gods.” It felt like we were drinking an incredible secret. A secret that I suddenly wanted to share with everyone I knew!

I was already enthralled when our tour guide casually mentioned that drinking chocolate and brewed cacao is a great coffee alternative due to the little amount of caffeine found in cacao. Right then, it clicked - a true 'aha' moment, as if a light bulb blazed to life above me.

Our first experience making and tasting ancient "drinking chocolate."
This would be the catalyst to our future cacao brewing adventures.

At this point, you might be asking, "What’s coffee got to do with this? Why don't you just drink coffee? What’s your problem with caffeine?" Well, the answer is simple: anxiety. 

You see, coffee and I aren't the best of friends, thanks to my body and minds significant sensitivity and intolerance to caffeine.

For years, I had this idyllic image of coffee - wrapped in a wool blanket, engrossed in a captivating book, dog at your feet, next to a crackling fire and a steaming cup of coffee in hand. I loved that idea so much that I forced myself to drink coffee in hopes that my body would simply acclimate to its effects and I could eventually savor and enjoy a cup as countless others do throughout the world. Yet, reality painted a different picture. Each sip brought me a wave of anxiety, transforming what should have been a relaxing ritual into a source of relentless dread.

This is why that cacao tour was so monumental. Tasting that first sip of brewed cacao, it struck me – maybe this was it! A warm, delicious and comforting drink that I could blissfully enjoy without the fear of anxiety coming to squash the moment (and maybe even the rest of the day).

Sidenote: At this point I feel I should mention for all my stimulant lovers out there that although cacao is low in caffeine content, its incredibly rich in theobromine, which is a more gentle and longer lasting stimulant.

Sidenote #2: Cacao and coffee brewed together is a real delight!

Returning home, my mind raced with possibilities. How could I recreate that amazing chocolate concoction from Costa Rica? This wasn't just a passing thought; it was a call to action. My kitchen transformed into a laboratory of sorts, where I experimented, blended, and tasted countless concoctions and (lovingly) forced friends and family to taste them. 

If only my highschool chemistry teacher could see me now!
The more squiggly lines in a notebook the smarter you are right?

As the experimenting grew so did my admiration with the wider world of cacao. With every new thing I learned, my interest deepened, not just in the plant itself, but also in the grand and complicated history and culture associated with it.

Years would pass and cacao research and development would naturally ebb and flow. There were times of intense experimentation, followed by periods where it simmered on the back burner. Then, Lisa started doing some incredible work with nonprofits linked to cacao farming in Central America, and just like that, my passion for cacao was rekindled. Through the connections she made, we found an amazing source to buy cacao beans in bulk. What made this find even more special was their commitment to ethical and sustainable trading practices. It was a perfect match for us, blending our love for cacao with our values.

Some of the farmers we get our cacao beans from.

Thus, Understory Brewing Cacao came to life. But it's more than just a brand born from a long winded tale of roasting and brewing cacao beans. It’s a mindset that embodies our deeply rooted love for the natural world. The name 'Understory' not only refers to the specific layer of the forest where life thrives but also serves as a tribute to the vibrant wildlands that this beautiful earth still has to offer.

Understory is also the belief that everyone indeed has a story to tell, a unique perspective to present, and a voice waiting to be heard. It's the intersection of our physical and mental spaces – a place where not only cacao thrives, but where we, too, find our growth and inspiration.

So, welcome to the Understory! We're not just sharing a drink; we're inviting you to join a journey. It's our passion to open this wonderful and delicious realm to anyone interested in exploring it with us and we're thrilled to have you join in on the adventure!

Scott Schopman
Co-Founder, Understory Cacao